TORONTO - Wake up. Your Immigration policies and programs are hurting the local economy. With whom do you consult before you decide who will come to Canada and whom you will exclude? You don’t seem to have a plan, and you are bringing in people without thinking how you will integrate them into the structure of Canadian society, as we have come to know it. You are putting at risk the one industry that is 100% Canadian.
That is how the conversation over lunch with a prominent Developer/Builder/Entrepreneur began. He has been in business in this country - creating tens of thousands of jobs for Canadians and donating millions to philanthropic activities – for longer than the current (or the previous) prime Minister has been alive.
“Your policies are choking the engine of the economy in Southern Ontario – the construction sector,” he said, with the emphasis of one who lives the myriad of complex interdependent economic activities spawned by a healthy Building Industry.
My efforts to clarify my standing as a former, not current, member of government were unsuccessful. “Don’t be defensive; you have an obligation to shed light on the consequences of your party’s policies,” he said, “don’t shirk your responsibility, too many families depend on it.”
He was both frustrated and angry. We agreed to continue on condition that I keep names out of the conversation. He was a veritable torrent of facts, figures, circumstances, federal/provincial policy impacts. He also promised to provide me a memo, in confidence, summarizing “the tirade”. I received it the next day.
The [housing construction] industry is directly responsible for 26% of the goods-producing sector in Ontario. That’s not counting the multiplier effect on dependent industrial subsectors like furniture, appliances, utilities, attendant services, roads and transportation et cetera.
Yet “your short-sighted Immigration policies will wreck the market”, he said with a firmness that called for remedial action. “Don’t get me wrong, Canada needs people, talented and ambitious. My industry needs these people, otherwise we would not be in business. But of the 240, 000 permanent residents you landed last year, how many were bricklayers? Carpenters?”
Since I started in this business more than a half century ago, I have “never witnessed such a… shortage of skilled tradesmen”, he said. Drive anywhere in the GTHA and you will see “thousands of houses that require bricking, carpentry, etc.”
The business runs on presales, but if the tradesmen are unavailable, “closings” are put off. Penalties or premiums are applied. An already chaotic market is held ransom to labour shortage in a well paid marketplace.
“We’ve been forced to stop selling”, says our Builder, “because we lack the skilled tradesmen to build the houses we’ve sold”. What selling prices will be a year from now, he cannot anticipate, and can’t budget.
But if he and others like him don’t have the workers, they can’t build anyway. That becomes our problem.
TORONTO - Organizations are like the people who run them. They risk accusations of racism or shallow analysis for the sake of what they think is a “good product”.
In the newspaper business that means “story”. Mainstream English language papers in Toronto just can’t seem to come to grips with the fact some immigrants are actually “mainstream”. They are outside the labels of pigmentation politics, sexual orientation, capitalist/socialist divide and so on. They are difficult “to pin down”, so reporting and commentating relies heavily on the “comfortable stereotyping”, even if offends those who are subject of the stereotyping.
For example, the Star reprinted an article written for the New York Times, by a reporter with an Italian name, purporting to relate an “innovative strategy” by Italian authorities to break the culture of criminality afflicting the country.
For 2013, the last year for which both countries supplied statistics, Italy, population 60 million, reported 504 homicides; Canada, Population 35 million, reported 505 intentional homicides. In 2014, the Italian numbers dropped to 475. Not a single Italian city was violent or “criminal” enough to crack the world’s worst 50.
Unlike Canada, Italy has legislation prohibiting association with criminal organizations. The “criminal leadership”, as it were, is either behind bars or on the run. But clearly there is a vacuum filled by others with less profile. And, of course, there is the perception of a traditional, extended “Family” organizational structure that appears to have favoured those with a willingness to cross the line by providing them a network to nurture their activities. They have become veritable economic empires. Rustic folk with a powerful reach.
This “strength” has now become their “weakness”, if some enterprising Social Workers are to be believed. They are proposing “breaking up” families in order to “break up the Family”. Stellar headline writers are having a field day; the rest of us, not so much.
