Prepare for a post-pandemic spending boom & bust

Rosenberg Research featured image

If you ask anyone in the market why they are bullish for 2021, they will tell you right away that they see a light at the end of the Covid tunnel. And indeed, with the multiple vaccine news we have received since the beginning of November, there is a light. There may be many potholes, with the coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and fatalities on a disturbing upward trajectory, and a very tough winter staring us in the face, but there is a light that we can now all see. To have vaccines developed and now distributed in such volumes and with such tremendous efficacy levels, and done so quickly, does indeed make one tempted to believe in miracles we thought were only saved for the bible stories.

So what lies ahead for the coming year. A very rough first quarter for the economy. And then a better second quarter. And quite likely boom-like conditions in the second half of the year as substantial amounts of pent-up demand get released. You speak to most people, and the first thing they want to hear upon getting the jab are the words “please fasten your seatbelts”.  Travelling, mall browsing, bar hopping, eating out, dare I say, socializing, will be all the rage. It is called “pent-up demand” for a reason. And this will be the single dominating force driving the economy in 2021, barring any unforeseen setbacks (as in, not enough of a vaccine take-up to achieve the Holy Grail of herd immunity. No central bank will dare tighten monetary policy even if inflation rears its (pretty?) head and one can be reassured, especially in Canada with a federal government that would make Tommy Douglas blush, that the fiscal spigots will remain turned on in a major way. Interest rates, by hook or by crook, will not be allowed to rise as they have typically done in past aggressive economic recoveries. If you are a policymaker today, the last thing you will be doing is upsetting any apple carts.   

So the economic outlook for 2021 is perhaps the easiest one to make that I can recall in my 35 years in the forecasting business. There will be a post-pandemic spending boom. It’s only a matter of how big and what quarter it begins. That light, indeed, does shine bright. Much of this good news, as an aside, is priced into every global financial asset you can probably name.  Even the previously beaten-up airline, casino, retail and hotel stock you can think of has priced in the light at the end of the tunnel.    

But, you see, from a financial markets standpoint, just as the economy booms next spring and summer, even into the fall, investors will at some point in 2021 have to confront what life is going to be like once we get past the light. At some point next year, I guarantee everyone that just as the markets were soaring during the darkest of hours during the pandemic in 2020 because of the light they saw at the end of the tunnel, these same markets will be beyond that light even as we all go out and have fun again. That’s the thing about markets – they move earlier and more quickly than people do. 

All that said, I do think from an economic standpoint, there will be an economic recovery of epic proportions. But the recovery beyond the end of 2021 will be muted and frustratingly slow, and it could take at least three years before all the economic damage from the virus and the lockdowns are ultimately recouped. Then think of a future with massive public deficits, debts, and government intervention and regulation. Then we have to consider, when we get to the other side, how these massive central bank balance sheets will get dealt with. Will the debts get monetized or not? And a world of reduced globalization and more localized supply chains, an end to-just-in-time inventories, and what the future holds for taxation. I don’t know about you folks, but it is crystal clear to me that in this period of heightened uncertainty, it will be capital, and not labor, that defrays the cost of the rescue packages, and that means higher tax rates on capital gains and corporate income. The current surge in the deficit is not about shovels in the ground with some hope of future multiplier effects on the economy – it is simply a transfer from some future taxpayer to today’s household and business who are out of work and for some reason had no cash, savings, or liquidity to get through even a few months of shutdown for public health purposes. 

What the world looks like when the crisis ends is truly anyone’s guess but I will say with 100% clarity that it is going to look a lot different than it did before. Not just the question over government policy, but at the individual level, months of isolation and distancing, and fear of a return of the pandemic are going to fundamentally alter lifestyles, and will have a profound influence not just on the way we live but how we conduct ourselves in our personal and commercial lives. For example, working from home is certainly going to be a more dominant force even once we move beyond the light at the end of the tunnel, with obvious negative implications for commercial real estate but positive implications for internet infrastructure, computer hardware and video conferencing. There is going to be a sharp reduction in travel to work, travel in general, and this means fewer cars on the road, there is nothing here that is very good for the auto sector, and the future therefore is really clouded for office REITS and commercial real estate in the large densely populated urban areas. But there are some bullish themes that emerge too. As we  go into an era of elevated personal savings rates where people are going to focus on what they need, not what they want. This means to screen all of your equity exposure for “utility-like” characteristics – and that includes anything related to ecommerce, cloud services, delivery services and wiring up your home to become your new office. What lies beyond the light at the tunnel is a secular shift in economic behavior that took place during this grim period of history; shifts I believe are secular in nature, that tell me to focus on areas of the market, consumer staples, health care and even big tech, that have morphed into essentials. 

