Arif Jinha floats a great idea for Hershey’s plant

Since this was posted Arif Jinha has withdrawn his candidacy for the NDP.  The project noted here remains a great idea!


Arif Jinha, federal NDP candidate in the riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Lennox-Addington, sent this letter to members of his facebook group, outlining a terrific idea for the soon-to-be-closed Hershey’s plant in Smiths Falls:


Fair Trade in Smiths Falls

To members of Arif4MP Lanark Frontenac Lennox and Addington

Hi supporters of me! You are making my political head swell, really.
So here’s the thing. I’m sure most of you have heard about the upcoming closing of the Hershey’s Factory in Smiths Fall in 2008 – 500 jobs. This coincides with the ongoing closure of Rideau Regional – 800 jobs. 1300 jobs is 13% of the town’s population, which is already disparately poor by Canadian standards. That’s maybe 100,00 jobs in the NCR. The reason Hershey’s is closing is that the profit the factory makes is not as high for Hershey’s as it could be with low-wage labour in Mexico.
I have spoken with the workers at the factory and shared with them an idea I had, and had been thought of by others – one being an international development consultant who was there at the meeting.
The idea is to save some of the jobs, with potential for future job creation, by a combination of employee buyout and re-organizing into a Fair Trade chocolate producer. The Chocolate Museum that exists now would be transformed into an educational Fair Trade Exhibition. The workers saw the vision, but were understandably cautious as to their risks and the feasibility. We need a feasibility study and are trying to get the funds for it.
With my head already swelled by your support, I have to say that in theory it is a magnificent idea.
The end product would be a ‘manufactured in Canada by worker-owned company fair trade/local dairy’ chocolate. Guilt-free sin! It’s insanely marketable as a chocolate with a story. I have already named it Sweet Justice.
Globalization is killing manufacturing here, not to mention impoverishing farmers and expoliting poverty for comparative advantage in labour. This product would turn all those on their heads. Many times people have told me their fears that we focus too much on global problems when there are so many here. Of course, many would disagree given the comparative degradations. So, we get to satisfy all! And satisfaction is what chocolate is all about. Charities that sell chocolate for poor kids would know that there’s no child labour in the product, and they’re contributing to global and local prosperity.
Ok, long message, sorry about that. The problem is that though we’ve now met with the Deputy Minister of Economic Development, with an expert from Queen’s on employee buyout, the energy has been flat. No one has flat out ruled out this proposal, but given it’s greater complexity than other solutions like building condos, amusement park, a retail only Hershey store (talk about licking the crumbs of the one who walked on you!), I fear it will not happen.
So, it would cheer me up and motivate me to somehow,’make it happen’ if you write me and tell me how enthusiastic you are about a ‘manufactured in Canada by worker-owned company Fair Trade/Local Dairy Chocolate’.
Smiths Falls – The Chocolate Capital of Ontario, would not be the same if it is does not make chocolate! And the Legend it would be if it could be done would make it famous, thus sellling more chocolate and creating more jobs and lifting more producers out of poverty!! This is the subject of my first MA research paper, and we are still holding out hope for the funds that are needed from the province for the feasibility study.
So that is the reason I write you now, in the hopes that your enthusiasm allows me the energy to pursue a longshot. Let me know what you think.
Thank you so much!

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A facebook message I want to keep!

Hi Kenn,

You remind me why I’m in the NDP. I came upon your blog in regards to the Smiths Falls issue, and found so much more. I am writing you a scattered and grateful note to have found both heart, mind and spirit in the NDP through your blog. Much of what you have written about has sparked these words back. I was very touched by the honour given Craig on your blog. And if you’re ever in Perth, or even Carleton Place, we must meet.

I’m running against Scott Reid in the next election as the candidate for LFLA NDP and came upon your blog trying to see if there was any update on Hershey’s. So, I was really excited that we seem to have some things in common. I’m thinking of approaching the CAW local and La Siembra to see if a worker-owned fair trade chocolate company could be formed.

I noticed a lot of bipolar links on your site. In the original email I was explaining my involvement in the Sacha Bond issue. I’ve also been talking with Kevin Kinsella on the federal disabilities committee about supports for people who experience mental distress or who have mental illness.

