Editorial: The Chinese are coming, The Chinese are coming!

Trent Ernst, Editor
Tumbler Ridge has found itself in the national spotlight far more than a town this size deserves. From the town’s founding (“Largest Industrial Project in BC History”) to the housing sale (“Town for sale: Cheap!”) to its recent return to its former glory.
Now, the town is in the news again, this time as ground zero for a controversial move by HD Mining to bring over 200 Chinese Miners to town to help with the bulk sampling program. If the mine takes off, that number is expected to more than double.
Stephan Hunt over at the United Steelworkers has been on a tear recently, railing against the fact that Chinese workers are coming to Canada to fill jobs that could be possibly filled by British Columbians. Or at least Canadians.
Then again, I didn’t see anyone raising too much of a stink when dozens of people were brought in from the United States to work at either of the mines that are currently in operation. There were no angry letters to the editor when the Australians showed up, either.
But say that you’re bringing in 200 workers from China, and suddenly it’s national news. Perhaps it’s because they’re arriving in such large numbers all at once, instead of in dribs and drabs like the Americans and Aussies.
Stephan Hunt has said, “This is not a job-creation program for BC. It’s a project by, and for, Chinese corporations, who intend to bring temporary workers, dig up the coal and ship it to China.”
Let’s break that statement down into its component parts and analyze it. “It’s a project by, and for, Chinese corporations.”
So, we don’t like foreign ownership of Canadian mines, then, right? But wait. There are two mines currently operating in Tumbler Ridge. One is run by Walter Energy, an American Company based out of Alabama. The other is run by Anglo American, which is a British Corporation, headquartered in London, England. So when Peace River Coal sells a tonne of coal, where do the profits go? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that at least a portion of the profits wind up back in England, or else there’s no real reason for them to be here. If we oppose HD Mining (A Canadian Company, by the by) because the owners are Chinese, are we not obligated to oppose Peace River Coal and the Wolverine Mine?
So if we want to make that our starting principle—that foreign ownership of Canadian mines is a bad thing—we can start the argument there. So of the big players in the Tumbler Ridge area, only Teck is headquartered in Canada.
Trouble is, I don’t know that Teck would be on board for something like that. Because if we argue that foreign ownership of Canadian mines is bad, we also must support other nationalities denying foreign ownership over their resources, too. And Teck? While it is a Canadian company, Teck has properties in the United States, Peru and Chile. If we argue that other countries need to keep their noses out of our business, then the corollary is that we need to keep our noses out of their business. Something I suspect that the mining companies would not support.
And, if we were to make that argument, at what point do we draw the line? Do we say that Apple can’t sell the iPhone here, because they’re headquartered in Palo Alto, California? Stop nodding, Michael, as it would also mean that Samsung, a South Korean company, wouldn’t be able to sell things here either. We’d all be left using BlackBerries, and what a hell that would be.
Let’s address the last part of that statement next, as it is more easily disposed of: “… [they will] dig up the coal and ship it to China.” How is that different from, say an American, or a British company digging up the coal and shipping it to China? The coal still goes to China. The profits still go elsewhere.
So the core of the statement has to be simply the fact that they’re bringing over temporary workers. Temporary, as in not permanent, here on two-year visas. And while they are here, the company’s stated objective is to train Canadian workers to take over these positions.
While they could be lying, and they could actually just be digging a tunnel back to China so the Red Army can launch a secret invasion of North America. Chances are they are telling the truth. And if they aren’t, they are mandated by law to fulfill their obligations or get their permit yanked. (Unless of course, tanks start popping out of the ground near the Murray River, at which point the argument is pointless anyway.)
You see, the mine is happening here on BC soil, and BC laws apply. Everything they do on-site is run through the crucible of the Environmental Assessment Certificate they get, as well as the mining act, WorkSafe BC and every other law, act, agency and organization that regulates the mining industry. They are in BC and home field rules apply.
Yes, there are certainly issues with bringing over 200 foreign workers and dropping them in Tumbler Ridge, no matter what their ethnicity. And yes, there will be problems to overcome, from language to food to…well, if we knew what all the problems would be ahead of time, we could find the solution beforehand.
Maybe that’s where we should start. Rather than kicking up a stink saying this shouldn’t be, we should find a way to work with it. To make it better.
Let’s find a way to make them welcome and a part of our community. There will be barriers to overcome, sure, but they will never be overcome if we don’t try.
In a recent discussion on Facebook, someone said they didn’t want to see a little Chinatown in Tumbler Ridge. Me? I think that’d be great. Canada is not the great melting pot of the States, but a cultural mosaic, where diverse ethnicities leave their imprint on our culture, bringing new colours and patterns. That’s something that Tumbler Ridge could benefit greatly from, and I’d love to see a Dr. Sun Yat-Sen style garden or pagoda here in Tumbler Ridge.
Because the great thing about mosaics as opposed to melting pot is they’re all different, and those differences are what makes them interesting.