No doubt, the investment community is paying more for duration today than they ever have in history but since we can anticipate rates to stay low for years to come, this valuation driver becomes the dominant issue that will be driving the market and prospective returns. This is exactly why growth investing trounced value for much of the past decade, even before the pandemic. Ultimately, the growth-versus-value decision depends on what the world will look like once Covid-19 is in the rear-view mirror. But even with a vaccine, if we return to the pre-Covid world, when you think about it, it actually means a return to a slow-growth, low-interest-rate, and low-inflation world, which means growth will remain the place to be because they are the longest duration stocks in the equity market. For cyclicals and value stocks to work, you want faster economic growth, signs of inflation, and higher interest rates. There’s been a move recently into the value trade and it does make sense since these stocks are dirt cheap and deserve to be rerated positively for a post-pandemic world. But at the root, this is really just a mean reversion trade, and it may have more legs to it. But that is why it is referred to as the ‘value trade’ and not the ‘value trend’; for the same reasons value unperformed growth 80% of the time and by more than 3 percentage points per year during the 2009-2019 bull market expansion.

The major point I need to emphasize right out of the gates is that it can’t possibly be lost on anyone that what we had was a health crisis that morphed into an economic crisis and then somehow managed to morph into a financial crisis that was ten times worse than anything we saw in the Great Financial Crisis and forced the Fed and the Bank of Canada to probe the outer limits of monetary intervention. We simply refuse to stop these cycles of redressing debt crises by adding more debt, which merely compounds the adverse effects from the recession that is inevitable, and yet at the peak of the cycle nobody ever seems to be prepared for one.

The vaccination process is no reason to believe we are not in some form of economic depression that has only been disguised by unprecedented policy stimulus. Just because your kid has training wheels doesn’t mean he (she) knows how to ride the bike. And we have an economy on our hands that could not survive without large-scale deficit finance and central banks suddenly acting like hedge fund managers. This is why it’s going to be a depression because what comes next is a secular change in attitudes towards credit and towards savings. I mean, seriously, over half of American households didn’t have enough cash on hand to even get through three months of a job loss — quite remarkable when you consider we went into this mess with a 50-year low unemployment rate of 3.5%. Not to mention the corporate sector where, for some reason, the word “liquidity” became a dirty nine-letter word this past cycle. Now every business has working capital they have to cover with a fraction of last year’s cash flow. And this got me thinking about how the future will be one of treating “savings” as sacrosanct.  Beyond the quarter or two of pent-up demand release in 2021, frugality is going to emerge as the primary theme. It’s not the end of the world, either, unless you’re an advocate for a sustainable and vigorous economic expansion.  

In a narrow view, the markets are telling us that the ‘new normal’ will be a ‘reversion to the mean’ where life goes back to normal. And to that I say not so fast. People will surely go back to restaurants, hotels and airplane travel in due course, but don’t think for a second that there will not be residual impacts. The narrative emerging from the recent trading action in the equity market tells us that we are going back to our old lifestyles and that is what I would bet heavily against. I have seen, and continue to see, secular shifts in behavior that will transcend a couple of quarters of pent-up demand release, that we will be stuck with a permanently higher equilibrium personal savings rate and a permanently lower labor force participation rate. And if we do somehow revert to the old normal, remember that the prior ten-year period was one of low growth, low inflation and low interest rates. I don’t see that changing because the secular forces of aging demographics, massive debt burdens and extreme income and wealth inequalities, if anything, have become accentuated by the pandemic. 

