Anakana Schofield – Author of Martin John and Malarky

Vancouver is place where it is not easy to find work. I constantly meet people from other places in Canada (and the world and Vancouver for that matter) who report this experience of Vancouver. I was in a bookshop recently in Victoria, where there was a very helpful woman working who told me how she’d recently moved to Vancouver for a period of time, tried to find work and encountered not just a difficult time, but rudeness and attitude in her job search. She had returned to Victoria and her job. Last week it was a woman from Ontario, who said she’d had enough and was going home, where she could find opportunities. She had gone to school for graphic design and graduated and worked in domestic service type work.

Concurrent to the difficulty of finding work is a pious attitude towards unemployment and the unemployed. The system that exists EI freezes a great number of people out, and you can only access certain training programs if you’ve been on EI. Welfare rates are inhumane and you must undertake what can only be described as some kind of cattle trial before you can even consider applying. The idea being to shake any scrap of dignity you may have to dust and hope you’ll go home destroyed and live under a bush rather than return to face more of it.

Where does it leave people?

It leaves people bearing an unnecessary and additional sense of shame and failure, when the fact of the matter is this is a difficult place to find work! You watch people unwind on facebook as their job search produces nothing for sometimes months, years even. The pious attitude surrounding unemployment certainly does little to help these bright, capable people.  This sense of piety also produces a risk averse work force, so people may tend to stay put.

It’s easy to forget how brutal unemployment can be when you haven’t been touched by it in a very long time. It’s easy to feel smug and satisfied and fuel the piety.

But hark we are living in the midst of a property bubble here that will eventually burst and we never think that’s going to happen do we? The other strange thing about the sense of isolation that exists around the unemployed is the history of this city shows difficult recessions, so it’s odd that this has not informed a more healthy attitude.  Except in this province there’s always such a sense of fracture and distance and disinterest. If it’s not happening on my doorstep … seems to be a prevalent attitude.

My recent reading of strike pamphlets from the 1930’s supports this. There was incredible isolation in the relief camps. The particular book I was reading the writer constantly referred to the “stiffs” coming from the city to face an awful labour, and that word did not seem to be travelling back of how brutal their experience was. It was anguishing to read the young man’s descriptions.

RTE’s Frontline programme yesterday led on a discussion among young Irish people on high rates of unemployment they currently face. It was interesting how the discussion split into “roll up your sleeves and buck up” from another generation. It was suggested they were molly coddled with high expectations. What wasn’t acknowledged was that they grew up in a boom time. They also were saddled with the associated expenses of that time, some with extortionate mortgages (and concurrent negative equity) and so on. How will this play out? Will it result in another eighties exodus? (which has already begun) Or will that generation stay put and affect change? Previously the expectation was to have to leave, but this generation didn’t grow up with that, so in essence this is also the first generation who can articulate on the alternative.

I was intrigued by the “we went through it” and “you’ve had it easy” since it could be argued that older generations were trained for exit and send money home. This generation have been trained or conditioned toward success and stay put. There’s a pervasive sense of entitlement (in any other country I think it would be considered average confidence…) that irks the older generation and divides them ever further. It’s interesting that in the same sentences NAMA is not subject to the same short shrift. I s’ppose it’s easier condemn unemployed young folk than those who made a bollix of things, ie. the banks, property developers etc.

There was one feisty fellow at the front who summed things up along the lines of everything being sunk into over inflated real estate and hotels and now what are we left with. It’s not the only place in the world with over inflated property leading a boom — I am curious to see whether the same may play out in Vancouver, where the property bubble has yet to burst.