Social Policy

Transient North: How impermanent populations affect the Northern labour market

The following is the first in a three-part series exploring the impacts of a transient population on the lives of Northerners in Canada’s territories. Next week, Part 2 will explore the affects of transience on personal relationships in both a romantic and friendship capacity. 

A unique aspect of Canada’s Northern community is the significant presence of a transient population. The opportunity for seasonal work, and the start of many federal and territorial government contracts traditionally leads to an influx of new residents from the Canadian south each spring. However, statistics have shown that individuals who move to the Yukon from the provinces tend only to remain in the territory for an average of three years. With the Northern territories traditionally experiencing the highest population displacement per capita in Canada, this trend has a measurable impact on Northern communities.

In the Yukon, the most evident effect the transient trend has had on communities is through the ongoing high turnover rate in the labour market. During a 2014 local business conference in Whitehorse, the biggest issue raised by business owners was the detrimental impact of the high rate of replacement among employees. The sentiment has been further echoed in Yukons medical and educational sectors.

Between unfamiliarity with a patients medical history or care plan, to ignorance of the procedure for medical evacuations, the revolving door of staff has had a serious impact on rural healthcare.

The trend of constantly having to recruit and train new workers means an increase in expenditures for both private business and government, alike. Recruiting not only means billable hours spent going through a hiring process, but often includes relocation fees and housing assistance for new workers moving up from the south. Training a new employee varies depending on the job, but businesses can face a loss of investment when training a short-lived employee or eventually reduce the training offered, leading to a decrease in customer service quality or ability to effectively do the job in question.

For the medical sector, the extreme turnover of nurses in rural communities has led to situations where rural Northerners have not received adequate care. Between unfamiliarity with a patients medical history or care plan, to ignorance of the procedure for medical evacuations, the revolving door of staff has had a serious impact on rural healthcare. These impacts are often exacerbated by the challenges of initially recruiting qualified nurses. While many remote communities are served by a nursing staff for the majority of the year (doctors tend to visit about 12 weeks out of the year), finding nurses experienced in community health and cultural responsibilities is a difficult task.

By routinely having to replace staff, the entire organization is negatively affected. Transient population trends disrupt efficiency and organizational relationships, and waste resources. But more importantly, when a job or sector depends on specific Northern or cultural knowledge, southern workers with limited experience with Northern issues and needs disrupt community services. High turnover means more of an organization’s time is spent focusing on trying to remain consistent, rather than on growing capacity. Because the North is historically behind the rest of Canada in terms of the ability to offer new private and public services, obstacles to continued growth are problematic.

The consistent and significant population displacement trend has not gone on without being addressed by multiple territorial and federal governments. Due to various pieces of legislation and policies, the Yukon offers a great deal of benefits to workers and residents that are not available in the south, while the federal Northern Tax Allowance and Northern Travel Deductibles are substantial tax incentives only available to residents living North of 60. Additionally, though the official Yukon minimum wage is not reflective of the market, most service industry starting salaries are around $13 per hour. For individuals working at higher pay grades, the lifestyle benefits often offered include three to five weeks of paid vacation and options for sabbatical. For a young professional in the North, the lack of a large pool of qualified applicants means more opportunities to gain employment and experience in ones field of choice or study.

But as much as vacation policies, wage incentives, and Northern tax deductibles attempt to keep workers in the territory, the trend persists. With factors such as extreme temperatures, lack of winter light, and limited amenities being reasons cited for relocation, it is evident that this issue is larger than the financial factors. The trend of a transient population may very well be a consistent factor within the North for the foreseeable future.◉

Photo: Travellers and transients leave their mark at the Sign Post Forest in Watson Lake, Yukon. Credit: fdecomite (CC)

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