British Columbia

Job search a struggle in many rural B.C. communities

For people who like a quiet, country lifestyle, Nakusp is idyllic. But while the view may be gorgeous, the job prospects are not.

In the small Kootenay town of Nakusp, jobs are hard to come by

Kate and Jeff Tupper-England have struggled to find consistent work in and around Nakusp. (Bob Keating/CBC)

Kate Tupper-England puts on kettle for tea and hustles her boys out the door to school.

Kate and her family live high up the side of a mountain outside of Nakusp, B.C., a couple hours north of Nelson.

For people who like a quiet, country lifestyle Nakusp is idyllic, nestled on a clear lake among towering peaks, just temperate enough for cherry and plum trees to grow on the side of the road.  Tupper-England loves the setting.

"I really, really like it here," she says. "A lot of people I went to high school with will come back and say, 'you're still here'. Yeah, look around. It's beautiful."

While the view may be gorgeous, the job prospects are not. There's just not a lot of work in this area.

B.C.'s unemployment rate hovers around seven per cent. No one knows exactly what the rate is in Nakusp, but more than 13 per cent of working-age adults receive some kind of employment benefits.

"There's been a lot of families that leave because there is not enough work and it is easier to go somewhere else," laments Tupper-England.

Tupper-England worked as a welder for a forestry company, but it went broke.

She then worked as an organizer for a local music festival, but it too went under.

Her husband Jeff lost his job logging and went to work at a local mine. The mine closed its doors after a shaft collapsed.

"Yeah, just been jumping back and forth trying to fill in and do whatever I can. I'd prefer not to work away from home," Tupper-England says. "This is our dream home and it's just a beautiful place to live and I'd hate to be away from here."

Like so many other families in rural resource towns, the Tupper-Englands do what they can to make ends meet.

Jobs hard to come by

B.C. is a province full of remote and very different valleys. There's plenty of good paying jobs in the Elk Valley and in the North East, where there's coal, gas and oil.  But in most small B.C. communities finding a job is a struggle.

The local employment office knows this all too well. Employment services manager Margaret Driscoll has a case load of 100 people looking for work or training. And she says it would be a lot higher, if so many locals didn't just give up and leave to find work elsewhere.

"There's a lack of opportunity in this area. We are kind of a resource-based economy and that tanked since 2007," says Driscoll. "We never really rebounded since then."

Like so many B.C. towns, Nakusp is attempting to make the transition to a tourism-based economy, but it's a struggle with jobs in tourism paying a fraction of what they do in mining or forestry.

Nakusp Mayor Karen Hamling says the transition has been difficult.

"A lot of families had to move...a lot of people left town and left their families here," she says. "That left a situation we haven't had here in a long time. We're getting to be a population of elderly."

The B.C. NDP and B.C. Liberals have traded statistics to prove they've created jobs, or will create them in the future.

In reality, B.C. is ninth in the country, when measuring job growth-rates against other provinces, between September, 2011 and March 2013.

But the gains have all come in public sector and self-employed work, and Statistics Canada figures show B.C. lost about 35,000 private sector jobs during that time.

Hamling says candidates campaigning in Nakusp should come with concrete solutions. She says they need reliable broadband internet so people can live here and work remotely.

According to the mayor, there is a need for better transportation, more money for schools and better incentives to get doctors and nurses to move in.

"We do need help with different things, transportation or broadband. We do need's difficult."

A glimmer of hope

The lumber industry is picking up in and around Nakusp and that's good news for would be job seekers.

The province has hired a contractor to build a brand new $26-million ferry to cross at Galena Bay just north of town.

John Harding's company WaterBridge Steel Inc. got the contract, set up a shipyard and hired as many locals as they could.   

"The word spread around town and people that had [welding certification] tickets found we were gonna be here and were gonna be working for well over a year," says Harding. "People who were working in Alberta... some came back."

One of the locals who got work on the ferry is Tupper-England, who is putting her welding ticket to use. She won't have to leave town any time soon, and that is a big deal for her family.

"Oh it was a really big thing, especially because it is a different kind of welding than before. My welding is looking great and I've learned a lot."

Tupper-England's husband Jeff has been hired for some seasonal work in the logging industry.

That's how it's done out here in Nakusp and many B.C. towns like it: People patch together whatever living they can, hoping for something more permanent.

And, as the campaign rhetoric shifts into high gear, they hope all the political talk about jobs turns into something much more substantial.

For full coverage of the provincial campaigns and discussions of issues affecting British Columbians, visit B.C. Votes 2013.