Traffic builds at one of the city’s major intersections as the afternoon rush hour approaches. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
What are the consequences of long-distance commutes? A new Memorial University project tackles the social and economic results of Newfoundland and Labrador workers who have to travel long distances — ranging from long drives to the city, flights to offshore oil platforms or across the country to Fort McMurray, Alta.
Memorial professor Barb Neis, project director for “On the Move: The Consequences of Long-Distance Commuting,” said the project was born of research she’d been doing in fishing communities in rural Newfoundland.
“We were interested in coming up with some strategies to help fishing communities become more resilient in the future,” she said. “We were focusing on the fishery, but it became increasingly obvious that a lot of the people — including some who were still active in the fishery — were actually away from the communities for a good portion of the time. They were involved in migrant work. They might be fishing for a short period of time and then they’d be gone for long periods of time. It became obvious to me that if we were really going to be looking at these communities, this was something we needed to understand more.”
Neis began monitoring some of the other larger issues in the province in other sectors — skilled-labour shortages, for example — and decided to convene researchers from across Canada, and over the ensuing couple of years developed a proposal to look at extended commuting of various kinds.
“What is unique about the research is there’s research on different kinds of employment-related mobility. So you have some research on what’s called long-distance commuting — say, into work camps or in the offshore oil and gas rigs. There’s some research on temporary foreign workers in Canada.”
“There’s some research — primarily urban — on extended commuting. Nobody had really pulled this together to look at what we’re calling the spectrum of mobility — everything from commuting for two hours a day to being away from home sometimes for several weeks or several months of the year, or in the case of temporary foreign workers, sometimes for a couple of years at a time.”
A free public forum Tuesday will explore the consequences of long-distance commuting, with a panel of university professors from across the country.
“This is really the public launch of seven years of research,” said Neis. “The research that we’re talking about on the spectrum of mobility in the Canadian context is just starting. What we’re doing with this panel is, because we’re having a team meeting in St. John’s, we’re bringing into the city people who have expertise in a range of areas that we think are relevant to Newfoundland and Labrador, based on research they’ve done before.”
The forum starts Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Innovation Hall in the Bruneau Centre on Memorial’s campus, with free parking in Lot 15B. The forum will also be webcast live at www.mun.ca/harriscentre