I applaud your use of creative commons licensing and am also a ‘copyleft’ advocate. My MA thesis in Globalization and International Development will cover access to knowledge. Copyright reform is something the NDP will champion I’m sure.

I have to say I enjoy your blog much than the site. I have spoken to several people in the NDP about making their civicspace site more dynamic. I have a site that is down right now due to a horrible server company, on drupal,, and on wordpress. The focus for both is user-generated, but the NDP is not using their drupal cousin, civicspace, capabilities in this way. It could be useful for committees.

Anyway, I’m working on a drupal site for my campaign, Right now I just have as a temporary one.

There is someone I’m trying to locate, Pierre Beaulne, whose marriage was one of the first cases to go to the Supreme Court on equal marriage. There is someone I work for who has lost contact with him many years ago, the situation is such that I can’t say everything about it, but he was a colleague of Pierre’s who is in a very bad situation now, very isolated, and I offered to help him find old friends. He had done tremendous gay rights activism work in the late ’80s. Pierre was quite a prominent an activist as well, so I thought maybe you may be able to help!

Sorry to write so much, as another helpless spiritual wanderer, it is refreshing to see such spirituality and humanity amidst the procedural communication of party politics.

in the spirit of brotherhood, good health


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Gazette’s “Tale of Two Cities” hits where I once lived

This morning’s Montreal Gazette hits home, emotionally and almost literally, with its feature “Tale of Two Cities” (under Editor’s Picks).

Comparing two small cities – Salaberry-de-Valleyfield (pop. +/- 40,000), in the extreme southwestern corner of the province, and Rivière-du-Loup (pop. 22,439), several hundred kilometers to the northeast – the newspaper contrasts the economies, and the fortunes (not necessarily economic), of the two municipalities.

As I have written about elsewhere in this blog, Salaberry-de-Valleyfield is where I grew up. While no longer the place I call home – nor do any other members of my family (although my brother, in Montréal, is just 60 kilometers away) – Valleyfield is still my hometown.

It is interesting, to me, how much I have been influenced by my years there in ways – both large and small – that I take for granted or, at least, I do not always fully appreciate. Living as an English-speaking person in an overwhelmingly French-speaking town gave me an empathy, which I hold to this day, for Québec’s dominant language and culture. The English majority of Canada, and the colonialist English history of Québec, ensured my space in English-language schools and ‘community’ during those awkward years between “The Quiet Revolution” and the election, in my second-to-last year of high school, of the first Parti Québecois government in 1976.

The PQ’s progressive social policies, by the way, made the party far less objectionable to me than for many English-speaking people in the province. This was, perhaps, easy for me to say, though, as my post-secondary education would take me out of Québec less than a year later. As Niagara College students and faculty of that time can attest, however, I was a great defender of Québec during those early days of the PQ.

My first opportunity to show that publicly was when the late, legendary CBC journalist Barbara Frum visited one of my classes and, as the then-host of As It Happens, she and I politely and enthusiastically exchanged views on the René Lévesque government. I also had one of my first-ever letters to the editor published that fall when Maclean’s Magazine printed my response to something broadcaster Gordon Sinclair had written about Québec.

So, to quote the headline given that letter, I “know whereof I speak” as a 17-year old college rookie then and, with many memories of Valleyfield, now.

To read the Gazette article on Valleyfield, particularly the statistics on post-secondary education, is to ground myself in gratitude for the sacrifices my parents made to put, not one but four, kids through college or university.

Dad was a supervisor in a small, long-since-closed, specialty textiles plant – Springdale – in an industrial town then known for much larger employers like Montreal Cotton/Dominion Textiles (of, as I noted here, Madeleine Parent fame), Schenley’s (whose whiskey bottle labels proudly included the name Valleyfield), a past war-era C.I.L. munitions factory, whose suburban location – Nitro – was named for, guess what, nitroglycerin, a zinc refinery, large chemical plants, such as Allied Chemical Canada Ltd., and – from the time I was a baby – Goodyear.

