The lasting impacts of work-from-homeTEST

One legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada is the ongoing shift in work arrangements and location. Work-from-home (WFH), once considered a temporary emergency solution to the initial lockdowns in 2020, has taken root, reshaping how individuals work in many sectors.

In a previous Policy Options article, we explored this trend using data from a survey called Shaping the Future of Work in Canada conducted in 2022 by EKOS Research Associates. At the time, over 40 per cent of respondents were still working from home or had done so until recently. Many such workers reported very positive work experiences, with satisfaction well above that of those working from traditional work locations.

To see how these trends have further evolved, the Future of Work Consortium conducted a second survey in April and May 2023, drawing on 2,642 employed and self-employed Canadians aged 18 and over.

Several key trends stand out.

First, work-from-home and hybrid arrangements have become a viable option in Canada. Over 40 per cent of workers carried out some amount of paid work from home in the six months prior to our 2023 survey. In pre-pandemic times, this is work that typically would have been done in their employer’s workplace.

That said, there is considerable variation in WFH arrangements. Roughly 16.5 per cent of respondents work entirely at home. Another 23 per cent do the majority of their work from home, and 20 per cent work from home only a bit. At the far end of the spectrum, 40 per cent do not work from home at all (Figure 1).

Second, there are substantial differences in who has access to home-based work. Those who spend most of their work time at home are predominantly full-time employees (68.4 per cent). Just over one in five (21.5 per cent) is self-employed, 5.7 per cent are part-time employees, and 4.4 per cent are seasonal, term, or contract workers.

Highly educated knowledge workers are also more likely to work from home. Over two-thirds (67.1 per cent) of respondents who exclusively work from home have undergraduate or postgraduate degrees compared with under half (47.3 per cent) of respondents who report no home-based work.

Gender slightly influences opportunities to work from home. Over a quarter of men (27.3 per cent) and women (27.8 per cent) work 80 per cent or more of their time at home. But men are also slightly more likely than women to work 100 per cent at home (17.5 per cent men, 15 per cent women) and to do no remote work at all (41.9 per cent men, 38.2 per cent women)

Self-identified visible minorities are generally well-represented among home-based workers. Nearly 29 per cent work at home 80 per cent to 100 per cent of the time compared with about 27 per cent of non-visible minority workers. About one-third of visible minorities report doing no work at home (34.2 per cent) but this is less than other workers (42.3 per cent).

Employer size also shapes remote work, with WFH being more common in smaller organizations. Specifically, of those working at home 100 per cent of the time, 43 per cent of are employed by organizations with under 50 employees in Canada. Only 24 per cent of home-based workers are employed by large organizations with over 1,000 employees in Canada.

Union members are less likely than non-members to report working primarily from home. For example, 7.9 per cent of union members work entirely at home compared to 15 per cent of professional-association members and 22.9 per cent of survey respondents who belonged to neither of these types of organizations.

Third, WFH continues to be linked with very positive assessments of job satisfaction and well-being. This mirrors findings from our 2022 survey, though exceptions to this trend are beginning to emerge.

As figure 2 shows, roughly two-thirds of respondents felt that WFH had a positive impact on their job satisfaction, productivity and mental health. A majority also reported a positive impact on their commitment to their employer and work safety.

That said, we also see some negative impacts on team building and socializing among co-workers.

Interestingly, the more time respondents report working from home, the greater the reported positive impact. For instance, 74.6 per cent of those working fully at home reported positive impacts in job satisfaction compared with just 53.6 per cent of those working 20 per cent of the time at home. A similar trend can be seen for the impact on productivity.

Working primarily from home is also linked to positive assessments on an array of detailed job quality and satisfaction measures, especially among respondents entirely home-based. For this group, such outcomes include: being treated respectfully by co-workers, having opportunities for creativity, having independence at work, trusting their immediate supervisor and senior management, having the ability to balance work and family and the authority to make decisions. They also include having access to a retirement plan, a good income, and input into their employer’s post-pandemic work plans.

How supervisors see WFH

We also asked respondents who supervise others whether they felt working from home had positively or negatively impacted their supervisees.

Of that group, over half had supervisees who worked at home some of the time. Overall, the majority of supervisors reported very positive impacts on their employees’ morale, productivity, and commitment to the organization, as figure 3 shows. However, mixed results are seen on the ability to collaborate. Over one-third of respondents reported a negative impact on collaboration among those they supervise.

