In unveiling Canada’s British Columbia’s job-creation strategy last year, Premier Christy Clark said the government planned to capitalize on high demand for minerals, especially in Asia, by opening up eight new mines in the next four years and expanding nine more by 2015.
What Clark didn’t specify was who would be employed on those mines, said labour lawyer Sarbjit (Bobby) Deepak in a letter to the Vancouver Sun last February.
The answer to his question became clearer last week, as reports unveiled that an initial group of 200 Chinese citizens will begin to arrive in coming weeks to work at new mines in the western Canadian province.
The full time workers – whose number could grow to as many as 2,000 eventually – follow $1.4 billion in Chinese funding for two of four coal projects in the northeast of the province announced last year.
The Asian coal mining companies that are staring business in B.C. have been accused of favouring Chinese applicants to fill available positions. Questioned by a local journalist who writes for The Province, the firms claimed it was a mistake that some of their local want ads demanded Mandarin language skills for jobs at their mines.
“The companies say they tried — and failed — to find Canadians to work at the mines, so the federal government is allowing them to bring in the ‘temporary’ Chinese miners as a result,” writes Michael Smyth.
But he says most of the ads clearly stated the companies were looking for workers who speak Mandarin, a requisite that would clearly leave the majority of Canadian applicants out.
"This single reference to Mandarin was an isolated and unanticipated case," Jody Shimkus, a spokesperson for HD Mining International, told me in a statement.
"This ad was never meant to suggest there was a language requirement for Mandarin."
But the "isolated" error was repeated in at least four ads.
However, an investigation by local news outlet The Tyee.ca shows that Chinese miners being recruited are paying over Cdn$12,500 for the right to work in Canada, and their actual wages are less than those advertised.
A recruiting ad translated by The Tyee promise Chinese miners the "possibility of immigrating to Canada" and the ability to "sponsor your family to Canada, too."
None of the new mines announced by BC’s Premier have opened yet, but fears over who will be extracting the province's coal keep growing.
Speaking at an economic summit on Tuesday, Clark said she's set lofty goals for B.C.'s economy, which include turning the province into Canada's No. 1 economy.
She added her government's year-old jobs plan, which focuses on increasing trade with China and Asia and promoting mining and exploring innovations in technology and agri-foods, has already resulted in growth.