The divided family

We were warned when we decided to move to Salmon Arm about the “Shuswap Sunshine tax.”

We were warned when we decided to move to Salmon Arm about the “Shuswap Sunshine tax.”

In simple terms, this meant that in order to indulge ourselves by living in one of the most beautiful places in B.C. – a place where the rest of the country can only come to as a vacationer – we must accept the costs. Housing prices can be high, some retail options can be fewer or at an elevated cost.

And, the key factor, being that employment options can be limited. Downturns in the economy over the previous few years have meant some of the Shuswap’s top employers have made serious cutbacks to their operations, which removed a good number of well-paying jobs from the area. These weren’t the minimum wage jobs, but those that actually offered families a living wage.

Now with many of these gone, there’s an even more drastic element to the so-called sunshine tax.

Families who don’t want to move away, but who can’t find decent paying jobs here are opting to have one parent leave town for employment in Fort McMurray or High Level or Fort St. John, or any of the other boom towns where the weather might be harsh, but the work is plentiful and high paying.

It’s creating a whole new social class in Salmon Arm: the part-time single parent. I was shocked at just how many there are out there. At a recent child’s birthday party, four of the six mothers had husbands or partners working outside Salmon Arm.

I have friends whose husbands commute daily to Kelowna, know others whose partners labour for months in remote locations, hoping against hope that their next contract could be closer to home. I consider myself part of this group, for although my husband’s business is based here, the reality of his work means travel, often for weeks or even months at a time. That is the price we are paying in order to keep our home here, our kids in their excellent school and day care, and our enjoyment of the Shuswap’s recreational opportunities.

Yes, it is our choice. That doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult. Some of the women I talked to put a positive spin on their husband working away, noting that while he was at work, he could concentrate entirely on that. When at home, he was able to focus his attention entirely on the family. These workers typically work shifts of a few weeks on, followed by a few weeks at home. But all said it has put a strain on their family. Those with extended families in town fare better, especially when the single parent winds up with a sick kid or an inevitable emergency like a broken refrigerator. Those without rely on good friends and pray for flexible babysitters. Many said they use phone calls and Skype to try and stay connected, but “it’s pretty hard to use that as back up when your van won’t start,” said one mom. They’d all much prefer it if their spouses could do as well economically, but right here in Salmon Arm.

Each election, the politicians talk about attracting jobs that will support the city’s young families. But for Salmon Arm’s growing segment of part-time, single parents, it seems like a pipe dream.