Incidentally, to read a history of Allied, combined with C.I.L. and other large plants, is to realize just how potentially explosive Valleyfield was back then (and may well still be). There were, indeed, a couple of memorable accidents while I grew up. It is a wonder, too, that my blood does not glow in the dark. Heavy industry was part of my subconscious world-view.

Yet, and this is thanks to Mom’s role as in-home music teacher to dozens of children, and both Mom’s and Dad’s involvement in Valleyfield United Church (where Mom played, and directed the choir, from a beautiful Casavant Frères pipe organ), I never felt, as a kid, like I was part of a hands-dirtied industrial society – although Dad certainly was. Perhaps it was the liberal United Church upbringing, more than anything, which made me the socialist I am today.

Even in my high school which, like the hospital, was a regional, English-language school in Ormstown, I was more aware of local farm families than company-town kids. I was, stereotypically – if not flamboyantly so – gay, a member of the school choir, band and drama clubs. I don’t need to think hard, though, to remember how the economy in Valleyfield, certainly, revolved around industry that employed well-paid, unionized workers.

Dad and Mom moved to Valleyfield in the mid-to-late 1950s, between the time my older brother was born, in Perth, Ontario, and I came into the world in October of 1959 in Ormstown, Québec, twenty kilometers from Valleyfield, where the region’s English-language hospital was located. (My two sisters were also born there.) Dad’s employer, Springdale, had decided to shut down its Perth operations and move them to Valleyfield, closer to the firm’s Montréal headquarters. Suffice to say I was a first-generation citizen of Québec, Canada.

I went to school with older siblings – and there were twelve of them – of Gerald McKissock, whose personal story, related to the pending loss of so many jobs at Goodyear, is featured in both the print and audio-slideshow versions of the Gazette story on Valleyfield. I remember when Gerald was born (he is just six years my junior) to a family whose lifestyle was, to say the least, modest. He, better than my memory, could tell me which of his siblings were in my school classes.

So, as I read today’s Gazette I am filled with sadness for the Goodyear families of Valleyfield. To see the stark statistics on higher education from 2001, showing 38 per cent of locals between ages 45 and 64 never earned a high school diploma, (that demographic age group takes in we three oldest Chaplin children), is to be reminded of the sacrifices my parents made for us.

This is not to boast, by any means, but to try to express a measure of gratitude for my parents’ sheer determination – one very modest pay-cheque and one piano lesson at a time – to start us off so well away from the nest. That nest, in my youngest sister’s final year of high school, was moved back to Perth, Ontario where Dad, thankfully, retired a few years early when Springdale – like Goodyear is doing, substantially, now – shut down (for good) in Valleyfield.

The islands which make up Salaberry-de-Valleyfield and area are located in a beautiful river valley, just upstream from Montréal, between the Laurentian Mountains to the north, and the Adirondacks to the south. The town’s lasting physical beauty is all the more remarkable, given the presence of so much industry among which, it’s now certainly clear, is tourism.

I hope my hometown survives as more than a bedroom community for the Montréal area. Its speedboat regatta each summer is still going strong. Certainly Valleyfield’s location on major highway and rail networks, in addition to being a still-vital port on the St. Lawrence Seaway with industry still there, leave me hopeful.

Gazette photographer Phil Carpenter, who narrates his web site slide-show (which may or may not, it seems, stay up there) included a picture of a sign near the Goodyear plant which, translated, reads, “Goodyear plant closure: 1000 direct jobs lost; 3000 indirect jobs lost – an economic and human disaster for the region. Where are our governments?”

Then, echoing a provincial license plate slogan adopted by the the new Parti Québecois government of 1976, the sign exclaims, “I will remember!”

This is a time of provincial elections in Québec and, perhaps by spring, federal elections all across Canada.

Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, to a certain extent, probably feels like it’s sailing against the wind these days. Prospective governments might want to pay attention.

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Smiths Falls, dairy farmers and Mexico – like Canada, hockey and palm trees (updated)

Update: Kudos to the people of Smiths Falls and area, who are clearly not going to lose Hershey without a spirited fight [1], [2], [3]. (The third link, Ottawa’s Sunday Sun, just so happens to highlight some of the corporate-speak, from earlier in the week, that I remarked about last evening [below]. To be fair, however, the Sun also has word of a compelling election year petition, circulated at yesterday’s rally, with some constructive – and, yes, construction – ideas for Premier Dalton McGuinty.)