Well-being and quality of work life

We asked respondents how satisfied they were with their lives as a whole on a scale of 1 to 10. Those who rated their life satisfaction between 8 and 10 were more likely to be working from home some of the time. About 48 per cent of those working from home at least 60 per cent of the time reported life satisfaction in the 8 to 10 range compared with 42 per cent of respondents who do not work from home. It’s a small but noteworthy difference.

Surprisingly, work from home does not appear to affect physical and mental health. The amount of time worked from home led to no statistically significant differences in respondents’ ratings of their physical and mental health using the categories of excellent/very good, good, or fair/poor.

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Finally, given debates over how employers are handling arrangements, we asked about evolving practices. Overall, the vast majority (69 per cent) of respondents had not been consulted about any return-to-work process. Another 11 per cent reported being fully consulted, and 20 per cent somewhat consulted.

In terms of planning, just under half (47 per cent) agreed to a great extent that the return-to-work process had been well-planned. However, nearly one-quarter (23 per cent) did not feel it was well-planned.

The survey also asked: “Recognizing that it may not be practical in your industry, approximately how much of the time would you prefer to work from home?” Only 59 per cent who work exclusively at their employer’s worksite would like to continue that way. In contrast, 81 per cent of those who work from home all of the time want to continue doing so.

Job quality: a new component

To summarize, there are obvious signs that work-from-home is emerging as one of Canadians’ more enduring responses to the disruptions of the pandemic. Workers who can work from home report overall better quality of work life. This has introduced a whole new dimension to job-quality variations. To a large extent, workers who went into the pandemic with a higher socioeconomic status came out ahead.

There have been few public-policy responses to these emerging work trends. A big question is to what extent governments can influence working-from-home patterns in ways that provide more equitable access and benefits.

Note about the survey:

The Shaping the Future of Work in Canada Follow Up Survey was conducted using EKOS Research Associates’ hybrid online/telephone research panel Probit. It offers extensive coverage of the Canadian population (i.e., Internet, phone, cell phone) and equal probability sampling. All respondents were recruited by telephone using random digit dialing and were confirmed by interviewers.

Unlike with online panels where people can opt in themselves, Probit supports margin-of-error estimates. The field dates for the survey were April 25 and May 5, 2023. A random sample of 2,642 individuals who were engaged in the workforce responded. This included employees and the self-employed. The margin of error associated with the total sample is +/- 1.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

All data has been statistically weighted by age, gender and region based on the proportions of employed people from the 2016 census to ensure the sample’s composition reflected that of the actual population of Canada. 

The research methodology and questionnaire were approved by research ethics boards at the University of Alberta and Toronto Metropolitan University. Further details of the survey and questions can be obtained from karen.hughes@ualberta.ca.

The project is funded by the Future Skills Centre and conducted by the multidisciplinary Future of Work research consortium. Members include Graham Lowe, Merv Gilbert, Karen D. Hughes (University of Alberta), Frank Graves (EKOS Research Associates), Jim Stanford (Centre for Future Work) and Pamela Sugiman (Toronto Metropolitan University).

We thank Galiba Zahid at the University of Alberta for providing excellent research assistance on this article.

Le budget fédéral est l’occasion de combler les lacunes de notre système de santéTEST

(English version available here)

Les soins primaires ne répondent pas aux besoins de plusieurs Canadiennes et Canadiens en matière d’universalité, d’intégralité et d’accessibilité, et ce, malgré l’inscription de ces principes fondamentaux dans la Loi canadienne sur la santé.

Le Canada dispose actuellement d’un ensemble hétéroclite de centres de soins de première ligne indépendants, qui mènent leurs activités sans attentes claires en matière de rendement et de reddition de comptes. C’est notamment en raison de la structure de ce système, plutôt que de circonstances imprévues, que tant de travailleurs de la santé sont épuisés et que 6,5 millions de Canadiens sont privés d’un accès simple et régulier aux soins.

À quelques exceptions près, les soins primaires complets et centrés sur la personne ne sont ni accessibles ni efficaces pour les patients ayant des besoins complexes. Or, ce dysfonctionnement semble étonnamment toléré par des travailleurs épuisés et un public désabusé.