What the world looks like when the crisis ends is truly anyone’s guess, but I will say with 100% clarity that it is going to look a lot different than it did before. I sense that some of the structural changes in our economy could be long-lasting. Global supply chains could shrink, and in some cases we might see the full repatriation of manufacturing in certain industries, for instance in pharmaceuticals, food and high-tech like semiconductors. Areas deemed to be in the realm of national security. Before the pandemic, the emphasis was on “just-in-time” production, with parts being delivered just when they were needed in the manufacturing process.In the post-pandemic period, the emphasis could shift, to some extent, to “just-in-case” supply chains, emphasizing proximity and certainty of delivery. And then beyond the question over government policy, we have to consider at the individual level, how months of isolation and distancing and in the future, a fear of mutation of the pandemic, are going to fundamentally alter lifestyles, and will have a profound influence, not just on the way we live, but on how we conduct ourselves in our personal and business lives.

Then we have to consider, when we get to the other side, the massive government debts we will have built up and how that, along with even more bloated central bank balance sheets, will get dealt with. Will the debts get monetized, or not? Or God forbid, will taxes have to go up on the middle-class? Just some things to contemplate in 2021 as we get our booster shots and then race to the local brasserie. The stock market is not the economy so don’t believe for a second that record equity prices means the road ahead isn’t going to be a bumpy one.

David Rosenberg is the Founder, Chief Economist & Strategist of Rosenberg Research & Associates, www.rosenbergresearch.com.

Rebuilding confidence in Canadian construction through Union involvement

The Building Union of Canada featured image

The Building Union of Canada (BUC) was founded by former Toronto Police Association President Craig Bromell in March of 2012. 

Supported by his younger brother, Stephen Bromell, who is Vice-President of The BUC, there was an immediate and parallel meeting of the minds about how to protect wage earners, labourers, and basically every craft of trade, as The Building Union of Canada is a wall-to-wall union. 

The certification for The BUC was endowed in historically record time, back in November of 2012, as perhaps even the Ontario labour board had sensed it was time for a proper alternative. The only difference between the elder Bromell, with his law and order past, and the younger sibling Stephen, who had dedicated twelve years with CLAC (The Christian Labour Association of Canada), was that one brother once represented men and women with guns, and the younger one represented everyone else in Ontario – just as vital.

The Building Union of Canada has organically become a true and proven presence in the industry here in Ontario. As a boutique union, without the bragging rights of 30, 40, or 70,000 thousand members in their political arsenal, they have managed to carve out a respectable and honourable place in the Canadian landscape. Multi-award-winning giants like the Daniels Corp, Urbacon, ICCI/ Eiffage have rolled over very progressive and pragmatic collective agreements over the last half-decade.

Most of these successes are tribute to the communication and deliberate diplomacy and common sense that The BUC has orchestrated. This formula can be shrunk to the most simplistic vision, especially during this time of worry and fear that Canadian business will not make it through. 

But it has for nine years for The BUC, all due to a realistic and truly reciprocal attitude to both owners and operators, and the men and women that fulfil the work to absolute professionalism. The symbiotic relationship of owner and worker has never been clearer since March of 2020 in North America. The leadership of The Building Union of Canada never had to divert, or make a shift in their mission statement. Perhaps this is why we grew by 10% during each month since April 2020. 

The message I’d like to share with The Canadian Business Quarterly (The CBQ) is that since our inception in March 2012, we have never had to shift priorities or re-tool. Union membership in North America was over 60% in the 1960’s, and somehow that trust eroded, through the social upheavals of that era, followed by economic downturns in every facet of business in the 1970’s. This eroded a lot of the goodwill that unions had enjoyed in the post-war world. In the construction industry for example, most research points to the fact that 60% of construction workers are non-union. This has been the greatest challenge for union organizers. 

The pandemic and the lockdowns since April 2020 only fortified our commitment to reach out to the unrepresented masses of workers currently not equipped with benefits, safety training, or defined pension plans. And of course, most importantly, looking out for them during the Covid-19 era, to make sure they are working in the safest possible conditions. 

At The BUC we quickly mobilized to adhere to the rules of the Ontario government, and until we are past this universal test the pandemic has put in front of us, we still consider that our members are more vital than any deadline that was promised to any stakeholders, whether governmental or corporate. 

As we move to our ninth year of being a proudly Canadian union looking out for our members, it is too late to fall back on our promises. Yes, members and even the owners of our companies have taken a hit, but we have stayed the course of rebuilding the confidence in union membership. This is why we have survived and have sustained ourselves in this very combative arena of union battles, almost a decade later. 

