By: Naomi Larsen, Chetwyndâ€ˆEcho
with notes from Canadian Press
CHETWYND â€“ Fraser Stuart laughed out loud when he heard the British Columbia government wants to train welfare recipients and then fly them north to fill badly needed jobs.
Stuart, who lives in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and is currently receiving social assistance, doesn’t want to work in the north, but he wants a job and he’s more than willing to take the training to get it.
The 59-year-old worked for eight years in a homeless shelter in Montreal, and he wants to do the same in B.C. But he’s been unable to pry the $1,600 for certification course from the provincial government, and his $610 monthly welfare cheque doesn’t come close to covering it.
“Welfare won’t pay for the course, so I can’t work,” said Stuart, sighing.
“If I take a student loan it would be clawed back 100 per cent. I wouldn’t be eligible for welfare, because now I’m a student. They also expect me earn enough money to pay for it, but I’m not allowed to earn any money on welfare.”
Cabinet ministers in B.C.’s Liberal government spent last week floating an idea to train welfare recipients and fly them to northern B.C., where a labour shortage has left employers desperate for workers to fill jobs.
But Stuart said such a program won’t help him.
He said he can’t do the physical labour that will likely await anyone who ends up in the northern oil and gas industry, and he wouldn’t need to be on welfare if only he could find training in Vancouver.
“It’s totally frustrating.”
The problems Stuart is facing reflect some of the early concerns that have been raised about the proposal, which the province admits is still in its infancy, without any of the details thought through.
Critics have suggested the program won’t work because it fails to address the underlying issues that leave some people on welfare, such as addiction, mental-health issues or physical ailments, and northern mayors have warned they don’t have the housing or social services to accommodate them.
In Chetwynd, where natural gas and coal mining are the majority of industry Mayor Merlin Nichols said there are several facets of this proposal that have not been well thought out.
â€œThere is a serious lack of housing in all the north â€“ particularly housing available to the lower income people,â€ Nichols said. â€The social impacts are unknown.
â€œPeople (not on welfare or other subsidies) have paid their last dollar to get here to the land of promise only to find that they lack the basic ticketed skills required by employers and do not have the resources to acquire them. It seems unfair to subsidize others and not the working poor.â€
Chetwynd Chamber of Commerce Manager Tonia Richter said housing and social programs shortages would make it very interesting if we all of a sudden get a few hundred to a thousand new families to our communities.
â€œEverything needs to be considered from hotels, affordable housing, grocery stores and even daycare,â€ she said. Training is also important. What if recipients move up north with the dream of working as a truck driver, heavy equipment operator or what ever is required at the time and goes through the training and finds out that it’s not his or her cup of tea.â€
Richter suggested maybe these companies in the area need to build housing units (not camps) in the communities and give incentives to move them up north.
â€œMaybe three or six months rent free upon signing a contract to stay,â€ she said. â€œHave probationary periods and mandatory drug testing. We need to work together as a region to help create and work on solutions to fix the job shortage we are facing.â€
Back on the coast, Finance Minister Kevin Falcon said he’s excited about the idea, which would target the roughly 60,000 people on income assistance the government has determined are employable.
“This is something I’ve always very strongly believed in and it’s now something that I think we can roll out,” said Falcon.
The finance minister insisted such a program could break even, with the costs associated with travel and training offset by the savings of taking someone off income assistance.