Warning to the world (Thanks Mr. Harper)

All my shipmates, except myself and the Captains, have been given lay off notices; for us its just a matter of time before we get ours as well. It seems that the vessel is unable to find work in these parts. Our usual cargo was clean petroleum products, and we moved it around the St Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. Some guys were working aboard for ten years, a feat deserving of heaven.

Ultimately, it was expected, but my wife still cried when we got the layoff news; our boys did not understand what was going on. The writing was clearly on the wall, since Oct 2010 actually, when Shell Canada closed it’s Montreal East refinery. At the time, little was said about losing this industrial capacity, especially by the government. The loss of real paying jobs at the refinery was just a preview of things to come for us.

Once in a while, we would pick up loads of Jet Fuel from this refinery to distribute further up river. But without any production capacity, there is nothing left for us to move, therefore we lose our jobs as well, real jobs, that required real skills and paid real money.

Shell hasn’t suffered, with record high price of gas at the pumps. The port hasn’t suffered either, in their last annual report, oil handle through the port was way up, I guess that’s the bright side. Clean petroleum products are now imported from places like Latvia and other international origins.

There use to be a time when clean product would be brought in from international sources,  but the final seaborne movement would be done by Canadian vessels, from a transshipment hub like the Port of Quebec City or the likes. But now, if a ship is coming from deep sea, why not just deliver straight to the final destination, like Montreal, Sarnia, Hamilton, etc. after all its still an international voyage, cutting out the local guys. 

This is a bit of “deja vu” for me; four years ago, I was actually working on similar tug and barge operations, but we were hauling logs, from remote area of the BC Coast, to mills and transshipment hubs, lower down the coast.

However, the end of this chapter in my life was also brightly written on the wall. When I started seeing deep sea ships venture further into the isolated inlets of the majestic BC coast, where a handful of loggers were cutting trees. They fell the trees, sometimes directly into the water, where the logs were then loaded onto the ship bound for Asia.

I use to work with SMIT, previously known as Rivtow, at one time, the largest industrial entity in BC. Now, pretty much all remnants of that entity is gone. Seaspan bought whatever had little value left in it, in 2010.

So you’re wondering why I am writing this, after all, this is what’s happening everywhere. Yes its true, and I am certainly not alone; and my opinion appears to mean so little to the people in Ottawa that are suppose to represent our best interest. I get the feeling that I have very little value to them. Our family; my spouse and our three young boys are nothing more than objects, perhaps, even “corporate assets” (if your “lucky”) to be used, abused, or worst, use as canon fodder, on another fool’s errand, sold under false pretenses.

Desmarais, Sakorzy and Charest

Yes, it is clear that little people like me are not really important to the oligarchy running Canada. But at what point are we going to allow this “fire sale” of Canada and its resources, culture and ultimately its people; as fast and cheap as possible, to the benefit of … ?

The reason I ponder this openly is because two items I’ve recently read. One is in the June 2012 issue of Western Mariner,  where author Fred McCague summarizes a recent presentation by Seaspan CEO Jonathan Whitworth on Seaspan – the Marine Group.

I don’t think there is any better embodiment of a organization that dominates the west coast marine and industrial scene, with its aggressive corporate strategies. In his presentation as the head of this corporate titan, Mr. Whitworht is, more or less, lamenting the same strategy that has impacted many small people like me.

He states that the non operating assets of Seaspan, due to lack of work on the coast, would make up the second largest fleet in Canada, with 11 boats and 51 barges. This has resulted in many layoffs, but the company, unlike most of us, has plenty of resources to draw on, so its trudges on.

This is a significant moment for me personally, a “ah ahhh!” moment. Here you have, probably one the highest profile entity in western Canada, with it’s CEO articulating that things are not as rosy, and they might be darn right perilous.

So on one hand I am happy; its not just me that’s getting screwed by this wave… of whatever it is, crushing every shred of common sense, chasing the fraction of a penny at the bottom of the barrel. But on the other hand, its a pretty strong statement about our direction in Canada, and not just from a simpleton marine engineer blogger.

The second article that brought me to ponder our current situation, well, actually pissed me off to write this post… is of a speech our Prime Minister recently gave in Calgary. Our “dear leader” proudly boast that ‘What the world must become in the future … is what Canada is today’.

Excuse me, I have to leave this blog post for about half hour, while I relieve some tension. Really! Are you $%#*%(*99-908, 1@#54867 ing kidding me.

Yes, our very own representative of the people of Canada, lambasting about the virtues of their policies, which by the way are very difficult to tell, since most are so secretive.

I know the Right Honourable Stephen Harper is a big man, 6 foot 2, but can you believe the set on this guy. No wonder European leader rebuffed his petty criticism at the Mexican summit. I think Europe’s people have done a pretty good job for many centuries, considering they don’t have vast natural resources like Canada.

If anything, this blog post is a message for all those in leadership roles outside Canada. I speak from personal experience, from across this country, and just look at Seaspan idled fleet; please, heed this warning from Mr. Harper. This is not a ‘successful” country to be imitated – well, at least not if you plan on benefiting the majority of your citizens, for longer than 6 months.

This article has 5 Comments

  1. Sorry to hear about your loss of job. I certainly hope you find another spot – and soon.
    You have nailed the reality right on – we are selling our resources offshore so we can buy them back in manufactured form. We are then told to be more productive (like sweat shop workers in Bangladesh?) and that we used to do well only because our dollar was undervaulued. All has changed.
    I don't favour protectionism unless it is to level the playing field, and that is what we need now. Until there is fair competition (not necessarily free trade) we are just going to revert to our colonial days has hewers of wood and drawers of water. When the resource is gone because the feds won't listen to or fire off all scientists(think cod) we'll be back in the stone age.
    Bringing us down to third world status won't make me happy if that is the level paying field the Tories create for us.

  2. Thanks Mac.
    Despite our collective chase down the barrel, I am happy to report most of shipmates have found new positions. Who know's for how long, but at least, in this industry we are somewhat "lucky" because of the chronic shortage of mariners, due to the same reasoning mentioned in the original posts.
    Good to hear from Halifax, keep up the good work.

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