The Building Union of Canada has never had a grand scheme of taking over a very robust and still growing industry in Canada. But we have prided ourselves with improving the personal and professional lives of any man or woman working in the trades heroically driving to build Canada even better.   

Starting out in 2021, our dedicated organizers have been strengthening our relationships within the industry and continuing to advocate for our members. In February we arrived at a very respectable agreement with ICCI Eiffage, where we secured a 2.5 % increase per year on the wages of our existing contract, and increases in everything from bereavement leave and a $250 boot allowance, to increases in training and industry funds. 

Our hope at The Building Union of Canada is that trades people of all disciplines, and labourers all over Ontario check out our website and see for themselves that joining a union is a step forward in their lives and careers. And perhaps our greater wish is that all of our best minds and government agencies can keep pulling through together, so we can return to the thriving and world-class level of production that Canadians have been known for everywhere across the globe. 

Dannis Koromilas is Director of Communications for The Building Union of Canada, www.thebuc.ca.

Making publicly legal information accessible for individuals, businesses, and the Canadian economy

Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia featured image

Canada is a nation built on law. Canadians – and Canadian businesses – have a profound interest in understanding those laws, their personal and professional impact, and the obligations and rights inherent in them. 

At the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia (LISNS) our mission is to enable Nova Scotians to access legal information, solve legal problems with informed choices, and act on their rights and responsibilities. We do this in a myriad of ways.

Helping people protect their financial health is a critical aspect of avoiding legal problems that can lead to a variety of problems that affect people and the economy. And this issue has become particularly relevant during the pandemic. LISNS is providing leadership for investors with the upcoming launch of an Investor Rights and Protection Guide. 

Another new project is helping to address the issue of sexual harassment in the 

workplace. We know that in Nova Scotia more than one-third of women have faced unwanted sexual behaviour at work, which is about twice as common as for men. Women who are racialized, are new to Canada, or who have a disability are even more likely to experience sexual harassment. Now thanks to a $2.4 million grant from Justice Canada – the largest project funding awarded – we are helping individuals and employers tackle this issue head on.  Through the delivery of free bystander awareness training and tools to employers and employee groups and training we are focused on eradicating sexual harassment in the workplace. 

Over the five years the Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Project will run, we will create a sexual harassment reporting app that is unique in Canada. It will provide access to critical resources for employees and employers, and it will permit anonymous reporting, which has been demonstrated to be of value to some victims. As well, the program includes a paid lawyer-referral and advice service. We are fortunate to have an amazing team of experts working on this project with leadership from Dr. Wayne MacKay a nationally recognized expert in human rights.

The unique aspect of LISNS Sexual Harassment Reporting App, will also build in a navigator component, matching individuals to counsellors and volunteers who work with women’s groups, shelters, and other organizations. What this means for employees is immeasurable. Employees who anonymously report sexual harassment can seek further support from a real person skilled in providing the right kind of support at the right time.  

App-propriate access to legal information

The Sexual Harassment Reporting App is not our first foray into the wonderful world of software program applications combined with personal connections. In 2016 we became the first organization in the country to develop a Wills App that lets users gather the information they need to prepare a will in Nova Scotia. It helps people decide what to put in their will or helps their lawyer do a will for them. At the end of the process users can save their work as a downloadable pdf and also have it sent to them by email. 

We are currently building on this initiative by launching a wills app that will actually enable users to produce a finished will. In April, our power of attorney app will also be expanded to enable a finished project again with navigator support available.  

This work in many ways builds on our Personal Directive App, among the first in the country when launched in 2019. It was developed in partnership and with funding from Professor Jocelyn Downie, a leading expert in elder law. This web-based application allows users to create a finished document that they can save and sign digitally. Now, we’ve gone on to launch the first of the navigator programs which encourages people to make a personal directive and to be able to receive help from trained community volunteers. LISNS has developed an innovative online matching platform to automatically connect people (navigator.legalinfo.org).This program has been tested with a broad group of seniors and newcomers. The federal government was so impressed with the concept that it provided funding to LISNS for the Seniors’ Navigator Program as a designated COVID Response program to encourage and support seniors creating these legal documents and providing volunteer help. We are proud to have the Retired Teachers’ Organization – Nova Scotia as partners on this work.

