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Hernan Argana and his wife Lady Ann are photographed with their two daughters: Hershey Anne, age 7 and Hershey Ynan age 11 near their home in Banff, Alberta on Tuesday, April 29, 2014. (Chris Bolin For The Globe and Mail)
Hernan Argana and his wife Lady Ann are photographed with their two daughters: Hershey Anne, age 7 and Hershey Ynan age 11 near their home in Banff, Alberta on Tuesday, April 29, 2014. (Chris Bolin For The Globe and Mail)

Banff’s changing labour landscape Add to ...

For example, the city is giving developers a break on the fees it charges them to put in parking stalls. “We’re trying to find ways to reduce the developer’s costs so they might be incentivised to build apartment-style housing,” Ms. Sorensen says. “If we can reduce their costs, hopefully they’ll in turn reduce the rent they charge. But at the very least it’s giving the builder a reason to build multiunit housing, which we desperately need.”

For new immigrants in Banff, one stubborn fact of life is the high cost of living. The mostly menial jobs that temporary foreign workers and new immigrants do will never pay much – but they could certainly pay more, argues Alison Gerrits, supervisor of Family and Community Support Services.

“It boils down to the main industry here, which is hospitality,” Ms. Gerrits says. “That said, wages are not keeping up to increases in the Consumer Price Index.”

The median family income in Banff increased 5.6 per cent from 2006 to 2011 – less than half of what it was for all of Alberta. Meantime, the CPI over that period was 11.4 per cent. “So that is a huge challenge for us,” she says. “We need wages to at least keep pace with the cost of inflation.” The median income for a single person in Banff in 2011 was $28,220 and, for a family, $72,200.

Perhaps not surprisingly, many new immigrants are looking for better-paying opportunities elsewhere in Alberta. Fort McMurray has become a prime attraction, according to Mr. Jalalon, who says he knows many Filipinos who have left Banff to take housekeeping jobs either in Fort McMurray or in oil-sands work camps. “In the last week I know 10 people who left to go up there,” he says.

Jeanie Godfrey, supervisor of Banff’s Settlement Services office, says another big issue is “reunification.” The path to immigration for temporary foreign workers through the provincial immigrant nominee program requires separation of one family member from the others for a minimum of four years, she says. Sometimes, though, it can be up to eight.

“So that presents unique challenges when the spouse hasn’t lived with their partner for that length of time, hasn’t parented their children for that length of time,” Ms. Godfrey says.

Naturally, long separations can lead to conflicts upon reunification. Add to that adjusting to new societal expectations, such as in education. In Canada, it is anticipated parents will play an active role in their child’s schooling, including meeting with teachers and keeping abreast of their son or daughter’s progress in the classroom.

Dean Irvine, principal at Banff Elementary, says this can sometimes be a struggle with immigrants from countries like the Philippines, where the culture says you leave education to the educators. “My experience is that is pretty standard in Asian countries for parents to say to teachers: ‘You’re the experts, you take care of things, we don’t necessarily need to communicate.’ That’s been a challenge here, but I think it’s getting better.”

Then there is the adjustment to living alongside moose, elk, deer and sometimes bears. When one elementary-school teacher noticed children from the same Filipino family absent a few days in a row, Ms. Godfrey’s office called to inquire what was going on. It turned out the mother couldn’t walk her children to school and didn’t want them going alone for fear they might encounter some wild creature.

“It’s all about educating them,” Ms. Godfrey says.

Mr. Jalalon says his family has adapted fairly easily to life in Canada, and a decidedly different climate than that of the Philippines. He has been surprised at how welcoming the people here have been, which is much different than the treatment he received in Abu Dubai, where he worked as a paramedic for two years before coming here. There, he says, Filipinos were treated as second-class citizens. Not in Banff.

If anything, he says, he wishes the many Filipinos in Banff worked harder to integrate themselves into the community, to do things like volunteer. Instead, many keep to themselves or stick close to their fellow countrymen. The Filipino community in Banff is too insular for Mr. Jalalon’s liking.

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