Buoyant infrastructure sector poses challenges but also great opportunities for innovation

When we build infrastructure, it’s imbued with meaning beyond concrete and steel, fibre optic cable and asphalt. It’s a declaration of our values and our aspirations to improve our quality of life, boost the economy and create jobs, increase our productivity and enhance our global competitiveness.

But what we choose to build and how we build is not static. Increasingly, we understand infrastructure needs to cater to the changing needs of generations, as well as anticipate the technological leaps to come.

There is also growing acceptance that we need to build sustainably in a world increasingly dealing with dwindling resources and the impacts of a warming planet. This means thinking green when we choose building materials, reimaging brownfield sites to avoid disrupting a new natural environment and selecting more energy efficient designs and technology.

And we’re also thinking more holistically about how we build. Communities are working together to ensure, for example, transit projects address interconnections that enable individuals to take a subway, then seamlessly transfer at a multi-modal transit hub to a rapid transit bus to reach their destination.

Since the late 1990s, communities across Canada have been working hard to replace centuries-old schools and hospitals, build new highways and water and wastewater management systems, and to strengthen and diversify their electricity grids. Now, several of our biggest cities are engaged in multi-stage expansions of transit systems.

Underpinning much of this growth has been the use of public-private partnerships or P3s. The model, which brings the innovation and rigour of private sector practices to government procurement, was created to break the cycle of public infrastructure projects encountering cost overruns and delays.

Fundamental to P3s is the sharing of project risks and responsibilities between the public and private sectors based on their area of expertise under a fixed price contract with penalties applied if and when agreed upon terms and conditions are not met. The private sector is strongly motivated to deliver projects on time and on budget.

In Canada, we currently have 286 P3 projects in operation or under construction, valued at more than $139.4 billion. Independent studies have found public-private partnerships are not a magic bullet. But when used for the right projects, the results have been impressive, saving governments in Canada more than $27 billion over the years while consistently outperforming traditionally procured projects in meeting contractual obligations.

The growth in new projects has been impressive. Like most countries, however, we are still confronting a significant infrastructure gap, which the federal Advisory Council on Economic Growth estimated in 2016 varies from $150 billion to as high as $1 trillion. In Indigenous communities alone, independent research has found the gap is estimated at $25 billion to $30 billion with needs that are especially acute when it comes to water and wastewater infrastructure, housing, schooling and broadband interconnectivity.

We’re not alone. All countries are struggling to meet similar — and often much larger — gaps. In fact, according to the Global Infrastructure Hub, there will be an estimated $94 trillion in global infrastructure investment needed by 2040.

As we approach the 30-year mark for the use of P3s in Canada, the infrastructure industry is in the midst of a significant building boom. The federal government is working to deliver its more than $180-billion Investing in Canada plan, several provinces have released their largest capital budgets ever and more governments from coast to coast are choosing to use the P3 model.

However, with success also come challenges. In confronting these obstacles, how do we continue to evolve our practices to deliver the best outcomes for Canadians, while finding new ways to stretch taxpayer dollars further?

Capacity in the Sector

The ability to find enough highly skilled workers to successfully deliver projects on time and on budget is a growing concern for the sector – and for government. There are two important components to this issue.

We have an aging workforce and fewer young people pursuing careers in skilled trades. Nationally, BuildForce, which provides construction labour market information to industry, estimated in January 2020 that 22 per cent (257,100) of today’s construction workers will retire over the next decade. In Ontario, the organization estimated industry will need to hire, train, and retain almost 100,000 additional workers to keep pace with expected demand and to replace the 86,300 workers expected to retire by 2030.

In 2019, the federal government created an advisory committee to find ways to promote apprenticeships and careers in the skilled trades and is investing $40 million in Skills Canada. Several provinces have also increased funding to boost enrolments but our schools and apprenticeship programs are still struggling to meet the demand.

We have a number of significant megaprojects under construction and in the pipeline, which is stretching the capacity of industry to respond. Right now, major transit projects are underway or planned in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Québec City. There are also substantive energy projects like Site C in British Columbia, the nuclear refurbishments of Bruce Power and Darlington in Ontario, not to mention the Gordie Howe International Bridge and the navy’s upcoming Canadian Surface Combatant ship building program.

In many cases, these projects are competing for the same workers – welders, pipefitters, project managers, schedulers, ironworkers, architects and engineers. They’re also competing with the labour demands of the housing market, as well as other critical infrastructure projects in provinces, territories and municipalities across the country.