The theory, and plan, goes something like this: treat the offspring of convicted felons as “chattel” of “ill-begotten” gains, seize them and distribute them as foster children elsewhere in the country. Give them a new lease on life, as it were, and deprive the Family of “recruits”.
If it sounds familiar to Canadians, it is because a similar experiment with Residential Schools is part of our Legacy. Canadian governments, wrestling with the goal of integrating/assimilating the Aboriginal community into twentieth century Canadian society, came up with a policy of taking children away from their parents and placing them in residential schools to learn “the White Man’s way”.
That strategy doesn’t seem to have worked so well. There are doubtless numbers of positive outcomes. It is just difficult for us to discern them among the blizzard of negatives associate with that Legacy: disproportionate rate of poverty, incarceration, recidivism, suicide rate, dependency on alcohol and mind altering drugs…the list goes on.
Monies totalling in the billions of dollars allocated for acculturation and problem solving have done little to mitigate the sense of hurt and victimization. Litigation for redress and reconciliation continues to sap resources. One could go on ad infinitum.
Perhaps those advocates of the “break up the family to break up the Family” strategy – in a serious moment – might suggest reflection upon the Canadian experience in respect of systematic destruction of social bonds simply because they exist. With what are they to be replaced?
Our experience with “youth at risk” strategies does not seem to bear the fruit we hoped. If the current criminality (of internecine gang warfare variety) that is imposing a cloud over the GTA is any indication, surrogate substitutes for responsible parents and “family values”, then those Italian Social Workers may be in for a rude awakening.
None of us condone, much less accept, behaviour that is counter-convention, counter-productive or indeed criminal.
It apparently too much to ask that headline writers of responsible papers to think contextually prior to producing headlines designed to elicit condescending snickers and guffaws.
TORONTO - Trudeau-Trump. It is a meeting that had to take place, sooner or later; better now.
There are three main objectives: (1) “clear the air” between the two leaderships, (2) set the tone going forward, and (3) reset the goals – specifically with Europe, and CETA – on the International Trade and Global Affairs side of the equation.
On the first of these, no less a personality than former Prime Minister Bran Mulroney stresses the need for warm personal relationships between the leaders of Canada and the USA. In his view, the ability to “pick up the phone and say ‘look…some things should operate differently…”, for example, can go a long way to building mutually beneficial projects and towards solving emerging problems.
He cites the Free Trade Agreement and the NAFTA as two accomplishments completely dependant on his relationship with the then President of the USA.
Jean Chretien installed hi nephew as Ambassador to Washington as a clear message to the White House and to the State Department that the Prime Minister’s Office was there via his nephew. Or the golf course, where he and President Clinton would spend time together.
Philosophical and political differences can be resolved. If there is a will. On the “substantive” side, Trudeau’s first priority will be to determine if Canada is indeed on Trump’s “hit list”; and, if it is, what we need to do to get off.
Initial signals suggest that “familiarizing” Trump’s team with the special Canada-USA relationship is fundamental. So, we have seen the barrage of statistical data highlighting our cross-border exchanges as evidence of our inter-dependence. This is especially true in the case of 35 States who count Canadian provinces as their most important trading partner.
The temptation to shower the Trump Team (TT) with a blizzard of data to illustrate “what good boys we are” may, however, not necessarily prove so productive.
They already know that the one resource upon which they may rely, and which we have in abundance – crude oil – is currently accessible almost exclusively through the USA. In fact, Canada exports 86.5% of the crude it extracts.
Pipelines for delivery to downstream markets are difficult to get through the regulatory process and to build. And we have just said we’ll cause them to be built. TT for their part have already also said that the Obama obstacles to such pipelines will no longer form part of the Trump plan.
Forget “irritants” like softwood lumber. It forms barely 2% of the two-way trade relationship; besides Us companies already own the majority stake of the business in British Columbia, where 50% of the lumber industry is resident.
On the Trans Pacific Partnership, that deal appears to be dead. In any case, Trudeau’s predecessor, the Harper government, had already ceded to US negotiators the authority to conduct and finalize agreements for Canada.
Is it any surprise that one of the first statements by Trudeau was then that Canada would be prepared to open up discussions on the NAFTA? What else do we have to offer? Access to Europe through the CETA, an Agreement that has yet to be ratified?
