Recent comments by Economic Development Commissioner Robert Fine regarding the addition of direct flights between YLW and Fort MacMurray contained some assumptions (perhaps unintended) that I found troubling.
In particular, his comment "we can really attract and keep families that want the Okanagan quality of life, but the money they can make in Northern Alberta" may have unintended consequences I believe are important to enter into the discussion.
When a family enters into a situation where one parent will consistently be absent from the home, it takes a particularly skilled approach in helping meet the unique needs of each family member.
Without the presence and support of one parent, the onus is on the remaining parent to provide for these needs, including the intensive work of preparing meals, ensuring children get to school on time, attending after-school and evening (plus weekend) programming, and of course taking care of their own needs as well. While not an impossible task, many families in the Okanagan are struggling with this situation.
Any suggestion such a scenario is desirable and sustainable, particularly over the long term, needs to be carefully considered.
Though Fine did not directly make this assertion, his comments could make it easier to accept going north as an equally healthy, normal and desirable work situation to that of working within driveable commuting distance.
In my experience as a family counsellor and through dozens of conversations with parents involved in an "up north" scenario, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, it can often create an emotional and physical distance between one parent and his/her children (and spouse) that can be difficult to repair.
When the parent working up north generates the attractive income on a level that allows full participation in the Okanagan lifestyle, that same level of income will likely be required in order to maintain it. This may come to include a number of activities that have significant cost, such as maintaining a higher mortgage, ski passes or even a boat. Thus, a family can become trapped in a situation where a parent will be required to remain working in the north, as a local wage garnered by the same job skills is likely to be significantly less.
With the new ease Kelowna-area workers have in accessing Fort Mac quickly, it is more important than ever to reflect upon the needs of one's family before embracing northern work, especially those needs which go beyond the financial and recreational.
One can certainly have a family that is healthy on every important level, including emotionally, while working in Fort Mac but living in the Okanagan. It is far from a given, however, and any scenario that appears to promise a fast opportunity to "have one's cake and eat it too" deserves close scrutiny.