The Need for Innovation

Given the importance of infrastructure and the significant investment it demands, it’s perhaps more important than ever that we don’t become complacent or rigid in our thinking. Not when so much is riding on us building the best infrastructure we can for Canadians. We need more innovation, not less.

Companies are embracing these challenges in a variety of ways. Some are using data, connected technologies and state-of-the-art computer modelling to ensure they take the future impacts of climate change into account, while others are embracing technological advancements such as workers wearing mechanized exoskeletons to minimize strain on their bodies and increase their output. There are even entire communities being built in other countries using 3D printers!

Innovation can also come from the processes we use to procure our infrastructure. We need to explore how we can use some of the best practices from public-private partnership agreements to help governments improve their procurement processes to successfully bring projects to market.

For example, as a first step, governments need to determine what the best procurement approach is to deliver their project. This requires governments to weigh how a project is built and the long-term costs of operating and maintaining it — not just focus on the initial price tag of building the bridge, road or hospital. This type of rigorous life-cycle thinking should be applied to all major public infrastructure projects, no matter what procurement model is used.

Another innovative feature of P3s is that the model requires governments to focus their attention on the outcomes they want to achieve (a state-of-the-art hospital that serves the community for 50+ years) while challenging the private sector to use their creativity and experience to put forward their best solutions in a competitive process.

This means a team bidding for a project can recommend using more energy-efficient materials that may cost more upfront but lead to significant savings for decades to come in operations and maintenance, freeing up more money for hiring more doctors and physiotherapists. This approach encourages governments to take a whole life cycle approach to what they build, rather than just focus on the upfront capital costs.

And with a longer-term design-build-finance-operate-and-maintain agreement or DMFOM, companies are incentivized to find innovations upfront and to keep the infrastructure project in top form as contracts mandate for when it’s returned to the owner. If it’s not returned in agreed upon condition, penalties apply.

Governments are also embracing innovation. Last year, Ontario announced it was open to receiving unsolicited proposals. If companies see a need and have a solution, they can submit their idea. While new in Canada, this approach is more common in other countries and provides a framework for governments to consider infrastructure projects outside what they have planned. And if they decide to move forward, there is an open and transparent procurement process.

Innovation is also at the heart of new ways to finance projects. Transit oriented development or land value capture to help fund transit projects is one such approach. Ontario, which is also leading in this area, is building the Mimico and Woodbine GO stations completely from private funding — rather than taxpayers. This helps ensure governments and citizens share in the benefit from the increased property values and local economic spinoffs created by their public infrastructure investment such as subway and LRT stations.

Conclusion

It is truly an exciting – and challenging time for the world of infrastructure. What we are building today will be transformational for our communities and for Canada as a whole. Although many of the challenges seem daunting, there are solutions out there that we can consider and adapt for our unique needs.

As Canadians, we need to encourage our governments and companies to be bolder. To keep a watchful eye on the bottom line — Can we afford to build? — while also pondering the equally important question: Can we afford not to build?

Mark Romoff is the President & CEO of The Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships, www.pppcouncil.ca

Making insurance simple, accessible, and affordable for Canadians

The Canadian Association of Financial Institutions in Insurance (CAFII) is a not-for-profit industry Association dedicated to the development of an open and flexible insurance marketplace in Canada. CAFII members – which include the insurance arms of Canada’s major financial institutions and the country’s major life and health insurance companies — believe that consumers are best served when they have easy access to insurance, meaningful choice in coverage options, and competitive pricing.

Consumers benefit from having access to a wide array of insurance coverage options and sales channels in Canada, but many are not familiar with them or how they work. That’s why CAFII conducts consumer research and has its own consumer-friendly website www.cafii.com – so that our Association can better understand the insurance needs and preferences of Canadians, share straightforward information about the various insurance options that our members offer, and help educate consumers about the choices available to them.

We believe that better-informed consumers are more aware of the full range of insurance products and services available to them, and can better understand how to match coverage options to their personal circumstances.CAFII members offer a variety of insurance products including travel, life, health, property and casualty, and credit protection insurance (CPI). They provide these products through client contact centres, consumer-friendly websites and apps, direct mail, agents and brokers, and travel agents.CPI, also known as creditor’s group insurance, is used to pay off a mortgage or loan balance or to make/postpone debt payments on the insured’s behalf in the event of death, disability, job loss or critical illness. It can be obtained for a variety of debt obligations, including mortgages, consumer loans, lines of credit and credit cards.

