Classics In Canada … the Official View

I often gripe about how low-profile/unappreciated/misunderstood Classics is in Canada … a piece from the mighty Toronto Star seems to underscore this:

Meet Ann McRae McIsaac, basket weaver, and Mark Lawall, expert in Greek pottery, the kind of Canadians the federal government wants fewer of.

In an announcement this week by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, the federal government announced it was fast-tracking foreign tradespeople to deal with serious labour shortages in some regions.

The immigration system for the past 40 to 50 years has been ignoring highly trained workers, said Kenney.

“It was easier to get your permanent residency in Canada if you had a master’s degree in basket-weaving than if you had 20 years experience as a welder,” he said on CBC. “We need the welders. We need these guys who work with their hands.”

Ann McRae McIsaac, of the Basket Weavers of P.E.I. Cooperative, said downplaying the importance of craftspeople shows narrow-mindedness. McIsaac trained with a fourth-generation Acadian whose family had been basket-weaving since the late 1800s.

“Basket-weaving is the oldest known arts around. There’s a lot of history with it and a lot of Canadian history associated with basket-weaving,” she said.

McIsaac specializes in making ash-split baskets, a type of traditional basket that was used for potato-picking.

“We work with our hands and what we do as artists has importance too in this country,” she said.

At Kenney’s announcement, Michael Atkinson, president of the Canadian Construction Association, spoke of the importance of tradespeople to the economy.

“It was easier under the points system to get in if you had a post-doctorate degree in ancient Greek pottery as opposed to somebody who has 20 years’ experience as a welder or an electrician,” he said.

American-born Mark Lawall, who has his PhD specializing in Greek pottery and has been teaching classics at the University of Manitoba since immigrating to Canada, said denigrating academics and craftspeople ignores the value of those occupations.

“When I’m out speaking overseas, what’s next to my name is U of M and Canada,” he said. “There’s a high PR value in the kind of work I do, and the kind of profile I frankly give to Canada.

… we might note in passing that the system is clearly flawed because the same points system that we are glad to have had allow Dr Lawall into our universities is the same one which lets in plenty of doctors from various parts of the world, but then doesn’t recognize their qualifications once they’re here (and yes, we have a shortage of doctors, especially of the family physician variety).

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