From their perspective, TT will probably want to explore, not necessarily openly, the types of messages that Trudeau can deliver to Germany and the European Union later in the week. How Trudeau emerges from this meeting will be scrutinized by diplomats in Europe with the intensity matching only the interest in the outcome of an overtime in a final championship game.
Our Prime Minister can come out of this week as the star player. But, like all “star players”, Canada has its own career – interests – to consider. Canadians of all stripes will want their Prime Minister to be “on his game”.
TORONTO - The Italian Canadian community continues to pay a heavy price for errors of the past. The missed opportunities, the weaknesses and the uncertainties of a short-sighted Self-Declared Leadership have characterized their cultural patrimony, one that is not known for its growth and development but for its stagnation and, oftentimes, regression.
This is the essence of the response by Tony Nardi, a well-known dramatist, director, and writer to the challenge hurled at the community via an FB posting by Corrado Paina, director at the ICCO.
And, if at times the diagnosis of the state of health of the community occasionally coincides with that of the director of the Italian Canadian Chamber of Commerce Ontario, it is in the identification of root causes and the venues for solutions to follow that place the two in diametrically different camps.
“I share - writes Nardi - some of Corrado’s sentiments but mainly with respect to the descriptive, to the criticism of the so-called community, to what is lacking”.
However, he notes that first there has to be an examination of conscience and accepting of responsibility.
“The lack of short- and long-term initiatives over the years by flagship community organizations and their ’leaders’, in particular the National Congress of Italian Canadians, The Columbus Centre, Canadian Italian Business and Professional Association, the Italian Chamber of Commerce of Ontario, etc., and the many smaller organizations who purportedly act and speak on behalf of the community, the collective, has been a tragic reality since I first came to this city in 1982 ”
Even the Media has its share of blame. ”Telelatino, CHIN, Corriere Canadese, and Channel 47 in Toronto, Omni Television”.
Among the many problems identified by Nardi is the debilitating, virtually total, absence of an investment in the past directed toward cultural, artistic endeavours – the creative; youth.
“The community heavyweight organizations have always favoured self-glorifying picnics and baroque shindigs over serious discussion on culture and fostering the innate and latent talents of the many community members, especially the young”.
Its time the community came to grips with its rural and rustic origins, insists Nardi; the community should acknowledge its rather populist background.
“As we know, historically, Italian Canadians hail from a mainly working class, peasant background”.
He offers that this goes a long way to understanding why “words like “vision” and “collective urgency” are not stemming from the mouths and hearts of the majority of Italian Canadians, but a small minority, as the one he is seeking to amass to take on the task of archiving the community’s history and prescribing its future.”
At this juncture, Nardi and Paina part company. “He’s my concern when I read “The Memory group” and “The Legacy group” (aptly Orwellian)… whose memory? Whose legacy? Who dictates which part of history qualifies as history worthy of the archive (and museumization) and which should be forgotten?”
“ I would feel better in a Mussolini regime, where the objective is clear, than in this morass of generic, battle-cry statements and plans, “where the Italian community plays the role of protagonist, founder, but also midwife”, he adds, as if for emphasis.
In other words, why trust in a group of community leaders who have so far distinguished themselves with their abysmal failure to write, promote the history of the community and to guide it towards a future?
Who are these Leaders? Who chose them as our spokespersons? Nardi asks if we are not running the risk of mystifying the past, a type voluntary acceptance of cultural serfdom.
Nardi admonishes in citing Orwell. “He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”
The community needs an alternative project to the one being proposed in order to extricate itself from this muck – one less elitists and more responsive to the realities of the Italian-Canadian experience. What we need is ideas, not buildings.
Here is his proposal. “The way to ensure that control of the Memory and Legacy do not fall into the hands of a few, is to start an Italian Canadian arts and science council, no strings attached, to make sure that all Italian Canadian artists and scholars who fall between the institutional cracks of Canadian public funding, get all the support they need for any creative - or research project - they wish to undertake, and let that naturally speak for the whole community as opposed to dramaturging and forcing a collective narrative for posterity.”