We know the word is getting out about these and other initiatives. Each time we have undertaken specific public promotion and done media interviews we have tended to experience a 349.5% increase in views and a 23% increase in completions of the Personal Directive App.  

Self-represented litigants in Nova Scotia’s small claims court have also received a big boost. LISNS, in partnership with the court, launched a navigator program to help individuals wend their way through the system and have support throughout the judicial process. The program goes beyond providing booklets and online material. It works more like a buddy system. Navigators, who are all volunteers, can attend court with self-represented litigants (where pandemic possible) as a form of support. They can also assist with court preparation, gathering evidence, filing forms, and accessing legal information. 

In addition, LISNS developed the Small Claims Court App in 2017 to assist people with their cases. It contains information on determining if small claims court is the best option for someone, how to start a claim, how to defend a claim, and presenting a case in court. The only one of its kind in Canada, the app is being made available by the Courts of Nova Scotia in their online Small Claims Court form. This was made possible once self-guided videos were embedded in the app. There are 19 videos, developed by Julien Matte, an award winning litigation lawyer that guide self-represented litigants through the small claims court process.

A helping hand in a pandemic

Interest in our apps has been high from the outset, but COVID-19 has amplified the ongoing need to access information, particularly legal information, virtually. Interest and activity have grown exponentially during the pandemic. Healthcare providers and others, for example, have told us the launch of the Personal Directive App in the heart of the pandemic is providing an important public service and planning tool with people not being able to have someone accompany them if going to hospital. In fact, the Personal Directive App and linked information was the most visited part of our website during the initial COVID-19 closure period.  

The law has always been important to our lives and our businesses, but the pandemic has underscored just how pervasive and important it is. The restrictive public health measures, based in laws that most of us likely never thought we’d see invoked in our lifetimes, are a delicate balancing act between infringing on individual rights and reasonable limits on those rights that put the public good first. Laws dealing with every aspect of our everyday lives – work, business, investments, insurance, leisure, family violence, human rights, and more – have been highlighted and laid bare by the pandemic. COVID-19 has driven home the importance of public legal education.

Public legal education across Canada

While this article has focused on the work LISNS does in Nova Scotia, there are public legal education organizations from coast to coast doing important work and leading innovation to help the individuals, families, and businesses in their communities. 

The Public Legal Education Association of Canada, which represents public legal education organizations in Canada, is part of an exciting project being run by the Cyberjustice Laboratory at the University of Montreal called Autonomy through Cyberjustice Technologies, or ACT. The research partnership is unique in the field of artificial intelligence and cyberjustice and its aim is to improve conflict prevention and resolution.

The bottom line

Helping citizens understand and act on their legal rights and responsibilities enhances the lives of individuals, families, workplaces, and communities. It also has significant economic value. Quite simply, helping people address conflict effectively and make sound legal choices is a boon to the economy.

Connecting with people in a personal way is at the heart of LISNS service delivery through qualified lawyers who directly help the public by legal hotline, livechat, and email. We compliment that direct connection through our apps and programs with community volunteers who wish to help their communities. As a non-profit organization, LISNS must also ensure its operations are efficient and effective. We rely on sound business principles to do that and use sustainable strategies. Like any successful enterprise, we require a clear vision and a well-defined strategy with measurable deliverables. Equally important: flexibility, ingenuity, and the power of partnership to achieve our goal of delivering access to justice for the public good.  

Heather de Berdt Romilly, BComm., LLB, LLM is the Executive Director of the Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia (LISNS), www.legalinfo.org

Putting forward the case for affordable housing

BC Non-Profit Housing Association featured image

Grappling with a global pandemic over the past year has created a host of new “givens.” Masks on, maintaining physical distance, lining up to enter stores, keeping social interactions to the screen; we follow the directives to ensure our safety, knowing that our individual health means protecting the broader community, which, in turn, circles back to benefit ourselves and our families.

We can think of the community housing sector in the same way, just on a bigger scale. When we make sure that individuals have access to a safe, secure and affordable home, it means all Canadians have access to the space and hygiene facilities needed to stay safe through the pandemic. It means that businesses – from large-scale resource operations to the local market on the corner – are able to attract and retain employees. When everyone has an affordable home, we ensure that families have enough to spend on basic needs as well as on the extras. When there is enough supportive housing for our most vulnerable neighbours to be safe, we ensure our federal, provincial and municipal resources are used most effectively and efficiently. All of it circles back to benefit us as individuals, families and communities, and all of it stems from housing. 