This type of insurance has multiple benefits. For example:

First, if an insured person is unable to make debt repayments due to reasons such as death, disability, critical illness or job loss, CPI ensures that the debt is paid out to the maximum limit of the policy (in the case of death and critical illness) or that the loan payment is made or postponed on their behalf (in the case of disability or job loss). This will ensure the loan remains in good standing and will help protect the insured person’s credit rating.

Second, the group policy structure of CPI allows more Canadians to be insured at economical standard rates, and almost all applicants are accepted.

Third, CPI is easy to obtain. With well-trained and supervised salaried staff at banks and credit unions, Canadians have coast-to-coast access to simple, optional insurance coverage on a 24/7 basis through more than 8,000 branches, telephone contact centres, and online.
Fourth, CPI is offered in exactly the amount of debt being taken on; and, as an optional benefit offered alongside a loan or mortgage product, it is inherently timely and convenient.
And fifth, CPI provides some forms of protection that are not readily available elsewhere, such as job loss insurance.

CPI coverage is typically secured through the financial institution providing the consumer’s mortgage, loan or credit card.

According to independent research conducted by Pollara Strategic Insights in late 2018, the experience of Canadians with CPI on their mortgages and home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) is positive, with 87% saying it is a convenient way to protect themselves and/or their families against major financial setbacks arising from death, disability, critical illness, or job loss.

Furthermore, 71% said that without CPI, they do not know how they and/or their family would be able to manage should an unexpected life occurrence negatively impact them financially – for example, not being able to work and earn a regular income. And 70% said CPI is an affordable insurance option.

Canadians with CPI coverage also expressed confidence in the CPI claims process, and indicated that their expectations for claims payouts were being met or exceeded. For example, 89% of survivors/next-of-kin who made a CPI life insurance claim reported that it was paid. (The 89% level of CPI life insurance claims payouts reported by the survivors/next-of-kin of CPI insureds in the survey is close to the level found in aggregated self-reported data from CAFII members, which shows that 94% of CPI life insurance claims were paid in the 2018 fiscal year.)

Travel insurance is designed to protect consumers and their families from a variety of unexpected expenses related to travel outside of their home province. It is usually available in two varieties: travel medical insurance; and trip cancellation/interruption and baggage loss insurance.

Travel medical insurance covers emergency medical care expenses should someone suddenly and unexpectedly get sick, or if they have an accident while outside of Canada. Provincial health plans cover only a fraction of any health care expenses incurred outside of Canada (Ontario now covers almost nothing), and they limit coverage when travelling to another province. Should a covered person get sick or injured during his or her trip, travel medical insurance may cover all or most of their medical expenses up to a predetermined limit.

This coverage can help protect consumers against the high cost of healthcare in the event of a medical emergency when travelling internationally.

For example, medical expenses, including medical evacuation, can be much higher in other countries than they are in Canada where Canadians are likely covered by their provincial health care plan. For example, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medical Services, fixing a broken leg can cost up to $7,500; the average cost of a three-day hospital stay is approximately $30,000; and comprehensive cancer care can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the United States – much, much higher than the amount a provincial health plan covers for medical expenses incurred outside Canada. In addition, the cost of emergency medical evacuation from a foreign country can be $25,000 or more. Most people would face financial ruin if required to pay medical bills of that magnitude.

Trip cancellation insurance will reimburse consumers for the amount of pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses (e.g. airline, cruise, train, hotel, etc.) that they have insured, should they cancel their trip before departure for an unforeseen covered reason. These reasons include the unexpected illness or injury of the insured and/or a traveling companion that deems them unfit to travel, by order of a licensed physician; the hospitalization or death of a family member; circumstances beyond one’s control that results in the cancellation of the public transportation they have paid for to get to their destination; unforeseen natural disasters at home or the destination; and/or a legal obligation, such as being called for jury duty or to appear as a witness in court.

Trip interruption insurance is similar to cancellation coverage, but covers Canadians while they are on a trip for a list of covered reasons. For example, if a covered reason requires an insured person to return home, trip interruption insurance will reimburse them for the lost portion of their trip, as well as any additional expenses for a last-minute flight home.

