Strawberry Fields Forever
Canada is, among other things, a country of seasons. Perhaps more than most nations, the Canadian cycle turns according to which season it may be. Socially and economically, many of our communities and industries change their activities depending on the weather.
When my generation was growing up in Canada, summers meant one thing — you got a seasonal job. Teenagers from Central Canada would pick fruit in the Niagara Peninsula of Southern Ontario or in Quebec’s St. Lawrence Valley. Tree planting was popular for those further west. The Maritimes, with its renowned seafood industry, needed nimble hands to haul and process the catch, and local youngsters were more than happy to oblige.
Nobody ever got rich doing this hard work, but that wasn’t the point of the exercise. Instead, it gave us an opportunity to build our character muscles.
The thousands upon thousands of hands that aided in seasonal work may not have been the hands that built Canada, but they were the hands that kept the country ticking over, season to season. I would bet that if you took a sample of the most successful Canadians today — doctors, politicians, engineers, entrepreneurs, and others — many of them did some sort of casual seasonal work before they began their careers. It was not in the classroom or at a desk where they honed their soft skills and gained an appreciation for what constituted a real day’s work, but rather among the fields, forests and shorelines that make up our beautiful country.
When I read in one of the national newspapers last week that five of the top six industries that have traditionally employed the most Canadian youth were also in the top half of temporary foreign worker program users, I thought back to those days picking fruit in Ontario. Have we lost something along the way?
Can you blame an employer for wanting to harvest the season’s crop or sow the seeds for the next one? Can you blame a foreign worker who simply wants to take the opportunity to work hard for his or her family? Can you blame a series of governments that want to continue to grow the economy?
It would seem that the generations that have come after the baby boomers don’t think of Canada in the same way as previous generations. For a great majority of Canadian youth, seasonal employment, particularly in agricultural jobs, does not ever cross their minds. We have become rich — one of the most economically successful nations there has ever been. We have become lazy — considering some jobs beneath us and missing out on opportunities to learn the kinds of skills and develop the sort of values that will aid our careers and our country.
The Temporary Foreign Worker Program became bloated, but it never would have become that way if we, as Canadians, continued to perform the kind of seasonal work that industries in our country provide. The program rightly affords an opportunity for employers to employ skilled foreign workers who are ready, willing and able to do the job when no Canadian citizen or resident can be found.
The next time you hear someone complain about unskilled or semi-skilled work being done by temporary foreign workers, don’t look to the worker or his or her employer if you want to point the finger. Point it at Canadian youth who no longer want to get their hands dirty.