Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Please God you're smarter than a 5th Grader

It’s worth your while to pick up a Grade 5 social studies textbook to see what our 10-year-olds are learning in school today about Newfoundland and Labrador.

Much of the history is incredibly out of date.

Let’s start with the population: did you know there are about 600,000 of us?

Well, that’s what the textbook says — only the figure is wrong.

Way wrong.

There are actually 510,000 people living in Newfoundland and Labrador today, according to the Finance Department’s economic research and analysis division.

The 600,000 figure was apparently the population in 1991, the year the textbook — The Atlantic Edge, Living in Newfound and Labrador — was published.

Since 1991 — the year before the northern cod fishery was shut down, the first of many fishery closures — our population has dropped by 90,000 people.

That’s 90,000.

The fishery collapse was described as the biggest layoff in Canadian history, comparable to the complete shut down of central Canada’s auto industry.

You wouldn’t know that in Grade 5.
•••
Chapter 11 is titled Resources of the Sea.

The section, A Day’s Fishing, tells the tale of Captain John Bartlett and his son, Kevin, who live in a fishing community (unnamed) on the island’s northeast coast.

Captain John, Kevin, and their crew of three head to sea every morning at 3 a.m. to catch codfish in gillnets.

“Today’s catch is poor,” the section reads. “The nets are filled with snow crab, which must be thrown back.”

Captain Bartlett has better luck the day before with his salmon nets, which trapped 30 fish.

The book doesn’t mention how the commercial cod and salmon stocks collapsed all those years ago.

Not a word.

The Grade 5s are told that young Kevin wants to be a “skilled fisherman” like his father.

And that Captain Bartlett thinks there’s a place in the fishery for “bright young people who are willing to work hard.”

I wonder whether Captain Bartlett and his son were among the 90,000 who packed up U-Hauls and left on the ferries for points west?

Good chance they were.
•••
Chapter 12 is headlined Resources of the Land, with a section on Making Paper.

The Grade 5s are taught that mills are located at Grand Falls, Corner Brook and Stephenville — employing 4,000 full-time workers.

Those were the days.

The Grand Falls and Stephenville mills are long closed; the Corner Brook operation is the last one standing (although the unions recently agreed to a 10 per cent pay cut to keep the mill afloat; and just last week 15 managers were let go).

Today, the Corner Brook mill employs 500 workers.

Which works out to 3,500 fewer mill jobs in the province today than in 1991.

Each worker was paid an average yearly salary of $70,000.

Talk about an economic body blow.

It’s time to update our school textbooks.

Grade 5s who aren't taught their history are destined to repeat it.
•••
UPDATE
The provincial government has granted permission for Ocean Choice International to ship unprocessed yellowtail up to 450 grams (70 grams more than what had been allowed under provincial government regulations) to countries like China for processing.

The larger fish will be processed at the Marystown plant, ensuring 35 weeks work for 250 workers.

OCI had threatened to trim its Marystown workforce if the exception wasn’t granted to ship out slightly larger yellowtail (make no mistake, they’re still baby fish).

Fisheries Minister Clyde Jackman granted the request with a condition that OCI catch as much of its quota as possible.

Not to leave so much fish in the water, as it has in previous years.

Let me ask the question again: if we catch all the mother fish, and all the baby fish, what are we left with?

Even a Grade 5 should know the answer.

Memorial's George Rose had concerns about granting OCI’s proposal.

But he’s only a fish scientist. What does he know about votes and putting bread and butter on a table?

Is it just me, or is history repeating itself?

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