Alberta, Canada, Feature, New Brunswick, Uncategorized

Alberta bound and tied

For Holly Phillips, life in New Brunswick – a broken province, as she calls it – gets harder every day.

“My husband is an industrial electrician at a potash mine in Saskatoon. He’s been out West for one year. He works two weeks away, one week at home… It’s hard without him here.”

Nowhere in Canada has the plunging price of petroleum affected life more than in Alberta. But that word – the “A” word – is a noun that has had Alberta-employee wives stinging and struggling to cope for the last two decades.

“It’s been difficult juggling,” said Phillips, a mother, full-time paramedic and part-time cosmetic sales rep. “We have little other choice but to live this way.”

Despite this, it hasn’t changed the effect the constant juggling of here-and-there that many rural NB families have to deal with.

Cathy Stewart, one of the many wives of an employee of a big-time Alberta company, says having a family member who comes and goes never gets easier, only harder.

“The person leaving sacrifices much more than those left behind. We have all the comforts of home and loved ones nearby – they get a single cot in a small camp room,” she said. “They miss birthdays, anniversaries, Valentines days… holidays and even funerals. They are not gone because they want to be but because they have to go. The person at home becomes accustomed to juggling extra but you learn to cope.”

For wives like Stewart, the hardships only begin with the absence of the men in their life. While salaries of West Coast construction workers may seem glamorous, a vast majority of the women back home still opt to work for themselves and their children who have also been left in New Brunswick. This is especially true for Holly Phillips.

“I work fulltime shift work and sell Younique also, so I have little free time and I never stop. Thankfully, my daughter has a great daycare and my parents are my neighbours. Even with that, I rarely sleep.”

New-Brunswickers-turned-Albertans like Tara Arsenault and her husband Albert failed to catch a break in what many refer to as a broken economy.

“There is no work in New Brunswick and the money is not the greatest there,” Arsenault said. “I wanted to move out here for a new adventure in my life and to start over. There are so much more things to do and see here… there are jobs if you want to work… I don’t think I’d move back to New Brunswick. I love it here. There is nothing back there but family and friends.”


A number of families in New Brunswick who have been thrown into the middle of this lifestyle have grown tired of the constant juggling of leading two lives on each side of the country. For Ashley Bell’s family, living off the $18-an-hour wage common in New Brunswick was no longer an option. The only solution was to pack up everything they had left in NB and move it all out west – something that has never sat well with her.

“During one spring, we were really short on cash and [my parents] just had enough. Dad spent the whole summer applying anywhere out there,” she said. “Finally with the help of a neighbour, he got a job… I never had a problem with him being gone. I had no reason to. There was food on the table and bills were getting paid… We could have had a much better life in New Brunswick.”

However, Bell’s parents decided to relocate the summer before she entered Grade 12. Her whole world was turned upside down, but the good jobs with benefits, dependability, and opportunities quickly grew on her. Still, she finds herself longing for the familiarity of home.

“I miss the trees and how colorful it is [and] the hospitality you get back east. If I ever thought I could have the job and financial security I have here back east, I wouldn’t hesitate,” she said. “When I think about getting older and ‘growing up’, that’s where I want to do be.”

Bell says it’s heartbreaking that there isn’t enough financial security in New Brunswick. She does not want to put her future self and family through what she went through as a kid – the same situation that many other New Brunswick families are trying to avoid.

But now, after years of rapid growth in Alberta and struggling, tired families in New Brunswick, Alberta’s construction industry has already experienced and can expect more of an extended downturn. As a new report says, this will result in project delays, cancellations, and more job layoffs, forcing many of those from the East Coast to seek employment back home. This leaves many of those wives like Holly Oulton fearful.

“[The thought of] my husband having to come back to this province to work is terrifying. The economy [here] is terrible. The construction trades seem to slow more and more each year.”

When asked if they think there will ever be a chance for their husbands to come back home and have a successful, secure career in New Brunswick, most women have the same perspective as Holly:

“I hope everyday he will be able to,” she said. “We would figure something out for sure, but the future is pretty uncertain.”