Une stratégie modérée et progressive – comprenant des projets pilotes à court terme, un recrutement international accru et de nouvelles écoles de médecine – est inefficace, éthiquement douteuse ou tout simplement irréaliste. Elle n’entraînera pas les changements nécessaires.

Le gouvernement fédéral a une occasion unique et opportune de corriger le tir avec son budget de 2024. Il faut investir dans la formation aux soins primaires dispensés par des équipes et dans l’élaboration d’indicateurs de rendement et de normes régissant la reddition de comptes. En outre, Ottawa devrait se concentrer sur les technologies du 21e siècle et montrer l’exemple dans un domaine complexe où les compétences sont partagées avec les provinces et les territoires.

Un large consensus existe

Malgré l’inertie qui caractérise la « réforme » des soins de première ligne au Canada, il existe un large consensus sur les mesures devant être prises : une réorganisation à grande échelle du système de santé et une réelle responsabilisation de chaque instance. Ces mesures doivent être soutenues par un financement substantiel, ciblé et suffisant pour marquer un véritable changement.

Les rapports se succèdent pour demander la mise en place d’un système de soins primaires qui dépasse ses racines artisanales, afin d’offrir à chaque Canadien un accès opportun et continu à des équipes de santé qui mettent à profit l’ensemble des compétences de leurs spécialistes.

Dans un monde idéal où le fédéralisme serait davantage axé sur la collaboration, Ottawa et ses partenaires négocieraient des augmentations significatives de la proportion des transferts fédéraux vers les soins de première ligne. L’histoire laisse plutôt entrevoir qu’un tel résultat est peu probable.

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Une autre solution serait d’amorcer un changement transformationnel.

Il faudrait d’abord adapter et arrimer les soins primaires à leur finalité. La population actuelle est en moyenne 20 ans plus âgée que lors de l’implantation de l’assurance-maladie.

Des millions de Canadiens ont des besoins multiples et complexes, en particulier les personnes âgées fragiles, les personnes souffrant de maladies chroniques, les groupes socioéconomiques et culturels marginalisés et les personnes souffrant de problèmes de santé mentale ou de dépendance. Aucun médecin de famille ou personnel infirmier praticien ne peut gérer seul des cas aussi complexes.

Pour réussir, il faut un village, c’est-à-dire des équipes interdisciplinaires de soins primaires. Les soins de première ligne complets doivent inclure la santé mentale, la réadaptation, la pharmacie et la diététique, mais aussi couvrir un éventail de diagnostics et des partenariats avec d’autres organismes communautaires. Il faut aussi se doter d’une infrastructure adéquate : des bâtiments conçus pour accueillir des équipes et un excellent système d’information sur la santé.

Le gouvernement fédéral devrait être la source de « capital de risque » pour les soins de santé.

Les investissements intelligents libèrent et exploitent le potentiel de leadership organisationnel et clinique, facilitent les conversations difficiles et soutiennent une combinaison d’innovations descendantes et ascendantes.

À cette fin, le budget de 2024 doit adopter des mesures pour soutenir l’innovation à grande échelle dans notre système de santé. Cela se traduit notamment par l’octroi de davantage de fonds aux provinces et aux territoires, dont les plans sont les plus ambitieux en matière de modèles de soins primaires fondamentalement nouveaux, conçus pour servir ceux qui en ont le plus besoin.

Quelles mesures doivent être prises ?

Voici quatre mesures précises que le gouvernement fédéral devrait intégrer dans son budget :

1. Investir dans de nouvelles approches de la formation aux soins primaires. Les soins interdisciplinaires dispensés par des équipes ne seront jamais pleinement réalisés si les prestataires continuent d’être formés individuellement. Au lieu d’écoles de médecine, de sciences infirmières et de physiothérapie, il devrait y avoir des écoles de soins primaires où les étudiantes et les étudiants apprennent les bases de la santé, de la maladie, de la santé de la population et des déterminants sociaux de la santé.

Les étudiantes et les étudiants devraient également apprendre dès le premier jour à travailler en équipe ainsi qu’à organiser et déployer les ressources et les talents de l’équipe dans l’intérêt de leurs patients (et de leur propre durabilité).

Les écoles de soins primaires ne devraient pas être des points d’entrée vers une spécialisation au sein d’établissements. Elles devraient être les centres de formation d’un secteur des soins primaires en pleine expansion et beaucoup plus compétent, tout en assurant la majeure partie de l’éducation permanente.

