Tuesday, October 9, 2012

'Looking for a Woman with a Syncrude job'


Outside Fort McMurray Monday (Oct. 8th) in front of some outdated oil sands machinery with Steve Drover, vice-president of CEP Local 707, representing unionized workers with Suncor. 
There are no hard-and-fast statistics, but word on the street here is that up to half of Fort McMurray’s 105,000 residents are made up of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
Or Newfies for short. 
I’m no fan of Newfie, but here on the ground in Fort Mac it’s what Newfoundlanders call themselves. 
So, as a Member of Parliament passing through, I don’t argue or disrespect. 
There are an incredible number of pickup trucks everywhere — four-wheel drive rigs covered in thick dust. 
The traffic on the highway to the oil sands just out of town is almost bumper-to-bumper at 6 a.m. 
The average salary in the patch is $100,000 a year. 
Where at home there’s the hint of salt in the air, in Fort Mac there’s a hint of oil, although it’s much stronger by the oil sands, near the tailings ponds. 
And, as I’ve been told often since I got here, “The smell of oil is the smell of money.
The income threshold for low-income housing is about $80,000 a year. 
There’s no doubt, this is a boom town. 
Homes go up fast, with some apartment units assembled almost like Lego blocks. 
A new, three-bedroom home with a double-car garage and an unregistered apartment can go for between $700,000 and $900,000. 
The population of Fort Mac is expected to more than double to 230,000 by 2030. 
Most service-industry jobs are filled by temporary foreign workers. 
I’ve been told to bring the message home that Newfoundland and Labrador MUST concentrate on education — educating locals and foreigners alike to fill trades jobs in places like Fort Mac. 
Which is starving for them — the appetite is insatiable. 
•••
It’s Thanksgiving and Ms. B’s Family Restaurant in downtown Fort Mac is serving turkey dinner for a steal at $14.95 a plate.
The food is delicious and there’s lots of it.
There are Newfoundland and Labrador CDs for sale on the counter near the entrance. 
The Banks of Newfoundland Radio Show plays every Sunday morning on a local station, and a CD of classics from the show has just been released. 
Some of the songs — the Little Boats of Newfoundland, for example — are familiar. 
Other songs — including Looking for a Woman with a Syncrude Job — are new to me. 
“You don’t get homesick here,” says one of the restaurant employees, referring to the number of people from "down Home."

She’s from Stephenville and returns home as often as possible. 
There’s a picture of an East Coast lighthouse near the entrance/exist, with a bulletin board just across the way. 
A two-bedroom, two-bath 1,087-square-foot apartment is available for rent Nov. 1 for the princely sum of $2,800 a month.
Another ad sells a 2.5-acre lot near Little Narrows, Cape Breton for $30,000. 
The ad next to it is for a three-bedroom, two-bath bungalow in Fort Mac for the reduced price of $579,000. 

Fort Mac, I'm told, is becoming a family town. 

But there are far more men than women, a fact hammered home when a plane unloads at the airport. 
•••
The Newfie Club isn’t anything special from the outside, a bar/restaurant in a small strip mall, but it’s the place where the NLers are sure to gather, especially on the weekends. 
Newfie Pop sells for $2.50 at the bar. 
I had to ask what it is, and was told Newfie Pop refers to anything with a Crush on the end of it … Orange Crush, Pineapple Crush, Grape Crush …
There’s a glass display case on a back wall filled with NL memorabilia — stuffed seal toys in old netting, an autographed picture of former NL NHLer Darren Langdon, a piece of NL tartan, a button from the uniform of a member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment from the First World War. 
NLers miss home, but they don’t miss the economy. 

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