Jeremy Jestican was working as a scaffolder on the Hibernia platform before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the resulting drop in the price of oil led to him being laid off — a scenario being played out over and over again in Newfoundland and Labrador's offshore oil industry, and laid bare in the budget handed down Wednesday.
Jestican, 37, said the lost income has been hard on him and others he knows. He didn't expect the provincial budget — which came in with a $1.84-billion deficit — to be pretty, and said the impact of a declining industry will be felt far and wide.
"I just look at the communities … the hospitals and charities and stuff," he said. "The offshore contributed to so much here. Businesses and everything like that, it's a big hit on the province."
The province's offshore oil industry has seen crushing losses over the past six months, including Husky Energy suspending the White Rose project in Argentia, delaying first oil, and reviewing its future operations in Atlantic Canada.
In June, layoffs were announced for the Hibernia oil platform, which served as direct employment for nearly 1,500 people as of March 2019. Workers from across the industry took to the steps of Confederation Building in September to voice their concerns over cutbacks and layoffs.
Jestican, a father of three young children, now works as a truck driver hauling sand to prepare for the upcoming winter — and said he will be laid off once the job is done. He has been searching for work but said the job market is extremely competitive due to others in the same position to himself.
"I've been off ever since March 19th, taking jobs here and there, whatever I can get," he said. "I know these guys here, they had engineers applying for labour jobs. People [are] looking for anything at all."
It seemed like it just came to a screeching halt, and here we are. - Jeremy Jestican
Jestican returned to Newfoundland to start a career after living and working in Edmonton. He said he had figured there would be an opportunity to work offshore for years to come — but things changed quickly.
"I felt very comfortable out there, as a lot of people did," he said. "People buying houses, building houses — everyone was pretty happy-go-lucky.
"It seemed like it just came to a screeching halt, and here we are. I did over 200 days last year offshore. You were turning down phone calls to go and now you're hoping to get one."
In late September, the federal government announced it would be providing $320 million to support workers and reduce carbon emissions.
Jestican said he is unsure if the money from the federal government will be able to get him back to work in the industry. He's trying to decide between going back to school or leaving the province to return in search of work.
"I don't see it happening in the near future by the time they figure out where it's all going to go and who's getting what," he said. "If school doesn't pan out I'll possibly head out west. Toronto, or Alberta again.
"I've got some small kids here. It would be hard to leave them but I've got to make a living for myself as well to keep them going. It's hard to say no to [my family]. One time you never had to, for the past few years."
We're not giving up, industry minister says
Andrew Parsons, minister of industry, energy and technology, said Wednesday the province is not prepared to give up on the oil industry in the province, even if companies move out of the sector.
"We're planning for the worst and hoping for the best. And I gotta tell you, I think we're being conservative and we're being smart," he said.
"We're listening to people that are in that industry. I'm not prepared to give up on it. I think there is still a lot of opportunity there."
Parsons said the province is not taking an "all-eggs-in-one-basket-type approach" for navigating the future.
"The department I have, I think, is a recognition that we need to take the tech side and put it into what's been a really positive and productive industry and energy sector," he said.
"But again, they don't need to be mutually exclusive. They can operate with each other and strengthen each other."