2. Investir dans le développement d’indicateurs de rendement, dans des stratégies d’optimisation du personnel et dans des politiques visant une véritable reddition de comptes sur la qualité, l’efficacité et les résultats des soins primaires.

Ces mesures devraient être conçues et adoptées conjointement par les gouvernements, les prestataires, les équipes de recherche et le public. Les données qui permettront d’évaluer le rendement du système et son amélioration devraient être générées en temps réel et être facilement accessibles à toutes les parties impliquées.

Par l’intermédiaire de ses organisations de santé pancanadiennes, le gouvernement fédéral pourrait également bonifier ses rapports publics sur le rendement en guise d’élément clé de l’amélioration continue de la qualité des services. Cela permettrait de renforcer la reddition de comptes et de mieux informer le public. Des initiatives concomitantes de recherche et d’évaluation solides et intégrées permettraient d’universaliser et d’étendre les approches les plus solides.

3. Soutenir l’adoption de processus et de technologies du 21esiècle afin de rendre les soins primaires plus accessibles, pratiques et efficaces. Déjà, de nombreuses personnes préfèrent les rendez-vous en ligne, souhaitent accéder à leur dossier médical électronique et veulent naviguer sur des sites Web de haute qualité, alimentés des données probantes, qui soutiennent l’autogestion et les aident à prendre des décisions.

Considérer les patients comme des partenaires pourrait devenir la nouvelle norme. Bien entendu, ces transformations comportent des incertitudes, des risques et des conséquences imprévues auxquels les prestataires et le public devront s’adapter.

4. Le gouvernement fédéral devrait montrer l’exemple en développant les soins primaires les plus innovants.

La responsabilité du gouvernement en matière de services de santé pour les Autochtones est l’occasion idéale de maximiser son impact. Il existe un besoin particulier de soins dispensés par des équipes autochtones et dirigées par des Autochtones, qui intègrent et reconnaissent les rôles essentiels des anciens, des herboristes, des sage-femmes autochtones et d’autres personnes au sein d’équipes interdisciplinaires innovantes.

Les centres médicaux, dentaires et de physiothérapie des Forces armées canadiennes au Canada et à l’étranger pourraient soutenir la diffusion des innovations en matière de services de soins primaires en adoptant et en présentant des pratiques de pointe fondées sur le travail d’équipe.

Voir plus loin que les transferts fédéraux

Bien entendu, le fédéralisme fait en sorte qu’Ottawa ne peut pas dicter de solutions aux provinces et aux territoires ni imposer unilatéralement des conditions strictes à ses transferts de fonds. Ce système politique peut néanmoins soutenir le travail nécessaire pour amorcer un changement significatif.

Par rapport aux autres pays riches de l’OCDE, le Canada investit beaucoup trop peu dans les soins primaires.

Il est temps de voir plus grand que les fonds fédéraux de transition pour les soins primaires d’il y a vingt ans. Ces fonds étaient alloués à des microprojets qui n’étaient pas assez importants pour être universalisés et adaptés, et qui n’étaient dotés d’aucun ensemble cohérent de principes et de responsabilités favorisant la transformation du système.

La population canadienne doit également se mobiliser, hausser ses attentes et ses exigences et être ouverte à l’innovation, en reconnaissant que les soins primaires ne se limitent pas à l’accès à un médecin de famille. Il ne faut pas lancer de fleurs aux gouvernements lorsqu’ils investissent des fonds qui ne contribuent qu’à maintenir le statu quo.

Aucune patience ne doit être accordée aux gouvernements qui veulent simplement plus de fonds fédéraux sans rendre compte des améliorations qui en découleraient. Après tout, il s’agit de l’argent des contribuables et c’est à eux que tous les niveaux de gouvernement doivent faire rapport.

Il faut exiger que les deux niveaux de gouvernement s’entendent, car la santé et les soins de santé sont l’affaire de tous. La clé de la mobilisation est de montrer que la transformation n’est pas une utopie, mais qu’elle est à la fois nécessaire et réalisable grâce à une stratégie solide, des investissements prudents et une conception efficace.

Il est temps de se mobiliser, d’amorcer des conversations difficiles, de prendre des risques innovants et de mettre en place le système que la population canadienne mérite.

Social media researchers are under attack. The online harms bill can help them fight backTEST

The federal government recently introduced its long-promised Online Harms Act, Bill C-63.

