Lure of money pulls northern workers into long commutes
For weeks at a time, many Thunder Bay workers leave their homes, families to make the trek to their jobs
Thousands of workers across northwestern Ontario spend hours in vehicles or on planes getting to their workplace at remote job sites or other communities — a trend labour market expert say will continue.
The development has been fuelled by people like pilot Mike Towill who take to the sky for Wasaya Airways. Every two weeks, the Thunder Bay resident works out of Pickle Lake.
"I think it takes a certain type of person — very open-minded and very easy going — to be able to commute back and forth to and from work," Towill said.
"You really have no home, so you make the best of what you've got."
The main reason Towill works out of town is financial, he said, as he makes more money working in the far reaches of northern Ontario.
What’s fuelling the long commute?
- The Thunder Bay Community Economic Development Commission expects 13 projects, now in the exploration phase, to start up between 2013 and 2017.
- The projects would create about 3,550 direct jobs at mine sites in the region, along with 4,000 construction jobs
- The economic impact (the Mining Association of Ontario uses a 4-to-1 multiplier to determine the impact of spin-off jobs) is estimated to be about 16,000 jobs.
- Traditionally, most mining companies hire workers who have to commute.
- Demand for engineers and other specialists is extremely high.
The same can be said for Stu Adamson, who works for CN Rail in Savant Lake.
Adamson said he'd like to move back to Thunder Bay, but can’t for financial reasons.
"You get to a certain point and you are making a certain amount, and you really don't want to come back from that," he said.
A spokesperson with the North of Superior Workforce Planning Board said many commuters would stay at home, if they could find the jobs.
"A lot of people would choose to live in their home communities such as Red Rock, or Terrace Bay, and they would drive to Thunder Bay, commute to Thunder Bay, or to other areas," Madge Richardson said.
With a provincial moratorium on building new communities — and more mines expected to open up — even more workers may be doing the long distance commute, she said.
Doing so requires an adjustment that can take time to make for many commuters and their families. Towill said it took a few years to become accustomed to being away from family and friends.
When he’s away, "no news is good news," Towill said. "If they don't hear from me, then everything is fine. They kind of know the system now."