Bill 6 Business

Yet again, I opened the electronic edition of the Calgary Herald on my iPad and was beholden to a large headline, stating “WCB Claims Double-Controversial safety legislation working as intended.” (You can read the article here.)

Oh great, thought I.

As it happens, my skepticism was confirmed just a paragraph in.  The premise of the article is, of course, in the headline. The problem is, of course, in Edmonton. The article states that claims by agricultural workers in the province have doubled over the same time period last year (Bill 6 came into effect January 1st, 2016, with great backlash from the farming sector).  While that may be very true, it rather goes without saying, if you follow a logical train of thought: ALL farm incidents must be handled, now, by the WCB. Ergo, any and all incidents which were handled by private insurance last year, are now processed by the province. Duh. Of course the claims have increased; the socialists in government have successfully removed the private sector from another area of “nasty profits.”

This logic is mentioned in the article, however, not until the ending paragraphs, where opposition MLA’s voice this observation.  The government has neglected to release numbers concerning the quantity of claims submitted to private insurance in the past. How convenient.

In addition to some straight-up sketch numbers (lies, damn lies, and statistics, anyone?), the reasons for the claims vary from severe, worthy, claims of serious injury, which absolutely need to be compensated, to extremely common and minor scrapes and bruises. These scrapes and bruises, in many cases, require a little polysporin and a bandaid, if that, and it’s back to work you go. Rather, with the mandatory WCB, there are forms to fill out, government employees to please, and the potential for abuse of the system. Not everyone in this world wants to work (enter union bosses, stage left) and some will take a barb-wire scratch as an excuse to go on government-funded medical leave, clogging the system, wasting taxpayers money, and costing the employer. Where is the fairness in all of that? It seems the NDP have forgotten that this process costs money. But, in a provincial budget set to skyrocket by the billions during their accidental tenure, who cares for a few million here and there?

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It’s an oldie, but a goodie. 

 

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There is Much to be Done

16 days of my trip are between me and my own bed.  My experience here in the Dominican Republic, while not quite finished, has opened my eyes to several things, and has iterated time and time again that the global agricultural community has much to do, in spite of how far we have come.

First and foremost, this trip has highlighted the vast difference between the opulence of North America, and the relative simplicity of life in a developing nation.  Prior to this trip, I had never spent much time in communities where running water is not guaranteed, the safety of that drinking water is never secure, and electricity is unstable and irregular.  My previous international experiences have always been as a tourist, where one sees the brighter, painted side of a Caribbean island, and the everyday towns and homes of the populace are largely hidden from view.

It came as a surprise to me, then, that as close as this island is to North America food security is relatively low, and food comprises a huge amount of the budget of the average agricultural employee.  After speaking with farmers here, tourism sounds like a bit of a devil-in-disguise.  As the tourist industry continues to boom, the demand from the resorts rises, causing an increase in the prices of everyday staples, without a noted increase in the average wage for a farm labourer.  The profits of those tourist traps rarely reaches very far, and mostly greases the palms of politicians and the owners of the resort.  I’m not saying that the proprietors are terrible people, and I am all for free-market capitalism, but the demand for food created by the resorts has increased the prices of food for the whole island, leaving less money available to be spent in other areas of the economy.

This island is covered, it seems, in sugarcane. Acres and acres of the crop cover every square inch of arable land, right up to the edge of the highway and as high as possible up the mountain sides. With such an expanse of 15 foot cane, it’s hard to imagine that people would ever manage the crop without modern, industrial harvesters. Yet, here, they do. Approximately 50% of the sugarcane harvested in the Dominican Republic is harvested by hand. While it is necessary in some areas, which are too steep to harvest by machine, many other areas are as flat and level as an Iowa cornfield, but are harvested by machete.

When I asked why this was, the answer surprised me. I expected it to fall along the lines of, “the machines are too expensive for small farmers,” or, “they’re not effective enough to match the human hand.” However, the primary reason for employing hundreds of temporary workers to harvest sugarcane has more of a humanitarian angle.  Many of the workers are Haitian, legal or illegal, who have fled from the poverty of the west side of the island (Haiti is the poorest nation in the western hemisphere).  They are many, and they are usually unskilled, and they need employment to support families here and across the border.  There are so many people available to cut sugarcane, in fact, that the cost of harvesting by hand is nearly par to harvesting by machine, with the added benefit of supplying some form of income to Hispaniola’s most destitute.

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A sugar cane cutter, equipped with his machete. Photo copyright Erica Simone, 2014

And, so, I dare say that agriculture has done amazing things all over the world.  Since the idea of planting and harvesting monoculture crops began tens of thousands of years ago in the Middle East, agriculture has literally allowed for everything the human race has accomplished since.  Without agriculture, we would have no cities, no roads, no civilizations, because each of us would only have enough energy to scrounge around for berries, tubers, and small animals to kill.  As far as we have come, though, we have much yet to do in countries all over the world.  Developing nations are light years behind North America, but with the development of technologies like genetically modified organisms, we can bring efficient, effective, agricultural advancement to these nations, much faster than we ever have before.  Science and agriculture can provide inexpensive, fast growing, nutritious, and widely available food for the world, domestically produced and processed.

And, as we have seen time and time again, if agriculture prospers, everything else falls neatly into place.