Reaction so far has largely focused on the provisions to keep children safe online, on the extent to which the bill does or does not overreach in its definition of hate speech, as Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre thinks, and whether it encroaches on freedom of expression, as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has warned.

These are worthwhile discussions as the bill moves through the Commons, but it is critical to focus public attention on a central aspect of this legislation – the proposed duty for digital platforms to keep and share data. Retaining this section is of paramount importance because it offers the greatest potential to reshape our digital public sphere for the better.

A key metric of the success of this bill will be how well it protects and enables research into online harms because this has the potential to empower both the public and the government to adapt and respond to rapidly changing digital technologies in a way that supports a resilient and strong democratic culture.

Disappointingly, this essential aspect of the bill is being overlooked in most media coverage and in public discussions.

This part of the bill is crucial because researchers have long been kneecapped in their efforts to analyze how social media platform policies affect the well-being of the public and the health of our democracy.

Platform owners collect an abundance of data that is readily shared with marketers and advertisers for profit, but they heavily restrict and curtail access to researchers who work in the public interest.

Recent restrictions in API (application programming interface) access on X (formerly Twitter), Reddit and TikTok have increased the challenge for researchers.

More than 100 studies about X Corp. have been cancelled, suspended or significantly altered since the new restrictions were implemented, a survey conducted by the Coalition for Independent Technology Research found.

The building is six floors high, and ornate in style, made of smooth stone, decorative carvings along the top, with black-framed windows. It’s night-time, and a bright light bathes the building in tones of yellow, orange and magenta. The rooftop has evergreen trees and a large lit-up “X” that is black with white lights.
Workers install lighting on an « X » sign atop the company headquarters of Twitter in downtown San Francisco, in July 2023, marking the change in name. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The big online platforms are also increasingly taking legal action against small non-profit organizations that have compellingly demonstrated harm perpetuated by these companies.

X recently filed a lawsuit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a non-profit committed to stopping the spread of online hate and disinformation via research, education and advocacy.

It has also taken legal action against Media Matters, a non-profit research organization that published a report exposing how X places advertisements for major brands next to pro-Nazi content.

Yet litigation is just one part of an arsenal of concerning new tactics being used to restrict research and suppress efforts to hold Big Tech corporations such as X, Meta (which owns Facebook and Instagram), and Alphabet (Google) accountable when they amplify harmful content or distort our social norms.

Digital violence is becoming more pervasive around the world. Social media platforms facilitate the spread of abusive content that has offline consequences, including widespread polarization, alienation and physical violence.

Algorithms that recommend content to users on social media accelerate the distribution of this material, allowing it to reach new audiences and normalize harmful discourse.

There is evidence that under X Corp.’s new ownership, hateful content is not only being under-moderated but has increased, including targeted hate such as antisemitism, Islamophobia and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.

This is a Canadian problem as well as a global one. High levels of online abuse have been quantified in Canadian federal, Ontario and municipal elections through the Samara Centre for Democracy’s SAMbot project.

Pre-pandemic, more than 40 per cent of Canadians didn’t feel safe sharing their political views online. Since then, online (and offline) hate has increased dramatically, according to the B.C. Office of the Human Rights Commissioner.

A 2021 Canadian Race Relations Foundation poll found that 93 per cent of Canadians believe online hate speech and racism are a problem. Seventy-nine per cent want online hate speech and racism treated by lawmakers with the same seriousness as in-person hate crimes. 

Increasing transparency is one of the most recommended, evidence-based strategies to address digital violence, and there are encouraging efforts underway internationally to increase these requirements.

Under its Digital Services Act, the European Commission is drafting regulations that would require the large tech platforms to provide data access for research purposes in the EU.

In the U.S., the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, which would require platforms to make some data publicly available, among other research supports, has been reintroduced in the Senate.

With Bill C-63, Canada has the opportunity to position itself as a global leader in digital democracy research. The proposed bill creates a new Digital Safety Commission of Canada with the power to accredit certain people or groups and provide them access to relevant data from digital platforms if their work is intended for educational or advocacy purposes.

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We await clearer directives about how accessible this data will be, how inclusive the data access system will be for all types of researchers, how transparent this accreditation process will be and how much resistance researchers will face from federal organizations in accessing this data.

The full benefit of this crucial aspect of the bill will be realized only if research projects, large or small, led by civil society researchers, have equitable access to data.

