The biggest employer of youth in B.C. is getting back to normal.
The annual Pacific National Exhibition fair is underway and while for many it conjures up images of midway rides, candy floss and 4-H contests, the fact is the event is an enormously important one for the local economy.
The pandemic reduced the fair to a drive-thru event in 2021 and vastly reduced operations last year. This year’s fair, while still not at pre-pandemic levels in terms of crowds and venues, is nevertheless bigger than last year’s event.
The pandemic has been hard on everyone, but it has been especially hard on young people. While not as susceptible to contracting serious illness from COVID-19 as older people, younger people had their social connections suspended for a long time.
In the first year of the pandemic, they also found it hard to find employment. Our employment levels are much lower now, and entry jobs abound everywhere.
The PNE is a traditional source of many of those entry-level jobs. More than 1,200 people under the age of 21 work there and over the course of a 17-day fair can earn a fair amount of money.
Overall, close to 10,000 people get work from the fair annually. It generates about $200 million in economic activity annually and benefits all kinds of community organizations and businesses.
But it’s not just the economic impact the PNE brings that is important. There is also the psychological impact it presents.
The resumption of the PNE – just like sporting events such as Vancouver Canucks and B.C. Lions games, as well as weddings and other gatherings – sends an important signal that we are getting society back to normal again.
The concept of “fun” was put on hold for much of the pandemic. Now “fun” is roaring back with a vengeance, and that’s great news for people and for the economy.
If this column sounds like I’m a fan of the PNE, it is because I am.
As a teenager, I worked 10 summer fairs on the PNE midway, and the money and experience I received proved invaluable. I worked along hundreds of other young people, many earning enough to cover the post-secondary tuition or to simply cover living expenses.
The work was exhausting – 12 hour days for 17 days – but also lucrative and rewarding (plus I got to ride the fabled wooden roller coaster literally hundreds of times).
We are not out of the pandemic yet and no one knows when we will be. The coming fall and winter is the respiratory illness season, and who knows what looms with that or any new COVID-19 variants.
For many, the PNE symbolizes the end of summer holidays. It’s been that symbol for a staggering 112 years and one hopes it will continue to do so for a long time.
Schools will soon reopen and the Canucks will soon take to the ice in front of large crowds.
We are getting back to normal, folks, and so is the PNE.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.