According to independent research by Pollara conducted in early 2018, the experience of Canadians who have purchased travel medical insurance is very positive, with more than 8 in 10 satisfied with the coverage and the value it provides. Furthermore, 98% of people who had made travel medical insurance claims within the previous year said they were fully or partially paid, with only 2% of claims being denied. In addition, 91% of claimants said they were satisfied with their claim experience from initial contact to final outcome.

The survey results also revealed that Canadians believe that they have a reasonable understanding of the terms and limitations of their travel medical insurance, their amount of coverage, and who to contact in the event of an emergency. For example, at the time of purchasing their travel medical insurance, buyers said they were satisfied that they knew the policy terms, with 89% saying their knowledge was at least reasonable.

The Pollara research reports on travel medical insurance and credit protection insurance are available on the CAFII website. The website also contains videos, real-life examples, explanations and FAQs about more than a dozen types of insurance including mortgage default insurance and life insurance, as well as a wide range of CPI products including mortgage life insurance, mortgage disability insurance, critical illness insurance, job loss insurance, and payment protection insurance.

While we are pleased with CAFII’s progress to date in helping our members make insurance more simple, accessible, and affordable for Canadians, we know there is still more work to be done. So as we move forward towards our Association’s 25th anniversary in 2022, we will continue to advocate for an open and flexible insurance marketplace in Canada, and provide consumers with the information they need to make informed choices.

Keith Martin and Brendan Wycks are Co-Executive Directors of the Canadian Association of Financial Institutions in Insurance (CAFII), www.cafii.com

Reducing regulatory burden – an end by all means

Paul Norris is the President of the Ontario Waterpower Association

Over the past decade, Ontario has experienced an unprecedented shift in its electricity supply mix and an expansion of all forms of renewable energy, including waterpower. But it hasn’t been easy. What started as a five year development timeline for new or significantly expanded hydro rapidly grew to an 8 year process, driven largely by regulatory requirements with the attendant increase in project costs. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that when faced with the reality of increasing electricity prices, attention is paid to reducing the input costs associated with regulation.

Almost from its swearing in the “new” provincial government has had a sharp focus on the reduction of regulatory burden for business and citizens. Ontario’s Open for Business Action Plan has set a target of reducing the cost of complying with regulations affecting businesses by $400 million annually by 2020. At last count, the government was more than half way to achieving this objective. “Red tape reduction” is not a new phenomenon in government. Successive governments have established various mechanisms intended to reduce regulatory burden, ranging from concepts such as requiring the elimination of two regulations for the introduction of each new one to the creation of a Secretariat to drive an all-government approach. As an industry that can be subject to as many as fifty (50) provincial and federal legislative requirements for a single project, the waterpower sector welcomes any opportunity to discuss improved efficiencies.

Regulatory reform in the waterpower sector has taken a number of shapes, each designed to reduce burden while retaining the broader public interest, and each with a different approach to the achievement of the objective, as outlined below.

1. Incenting responsible governance – the LRIA Agreement Framework

Under a policy framework initially introduced in the spring of this year, the first of will hopefully become a series of bilateral agreements was signed between the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and Ontario Power Generation on “Waterpower Day” – June 1, 2019. The Framework provides guidance for Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act (LRIA) agreements that enable responsible dam owners with mature programs and the resources to demonstrate their ability to safely manage a portfolio of dams, to complete certain alterations, improvements and repairs to their dams without obtaining approval from MNRF.

The core concept in this burden reduction approach is the demonstration of “responsible dam owner with mature programs” in exchange for a less onerous process of government review and approval project by project. The initiative continues to build on MNRF’s iterative modernization of approvals under the LRIA which began in 2011. At that time, government made a fundamental decision to incorporate a guideline and best management practice approach to dam management in Ontario rather than to require the application of standards through regulation. The approach has enabled the development and improvement of technical guidance over time and is foundational to the Agreement Framework introduced in 2019.

In short, demonstration of a dam owner’s responsibility and program maturity is linked directly to the voluntary adoption of key guidelines and best management practices through a managed system, including Dam Safety Reviews, Emergency Preparedness and Response Plans, Public Safety Management Plans and Operations, Maintenance and Surveillance Manuals. The incentive to reduce regulatory burden, therefore, results in an improvement to infrastructure management and advances public policy objectives. The OWA is actively encouraging waterpower producers and other dam owners to assess the potential for entering into an agreement with MNRF.

