Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Letter to the Editor

Just sent the following letter to the Globe and Mail. Don't care that it's too long and too angry, just hope somebody reads it.


Good day,

As a young, educated, liberal-minded Prince Edward Islander, I know well enough by now I ought to steer clear of Margaret Wente's articles. I experience her contempt for all of those components of my identity every time I struggle through one of her pieces. Today's commentary was a little different, somehow; I am used to middle-aged writers in center-right publications writing condescending pieces about how entitled and lazy young university grads are. I am even used to, at the ripe age of 23, politicians looking for ways to euphemise or step around Atlantic Canada's perennially sluggish, precarious social and economic situation. But I will never get used to out-of-region, out-of-touch armchair journalists offering criticism of Atlantic Canada's people, nor our persistent efforts to cope with our hardships.

In fairness, some elements of this article aren't completely off the mark. Atlantic Canada disproportionately uses EI funds. Some workers abuse the system, and it becomes habitual, perhaps even encouraged. However, Atlantic Canadians also participate in a different sort of "transfer": we migrate to high-employment areas, in shocking numbers, and leave families and friends behind. The East Coast's young and bright head up and out to Alberta, British Columbia, and elsewhere, in an ongoing 'brain drain' to find work. And you thought we weren't up for commuting. For combating oil town labour shortages, you're welcome.

I can criticize our provincial policies and politics as much as I want because I'm here, I understand them, and in the end I want what is best for my province and its citizens. When someone like Ms Wente offers her opinion, which is entirely unhelpful, callous, and distasteful, I cringe. It is an ignorant suggestion that Ms Giersdorf give away a considerable chunk of her day's earnings to commute for nearly two hours per day, plus additional child-care expenses, taxes and - the irony - employment insurance, because the take-home pay would be pitiful. I know, because I'm underemployed as well, like so many who make up my province's labour force.

Every day, people try to figure out 'the answer' to solving Atlantic Canada's work woes. Editorials like this are not part of this effort, and never will be. (Unless you fire Wente and have her move to Montague, then she might have something of worth to write.)


Katharine MacDonald,

Charlottetown, PEI
PS. Most of your readers would likely have expected Ms Wente to be seeking EI after last year - maybe she should hold back a little on others whose employers aren't so understanding. 


  1. Before commenting on your response I went to the Globe and Mail site to read the article that you were responding to - and I have to say it didn't really change my reaction to your reaction much at all.

    At 47 I have lived for significant periods of time in NB, NS, and PEI and worked in all three provinces. And I have to say that I have never encountered such a sense of entitlement as I did while in Charlottetown. People didn't want to work any longer than they needed to in order to start their next cycle of EI. They didn't want to work Sundays, they didn't want to work nights and they certainly didn't want to work for minimum wage. One applicant at my place of work actually asked during an interview how long it would be before they had enough hours to qualify for EI. And no this was not true of everyone I encountered but it was the majority.

    As for being underemployed I'll take that over being unemployed thank you very much. I have an honors degree in Philosophy and am working in a retail store - and feel damned lucky to have that job. A recent promotion required me to move back to NB and I have to say that the differences in the work force once again became quite clear.

    In the past six years my husband and I have moved several times around Atlantic Canada for work. We've been away from friends and away from family but these days - and especially in these parts - you do what you have to do for work.

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news but here it is - the world does not owe you a high paying job where you work only the hours you want and you only have to go next door to be at work. It does not owe you transportation to said job. It does not owe you the sympathy and understanding of every citizen of this country.

    I understand your zeal and I understand your commitment to your home province but do me a favor. Tuck Wente's article and your response away for another 25 years then dig them out and read them again. I guarantee you that your reaction will have changed.

    1. Hi Michele,

      Thanks for your comment, even though I don't know you and you don't know me. I have heard stories like yours a million times, and I have also had the pleasure of hearing such comments about my age, idealism, and naïveté many more.

      I think that's a silly thing to guarantee, especially since you don't know me, have never met me, know nothing of my upbringing, values, or anything else for that matter. I hope my feelings don't drastically change in 25 years. My family of various generations shares them, my friends of all ages share them, and apparently some of my professors and random online people do too. So I believe it is fair to conclude my feelings are not exclusively age-related. But sure, that's part of it - I selfishly want to live in my home province and do meaningful, fulfilling work. What a shockingly entitled young-person feeling to have!

      I know quite well I will move some day, most likely first to do a Masters, then to make a living. I'll have to commute, and start at the bottom all the time, and deal with inadequate wages or jobs that aren't made to fit all my needs and desires. I know I am lucky now to even have full-time employment, regardless of wage. But I don't think I'm also required to accept that "the world" HAS to be the way you say it is. Nor will it necessarily always be the way you see it. Maybe in 25 years, you'll see things the way I do!

      Thanks for the comment though, dude - obviously lots of people agree with Wente, as unpalatable as I may find her. Since most of them are at least a few decades older than me, I can at least take solace in the fact that I will probably be shaping public policy when they're dependent (OH NO, DEPENDENCE) on pensions! That, I do look forward to.

    2. Michele - 47 years old with a bachelors degree in philosophy, and you're working a retail job? What have you been doing with yourself? Spare us the self righteousness and jocular contempt, and revisit the theory of the 'alienation of labour.' It might give you some direction in life.


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