Tag: Canada

The underwhelming email

Three days ago, Carl received a very nondescript business email, that could so easily have been overlooked. Just “re: Application #——“, the sort of thing that you would assume was spam if it hadn’t come into his official work inbox.
It was from Canadian Citizenship and Immigration:

“The processing of your application is complete. You must complete the following steps within 30 days in order for our office to issue your Confirmation of Permanent Residence and, if applicable, permanent residence visa.”

Not, “Congratulations and welcome to Canada!” Not even, “your application has been approved”. Just, ‘send us some passport photos’, that’s it. Kind of an anticlimax…
But hey, who needs a fanfare when this has been so long coming?! We are legit!! This needs celebrating, no matter what the method of communication. One month shy of 4 years in this country, and we have finally got approval to stay put. No more bureaucratic nightmares or trips to ‘flagpole’ at the border, no more expiring Health cards, no more being tied to exploitative employers. And in my case, no more “Click here to access start up funds for your new business! Wait, your SIN starts with a 9? Sod off then!”

Seriously happy about this!! We did it! Finally!!! As this blog hopefully demonstrates, it has been a long, slow, complicated, expensive and at times, very stressful and frustrating process. But so completely worth it!!

Permanent residency means that we can finally begin to actually live adult lives here. Not that I haven’t been ‘living’ here already, I feel more alive here than I ever did during the previous decade in Darlington. But everything so far has been, by definition, temporary. We survived one work permit to the next. We rent. We only use debit cards. My phone is still Pay as You Go. We bought a cheap secondhand car off Kijiji. My business partner has to own the majority share of the business that has taken over my whole life just because he’s local. If we left tomorrow, within 30 days there would probably be no official records of us having been here.

It’s a sad truth that the most significant part of “being permanent” is less the supposed security, and far more the ability to borrow money. When your paperwork says that you are supposed to leave the country in a few months time, no one is going to give you long term credit. No business loans. No bank overdrafts, no two-year phone contracts, and no mortgages.  With our new status and PR cards, we can do Grown Up things like, well, take on huge debt. Hypothetically, we are talking about buying a house here (it’s blue and pretty!) , but in the short term, I think I’ll start with upgrading my antique phone. Baby steps…

But enough financial angst! We got approved! Bring on the Prairie beer, tickets to the Pats game, toques, poutine and maple doughnuts!!! Eh??!

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The Wascana Tea Party

I may not have written since Theia was born, but that does not mean we haven’t been up to much. In fact, at 10 weeks old, she has been getting political:

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Since my last post, the country has changed, or at least we all hope it has. We experienced our first federal election! The build-up to it was (by Canadian standards) exceptionally long, and it was certainly expensive. But well worth it in that the deeply unpleasant cyborg tyrant, Stephen Harper was finally ousted after 10 years.
I have rapidly been learning Canadian politics from the relative comfort of my safe little left-of-centre middle class bubble. I even read Harper’s biography, and that was worryingly negative given it was written by a more right-wing sympathiser. I always thought that, ignoring a lot of dismal social policies, Harper had at least handled the economy well in comparison with most of Europe after the 2008 global banking crisis. Unlike the UK, Canada did not have any collapsed banks or major industries to bail out. It also recovered from the recession quicker than anywhere else. But then, I learned that we are now in another recession – in part of course a consequence of falling oil prices. And oh boy does Harper like oil. He probably dunks his Timbits in it. As I see it, the only way Harper managed to balance the budget was to cut the funding to all that was good in the world, namely women’s groups, First Nations services, environmental research, health care and support for war veterans, immigration and refugee services, CBC and Canada Post. On top of that, he’s also muzzled scientists and prevented any one publishing research that is in any way inconvenient to Tory policies – in other words, any thing related to climate change and how damaging the oil industry is. His environmental record is appalling. The government’s relationship with First Nations leaders is disfunctional at best. He’s an Islamaphobe and somehow managed to turn one woman wearing a Niqab into an election issue (although that did give rise to the wonderful tumblr account, Niqabs of Canada) and I even read about the PMO apparently vetting refugee applications from Syrians and giving priority to non-muslim applicants. I sincerely hope that’s not true. And he’s royally ballsed up the temporary foreign worker program (as I’ve documented on here!). Oh yeah and there’s the C51 anti-terrorist/license to spy on people bill and the un-Fair Elections act. And all the senate scandals. All in all, not a very nice guy.
Theia and I have already been on an Anti-Harper protest, we went to go sing “Harperman”. A pissed-off  government scientist (researching migratory birds?) wrote the song and put it up on Youtube, then got fired for it. So last month, groups all over the country staged a mass Harperman singalong, Regina included:
Harperman singalong in Regina

Anyway, we sat up to watch the election last night. We couldn’t vote, of course. We’ve been living here for 3 years, paying taxes for three years, we’re 3 years into the inordinately long permanent residency application, I started a business here and employ Canadians, I gave birth to a Canadian(!) But nooooo. No vote for us.(flippancy aside, I am not that surprised really…) I got talking to another expat on Twitter, and we decided that in the spirit of 18th century Bostonians, we would form the Wascana Tea Party. I got my tea bags ready to chuck in the lake:

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No taxation without representation!

Even without our votes (ahem!), Harper was ousted. Unfortunately the NDP, who I would probably have voted for, also got pretty badly defeated. That leaves us with a Liberal Prime Minister called Justin. Justin. He’s young and charismatic and made out to be the saviour of the old liberal party, snd he fills me with fear because I just see a better-looking Tony Blair. Please don’t be a Tony Blair, Mr. Trudeau. I admit, I don’t know much about the Liberal’s actual policies yet, but, well, Harper’s benchmark was set pretty damn low, so they MUST be an improvement,  right? And as the internet has already pointed out, Trudeau is showing how in touch he is with the millenial generation – by moving bank in to his parents’ house…

GUEST POST: Michelle Birbeck, “Canadaland”

Canadaland – A Place I Really Want To Visit.

There is something fantastic about the land of maple syrup, something that makes me want to get on a plane and come say hello. These days I have any number of excuses to get on that plane, but an unfortunate lack of funds (at least at the moment!). So I thought I would share some of the reasons I think Canada is great, even though I haven’t yet managed to visit.

For a start, I have friends there now! Wonderful, fantastic friends who I miss lots. They’re as crazy as I am, and sometimes more so, which in my world is the same thing as utterly brilliant. They’ve been gone from the UK for over a year now, and it has been a long year.

But they’re not the only reason I want to come over and visit. See, I’m an author, and people pay me to sit at home and make stuff up. So I make stuff up about places I really want to visit, slipping in little references and stories of far away places, so one day I can go visit and say it’s a business expense.

Canada is one of those places. For me it is not only the home of maple syrup (which is beautiful stuff, by the way!), but it is also home to the Canadian Bears. I’m not talking about a sports team, either. I’m talking wereanimals.

My first book, The Last Keeper, has five races of Weres: the Cats of England, the Congo Lions, Brazilian Panthers, the Wolves of Russia, and the Canadian Bears. The Bears are stout looking people who live scattered through the wilderness, rarely speaking with each other outside of the full moon. When they get together, they turn into… well, Bears. They love the freedom of Canada, and I’m pretty sure they’re all fans of maple syrup, too!

They don’t hibernate in the winter like real bears, though, and prefer to roll around in the snow and play games. The young ones are always getting into trouble sneaking off to scare poor humans, and have enjoyed a stereotypical picnic or two.

And as if I needed more reason to come over and visit, my second book, Last Chance, begins with the main couple, Serenity and Ray, coming back to England after living in Canada for a decade or so. Serenity wasn’t so much a fan of the winters, but Ray, being a vampire, had a soft spot for them.

So even though I have never been to Canada, it is a place that I love very much, and absolutely want to come visit one day. In the meantime, I will keep writing in more reasons to visit, just to keep me tempted.

owl Michelle Birbeck is an author from Hartlepool, UK. She writes loads of things, but recently the first two books in her “Keepers Chronicles” series have been published, and her first Young Adult book, The Stars Are Falling is coming out soon.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Michelle-Birbeck/e/B00800FYQ2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1363107267&sr=8-1
B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/michelle-birbeck
iBookstore: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/michelle-birbeck/id518091551?mt=11
Website: http://michellebirbeck.co.uk/
facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MichelleBirbeck
twitter: https://twitter.com/michellebirbeck
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5291957.Michelle_Birbeck
TheLastKeeper_Cover (2)
Cover 2 Rework 6 - chelle edit - 300 dpi

Canuckiversary Part 1 – Sensible stuff

The other week we celebrated our “Canuckiversary!” On 4th April, we had officially been here a year! Unfortunately that means that since then, we’ve had to go through and renew EVERYTHING – health cards, Carl’s driving licence, even our library cards! It is very nice to be able to renew them though. Best of all, Carl’s work informed us that our work permits will actually be renewed for THREE years more, not the two we’d thought we’d get. Woopedoo! This should allow us enough time to go through the Permanent Residency application process.

There’s been a lot in the news recently about the Temporary Foreign Workers scheme in Canada, and in particular, certain companies abusing the system. In the worst cases, they were firing Canadian workers, replacing them with temporary foreign workers on considerably lower wages and even worse, giving those foreign workers contracts that forbade them from applying for permanent residency once they got here!! Desperately not good!

This is the sort of situation the LMO process is designed to avoid. There are several sorts of Temporary Foreign Worker schemes, but the one we came in on, the scheme requiring and Labour Market Opinion, is specifically set out so that ONLY skilled foreign workers are allowed into the country, to do skilled/managerial level jobs, once it has been established that there are no suitable candidates to be found locally. And even then, there are a lot of checks,  and prospective employers have to prove that they have advertised the job locally first, and also that they will pay the foreign worker at least the industry-standard wage for the job, so that they can’t undercut Canadian workers. You can’t get an LMO for an unskilled, entry-level job, and you can just go ahead and recruit from overseas without first advertising the position locally for a set amount of time.

On the surface, that sounds like a very fair, sensible system. It is hindered by bureaucracy, but then, *everything* done through national government is. Ours took FIVE  MONTHS to process, and that wait is soul-destroying, which is part of the reason I started this blog! A year ago, I would have advocated that the UK adopts a similar system, to cope with the “influx” of economic migrants from Eastern and Central Europe – if immigrants already have jobs to go to before they arrive, if there hasn’t been any suitable British candidates applying, and if the immigrants can’t undercut British workers, why not let them in? Good luck to them if they actually want to move there!

However, this past year has uncovered some major flaws in the system for me. In addition to the abuses by a certain large national bank mentioned above, my own experiences lead me to believe the system is skewed far too far in the favour of the employers. Basically, after the LMO is approved and accompanying work permit has been granted at the port of entry, there are no checks whatsoever. Once the foreign worker is in place, the employer can do what they like. There’s no follow-up from Service Canada to make sure they are actually doing  the job they got the LMO for. The only ‘insurance’ is that the work permits granted under the LMO system are employer-specific. You can’t chop and change jobs if you entered Canada under this scheme.

In my case, my employers for whatever reason, never trusted me to do the job they’d gone to all the effort of getting me over here to do. Far from being a manager, I was demoted to a waitress position and cleaner before I even started the job properly – hardly the skilled job I’d sold my business and left my husband behind to do! If that were not frustrating enough, they then cut my wage, gave me a new job description with all references to the word “manager” removed, but never gave me a chance to agree to the new contract, and then they started cutting my hours as well, so I was left bringing in about $550 a month less than I was when I started there, but still needing to find the same amount of rent and childcare costs.

This put me in an impossible position. My work permit did not allow me to work for another employer because the permit is job-specific. By cutting my hours and my wage, my employers had effectively breached contract. However, I couldn’t quit and get another job because my permit doesn’t allow me to work for anyone else. If they’d fired me, I could have claimed unemployment benefit, but not if I quit.  I couldn’t apply for permanent residency because I would have needed a supporting letter from my employer and a permanent job contract. My contract that they’d already breached was only for a year. Finally, I couldn’t apply for another LMO document to extend my work permit, because the job I was doing no longer fitted the managerial/skilled criteria that an LMO requires.
I did try to appeal the conditions of my work permit, but the process took months anyway, and was eventually rejected, costing me $300 (non-refundable) for the privilege!

So basically I was left with the “choice” of ‘put up with whatever shit the employers hurl at me’ or ‘give up and go back to the UK’.  A tough choice indeed! I put up with it for much longer than I should have done, but felt like there was no alternative. There is also no one to offer any advice! I could have reported them to Labour Standards I suppose, but they couldn’t do anything about work permits, so eventually I decided it wasn’t worth the stress.

Eventually, I was “rescued” by Carl, or at least, his employers. When my LMO had been granted, Carl got an open work permit to support me. His job has turned out wonderfully, and his employers want to keep him longer than a year, so they applied for a separate, and three-year LMO for him which was approved easily – and I get a three year open-permit to go with it, meaning I can work anywhere. WOOHOO!

That’s how I finally escaped, but the whole thing was a confidence-shattering experience. After the bank scandal, temporary foreign workers got a lot of bad press – of the usual ‘coming over here, taking our jobs’ type remarks. Far from it! If the system works flawlessly, then there is no opportunity for job-stealing. More, the problem lies with the company abusing that system, and the lack of regulation in that system that leaves it open to abuse. Unfortunately, there are occasions when unscrupulous employers are given free-run to take advantage of temporary foreign workers, who are left extremely vulnerable with few real choices and very little help and support inside Canada.

“Totally a true Canadian thing to do!”