 2. Defining low risk projects – Class Environmental Assessments

A second approach to the prudent reduction of regulatory burden, both for business and for government, is to focus limited resources on undertakings for which government review and approvals are most wisely invested. This “low risk” approach has been taken by a number of successive governments. For example, in 2016, small dams associated with wetland protection were exempted from certain regulatory requirements. It’s also an approach that is embedded in the OWA’s Class Environmental Assessment for Waterpower Projects (Class EA).

It is also an approach that was incorporated into one of the government’s initial burden reduction Bills – the More Homes, More Choice Act, which received Royal Assent on June 6, 2019. Specifically, Schedule 6 of the Bill (Environmental Assessment Act) adds several new sections to the Act in respect of class environmental assessments, one of which provides that a class environmental assessment may exempt specified categories of undertakings within the class from the Act. It also exempts certain undertakings that are currently subject to approved class environmental assessments.

As a first step under the legislative changes, low risk projects under several Class EAs, including those held by MNRF, MTO and GO Transit, were subsequently exempted from the Act, using the categorizations within the respective Class EAs. Work continues on the rationalization of the various Class EA processes, including the OWA’s Class EA, which already identifies projects at existing structures to be of lower risk than Greenfield developments. The application of OWA’s Best Management Practices Guide for the Mitigation of Impacts of Waterpower Facility Construction can also play a key role in “de-risking” projects – an example of how industry leadership can help reduce regulatory burden.

3. A “one window approach” – The OWRA and the LRIA

Finally, there is the long-awaited reduction of regulatory overlap and duplication for the waterpower sector between the Ontario Water Resources Act and the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act. Bill 132 – the “Better for People, Smarter for Business Act”, introduced in October 2019. The intent of this burden reduction initiative is to streamline processes by moving towards a one-window approvals system for waterpower facilities through the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. This will be achieved by amending the Ontario Water Resources Act to remove the need for waterpower facilities to obtain a permit to take water.

Waterpower facilities will continue to be regulated under the Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act (LRIA), which is administered by the MNRF, and the Class Environmental Assessment process. The changes remove the current duplication and overlap between the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks and MNRF for the industry and will provide cost savings for facilities while maintaining environmental protections. It is important to recognize that there is no loss of government oversight in this proposal rather it ensures that the industry is regulated once, addressing what had become a “pancaking” of requirements, driven largely by unintended consequences of unrelated policy initiatives over a period of years. The OWA has long advocated for this improvement – the result of which will be more investment in projects than in unnecessary process.

Ontario’s two hundred and twenty four (224) waterpower facilities “punch above their weight” with respect to their relative contribution to capacity, energy and peak demand requirements as compared to costs to ratepayers. The sustained targeted reduction of regulatory burden for an industry that continues to demonstrate environmental leadership will only increase the value proposition for Made in Ontario waterpower.

Paul Norris is the President of the Ontario Waterpower Association, www.owa.ca

Human capital: The backbone of the economy

Anthony Ariganello is the CEO of Chartered Professionals in Human Resources

You have met Linda or someone like her. Linda has taken up a part-time job at the local retail store to supplement her small pension. She was having second thoughts. While she enjoyed the work and helping people, she also wondered if working part-time might affect her pension and whether she was paying more taxes than necessary.

She was seriously thinking about quitting. That would also mean that Joe, the owner of the hardware store, would have to recruit another salesperson at a time when getting help is particularly difficult.

Ahmed is in a different situation, in his mid-thirties, he has a great job in the federal government. He loves being challenged. The only thing is that Ahmed is bringing his work home with him at night—every night. He never turns off his device. His manager loves it. What’s not to love? She can count on Ahmed being available 24/7. Unfortunately, his family is not so happy with this arrangement and Ahmed himself is showing signs of stress and burnout.

It is because of people like Linda, Joe, Ahmed and others like them that the Chartered Professionals in Human Resources (CPHR) Canada embarked on a six-month-long reflection on key issues facing workers and employers.

The issues

Our analysis focused on four key issues that we believe require attention and action. We focused on psychological health and safety in the workplace and issues relating to diversity and inclusion. We also addressed labour market flexibility and labour scarcity.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, mental health problems and illnesses cost the Canadian economy more than $50 billion per year in 2016. The benefits of formal mental health approaches in the workplace are well known. They cover employee engagement and creativity, financial performance, the ability to innovate and even the reduction of costs and risks associated with conflicts, absenteeism or employee turnover. So why are we not doing better?

