Education is not an economic stimulus plan

In North Sydney last week, Clearwater decided to start doing its surf clam processing in China for cheap labour. It is in the papers. I am not making this up. It is all there. This is a resource. It is right off Nova Scotia's shores. And the corporate decision is that China will do the processing.
Senator Gerald J. Comeau, Chairman,
Standing Senate Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, Remarks

According to the website I just looked at, Canadian Tire still sells wooden snowshoes made by Faber. Faber also sells some wonderful looking product online.

I'm glad for that, because earlier today I was at SportChek. No, okay. I know. SportChek is mostly about a sports-like appearance and being seen to be outdoorsy without, you know, necessarily going outside.

But still, there I was, browsing. And I went looking for snowshoes and such, finding only a narrow wall display of metal framed shoes.

Well, I thought, maybe they're super light or something. My mom's going to turn 75 this year, and finds long snowshoe hikes tiring. Maybe I could pick her up a pair of these.

But they weren't light at all. They were seriously heavier than comparably sized wooden shoes would have been. Well, I thought, maybe they're cheap. Nope. Prices seemed to range from $120 to $150 per pair. Well, I thought, looking at the tags, there must be some attraction... And there it was: Made in China.

In fact, the top seller, according to the SportChek webstore - which also doesn't bother with wooden shoes - is the Tubbs Frontier 25, made by Tubbs Snowshoe Co. Tubbs Snowshoe used to be from Stowe, Vermont. But now they make their snowshoes in China. (Said the owner: "The opportunity of China will enable us to improve our manufacturing and our cost structure.")

The attraction, you see, is in the gap between low production costs and high wholesale and retail costs.

Okay, I don't want to get into a metal vs wooden snowshoe debate, much less an Asian vs North American productivity debate.

But I do want to say this - which I guess I've said before.

Training people in Workplace Essential Skills isn't going to do the country much good if Canadian retailers are selling us Nova Scotia surf clams processed in China and snowshoes manufactured overseas.

SportChek says they are "the largest national retailer of sporting goods, footwear and apparel in Canada" and I believe them.

They also say, "The strong buying power we've garnered during our legacy in the Canadian sporting goods market means that we are able to bring our customers an enormous selection of some of the best brand names, as well as a number of private label brands unique to our stores." I didn't see an "enormous selection" today, either in their store or on the web, but let that go for now. Think about that "strong buying power" for a moment.

Right now, the people we train in Workplace Essential Skills can maybe get jobs working at SportChek. But if we want more for them - for all of us - we have to have a better plan than this. That means challenging some of SportChek's power.

Education is not an economic stimulus plan. More education is not going to turn our economy around. Not as long as key decisions are being made by multinational companies who really don't care what happens to our communities. Don't believe me? Go talk to the folks in Stowe, or to the kids of some of the original snowshoe manufacturers, and ask them how that whole international modernization and business cost structure reorganization thing worked out.

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