Search for work separates family

Adam MacInnis
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Jason Robinson and his wife Stacy watch as their son Aidan tries to start a generator. ADAM MACINNIS – THE NEWS

EDITORS NOTE: This story is the first in a series The News is writing looking at the problem of outmigration. In a community that has seen both large corporations and small businesses fail, the examples abound of those who have been forced to leave their homes and families in search of a good paying job.

“Now where does the cord plug into the generator?” Jason Robinson quizzes his 11-year-old son Aidan.

It’s a cold day in January, and within 24 hours Jason will be on a plane bound for a small town in Saskatchewan miles away from Scotsburn and the people he loves. When he goes he wants to know his wife and three kids will be warm and safe.

Jason wishes he could stay with them and be there to start the generator himself when the power goes out, but like many other Nova Scotians he’s had to make the tough decision to go west or north in search of work.

“If I could make half of that here, if I could make a third of that here – I wouldn’t leave, but I can’t,” he says.

Jason was owner of Scotsburn Mechanical, a business that at one time employed more than 30 local people. But with the recession that hit in 2008, the company began to face difficulties that ultimately couldn’t be overcome and they had to close.

Despite boasting a list of electrical and plumbing licences on his resume, Jason couldn’t find a suitable job in Pictou County.

When he was younger he had worked out west and knew that if there was going to be hope for continuing to provide for his family, that’s where it’d be. He left in May.

As a subcontractor driving heavy equipment he makes between $16,000 and $18,000 a month and sends the majority back to his wife Stacy to take care of things back home.

His company is fairly flexible about when he can come home, but it is always at his own expense.

“The longer you’re home, the less money you’re making,” Jason says. “The point of being out there is to make money. The longer you can stay, the more money you make.”

The paycheques may be large, but they are also hard earned. Jason frequently works seven days a week, 12 hours a day. But since he’s away from family, work is what he wants to do. If he had it his way he says he’s gladly work 20 hours a day.

“I’m out there, I’m away from my wife and my children and everything else that I hold dear. To stop from going batty or insane and worrying about it all that’s back here that you can’t control you might as well work.”


Family effects

The Robinsons know it isn’t ideal for family life to have Jason away, but don’t know how they’d survive otherwise.

 “I think it’s harder for him, because he’s out there and he’s doing all the work and we’re reaping the benefits of the work,” says Stacy, Jason’s wife. “We certainly do miss him.  It’s a lot calmer in the house when he’s around. He’s a little more authoritative than I am.”

It’s difficult at times to be the only one to drive kids around to different activities and often the list of things in need of repair grows long, she said, but thankfully they’ve had family close by to help.

They also try to make the most of the times they do have together when Jason is home.

“I like putting everything on paper and knocking it off,” Jason says. ”That way you try to prioritize the things that have to happen and you work them in around with your family time.”

But as hard as he tries, he admits he often finds himself sitting in front of the television with a kid at his side, both wishing for one more day together.


Future uncertainty

What surprises Jason most is how many people there are like him with families in the east and jobs in the west. Within a few miles of his place he can think of an excavator owner, a farmer and a body shop owner who have all left their local businesses for the hopes of a better life.

In a way he blames the culture of this region, which he believes is opposed to new ideas and change.

“There’s so many that will sit and drink coffee with their friends at a local restaurant and say, ‘Oh it’s a terrible thing. Did you hear so and so has left and this man’s businesses has closed.’”

But when it comes to welcoming new businesses or trying new ideas, people are reluctant, he said.

“They drive infrastructure out the door,” he said.

With his wife and daughter watching, Jason continues to instruct his son about the generator.

“Now pull the cord straight out,” he says.

After a couple of pulls nothing happens. Something must be wrong with the machine.

Try as you might, sometimes things just don’t work. This the Robinsons know well.


By the numbers

• 689 people left Pictou County between 2006 and 2011 for work in other provinces

• The number of people working in trades in Nova Scotia decreased by 5,400 between 2011 and 2012

• Unemployment in Nova Scotia is currently 8.8 per cent.

• Unemployment in Saskatchewan is currently 4.5 per cent

• Unemployment in Alberta is currently 4.2 per cent.