Mental health is a complex issue but governments, employers and human resource professionals must act collectively to ensure workplaces are psychologically safe and healthy.

This includes allocating resources to proactively address harassment and incivility in the workplace; giving workers the right to turn off their devices when not required and introducing workplace programs to help employees deal with financial stress.

Canada is a global leader with the introduction of a national standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace. We urge that the standard be implemented throughout organizations of all sizes.

Turning to Joe’s challenge of filling Susan’s job, CPHR Canada found that too many organizations—big or small, have not seen diversity and inclusion as an opportunity to fill jobs in this time of worker and skills shortages. Simply put, organizations are missing out on its potential benefits. Women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous Canadians and visible minorities are underutilized in the labour force. The wage and parity gap must be closed and, according to Statistics Canada, a large part of the wage gap remains unexplained and may be attributed to gender bias. The unemployment rate among Aboriginal groups remains higher than in non-Aboriginal populations. The rapidly growing Aboriginal population across the country and in urban centres, means that initiatives to include Indigenous people in the labour market must be developed.

At CPHR Canada, we believe governments must strengthen initiatives such as professional training to support people marginalized from the workforce to find skilled jobs.

A lot is being said about the impact of economic and technological changes on work. This shift combined with growing social awareness and desire for work-life balance have led some employers to provide more flexibility in the traditional workplace such as allowing for non-standard schedules, remote work and performance-based wages. We know that job flexibility can have a positive impact on organizations by boosting productivity and employee satisfaction.

The flip side for us is that this trend does not eventually lead to job casualization—a tendency for paid work to appear increasingly characterized by uncertainty, low income as well as limited access to benefits and rights granted by the law. The line between standard and non-standard jobs is blurring. As an example, in 2018, there were nearly two million self-employed workers without pension and traditional benefits in Canada. In addition, non-standard work is often associated with precarious jobs due to the insecure nature of the activity and income and becoming less proficient over time.

Closely related to this issue is the rise of digital work and the development of the platform economy, linked to the gig economy—all issues that deserve better understanding.

The good news is that the federal government is aware of the problem. Last year, it set up an expert panel on modern federal labour standards tasked with the job to make recommendations on labour standard protections for non-standard workers. We will be watching the government’s next steps with interest.

We are keenly aware that skills shortages are negatively affecting organizations of all sizes. The problem is even more acute in regions outside large urban centres. According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the job vacancy rate is between 2.4 and 2.5 per cent for companies with more than 100 employees and between 2.7 and 3.5 per cent for companies with 20 to 99 employees. The smallest employers, companies with fewer than 20 employees, have a vacancy rate between 4.7 and 5.4 per cent.

As a result, some companies are unable to meet current demand. Some are postponing their expansion plans. Quality is suffering and competitiveness is declining. We fear the problem will only deepen over the next decade with fewer people available for work. Human capital is a cornerstone of the economy and there is an urgent need to strengthen solutions to counter labour scarcity.

Immigration is part of a solution but will not on its own solve the problem. In 2016, the Advisory Council on Economic Growth recommended accepting 450,000 newcomers to Canada as of 2021. In 2018–2019, 313,600 immigrants were admitted to Canada. That number would have to increase 30 per cent to meet the Council’s recommendation.

We believe the federal government can and should improve the immigration system with a more strategic link between the needs of organizations and the skills of newcomers. Canada’s capacity to attract the best talent also depends on the efficiency of the immigration system. Complex processes could discourage the best candidates from choosing to live in Canada.

Offering a path toward permanent residency for foreign students is a sustainable strategy. While not all foreign students come to Canada to stay, the fact remains this group is composed of ideal candidates—educated in Canada, they speak the language and they have forged ties. These are key conditions for success.

Finally, extending the working life of skilled workers over 55 years of age must be made a part of the solution. We need to make sure that recently introduced measures, such as exempting gains from the Guaranteed Income Supplement, are achieving the objective set out to retain skilled workers. We also strongly believe a culture of continuous training and skills development should be a standard in today’s economy.

When I think back to the challenges facing Linda, Joe, Ahmed and his family, I am reminded that issues we see as having national economic importance also have a direct bearing on the lives of individual Canadians. Simply put, steps to address the issues we are raising can improve Canadians’ financial, physical and emotional well-being.

