Interprovincial Stories Backgrounder
Who are the people in these stories of Interprovincial and Domestic E-RGM?
This set of stories is about people who have undertaken long-distance commuting from within Canada to work in the oil/tar sands of northern Alberta. Many but not all of them commute (or at least originated) from other provinces. They come from all over; in 2014, the (then) fifty thousand mobile workers in the oil sands region flew, drove, or bussed in and out from many provinces, including BC, Alberta, Ontario, and a number of Atlantic provinces. By 2018, following the oil price slump that began in late 2014 and the Fort McMurray wildfire of May 2016, the numbers had dwindled to about half, and the percentage reporting an Alberta address had increased. They mostly stayed in one of dozens of work camps in the region.
The people in these stories are not just oil workers, however. They are also camp workers such as housekeepers and cooks. They are people of diverse ages, family situations, and cultural contexts who have “gone mobile” in their search for work and good pay.
What research project(s) are these stories based on?
These stories are based on more than one hundred formal and informal interviews conducted in five different open work camps in the oil sands region from 2014-16. Dr. Sara Dorow and a team of graduate research assistants (see below for a list of acknowledgements) engaged in open-ended interviews, field observation, and document analysis. Building on previous research in Fort McMurray (the urban center in the oil sands region), this research focused on the impacts of rotational commuting and related forms of work-related mobility on individuals and families.
How did you create these stories out of your research?
For the Alberta Stories project, we created composite stories that highlight key themes from sub-sets of interviews while also preserving participants’ anonymity. For example, the story of Nayab the camp cook is an amalgamation of a number of interviews with cooks. Each story is thus a kind of “true fiction” in that it is a close representation of a set of experiences. Quotes included in the stories are direct quotes or very close paraphrases from interview transcriptions and field notes. Some of the images used in the stories are from our fieldwork; others are photos we found to help enhance and illustrate the stories.
What is most important to you about the relationship between work and mobility in these stories?
This is a tough question, because in many ways, that relationship depends on an individual’s age, gender, family situation, citizenship status, hometown, and other aspects of their biography. At the same time, some of the common challenges of mobility have to do with the ways it has become an assumed and required part of Canadian employment contracts while simultaneously remaining invisible in Canadian government and employment policies and protections. Overall, there is much “catching up” to do to accommodate mobile work to ensure the wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities – or, conversely, to ensure that mobile work arrangements are more of a choice in the hands of workers.
Javier Fuentes Martinez
Dr. Sandrine Jean
Dr. Delphine Nakache
And the many people who welcomed us in work camps and participated in interviews.