Access to affordable housing brings safety, security and the opportunity to thrive within our communities. Its value is recognized in federal legislation as the right to housing, and by the United Nations as a basic human right. Housing is deeply tied to our physical and mental well-being – it is a fundamental human need. That is why we must not only protect existing stock, but also increase investment into the sector so that we guarantee there is enough affordable housing for everyone and that it serves our communities’ varied needs. 

The affordable housing landscape varies across the country; here in B.C., it is made available through a mix of public and private programs and funding, and delivered in different forms through the community housing sector. But what exactly is the community housing sector? This term refers to the wide range of local partners who have a stake in building and maintaining a long-term supply of permanent affordable housing. It includes non-profit and co-op sector organizations and housing providers, community land trusts, municipalities, charities and faith-based groups, as well as cause-driven private sector organizations and financial institutions. It covers the network of agencies planning for and delivering housing and supports for seniors, individuals, families, Indigenous people, people with low to moderate incomes, those experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, mental health and/or substance use challenges, women and children fleeing domestic violence, and middle-income earners. 

At BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA), our focus is on the non-profit housing providers and associated businesses that are part of the broader community housing sector. In our province alone there are more than 800 non-profit housing providers who own and/or operate 65,000 affordable homes. BCNPHA advocates for this entire network of housing providers with leading research and policy, as well as education, events, programs and services that raise the capacity of the non-profit housing sector. 

Affordable housing requires a significant investment in terms of funding, policy direction and in how we set our housing priorities. Is it worth it? The short answer is a resounding “yes,” and the whys – or the slightly longer answer – bear that out. Investing in affordable housing generates both economic and social value. Beyond the value generated from housing construction, there are direct economic benefits of affordable housing developments that flow to residents, surrounding communities and local businesses. The social return on investment in affordable housing, derived from improved health, stronger connections, decreased transportation times for work and shopping, and the shift to higher-quality housing, further add to the value of such projects. 

Business leaders have repeatedly made the case for the availability of affordable housing as a critical element to their organization’s success. Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, stated the lack of affordable housing options made it “exceptionally hard” to grow a business in Vancouver; Toronto businesses experience similar pressures, albeit to a slightly lesser extent, he added. But it’s not just tech giants feeling the pinch when it comes to attracting skilled labour to an out-of-reach home ownership landscape and near zero-vacancy rental market in urban centres. Businesses in resort communities like Whistler and Tofino face unique challenges in drawing both seasonal workers and long-term staff when housing prices reflect tourist demand. Remote communities home to large industries and natural resource sectors struggle to provide enough supply, and a variety of housing types, to reflect their labour needs. In all cases, a good mix and supply of affordable housing ensures businesses can attract and retain good staff – boosting their bottom line and supporting thriving local economies. 

Investing in affordable housing generates jobs and tax revenue, contributing more than $10 billion to Canada’s GDP annually, but it also translates to less spending in other areas, according to the Affordable Housing Plan for BC. In B.C., investing $81 million annually into preventing and ending homelessness would save $177 million on health care, shelters, the justice system and other social supports. Ensuring access to affordable housing helps ensure a healthy housing system that supports a broad range of needs, from homelessness prevention to accessible home ownership. The stability of affordable housing also provides residents with greater spending power for basic needs like healthier food, medical needs, and transportation, as well as at local businesses – supporting a diverse economy and spreading the benefits of affordable housing to its neighbours. 

Affordable housing’s social return on investment was measured in a recent BC Housing study, which found that for every dollar invested in housing, individuals, communities and governments will see two to three dollars in social and economic value. “Beyond the economic stimulation that housing construction generates, there is approximately 20-30% ‘value added’ when this construction results in affordable housing, and 92% ‘value added’ when that affordable housing is targeted to, and includes support for, marginalized populations,” the report states. Residents interviewed for the study cited a range of important benefits associated with their affordable homes, including: increased disposable income; access to counselling, programs and supports; increased safety from violence; children experiencing a more stable environment; increased well-being with healthier living conditions; strong sense of social well-being and connectedness; decreased stress associated with housing instability; and, much more. 