Source: Nova Scotia Department of Finance

Organizations: Nova Scotia Department of

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Scotsburn, Pictou County.When Nova Scotia Pictou County Alberta

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Recent comments

  • Observer
    January 05, 2013 - 17:26

    It has been going on for decades. I left in '64 and returned in 09. I regret ever having returned to PC, however with most of my immediate family having died off, I wanted to be closer to those remaining. I gave up $80,000 yr to return to No job, no income and no hope for a future in NS. yes kick my own butt!

  • Mike
    January 05, 2013 - 16:47

    There's something missing from this story. Mr. Robinson makes almost 200K per year and he is wining about his Pictou County roots and values. He would like to make half or a third of this to stay here. Who wouldn't? By his age I would think he has dillutions of granduer to think he should be worth 60-90K because he has some tickets.Get a grip man. He ran a business with 30 employees and he can't find work for himself? Recession or not, there seems to be something not managed right. There are plenty of local contractors in the electrical, hydraulic, and mechanical field that are thriving here in the county. He was in the business, so he knows them all. Perhaps he should change his defeatist attitude and network these other firms with a lot more humble attitude. I have two grown kids in Alberta and have jobs they like, not love. They're content and don't cry of being home sick when they have to buy a ticket to visit. I can't feel sorry for someone who says they're raking in 16-20k per month and can't get his family life ironed out.

  • Colette
    January 05, 2013 - 07:13

    I have to say he is doing it right. My husband and I moved our family here from BC because frankly, it is better. Yes, there is more work and more money in the west but the bills are a lot higher and the resources are smaller. We paid 3 times the rent we are paying here, and if you don't work in the oilpatch you simply cannot afford to live. Rents are in the 2000 a month are not including utilities, car, food and insurance. I was paying 1400 a year for insurance with a perfect record and here I pay 350. If Nova Scotia could work at getting us more jobs then people wouldn't be leaving. I am so glad to be here and the people and resources are wonderful! I never want to leave but if my husband can't find work when he is done school then regretibly we may have to.

  • Concerned Citizen
    January 05, 2013 - 07:10

    How is this possible? I thought "jobs start here". Aren't the feds and the province continually telling us about all they are doing for us? The facts speak for themselves, we have some of the highest gas prices, power rates and taxes in the country. Not to mention the natural gas that was going to save us all gets shipped through our province to the USA to keep their cost of living lower but most communities in Nova Scotia have no access to it. It's funny how everyday we read about all the wonderful things our politicians are doing for us on page one of our newspapers and then we see on page two another company is forced to close its doors because of the high costs of doing business here.

  • w.b
    January 05, 2013 - 05:24

    yes i understand the genlemans plight, its as he says about the employment area. the goverment federal and provincal do little for this area. the mp for this area could certainly work at placeing some military contracts etc for this area .his family and himself have done well after all these years of being voted in time and again

  • Travis Priest
    January 04, 2013 - 22:10

    Mr. Robinson, "hit the nail on the head", with his comment about "when it comes to welcoming new businesses or trying new ideas, people are reluctant" and "the culture of this region, which he believes is opposed to new ideas and change." I grew up and went to school in Stellarton, and lived in Westville and New Glasgow. I remember volunteering to be a member of the rink commission in one of these towns, but because I was "new" to the town, I was not accepted. I kept hearing "this is the way we have done things for the last 50 years..." Pictou County keeps loosing more and more skilled people to the West, because there are a lot more opportunities, and people are open to new ideas. Just take a listen to people, when they announced building two Super Schools everyone was up in arms, When I was home this summer, I heard alot of negative comments about the Wellness Center. These are facilities that the area deparately needed. If you want to keep people in the area and bring in new businesses, then you have to provide facilities like these. You can't keep doing the same things over and over, and expect different results.

  • Roger McCulley
    January 04, 2013 - 20:56

    I empathize with Jason and his family. I was 22 years old when I left NS to teach in Northern Manitoba. In the 24 years since then, I have gone on to complete a Master of Education and work as a school principal and consultant for my school division, just north of Winnipeg. Last year, my parents, who are both in their late eighties became unwell - one with Alzheimer's. When I returned to Pictou County, I was unable to find any work at all in the public school system. I was fortunate to find part time work while I stayed at home but this was a pittance, compared to my usual salary. Like Jason has said in your story, I would have stayed for half or even a third of my former salary, just to be at home with my family in their time of need. When is this ever going to change? There are so many of us here in Western Canada, that we might as well create a new province of Nova Scotia! :-)