Originally written for a class at St. Thomas University.  Published here.

Irving, New Brunswick, News

Biting the Hand that Feeds: Jesse Brown vs. the Irvings

Jesse Brown told a journalism class last Thursday that he’s received a legal letter from a Brunswick News lawyer, a warning that in their view Canadaland published misleading information about the company.

“The first legal letter we’ve received at Canadaland was from, you know, billionaires,” Brown said. “So, this is Canadaland’s first rodeo.”

Jesse Brown, the host of the podcast Canadaland who broke the Jian Ghomeshi sex scandal, was in Fredericton for a taping of his podcast at St. Thomas University. The podcast critiques Canadian media and is largely fed by “disillusioned journalists”, having broken stories like that of CBC senior business reporter Amanda Lang’s conflict of interest with RBC. Before the taping, Brown met in a discussion with Jan Wong’s journalism class. He talked about the possibility of a legal battle with Brunswick News Inc. over his recent story about Larry’s Gulch, stressing that he is not going to stop investigating.

“Things that we present as questions, they are suggesting are libellous allegations. So, we asked the questions. It is unclear at what point Jamie Irving did find out that this allegedly criminal act took place.” The company is saying that they were very clear in saying that he found out about it once they launched their internal investigation, which had been prompted by Canadaland’s.

“When he found out that his employees had been part of a conspiracy to alter a government document, did he tell the authorities? So, these are questions that we have for Jamie Irving, and we’re being pressured to apologize for asking those questions, remove those questions from our website, and stop asking those questions. And we’re not going to.”

In a Brunswick News Inc. letter by ombudswoman Patricia Graham, Brown and his Canadaland land reporters were criticized. She accused Brown of “libellous innuendo”, and scorned his operation for attempting to make a deal with the Irvings.

Brown and his associates reached out to Jamie Irving for a comment on the Larry’s Gulch incident for their coverage. They said they would release a statement on Monday, and wanted Canadaland to hold off on publishing. “We’re asking them for commentary for our coverage, they want us to wait for that commentary. ‘Okay, but you’re giving us the comment.’ No deal. They wouldn’t do that, so there’s no deal!”

Brown says that the Irvings and Brunswick News wanted to have control of the narrative and break the story themselves. He stresses that the deal was never on because they didn’t agree to their terms.

“We do have to go to them and get their side of the story, but because they were not willing to meet some pretty basic conditions, it was totally on for us to say, “You know what? No, we’re publishing. You can send us the comments or published the comments whenever you like, and we will update our story to reflect your comments,’ which is exactly what we did.”

The criticism which primarily sparked the legal letter from Brunswick News were the criticisms and allegations that Brown linked Jamie Irving to the cover-ups, suggesting that he was complicit in the crime.

“We learned that this revelation [about what happened at Larry’s Gulch and with the guest lists] was brought to the attention of the publisher Jamie Irving, and what did he do? He has this conversation where what he arrives at is: he is going to put the decision about whether or not to run a story, implicating their own editor, on the editor-in-chief.”

What Jamie Irving knew for sure, Brown says, is what decision had been made. This decision was to stop covering this story. Therefore, Irving was related to who made the decision and was well aware what that decision was and didn’t say anything about it. Canadaland proceeded to write that he was “right in there in that whole mess.”

Because of what they wrote, lawyers came to Brown and Canadaland accusing them of attempting to defame Jamie Irving. He stressed that the defacing of government documents that successfully went on is, in fact, a crime. Brown says that this is just one aspect of a rather complicated story about not reporting things, actually going to the lodge in the first place, and what was actually discussed at the lodge – questions that they won’t stop searching for the answers to.

There have only been threats of legal action from Brunswick News Inc. so far.

“But I’m scared,” Brown told students. “I’m scared of having to fight a legal battle that we would win. It’s very expensive to defend yourself, and it’s incredibly time consuming and diverting from what I do every day.”

Originally written for a class at St. Thomas University.