If we can achieve broad and diverse research accreditation, Canada will have the opportunity to drive research that informs digital-policy legislation internationally – to transform our online spaces for the better, with democratic values in mind.

We see much of the content of this proposed legislation as a positive first step in effectively regulating digital platforms to act in the interests of democratic expression. But no single piece of legislation can address every social harm facilitated by digital spaces.

That is why ensuring Canadian researchers can quickly and equitably access comprehensive data from major digital platforms is so vital. Quality Canadian research should directly inform future legislative efforts.

Canada’s digital-rights strategy needs to continue to progress regardless of the status of C-63.

We need empirical evidence on how digital technologies are affecting our social fabric so policymakers can draft effective digital policy. That all starts with requiring tech companies to be more transparent as well as permitting broad data access for civil-society researchers.

To begin fostering a healthier digital media landscape in Canada, our best defence is transparency, research and public accountability.

La production agroalimentaire est un actif stratégique pour le CanadaTEST

(English version available here)

La plupart des Canadiens n’interagissent avec l’agriculture qu’à l’épicerie, où ils s’inquiètent souvent de la hausse des prix des denrées. Compte tenu de leurs autres préoccupations quotidiennes et de la distance qui sépare leur lieu de résidence, leur milieu de travail et leur supermarché de la plupart des fermes, il n’est guère étonnant que de nombreuses personnes ne soient pas conscientes de l’importance du rôle du secteur agricole.

Pourtant, l’agriculture est un actif stratégique de plus en plus important pour le Canada et le temps est venu de la placer au cœur de ses projets futurs.

Le budget fédéral d’avril est l’occasion d’adopter une vision plus stratégique et ambitieuse de l’agriculture et de l’alimentation, avec des investissements axés sur la croissance et la prospérité durable du secteur, en plus d’une série d’autres mesures.

Cependant, l’agriculture et l’alimentation ont une dynamique unique qui en fait un secteur plus riche en défis que beaucoup d’autres. En fait, il est souvent inapproprié de les considérer comme un « secteur ». Il s’agit plutôt d’un ensemble de chaînes produisant des biens de consommation très différents, destinés à des marchés nationaux et internationaux très variés.

Par exemple, les vaches et les cochons représentent tous deux des sources de protéines animales, mais la production de bœuf et de porc nécessite des approches très différentes. Ces produits se retrouvent également sur des marchés différents. En 2022, 43 % de la viande bovine canadienne a été exportée, contre près de 70 % pour la viande de porc.

Aussi, un agriculteur de l’ouest du pays peut cultiver du canola, du blé et des légumineuses en rotation, mais le canola peut finir comme carburant diesel renouvelable, le blé moulu en farine au Canada et dans le monde entier, et les légumineuses sont exportées vers l’Inde, où les cultures de la Saskatchewan s’inscrivent dans une relation géopolitique difficile.

Les secteurs soumis à la gestion de l’offre se concentrent sur le marché intérieur, cherchant à tirer parti de la croissance rapide de la population canadienne. Il y a ensuite les différences avec les cultures plus petites, mais importantes, telles que les pommes de terre, les légumes de serre, etc.

Les exploitations agricoles sont toutes différentes et nécessitent des politiques adaptées

Plutôt que d’être dirigée par un petit groupe de grandes entreprises, comme c’est le cas pour les industries automobile, minière et forestière, l’agriculture repose entre les mains de 200 000 agriculteurs canadiens tous différents les uns des autres.

Cette diversité au sein de l’industrie agroalimentaire complique l’élaboration de stratégies sectorielles, comme on en voit pour les minéraux critiques, les véhicules électriques et les énergies renouvelables.

La complexitĂ© de ce dĂ©fi ne signifie toutefois pas qu’il ne faut pas s’y attaquer.

Le gouvernement fédéral travaille sur une stratégie en matière d’agriculture durable. Toutefois, il peine à lier sa vision aux intérêts économiques, géopolitiques et stratégiques plus larges du Canada.

Or, ce lien est pourtant au cœur de la Stratégie canadienne sur les minéraux critiques, qui considère ces derniers comme « l’occasion d’une génération » pour les travailleurs, l’économie et l’avenir carboneutre du Canada.

