Between October 2008 and August 2009, Canada lost 486,000 full-time jobs. Dramatic as they are, even these figures do not speak to the experiences of workers whose lives are being devastated by job loss. Our communities are in crisis. Sylvain Schetagne, Senior Economist with the Canadian Labour Congress, went to seven Canadian communities, including Miramichi, to look beyond the statistics to shed light on the effects of the economic crisis on working men and women, their families and their communities. The results point to a failure of unfair trade, investment, and financial policies.
Schetagne released his report Communities in Crisis: Miramichi, NB on September 15, 2010.
Miramichi is surrounded by natural resources that have fuelled its economy for more than a century. At one point, Miramichi had one of the largest pulp and paper mills in Canada, employing more than 1,000 workers. This mill is now closed permanently. Over time, the population decreased as employment declined.
Miramichiers, who lost jobs as a result of mill closures, did all they could to survive at first with severance pay, Employment Insurance cheques, training support, and job opportunities in the province or across the country. These sources of funds are now drying up.
Between August 2008 and August 2009, the Miramichi region lost 3,100 jobs, a staggering 30.4% year-over-year drop in employment. The biggest employer in town is now the Regional Hospital.
Bobbie-Jo Metallic is a single mother who had to resign her job because of lack of child care. During the federal election, she worked at a call centre and was compelled to work double shifts from 9:00 am to 2:00 am. After the election, she went on EI benefits, but those benefits ran out:
I had no income except for my daughter’s family allowance ― which is hers. I had no choice but to apply for unemployment, and that took almost another two and a half months waiting for it… My EI benefits ran out two weeks ago… I was entitled to $200 every two weeks… Her birthday is in two weeks… Luckily, I bought her gift. I guess I’m going to have to make a cake, but I can do that.
Lobster fishermen face extremely low prices. Those who work in public administration have suffered layoffs or drastic reductions in working hours. Those left behind cope with heavy workloads and frozen wages.
Food banks and shelters are starting to see a rapid rise in the demand of the services. The number of residents declaring bankruptcy is increasing, and many will be forced to go on social assistance after their EI runs out. Municipalities are losing their revenue with mill closures and the fire-sale of houses.
Kelly McKay speaks about her father who was laid off from the mill. He is ill, too young to retire, and has had to declare bankruptcy. “For me, as his child, it broke my heart to think that man has been working since he was 11, and what did it come down to? And I pray to God that doesn’t happen to me and to my children.”