In today’s market, for every new affordable home built in B.C. there are three more lost to rent increases, conversions and demolitions – putting secure housing further out of reach for low-income people. With 23% of B.C. residents already spending more than 50% of their income on rent and utilities, there is a deep level of housing insecurity throughout the province. We cannot rely on the market to deliver the different types of housing needed in our communities; public investment is critical for ensuring individuals and families have access to secure, affordable housing, but also for creating the kind of communities capable of supporting healthy economies. 

The housing crisis can feel insurmountable, but B.C. is making progress. The provincial government committed to building the 114,000 new rental homes outlined in the Affordable Housing Plan for B.C. and although progress has been slower than we want to see, it is happening. Federal investments into new market rental supply are also helping to ease the pressure on the affordable housing system.  

Access to affordable housing is the foundation upon which we build diverse, thriving communities. Just as we take measures to protect ourselves and others during the pandemic, we must also take steps to protect, and expand, the availability of affordable housing so that our neighbours, friends and family can have access to secure housing. Because unless we are all protected, none of us are protected. 

Jill Atkey is the CEO of the BC Non-Profit Housing Association (BCNPHA), www.bcnpha.ca.

Chartered Marketer: Creating the standards, ethics, and education for ongoing professional development

Canadian Marketing Association featured images in the CBQ

About four years ago, I had a curious visit from a CEO of a large, well-known consumer goods company, an individual with many years of international experience. He wanted to meet the CEO of the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) because he wanted to meet someone with the gall, the audacity, to step into a profession and declare the need for a designation that everyone working in the industry should aspire to. It was a good discussion.

Credentials convey excellence

Designations, credentials and certifications have been part of working life for centuries. Sometimes they evolved gradually, like in accounting in the 1800s and in other instances, such as the engineering profession, they developed quite swiftly. There are newer designations too, like the Registered Social Worker (RSW), which was formally established in 1999 to protect vulnerable children and families from unfit practitioners. 

In all cases, the introduction of credentials increased professionalism – both in terms of higher quality skills and stronger outputs. It also led to a more rigorous understanding of, and adherence to, a set of standards and ethical practices. And, credentials demonstrated the profession’s commitment to those standards, and to lifelong education. 

Unconventional trailblazers

Marketing, almost by definition, defied the prototype for standardized credentials for many years. There was scant evidence around the world that marketers have aspired to become disciplined standard-bearers in pursuit of more acronyms to accompany their names. This mindset stemmed partly from the creative underpinning of marketing and its roots in unconventional thinking and swimming against the tide. Legendary marketing is generally born from thinking outside the box– after all, this is how you get, and keep, people’s attention. On the surface, standardized credentials seemed like the very box that marketers were hesitant to be trapped in. 

However, the world evolved, and so did other professions. HR, finance, project management and others all developed designations and credentials, pulling up their professional socks. And marketing has evolved, too. While creative is still at its core, the discipline of marketing now requires a focused approach to strategy, data, research, analytics, technology and performance. Marketers need to be attuned to regulatory requirements in privacy and many other areas. There are ethical issues in the digital age that didn’t exist when marketing was born. For the modern marketer, standards, ethics, education and ongoing professional development matter. 

In 2016, the CMA’s Board of Directors set out on its maiden voyage to bring a set of credentials into the discipline of marketing. The idea came about from a desire – and a need – to elevate the role, voice and influence of marketing, and to demonstrate its pivotal role as a catalyst for growth. The Board concluded that systemic change was needed, and that the credentials program should serve the needs of in-house marketers, agency personnel and service provider professionals alike.

And so, with initial funding from TD, CIBC, AirMiles, Environics Analytics, Delvinia and Cundari, the Chartered Marketer designation was born. 

Coming full circle

Referring back to the CEO who visited me four years ago: While I am sure that I have at least a modicum of audacity, my confidence in the Chartered Marketer designation came from the recognition that the CMA was uniquely positioned to deliver on providing standards of excellence for the marketing profession in Canada. We represent all areas of marketing and we serve marketers at all levels, from students and agency interns to big-brand CMOs. We aren’t biased towards any sector or industry; our bias comes from our conviction that marketing transforms business. 