From this perspective, five overarching recommendations should be addressed as a priority.
They are:

  1. That government bodies have the resources necessary to analyze emerging labour market developments, particularly regarding the precarity of work, gig work and diversity and inclusion.
  2. That employers, with a focus on SMEs in particular, be provided with resources to enable them to create a workplace that is free of harassment, stigmatization and limits the psychosocial risks as well as providing training in diversity and inclusion policies
  3. Ensure the tax and social security system supports older workers.
  4. Ensure the immigration system reflects the emerging needs of the labour market and reduce delays associated with the Temporary Foreign Workers Program.
  5. Engage with provincial and territorial governments as well as with employers (particularly SMEs), professional organizations, academia and labour unions to address the changing nature of the workplace with specific consideration to its impact on the labour market and its risks in terms of job security.

What’s next

While we do not claim to have all the answers, we hope the paper to be published this Spring will spark a dialogue for progress. We know that policy makers, academia, employers, labour unions and human resource professionals need to work together to ensure Canadians are prepared for and are adapting to a changing workplace requiring new skills and facing fundamental shifts in markets and technologies.

We all have important roles to play and I would like to hear from you as the dialogue grows.

Anthony Ariganello is the CEO of Chartered Professionals in Human Resources (CPHR). To learn more about these issues or for a copy of the paper Human Capital: four priorities for sustainable economic performance in Canada, please visit cphrcanada.ca.

Challenges to Canadian Societal Paradigms: Transformation and new digital ecosystems

Over the last decade, we have witnessed the remarkable transformation of Canadian society. With these changes comes a landscape of uncertainty unlike anything we have ever seen. Understanding what is happening in the areas discussed below must be part of any attempt at navigating the waves of change taking place.

When I founded the Canadian Internet Marketing Association in 2011, it was an organic move as a natural branching out of my work running an agency and speaking at conferences. People I would chat with were eager to learn about the changes that were rapidly overtaking the country. Professionals, business owners, students, and the public at large had seemingly never ending supply of questions about the digital frontier. To help satisfy this desire to be informed, and coming from a combined academic and business background, I founded the organization with goals of education and community at its core. Education included on-going training for those looking to keep up with the changing digital world, and community for networking, socializing, and sharing of ideas to better comprehend the behavioural trends.

The tremendous demand for information continues to this day. What follows is a non-exhaustive list that highlights areas that are being transformed.

The retail environment

For over half a century, shopping malls were prominent fixtures in suburban living. The recent retail environment has suffered with fewer shoppers, rising rents, and lower profits, as malls are closing and evolving. The retail apocalypse has lead to malls reinventing themselves.

“The retail apocalypse has lead to malls reinventing themselves.”

For one, pop-up shops, once reserved for Halloween and Christmas stores, have become commonplace and accepted. The trend is for malls to be converted into mixed used facilities, incorporating retail space with residential living, offices, entertainment venues, medical facilities, and other amenities. While malls evolve toward becoming a more integrated part of the community, the need for these destinations has decreased as online shopping continues to dominate Canadians’ way of life. The convenience, lower prices, and time saving aspects of online shopping continues to outpace changes to physical retail outlets.

Traditional forms of promoting products and services with TV, radio, and print have lessened in importance as the digital ecosystem for marketing continues to evolve. Native advertising, content marketing, and search engine marketing, all have targeting and analytics potential beyond traditional channels. For example, retargeting and remarketing provide greater niche penetration and return on investment opportunities than ever before. Artificial Intelligence (AI) further provides valuable customer insights for marketers.

Celebrity status on social media platforms such as YouTube, Instagram, Twitch, TikTok, Snapchat, and OnlyFans is now commonplace. Brands looking to reach increasingly niche audiences in significant ways now rely on influencers and micro-influencers to carry the message to their fanbase. Influencers are trusted by their fans and companies cannot manufacture that authenticity. As such, they must rely on influencers. Additionally, content marketing with increased interactive content such as shoppable posts will continue to transform and justify the decreasing need for physical retail space.

Lack of training opportunities

While the Canadian education system is ranked as one of the best in the world, keeping up with technology should be more of a priority. Guidelines could require educational institutions, starting from elementary school, to teach children how to use technology in constructive, functional, and meaningful ways. Schools must teach for the realities of what’s to come, if Canadians are to be prepared for jobs and future societal roles. While it may be seen as impossible to train for jobs that don’t yet exist, mandating fluency and ethics in technology is a start.

