SIMS: I know what it’s like growing up when oil and gas jobs dry up

While lamenting the potential plight of killer whales, those opposing pipelines could collect hand-me-down rubber boots.

That’s one of the things kind-hearted neighbours gave my family when governments and circumstances conspired to send our lives spiralling. Today, that spiral is just starting its descent for more than 8,000 people who lost their jobs.

With the stroke of a pen, a Federal Court of Appeals judge, Eleanor Dawson, slammed the brakes on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. It’s a project that had won 17 times in previous court challenges and got the green light from successive federal governments for five years. Dawson cited the plight of killer whales 57 times and a lack of consultation with First Nations peoples.

What does this mean for the 8,000 jobless? I can tell you because I grew up in it.

My father worked in Alberta’s oil patch in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After serving with peacekeepers in Cyprus and guarding Quebec politicians during the FLQ crisis, he left the armed forces and worked in the oil patch. The resource sector is a great equalizer for many steel-toed-men. It puts them on the level with the well-heeled. It pays for new homes, new trucks, road trips and hockey school.

When my triplet sisters were born — giving our family four children under the age of four — Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau nuked the oil patch with the National Energy Program. Suddenly, dad had no big pay cheque to go back to.

What happens when an oil sector is thrown off a cliff? A landslide of desperation. If there are no oil jobs there are no trucking jobs, if there are no trucking jobs there are no road building jobs, if there are no road building jobs, then, the board in every work hall gets full of people scrambling to find any work. Construction? Good luck.

For my early childhood, it meant witnessing parental fighting, eating macaroni and hot dog casserole, picking second-hand rubber boots out of a donation box left on our porch, and, listening to my mother cry, pushed to the edge by no name bar soap that smelled like burnt metal.

But I’m proud we made it through.

My parents managed to string together my mother’s graveyard nursing shifts, my father’s sporadic labour and trucking jobs, and, his ability to bag a moose in the fall and chop wood for the winter. Our neighbours brought us some of their salmon and we grew vegetables.

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It was hard for us, but harder for others. Other families lost their homes, watched their trucks get repossessed, saw their parents get divorced and fall into alcoholism and drug abuse. The unspeakable also happened: people committed suicide. Terribly, that’s happening again: Alberta saw a 30% spike in people taking their own lives during the energy sector troubles of 2015 alone.

People in the industry are afraid it will be worse this time. They fear it’s not just the normal boom-and-bust of commodity prices and not the same government bungling they saw during a global oil crisis that led to the NEP.

Nowadays, we have a federal government that mouths sentiments while failing to establish a coherent approval process for vital projects like pipelines.

Nowadays, energy sector families watch fellow Canadians, clothed in petroleum-based synthetic materials, shout “keep it in the ground” through plastic megaphones, at protests they burned fuel to get to, while streaming it all on plastic smartphones.

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Nowadays, the lifeblood of our surging modern world – oil –  is being dammed by those who often benefit from it the most, while they demand alternatives that don’t practically exist.

These resource sector families need leadership. They need a prime minister who does the hard work on policy so that they can do the hard work to build a pipeline. This isn’t about poll numbers or GDP projections, it’s about people, and they deserve better.

Kris Sims is B.C. Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies