PROFILE

Budget for hard times

CHRIS WOOD January 6 1986
PROFILE

Budget for hard times

CHRIS WOOD January 6 1986

Budget for hard times

PROFILE

In June, 1985, Wilma Landry, 27, and her husband, Clifford, 29, realized that within 11 months they would be able to pay off the small building loan on their comfortable three-bedroom home in a subdivision 15 minutes south of Sydney, N.S. By next April, the couple calculated, they would have extra cash each month to enjoy the small luxuries they had denied themselves and their two children, Carrie, a precocious five-year-old, and 13-month-old Michael. But in September the department of national defence advised Clifford that his job as a stationary engineer might disappear when the Sydney radar base where he works is modernized in 1988. Now, Clifford is trying to find work 280 km away in Halifax. The couple has gone deeper in debt to prepare their home for a forced resale. And Wilma Landry, one of the 1,575 respondents to The Maclean’s/Bedma Poll, is angry and cynical about governments that promise much but deliver little.

Blame: “We can’t help feeling bitter,” Wilma told Maclean's. “We had such high hopes.” Clifford and Wilma Landry are typical Maritimers in more respects than their friendliness, attachment to family and affinity for the small rural communities where both grew up before moving to Sydney. Like other Atlantic respondents, they are less optimistic than most Canadians about the country’s economic prospects and more inclined to blame Ottawa for its ills.

The Landrys budget carefully in order to stretch his $l,112-a-month take-home pay. Said Wilma: “We have learned to do without. We can’t afford the luxury of having someone deliver coal to us—Cliff borrows a truck and collects it himself. We watch TV or visit friends. But as for movies or dances, we don’t have the money.” Clifford was caught in a job classification freeze five years ago and since then his salary has risen by only two per cent annually. The necessary scrimping is sometimes painful. Recently, Wilma put off paying other bills when Carrie needed skates for school. Said Wilma: “You can’t explain to children that they can’t do certain things because their parents can’t afford them.”

The Landrys had made modest plans for that moment when the four-year loan they had taken out to buy materials to build the house would be paid off. They

wanted to buy a used second car for Wilma, a new chesterfield to replace a sagging sofa and some new clothes. Instead, since April, Clifford has applied for several jobs in Halifax without success.

Glut: Moving away from Sydney would put them in good company. Hundreds of other Cape Bretoners have also made plans to leave following the closure of two federally owned heavy-water plants on the island. The glut of houses for sale has depressed local real estate

prices. Before the recent economic blow to the region, the Landrys estimated the value of their home at $75,000. Now, said Clifford, “God knows what it will go for.”

The Landrys are angry with what they consider blatant waste by government. Said Wilma: “Brian Mulroney had a vacation in Florida. How many people get to go on vacation in the government’s plane?” And Clifford is critical of how Ottawa has handled spending cuts. “They will keep the civil servants making $90,000 a year,” he said, “but they will lay off the poor little fellow at the bottom who is just making ends meet. It makes you sick.”

For her part, Wilma is cynical about political change. “I don’t vote,” she told Maclean’s. “I don’t see any point. You get a lot of promises, but as soon as they get elected they forget all the things they told you.” At the same time, she expects little from unions, even the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents her husband. “Unions are useless,” she said.

War: Wilma and Clifford Landry do not share the optimism expressed elsewhere in the country by poll respondents. “I blame the government 100 per cent,” said Clifford, “and I don’t think the government will change until there is a threat of a civil war. And from the people I’ve been talking to, I think that is a possibility.” Added Wilma: “The goverment is too powerful. We need a revolution, we really do.” Those are startling views, but trenchant indicators of the depth of disillusion felt by many in a region that Canada’s economic recovery has yet to penetrate.

-CHRIS WOOD in Halifax