Going bankrupt a bitter pill for N.L. worker in wake of oil price collapse
Jamie Parsons appeared to have it all a year ago. A job in the Alberta oilsands earning $ 140,000 and a strong sense of pride and self-respect.
The crash in oil prices has ripped it all away. His job. His income. His dignity.
He finds it hard even to look his wife Lisa in the eye as she goes off to work for long hours at a job in the service industry.
“It’s brutal. I have no pride left,” he said recently during an interview at his home in Davidsville, a small central Newfoundland community north of Gander.
Tossed into turmoil
The 46-year-old is one of a growing number of people from Newfoundland and Labrador tossed into turmoil because of a crash in the price of oil and other natural resources.
Workers in the province are being hit from both sides as fly-in, fly-out jobs in Alberta dry up and Newfoundland’s own offshore sector also sheds workers.
When he’s not searching for work, Jamie Parsons spends more time with his pets these days. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)
The mining sector has also been hit hard, from the closure of the Teck Resources mine in central Newfoundland to the teetering iron ore industry in Labrador West.
According to Statistics Canada, there are 800 fewer jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador’s oil and mining sectors, a drop of nine per cent in just one year.
These are well paying jobs that result in tremendous spinoffs for the provincial economy.
Nothing more to sell
The numbers of transient workers who have been displaced by the storm hitting Alberta’s oil sector are less certain, but Parsons is an extreme example of what’s happening.
He lost his job 13 months ago. With just three years’ experience as a truck driver, he finds the few jobs still available are being scooped up by others.
“I got called into the office on the eighth of January was was told, ‘I’m sorry, we have no trucks on the road. We have no men working. We don’t need you anymore,'” said Parsons.
He hit rock bottom in December. His employment insurance benefits ended, and he declared bankruptcy.
“There’s nothing more to sell. Declaring bankruptcy just about broke me.”
He now drives a $ 350 Ford Focus and spends his days searching for a job — any job.
“There is no pride because I can’t stay at home and lose my self-respect whilst my wife is going out to work to provide for us and me being a drain on the system.”
Harder times ahead
Spending more time at home gives him more time to think, and that adds to his depression.
“I’ve got a fantastic partner in this life and she stood by me. I even gave her the option of saying, ‘You know, I’m bust now so if you want to get out while the getting is good, now’s the time.’ But she stayed and she’s been my rock,” Parsons said.
Stories like his are becoming more common as the job market shrinks.
This is expected to intensify as major construction projects such as Hebron at Bull Arm, the Long Harbour nickel plant and the Muskrat Falls hydro project eventually wind down.
The number of personal bankruptcies in the province grew by nine per cent in 2015, and there were a record number of people seeking to have their debt payments restructured through a process called consumer proposals.
Yvette Power is an insolvency counsellor at Deloitte in St. John’s. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)
Yvette Power, who advises people in financial trouble from Deloitte’s office in St. John’s, said more and more transient workers are coming to her for help.
“A typical client is a transient worker that has worked for the last several years making probably from $ 100,000 to $ 200,000,” she said.
“And now they’re laid off or back here working at a reduction in their income. It’s certainly a challenge for people to maintain that same lifestyle when they have such a reduction in their income.”
‘A horrible, abrupt end’
While sectors such as real estate, retail and auto sales slow down, however, the auction business is growing.
The owner of Fitzpatrick’s Auctions in St. John’s has seen a 25 per cent increase in the number of vehicles and other big-ticket items going on the auction block.
“People are saying they were in the oilpatch, working in Alberta, making great money, and I don’t think they realized it was ever going to stop,” said Blair Loveless.
“Who would have ever thought that a price of oil would go down to $ 30 a barrel?”
Parsons certainly didn’t, and now he’s paying a heavy price.
“I’ve got no regrets with Alberta. Just that it came to a horrible, abrupt end,” he said.
Blair Loveless is the owner of Fitzpatrick’s Auctions in St. John’s. He says the economic downturn has bolstered his business, by as much as 25 per cent. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)
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