I have recently returned from just over two weeks of vacation to what I consider home in Victoria, British Columbia and am back in Fort McMurray, Alberta, where I moved just over two years ago. I moved here from Victoria for work after struggling to make a decent living in Victoria, a struggle that has gone on for many of the 20 years that I lived in Victoria. Victoria is not a cheap place to live, with Vancouver perhaps being a bit more expensive, but typically with higher wages for anyone that has certain skill sets, so minimum earners in Vancouver have an even tougher time than those in Victoria. If you don’t work for the government, armed forces or the educational employers, such as UVIC or Camosun College, then you better have a trade if you want to make a decent living in the Capital Region. For the majority of workers in Victoria who are not skilled workers or fortunate to have a well paying job in the aforementioned sectors it means low paying service sector jobs in the hospitality sector, retail sector and the like. I compare that to Fort McMurray where the typical worker in the unskilled types of employment earns several dollars an hour more than Victoria or Vancouver and skilled trades are making 2 or 3 times more money and some even more than that. Additional money is paid by many employers as a daily living allowance, camp jobs for some mean free room and board and in many cases flights to and from the region are covered as well. All of this money, all the benefits, including great medical for many, are a huge draw for many looking to escape the living poverty wages paid throughout the rest of the country.
Before I came to Fort McMurray I considered myself an activist, with politically left leanings that are really at odds with the oil industry in general, but despite that the draw of a decent living wage was enough to draw me here for work. When I see all of the negative press about the oil sands and the negative comments I see from friends and family it makes me angry, as I see the other side of the coin now and am feeling for the first time in many years that I am getting paid what I am worth. I have been able to pull myself most of the way out of the financial hole I dug for myself and my family over many years and many of the people I deal with on a daily basis tell the same story, about years of struggling along on barely enough to survive and then coming here and making unbelievably good money. Oil is money, it is the international currency right now, with regional wars being waged to gain control of this valuable resource and as long as the entire world runs on oil that is not going to change anytime soon. While everyone is still driving around in vehicles powered by oil and gas, while a multitude of consumer products derived from oil and produced using oil and gas energy, I see many of the negative comments and articles as extremely hypocritical. But I digress, as I merely point out the reality of the society in which we live, where everyone wants all the benefits that oil produces, but are unwilling or unable to affect any real change to divest ourselves of our oil dependence.
I am planning on moving back to beautiful British Columbia to live in my home in glorious Victoria on picturesque Vancouver Island, the sooner the better. In order to do so and be comfortable, to live without having to struggle to pay the bills, I have to live in the frozen Canadian north for a little while longer, short of winning the lottery of course. It is really just a shame that the rest of Canada, and my home town specifically, cannot compete with the wages that drew me to northern Alberta in the first place. As long as Canada, with its high cost of living and relatively low wages across the board for many average workers, continues to see this dichotomy in wages and demand for workers in undesirable areas, then this situation will continue to exist. One solution is for employers in Canada to loosen up their wallets and start paying decent wages, for the government of Canada to lower taxes for average Canadians and start to tax corporations at much higher rates and close tax loopholes for the richest corporation, some of whom pay no taxes at all on obscene profits. Will this really happen without massive pressure from the public? Will it take a revolution to become a reality? Would the Americans allow such radical transformation without overtly intervening? Covertly the Americans already exert a huge influence on Canadian politics and that is unlikely to change without a huge shift in the USA, so perhaps a revolution in America would not be such a bad thing. Oh, I said the “R” word, guess that gets me on to the radar of the NSA, or Homeland Security, or the CIA? Care to join me?