“Academic institutions can barely keep up”

Academic institutions can barely keep up with the realities of Internet marketing. What may be true at the beginning of a semester may be completely changed by the end, thereby nullifying the value of the knowledge. An ideal way to stay up-to-date is to have continuing education opportunities with information that is easily updated and adapted to trends, in real time.

Noting the demand for training, consulting, and coaching, my team and I have been offering courses and workshops on search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, social media marketing, analytics, and WordPress, among others. We teach both theory and practice so that attendees truly understand why they are doing what they are doing. With more do-it-yourselfers anticipated to flood the market as traditional jobs dry up, a new course is being developed to help freelancers launch and grow their business.

Given the uncertainty of our future workspace, an entrepreneurial and freelancer spirit is required to be able to acquire new, practical digital knowledge, and to generate income from multiple streams. This must be integrated into the fabric of society. The downside of not doing this means that an individual is leaving one’s future in the hands of a company that has no intention of keeping them around until retirement. Or, that company may not even be around for much longer, forcing the individual to make difficult decisions about their future sources of income.

Consolidation of corporate power

With up to billions of users, the largest online brands including Facebook, Google, and Amazon each represents a consolidation of power in their respective areas.

“Google has amassed so much information that it is now a destination, not just a search engine.”

Over 50% of Canadian businesses still do not have a website, many of which believe they are too small to merit one. Google has amassed so much information that it is now a destination, not just a search engine. That further discourages some businesses from marketing themselves.

Amazon is the largest ecommerce company by online revenue. While it is the site of choice for consumers and merchants, to merely call it an ecommerce website is an understatement. The company’s reach is so pervasive that thanks to Amazon Prime, its offerings include two-day shipping, music and video streaming services, and other perks. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a cloud platform with almost half of the global market share.

The public at large is not aware of how powerful these companies are. It would be useful to examine their current trajectories and follow the roadmap of where they intend to go.

Legislating against change

There is an exciting entrepreneurial spirit across the country. Canadian startups and other digital enterprises are innovating and should be encouraged to continue to do so.

However, if Canada wants to be positioned to lead the world in a digital economy, it can’t chastise those who succeed at change and progress. No one wants to start a company that is begging to get itself reprimanded or held back for the wrong reasons.

Uber doesn’t own cars but it challenged (and arguably beat) the taxi industry to modernization. I have personally been subject to harassment by Taxi drivers in Toronto who acted out of fear when Uber came onto the scene. Ride-sharing services such as Uber were only recently legalized in Vancouver. While the delay in approval could have been attributed to Uber’s predatory business practices, they actually appear to be due to government yielding to the status quo.

The hotel industry is nervous because of the damage that Airbnb can do to its profit margins. Montreal has passed bylaws to substantially limit short-term rentals, limiting where they can operate. Concerns surrounding the city’s residential vacancy rate and attempting to prevent conflicts between tourists and residents, were offered as reasons.

Yet, companies in the sharing economy make economic and environmentally friendly sense. If Canadians are to continue to find ways to prosper while simultaneously fulfilling environmental mandates, governments must act more quickly and openly to adapt to the changing realities of digital businesses.

Governments should be legislating to benefit its people, not trying to prevent change in an established industry. Individuals need to acknowledge that our lifestyles are changing, and it’s not going back to the way things were.

The public cannot count on a top-down structure with government at the top to make changes. Governments are extremely slow to initiate change while technology is racing ahead, transforming every aspect of our lives. It is up to individuals to pay attention and bring on change in a bottom-up approach.

Regulation of personal privacy

With increasingly sophisticated technology, websites and ultimately marketers are able to collect massive amounts of private data regarding an individual’s digital habits and interests. Many Internet users enjoy the benefits of viewing ads that are tailored to their interests. Yet, most Canadians have expressed some level of concern over privacy.

Currently, data is gathered either voluntarily or by uninformed collection. Threats to Canadians’ private information is real, as seen in major data breaches at Facebook and LinkedIn, among many others.

In European, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) covers areas of data permission and access, allowing marketers to collect and store data with specific rules. Similar rules could be used in Canada.

The bigger picture

A type of digital industrial revolution is outpacing society’s ability to assimilate rapidly evolving paradigms. Societal change is happening intragenerationally rather than intergenerationally. If Canada is to maintain a knowledgeable, technologically capable population while leading the world, it must account for this transformation.

Brian Rotsztein is President of the Canadian Internet Marketing Association (CIMA), www.internetmarketingassociation.ca.