Hershey’s kisses Monterrey’s ass

The underbelly of the aging NAFTA beast has been rearing its ugly head in the eastern Ontario town of Smiths Falls recently with the announcement by Hershey that its plant there, popular with tourists and locals alike, would be closing.

The company’s international headquarters, based in the Pennsylvania town which bears its name, calls the move – get this – part of “a comprehensive, three-year supply chain transformation program”.

The Easter Bunny will have an extra Hershey’s & Reece’s Pieces Candy Egg for the company MBA who thought up that bit of Orwellian biz-speak. Among the company’s goals, according to the business press, is the regaining of market share from archrival Mars.

Reese’s are from Hershey’s, M & M’s are from Mars – is there a book title in there somewhere?

Having blogged earlier today about urban issues, and yes I do live in a big city, I now must add my voice to those who see the family farm, and ancillary interests, being systematically killed by the ‘free trade’, Wal-martesque, McCorporate agri-business sector in North America.

Paranthetically, while I grew up in a suburban Montréal industrial town, the demographics of the language-based school system there meant that I was bussed to a rural, regional English-language high school whose students were mostly all either from families working small local farms or were employed by closely-related businesses. The same can be said for the area where Mom and Dad came from, twelve to fifteen miles from Smiths Falls. Living, and working as a reporter, in the Niagara Region in my 20s, too, sensitized me to issues of urban sprawl on unique agricultural lands. So, I hope, I have at least some empathy, if not direct knowledge, whereof I speak.

When a plant like Hershey’s closes in a small town it’s more than the company parking lot that empties out. There is a lot of milk on surrounding farms that will be looking for new markets. The Tim Horton’s that Hershey’s employees drive through (or “thru”) will see a difference. The independent retailers of Smiths Falls, already dominated by Wal-Mart and, to a lesser extent, the local Conservative Member of Parliament’s own Giant Tiger discount stores, will find few reasons to stay.

Hershey’s, whose Canadian operations, incidentally, have – for quite awhile now – been based in the Toronto-area mega-suburb of Mississauga, is (as part of this #$%# transformation) outsourcing production of some products and building a “cost-efficient” manufacturing plant in Monterrey, Mexico.

Hmmm…so the best eastern Ontario farmers could expect might be to have refrigerated rail cars of their milk being shipped to Mexico.

As if…

Meanwhile the well-paid, union workers at Hershey’s in Smiths Falls will be replaced…er supply-chain transformed… by sweatshop-equivalent jobs in Monterrey. An even better, principled, reason for Canadian tourists, who already seem to have targets on their backs there, to boycott Mexico.

Hershey’s latter-day Mississauga headquarters removed the Smiths Falls name from its candy wrappers years ago. Now it boasts of the Hershey Centre arena and its Ice Dogs hockey team in Hazel McCallionville.

You can still smell chocolate in the air as you travel into Smiths Falls…for now anyway. That’s the size of town it is.

You’ll still be able to smell some of the natural odours of dairy farms, even after Hershey’s closes, but – in addition to employment assistance programs for older workers who will be displaced – is it not time that this country, and this province, too, had better, more comprehensive agricultural policies which would make farming here better supported and more viable? The farm crisis is real. As farm families proudly declare, “Farmers feed cities”.

Meanwhile, as Montreal Simon reminds us in his comment below, the deep commercial integration of Canada-through the U.S.A.-to-Mexico is well underway. Hence, I’ll add a plug for one of my blogroll sites Vive Le Canada!

NO Deep integration!

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More sweat in new t-shirts?

Reading my hometown weekly, Le Soleil de Valleyfield, I see that Gildan announced last week that it is closing its plant there and sending the equivalent of 150 jobs to the Dominican Republic and Honduras. (Would that be about 30 jobs?) Strange that the Valleyfield workers weren’t even offered a transfer south, eh?

I’ve seen a lot of Gildan-made shirts at various rallies for progressive causes. Wonder who will make activists’ shirts now?

I see now that Amnesty International (Canada) had my shirts made, in Canada, by Jerico.