‘Many families didn’t survive this’: TMX approval comes too late for some

For Estrella Herrera, news that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX) has been given federal approval, is providing a glimmer of hope that life for her family may finally be turning around.

The Calgary mother’s face lights up as she describes the work she used to do, “It was the best time in my life. It made me feel powerful, intelligent and part of a community.  I contributed.”

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For six years, Herrera worked as an engineer in the oil and gas industry, but in early 2018 she lost her job.

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“When you’re working in oil and gas, you’re always thinking, when is it going to be my turn?

“When they announced that our office was going to close, obviously, you go into panic mode because we have been seeing the people who are currently unemployed,” Herrera said.

“It’s not easy to find a job.”

In recent years, the job losses in Western Canada have been massive.  The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) estimates about 60,000 oil and gas jobs disappeared between 2014 and 2017.  The downturn meant  both Herrera and her husband found themselves out of work.

WATCH: Conditions and reaction will be interesting part of Trans Mountain decision: Janet Brown

Life for the family  changed dramatically in a short period of time.  Herrera says they were forced to downsize their home and put a stop to things that were no longer affordable, like trips to movies or summer vacations.

Ultimately, she says, the marriage did not survive.

“We separated because my ex-husband hasn’t been able to find an oil and gas job in the last four years,” she said. “He’s been working survival jobs but that affects your self-confidence, everything.

According to the CEO of the Calgary Counselling Centre, the downturn has hit many families hard.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in people requesting services,” Dr. Robbie Babins-Wagner said.

“The majority of those folks have been dealing with anxiety, stress, depression, relationships issues, family issues.”

Babins-Wagner says she expects demand for service to start to decrease now that TMX can finally proceed, but she believes the coming months will still be difficult for some.

“There will be a lag time between when the construction starts and job hiring happens, and that’s really worrisome because how do you sustain people through this time of transition?”

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Officials with CAPP say they hope to see construction begin on the pipeline right away.

“We’re concerned about the timing.  We have a construction that we’re at the front edge of.  We want to see the government bring forward a plan that gets this project under construction here early in the summer.” CAPP President, Tim McMillan said.

“It’s worth billions of dollars to our national economy and it’s going to send a very strong message to global investors that have been increasingly looking away from Canada because we’re making political decisions about economic infrastructure.”

Herrera is hoping to see things turn around quickly as well.  Originally from Mexico, Herrara had been considering moving her family away from Canada had the pipeline faced any further delay. Now, she’s hopeful, with better job prospects on the horizon, they’ll be able to stay.

“This is home and my kids are Calgarian.  I don’t want to move.”