Heinz ketchup has a long history with my family. There are just some products that 'no-name' brands can't replace, and ketchup is one of them. I put the 57 on everything and my family is the same. We have this joke that when my grandma finally leaves us, the stock of Heinz will plummet 10 per cent. From what I've been told, my great-grandfather was even more addicted, putting the tomato and vinegar mixture on his pancakes. It is also said that he could make those old glass bottles -- no matter how stubborn they were -- dispense for anyone. While the thought of ketchup on flapjacks makes me cringe, it does show you how committed my family is to their Heinz products. In fact, I have three full bottles currently waiting in reserve.
So you can imagine my horror when, earlier this week, an announcement was made that the Leamington Heinz plant will be shutting its doors. A former tobacco plant-turned-ketchup distributor, in an area that is renowned for its ability to grow world-class produce, will close its doors in the middle of 2014.
Opened in 1909, this plant now has 740 employees, with a further 500 employed seasonally. The million dollars in tax revenue that it generates is quintessential to the city's infrastructure. Its closure means that the farmers in Essex County, who grow and sell their tomatoes to the company, will have to find another crop to grow. This will affect thousands of farmers. To say that this plant is the pillar of Leamington is an understatement; the name Heinz has affected every aspect of the city and this closure is a death sentence for its 24,000 inhabitants. The city simply will not recover from this. The tomato capital of Canada will have to find a different nickname as the second largest ketchup distributor of North America becomes a memory, little better than a trivial pursuit answer. I never thought that I would miss the John Deer tractor hauling two trailers of tomatoes at 15 km an hour on an Essex County side road, the wheels of which make passing an impossibility.
While it is horrible and repulsive to tell 740 employees a month before Christmas that they have lost their jobs, what I take issue with is Mr. Warren Buffet. On February 14, 2013, it was announced that Heinz would be purchased by Berkshire Hathaway -- Mr. Buffet's company -- and 3G Capital for 28-billion dollars. This news brought a level of uneasiness to the area: Essex County has already lost General Motors completely, production at Ford and Chrysler plants has dropped dramatically, Caterpillar has up and left, while Seagram's looks to be not far behind.
Losing jobs is nothing new for an area that has been dealt one of the hardest hands in this recession. The city of Windsor is also in Essex County and has been known as the unemployment capital of Canada for years. The shell of what was once Detroit is just over the border, and a lot of Essex County's eggs were in her basket. But I digress.
The issue at hand is Mr. Warren Buffet. As the second richest man in the world, he urges his fellow one percenters to give the vast majority of their wealth away, and he publicly reproves the United States over the fact that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than himself. All commendable. But, while he openly donates money and berates others for their lack of action, he is also responsible for the quiet destruction of an entire community. Why donate 2 billion with one hand, while taking away the livelihood of a city with the other? Does that 2 billion not bear the stain of the jobless masses you created? How many other cities have you torn the heart out of? If I were part of the one percent and you tried to give me charitable advice, I would point to the spot on the map where Leamington used to be.
I understand that "business is business" as the saying goes, but please don't pretend to be Santa Clause and actually be Mr. Burns. At least Mr. Burns didn't hide his evil. You can write a piece like "My philanthropic pledge" but don't think for one second that I am impressed. You are self-serving and have in essence created a new version of Indulgences. Kings used to be able to buy their way into heaven but I have news for you sir, that practice was stopped in 1567, and no amount of money will forgive you for the sins done unto the people of Leamington.
I suggest you stop the charade. No more of the kindly wizard façade. Stop giving advice on how to save the middle class or on how fellow billionaires should donate their wealth. No more advice to the governments whose unemployment rates you yourself help drive up. Your true self has been revealed -- to me at least. You honestly had me fooled for 30 years. But I promise you this: the role of Mr. Potter for Leamington's rendition of It's a Wonderful Life is a role you were born to play.