Monday, February 23, 2015

It was the Best of Times...It was the Worst of Times.

The last thing I want to do is create panic or fear, but I think we need to be thinking about current economic trends and the impact it may have on Bassano. I don't know how many of you have ever been unemployed for a short or extended period, but it's no fun. I used to pride myself that I was only on unemployment for four months when I was 22 years old. So for thirty years, I was fortunate enough to be employed even through college and university. My dad taught all of kids the value of work, he has been a great example for me over my life. At 76, he still makes his way back into the bush behind my parents house and cuts brush, limb trees, plows, hauls, and whatever he can find to keep himself busy. So I have learned a lot from him, and I have tried to model myself after him in terms of working hard. But sometimes life hits you, and hits you hard.

Many people from the area probably don't know that in May 2014, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) cut our funding for our school that we created in 2005. Credenda Virtual High School laid off all its employees on May 16th, 2014, and yet most staff volunteered their services until the end of June with no pay just so students could get their credits. The fact that AANDC did what they did is still a sore point for me, especially since we had an agreement until the end of August. But that's for another time. What I want to highlight is the tremendous stress being unemployed puts on families. Going from a decent salary to waiting for unemployment to kick in and then trying to live on less than 50 percent of what you were used to was extremely challenging. Then add into the equation, both of us lost our jobs because we both worked for the same organization. It was a difficult time, and we have spent months trying to get caught up. I don't share this for people to feel sorry for us, but for the purpose for people to know we didn't come to Bassano under the easiest of circumstances, and we understand tough times. We are very thankful that this opportunity opened up for us, and we have adapted well to our new surroundings. We have no complaints about the weather. We gladly left the cold north!

That brings me to what is happening in Alberta at large and specifically here in Bassano. A few weeks ago, I caught wind that CPR was closing our local maintenance shop. Quite shocking since CPR is reporting record profits of $1.76B for last year. When I spoke to Tom Rose, Mayor of Bassano, he had this to say, "There are a myriad of reasons as to why I'm concerned with the potential closure of our CPR maintenance shop. First and foremost, I'm concerned about public safety. Fewer workers servicing more track will most certainly lead to more derailments. There is a tremendous amount of dangerous goods passing through Bassano on an hourly basis, so I find it reprehensible that CPR is considering cut backs of this nature and putting not just our community, but others as well, at risk." 

Tom and I reached out to Jason Hale, MLA to see what he could do to help. Jason had a couple  of conversations with the VP of Gov Relations for the CPR regarding the closure. "I asked him to look into keeping the Bassano shop open, but it was a decision made above him. Although he explained it as a corporate restructuring with no effect on safety, I agree with Tom, the fewer people looking after the track, there are more chances of derailments and increased safety issues." CPR has already been quietly making cuts though. Unknowingly to the general public, we only have three CPR workers stationed in Bassano, instead of the designated six, because CPR didn't fill the other three positions when they became vacant. So we have three fewer workers sharing the workload of six people and covering more track. In addition, it makes more sense to maintain Bassano's shop that is heated and only one mile off of being half way between Calgary and Medicine Hat. Take these three employees from Bassano and the impact to the community could be even more significant economically. If we lose these three families, that's seven students from the school (which amounts to about half a teacher's salary), fewer local shoppers at the local grocery store, restaurants, and other businesses.

Now add to that reports of other layoffs from the oil and gas sector, which could affect more families. The drop in oil prices is going to hit Alberta hard. The government needs to find ways to make up for lost revenue if it's going to keep programming at the same level. Hiring freezes are in place at various government levels. In addition, the government is proposing health care premiums. And let's hope that the BSE cow in Spruce Grove doesn't add to matters and affect that industry as well.

Once again, I don't say this to scare folks, but because we need to rally around and support our affected families. In order for our small communities to survive difficult economic times we need to be resourceful and very creative around economic development. Alberta cannot build its entire economy around oil and gas. Saskatchewan learned this lesson through twenty plus years of economic drought. They invested heavily in multiple industries and diversified their resources so that when one resource dropped in the market, it didn't collapse the entire economy. That's why Saskatchewan is growing. So if Bassano wants to continue to grow, we need to attract businesses that do not depend strictly on oil and gas. 

This gets personal for people like Jason Hale, who added, "I was born and raised in this town and this is where we have raised our children who are the 4th generation of Hales to live in Bassano. The current financial situation in the province will have a negative impact on many businesses and families. But we must all work together to come up with solutions to keep our communities and businesses sustainable. I care deeply what happens here and will help however I can." So when we have our Bassano Vision meeting on March 3, 2015, maybe you need to come join us and give your input. This is a time for action and not just sitting back and talking about it.

We've already one family move away up north to secure employment this year with two students. It's hard on kids to relocate, make new friends, or become accustom to new surroundings, such as schools and teachers. Sometimes we have to move, out of necessity. However, lives are affected. So what do those who find themselves in these situations need from us. Most importantly, empathy, not sympathy. Empathy is that coming alongside someone in need, listening, and understanding what they are feeling. We don't empathize from a distance, being overly detached and unfeeling, or even self-centered caring about only our own needs.

What can we do from the school side? First of all, we can't assume we know what is happening in people's lives at home. So please contact us if you need to talk. Maybe there are things we can do by way of recommending retraining programs. We are currently in talks with Medicine Hat College about bringing the University Transfer Program to Bassano School. Maybe it's time to start working on the university degree before transferring to the University of Calgary, or Lethbridge. But why not do it here in Bassano without having to move. These would be evening and weekend classes. We only need 15 people to register with Medicine Hat College, and sign up for the Fall to make it run. We are also looking at the Healthcare Aide program as well, since we have the simulator that was donated by Cenovus, Dick Haskayne, and others

There are a few things we can do help those in need in the community, but we need to all pull together with one concerted effort. Reach out to those in need, or call us if there is any way we can help with pointing you in the direction of training, upgrading, or just listening. 
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