Hew­ers of wood and draw­ers of wa­ter

The Compass - - OPINION -

In pol­i­tics you some­times hear this re­mark thrown around as a slur, a dis­dain­ful de­scrip­tion of what cer­tain work­ers are forced to en­dure. In­deed, all of Canada, at one time or an­other, has been de­scribed as noth­ing but a col­lec­tion of hew­ers of wood and draw­ers of wa­ter. It is usu­ally by mem­bers of op­po­si­tion par­ties chid­ing the govern­ment for not hav­ing a more evolved no­tion of what we in Canada are ca­pa­ble of.

Crit­ics won­der if our govern­ment be­lieves our cit­i­zens are in­ca­pable of any ac­tiv­ity beyond dig­ging things out of the ground, suck­ing them from be­neath the earth and the sea or chop­ping them down and then ship­ping them off, just like they are, to some­place away.

Ship­ping them off, too far, or in the case of Canada, not so far, cor­ners of the world where other peo­ple labour, and earn wages, turn­ing them into fin­ished prod­ucts. We call what those peo­ple do in those far-off or not so far-off cor­ners, “adding value” to the raw ma­te­ri­als we Cana­di­ans are so prac­ticed at har­vest­ing. Why can’t we do that here, some ask, and keep the jobs at home.

Back in the late eight­ies in the cam­paign for the elec­tion that ended up giv­ing Brian Mul­roney the big­gest ma­jor­ity govern­ment in Cana­dian his­tory, it was the threat that the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment would turn all Cana­di­ans into hew­ers of wood and draw­ers of wa­ter that was the most di­vi­sive is­sue.

Af­ter the elec­tion the greatly di­min­ished op­po­si­tion par­ties con­tin­ued to at­tack NAFTA. It was at that time that I drew a car­toon for the Toronto Star with two char­ac­ters rep­re­sent­ing the feared stereo­types, a pair of guys named Hugh Wood and Drew Wa­ter. Hugh was the one with the axe and Drew was the one car­ry­ing a bucket of wa­ter, some of which was splash­ing down his pant leg.

At the time hew­ers and draw­ers was an ex­pres­sion that ev­ery­one in pol­i­tics was us­ing and so I did too, not re­ally know­ing where it came from. Lately, we don’t use the ex­pres­sion as much, but the ac­tiv­i­ties it refers to are go­ing gang­busters. So it’s back on my mind. I went to Google to find out its ori­gins.

It comes from the Bi­ble, the Old Tes­ta­ment. This was a time in the Mid­dle East when a large num­ber of peo­ple were smit­ing each other, much as they still are today. At the time the Is­raelites were get­ting the up­per hand in the gang war­fare that plagued the re­gion. At the time an­other gang, the in­hab­i­tants of Gibeon, co­zied up to the Is­raelites, want­ing to back what looked like the win­ning side.

They claimed to have trav­elled from afar and en­dured nu­mer­ous hard­ships such big fans were they, and so keen to be friends with Is­rael. The Is­raelites, not par­tic­u­larly sure who th­ese peo­ple were, since there were so many dif­fer­ent gangs in­volved in the smit­ing busi­ness at the time, none­the­less agreed to make an al­liance with them, see­ing as how they had come such a long way un­der haz­ardous con­di­tions and looked to be in such a bad way as a re­sult.

How­ever, no sooner was the al­liance agreed than it turned out the gang from Gibeon had not come from afar at all but lived just beyond the third sand dune on the left, and by hook­ing up with the Is­raelites were sim­ply seek­ing pro­tec­tion from other smiters in the neigh­bour­hood.

When the Is­raelites re­al­ized they had been conned, they were poi­soned. They couldn’t back out of the al­liance with­out dam­ag­ing their rep­u­ta­tion, but their an­noy­ance was ob­vi­ous when they out­lined the terms of the deal the gang­sters of Gibeon could expect.

From the Bi­ble, Joshua 9 verse 23: “Now there­fore, you are cursed, and you shall never cease be­ing slaves, both hew­ers of wood and draw­ers of wa­ter for the house of my God.”

So this hew­ing of wood and draw­ing of wa­ter has had a very long his­tory of not be­ing the most de­sir­able line of work.

But de­spite that, we are hard at it today in this coun­try. We are try­ing against strong op­po­si­tion to run pipe­lines west and south to de­liver oily mud to the world’s hugest in­dus­trial pow­ers, where their work­ers will get the jobs do­ing the re­fin­ing.

In this prov­ince we aren’t do­ing the hew­ing we once did, but there is still one pa­per mill. Given the time be­tween writ­ing this col­umn and its ap­pear­ance in the news­pa­per, I am tak­ing a bit of a risk by de­scrib- ing that mill as open. It turns out newsprint is just about the low­est val­ueadded prod­uct you can make out of a tree.

The de­ci­sion of whether the last re­main­ing mill lives or dies will be taken in a board­room far away and will de­pend on how suc­cess­ful the man­age­ment is in black­mail­ing fright­ened work­ers. The com­pany is ask­ing that they be al­lowed to dou­ble from five to 10 years the time al­lowed for them to re­turn the money they have been tak­ing from worker’s pen­sion plans.

Ocean Choice In­ter­na­tional was in­dig­nant when the Dun­derdale govern­ment, in a rare ex­am­ple of stand­ing up for fish work­ers in ru­ral ar­eas, re­fused them per­mis­sion to ship to China fish that had been drawn from the wa­ter but not hewed even one lit­tle bit.

Hew­ers of wood and draw­ers of wa­ter we most as­suredly still are in this coun­try. But that can change. How­ever, it may call for some smit­ing. Peter Pick­ers­gill can be reached by

e-mail at pick­ers­gill@mac.com

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