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that everyone involved in marketing needs to be certified, just like I don’t believe that everyone employed in a hospital needs a license to practice. But the leaders of today and tomorrow — and the individuals with the skills and the passion to take marketing to its next level of transformative greatness – should be pursuing this designation. Without question.

Why now? 

You might ask, why are standards particularly important today? There are several reasons. First, marketing has become extraordinarily complex and its lines have become ever blurrier. The art and science of marketing is evolving at lightning speed. The ecosystem required to do effective funnel-based marketing approaches includes sub-disciplines such as brand management, CX, insights, media, martech and product management. Within each of these, there are multiple roles within modern organizations, with marketers often taking on tasks that didn’t exist 10, five or even two years ago. 

Another change that heightens the role of standards is marketing’s growing role in business success. With a shift in consumer preferences in behaviour leading to a decline in traditional sales tactics and vehicles, marketing has become the primary driver of a company’s growth. While this is true for short-term metrics, like lead generation and customer acquisition, it is even more so in areas with the most potential for long-term value, such as brand awareness, loyalty and customer lifetime value. 

Marketing is becoming increasingly regulated, particularly around data use and privacy concerns. Marketing leaders are compelled to be proactive on issues related to consumer advocacy, transparency and ethics, and not able to simply fall back against whatever legislation is presented. 

Now more than ever before, matrixed organizational structures require marketing to collaborate with other business disciplines. Alignment – and friction – between marketing and sales, particularly in the B2B space, is a common area of exploration, but there are other examples. For one, the very existence of a martech team is predicated on the need for a bridge between marketing objectives and technical solutions. 

In essence, professional credentials based on standards of excellence and professional development allow for greater short- and long-term impacts on marketing and its role in business. Our role is evolving – and broadening – and we need to be able to meet the challenges and opportunities in front of us. Our voice and our influence are vital.

Evolving attitudes 

Five years after our designation journey began, we are now about to mint our first Chartered Marketers. The first cohort of learners have completed a two-year, five-semester program that mixes both soft and hard skills together in the pursuit of creating business-minded marketers. The learners are excited and relieved to be completing the rigorous program. Of course, their adventure never ends, since maintaining their credentials entails pursuing ongoing professional development, and continuing to develop skills that address and fuel the needs of business. 

Our imminent CM graduates have told us that the program has helped them advance not only their marketing skills, but also the way they process and analyze information, which in turn has helped them develop a more well-rounded approach to business. They’ve enhanced their competencies in research, problem-solving, writing and budgeting. Perhaps most importantly, the CM designates have expressed a commitment to motivate their teams to reach greater heights, while demonstrating the leadership qualities the program has helped them develop.

Some of our instructors have noted that for employers, hiring someone with a Chartered Marketer designation means choosing a candidate that has demonstrated a commitment to the profession and a familiarity with a broader spectrum of responsibilities than they have likely not gained in their day-to-day work. In other words, the employer is acquiring a well-rounded professional with marketing and related competencies, the confidence and commitment to remain current through ongoing professional development, and a measure of knowledge in the realms of business strategy and leadership. 

Views from marketing leaders and the C-Suite

As a career marketer and product developer, I know that you can’t have a successful product if you don’t have a willing marketplace. So, we conducted a survey of marketing leaders and the C-Suite to see whether a marketing designation is valued.

The results were compelling: 

A strong majority (88%) of survey participants believe a professional designation has value, and more than half (51%) believe that value is increasing. Even more (92%) believe that applicants with a designation are more desirable than those without. And 90% agree that an applicant with a professional designation will have a wide breadth of skills and will contribute to overarching business strategy. Finally, 84% agree that an individual with a professional designation will comply with a code of ethics and standards.

The impact on the Canadian economy and society

The survey results show that employees and employers are seeing designations as a point of differentiation. The world is changing: Digital transformation is accelerating, privacy laws are being reformed for the first time in 20 years, and businesses are fuelling innovation like never before. 

All of these factors suggest that in 20 years, we could have thousands of Chartered Marketers. There is no doubt that we will feel the positive impact of these professionals on business success, Canada’s economy and Canadian society. The elevation of marketing through our professional credentialing program will unleash the profession’s capacity to elevate strategic development, to transform operations, and most importantly, to drive revenue and growth. 

John Wiltshire is President & CEO of the Canadian Marketing Association,  www.thecma.ca.