Chinese coal mines in BC: Missing the forest for the trees

The story of a Chinese company in BC hiring Chinese workers has received a lot of attention. Much of the attention has focused on the company’s decision to game the temporary worker system in order to avoid hiring “Canadian” workers. Many of the objections are made on nationalistic grounds, “OMG, THEY”RE TAKING CANADIAN JOBS”, which then leads down the path of racist anti-Chinese sentiment. This Tyee article (disclaimer: I am a Tyee monthly funder, but obviously have no editorial input!) summarizes the issues involved very well. Recent changes to Canada’s immigration laws make this kind of hiring logical, because it is now okay to pay temporary workers with little/no bargaining power 15% less than you would pay locals. Of course you have to document that there were no qualified locals, but as this particular incident indicates, there’s little/no actual enforcement unless a fuss is made.

I find temporary worker programs to be problematic because they provide no path to citizenship, no permanence for the people who want it, and cause ugly divisions in the community. If you think there are not enough “workers” in your community, open your borders, let them in and pay well, you’d be surprised.

I wanted to highlight two obvious issues that to my mind are as important:

  1. Carbon Bomb. It’s a coal mine! How many people in BC, which preens gloriously on its carbon tax, are aware that coal is BC’s Number One export? What is the point of having a carbon tax for consumers when producers get to make money off that carbon for free? Whether the coal is burned in BC, or in China, it causes the same damage. Whether the coal is used to generate power, or to make steel, it puts out the same amount of carbon dioxide. Whether the mine uses Chinese workers or locals, it produces the same climate changing emissions. So, why instead of making coal producers pay the real costs of their product, are we enabling them to evade carbon taxes, royalties, and save even more money by reducing wages? Also, coal mining is not employment intensive, as countless other people have pointed out. So it’s not really about the jobs either. Kevin Washbrook of StopCoal made this point as well in the Tyee article I linked to earlier.
  2. Does this mine have right to be there? The West Moberley First Nation, part of a Treaty 8 band is opposed to the project on its land. That should be the end of the story. The state of Canada has responsibilities as a settler entity to obtain free, prior and informed consent on development from the people it colonized. The US is a bit more honest in this regard as it regards the colonization as a thing of the past and gives its indigenous peoples little/no rights. Canada’s different, the indigenous here have specific standing because of Canada’s existing colonial links and Canadian governments and courts routinely confirm this standing. The BC government is currently negotiating treaties with many First Nations communities including the West Moberley First Nation.

We’re trying to set up a climate and environment disturbing, cost and tax evading coal mine on land that belongs to someone else using easily exploited temporary workers we can be racist towards.

coal

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