Job cuts aren't small potatoes

Brodie Thomas
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 Anyone who has travelled on the Marine Atlantic ferry has faced the potato interrogation.

You know, the fellow who wants to make sure you don’t have any potatoes in your trunk as you prepare to drive aboard this ship.

Well now there are reports that four to six jobs are going to be cut from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Station at the ferry terminal in Port aux Basques (Newfoundland & Labrador).

The CFIA has confirmed the carwash will be shut, leaving vehicles needing a wash to look elsewhere. Officials would not say when the carwash operation will cease, which is a fairly important detail in all this.

There is little doubt some local entrepreneur will capitalize from this cut, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Expect to see some sort of self-serve carwash large enough to service large vehicles in the near future.

But setting up a new business such as that will not be simple. Whoever takes it on will likely face an entire series of environmental and regulatory hoops to jump through before starting such a business.

The thing about self-serve carwashes is that they generally don’t have many employees - certainly not the 15 or so full-time unionized jobs the CFIA was providing to Port aux Basques. Even losing four is going to hurt the local economy.

By closing the carwash, the federal government is taking an efficient and streamlined service and making it more complicated. When checking in at the ferry with a vehicle, one first drives through the ticket booth and then on to the inspection agency. If agents are now going to send dirty vehicles back outside the terminal grounds in search of a quick rinse, expect snarls and delays.

The CFIA’s release explains that the washing station was put in place to prevent potato wart and potato cyst nematode from spreading to the rest of Canada. The CFIA’s release also states it “remains strongly committed to protecting Canada’s plant resources, and recognizes the important role we all play in ensuring proper preventative measures are taken.”

We don’t doubt the workers’ commitment to food safety, but the federal government’s commitment is now up for debate. Actions speak much louder than words. If anything, there needs to be a CFIA terminal in North Sydney to keep invasive species such as snakes from disturbing this island’s unique ecosystem.

Frankly the cuts are disturbing. There is fat to be cut in the federal bureaucracy, but the frontline workers keeping our food safe and protecting our agriculture industry is not the place to begin.

Gulf News (April 24, 2012)

Organizations: Canadian Food Inspection Agency Station, CFIA terminal

Geographic location: Port aux Basques, Canada, North Sydney

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