We went to a hockey game!
Carl won tickets to the Regina Pats vs Edmonton Oil Kings game the other night, so we trooped along with Miri, and Tamara acting as our token Canadian translator. I had no idea what was going on, I had a lot of beer, there was a fight, Miri got given the official game puck, and Regina lost. Good times!

In three weeks time, Miranda and I will have been here a year!! It’s incredible to think like that. It has gone pretty quick.

So, I have attended my first hockey game, bought a Roughriders shirt (as a gift, admittedly), we’ve shovelled a helluva lot of snow, learned to ice skate fairly well and generally survived our first winter, we won a latte on Tim Horton’s Roll up the Rim offer, we ate Canadian bacon drizzled with maple syrup for breakfast (once. Once is enough!), I now know what a zamboni and a toque is, and I’ve caught Miri saying “eh?” already and she does say “sorry” for no reason sometimes too.

Oh and I found out who Stompin Tom is/was…on the day he died. Twitter announced it. “RIP Stompin Tom. Please everyone, comfort your nearest Canadian…”


We haven’t yet seen a moose, but otherwise, we think we’ve truly embraced Canada!!

Better yet, thanks to Carl’s wonderful employers, we have got our work permits renewed officially for another two years!!!! This should give us enough time to apply for permanent residency! Yay! Watch out Saskatchewan – we’re here to stay!

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2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,400 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 11 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Culture Days

I was very pleased to learn that Canada has “Culture Days” – specifically, the last weekend in September. As usual, lots of Things Happen all over the place. This weekend we’ve been to the local school’s 100th anniversary celebrations (but sadly missed their “Pancake breakfast”!), saw local band, The Lazy MKs play (Miri danced like a loon!) and then did lots of Art and Crafty things at the Neil Balkwell art gallery. And I have two new souvenir t-shirts for my collection:

Time Traveller souvenir shirt from Connaught School
Silk screen t-shirt printing at the art gallery

Best of all though, I managed to Get Involved in some of this! For the past few weekends, I attended creative writing and storytelling workshops at the Creative City Centre (housed in an old building downtown, on the second floor above a shoe shop – you REALLY have to know it’s there!). The workshops were run by a very talented local writer, Shayna Stock, and it was all centred around the theme of “home” (well, actually it was rather nauseatingly called “where the heart is”). I met some fabulous and fascinating people who all had completely different ideas of what Home meant and where it was. I really enjoyed the whole thing. However, the workshops were all a setup to coerce us into actually performing what we’d written on stage at the Artesian!

So, up I got, and told my stories of home. (written, edited, rewritten, and rehearsed – not done off the top of my head!). One was a Rant About Darlington that I’d adapted from a post I wrote on here nearly a year ago. It was bitter and angry and depressing, yet got a lot of laughs. Schadenfreude perhaps?

The other one was a “captured moment” piece, about what I really count as home – where my friends congregate. Since some of them have asked for it, here is my piece,

“(Re)connecting with Home”

When Carl left in April, when he forced himself back on a plane to the UK, leaving us behind, I told Miranda that Daddy had gone to live in the computer. Luckily, she accepted this unquestioningly. She is two, and this is normal. Weekly conversations via Skype became the thing to do. Four months passed.

It is 5pm Regina time. It is still hot, and we are sipping iced tea as I try and boot up the computer. Miranda is only partially interested, unsure whether the computer’s presence will mean watching her favourite cartoons. Suddenly though, Skype connects, and there is the kitchen of our old house. The images reach us first; – the room itself is looking surprisingly clean and tidy. Carl has been packing up everything we own to emigrate with. The curtains are drawn, it has gone midnight there.

We can see all my friends. Most of them are drunk.

Dave leans over the camera, upside down to us, tongue out, pulling faces through his thick ginger beard. Miri is momentarily frightened, but then giggles at him.

Then, the sound kicks in. It is awful quality, and I think to myself, “really must get a decent webcam”. It is nearly impossible to distinguish any one conversation, but there is Chelle’s dirty laugh, there’s Dave’s dulcet, northern tones recounting one of the long-winded anecdotes that he always tells when he’s had a few. There’s the chink of beer bottles. It’s Carl’s leaving party!

Rachel appears on the screen briefly, her hair dyed black this week. “Me and Chris had a row” she announces, stoicly, and grimaces as if she’d just lost her keys or something. A minor inconvenience.

And then – there he is! My Carl, my beloved husband of thirteen years. Sweaty, and naked apart from a neon green Mankini from the Borat film.

I miss all my daft friends, and I love Carl so much. I think I love him mainly because he is a complete idiot!

Me, on stage at Artesian. (Thanks to Emma for the pic!)