L’augmentation de la demande mondiale, la crise alimentaire provoquée par « les conflits, les chocs économiques, les extrêmes climatiques et la flambée des prix des engrais », de même que la position du Canada en tant que fournisseur de cultures et de produits animaux à faible teneur en carbone ne sont que quelques-unes des raisons pour lesquelles l’agriculture et l’alimentation peuvent et doivent alimenter les opportunités pour les générations futures au Canada.

Le budget fédéral de 2022 a consolidé l’engagement du Canada à l’égard de l’exploitation, sur plusieurs générations, des minéraux critiques avec un investissement de 3,8 milliards $ dans les infrastructures, la recherche et les données, ainsi qu’un crédit d’impôt pour encourager l’exploration minière.

Le budget de mardi pourrait inclure des avancées similaires pour l’agroalimentaire.

Celles-ci pourraient s’appuyer sur des propositions telles que l’initiative sur les chaînes de valeur de l’agriculture durable, le développement d’innovations en matière d’agrotechnologie ou la poursuite de l’augmentation des exportations agroalimentaires vers l’Indo-Pacifique.

Dossier : l’agriculture canadienne à la pointe du secteur

Une occasion historique Ă  saisir dans le secteur agricole

Le Canada a besoin d’une audacieuse stratégie en santé des sols

Grandeurs et misères du porc du Québec

Occasions ratées

Ottawa a déjà fait quelques pas dans cette direction, mais continue de rater l’occasion d’adopter une approche stratégique plus ambitieuse. Le budget de cette année peut corriger cette situation en associant la durabilité à la croissance et à la prospérité tout en positionnant le secteur comme un atout géopolitique.

Le budget de cette année pourrait garnir la boîte à outils politique de l’industrie, comme celui de 2023 a adopté des crédits d’impôt pour stimuler la croissance de l’économie propre. Le budget de cette année pourrait faire de même pour encourager les investissements dans l’agriculture et l’alimentation.

Le budget 2023 a présenté le plan du Canada pour une économie propre sous la forme d’un triangle simple dont la base est la tarification de la pollution, progressant vers des programmes ciblés au sommet.

Une stratégie agricole dans le budget d’avril pourrait établir des priorités, notamment en matière de protéines animales et végétales, de croissance durable, de productivité, de R&D, d’infrastructures et de commerce.

Plutôt qu’une base de tarification de la pollution, le triangle pourrait se baser sur un meilleur accès aux marchés nationaux et internationaux en mettant en œuvre un code de conduite pour les épiciers et en investissant dans les infrastructures ; un cadre réglementaire qui favorise l’innovation et la croissance ; des crédits d’impôt pour encourager l’investissement et la durabilité ; un financement stratégique pour combler le déficit de capitaux ; et une pointe au sommet de programmes ciblés pour stimuler la R&D et développer les chaînes de valeur.

L’un des plus grands avantages d’une stratégie axée sur l’agriculture et la croissance alimentaire est peut-être le moins tangible.

La fracture rurale-urbaine

Le fossé entre le Canada rural et le Canada urbain « se creuse », écrit l’auteur Donald Savoie dans le Globe and Mail.

De plus en plus de voix réclament une politique élaborée avec une lunette rurale. La décision d’exempter les combustibles de chauffage domestique de la taxe carbone est un exemple de « la façon dont les petites communautés et leurs habitants sont souvent négligés dans la conversation nationale », selon Derek Nighbor, président et directeur général de l’Association des produits forestiers du Canada.

La décision d’exonérer de la taxe carbone l’huile de chauffage dans le Canada atlantique, mais pas le propane et le gaz naturel utilisés pour le séchage des céréales et le chauffage des granges, a perpétué la perception d’un fossé entre les zones rurales et les zones urbaines.

Le budget fédéral de ce mois d’avril est l’occasion de combler ce fossé et de donner au Canada rural la place qui lui revient dans l’élaboration de politiques nationales. Il s’agirait du même coup d’un bienfait pour l’économie, pour la durabilité et pour l’avenir du pays.

The best, fastest way to meaningfully help low-income CanadiansTEST

Low-income Canadians are struggling and urgently need more support.

This is not news. Provincial welfare benefits, which provide money to buy food and other necessities, have been below Canada’s official poverty line since at least 2013. But the situation has become considerably worse because of the post-pandemic surge in inflation.

In Ontario, where the official poverty line was $27,631 in 2022, a single working-age adult received $10,253 in welfare income. Welfare incomes were the lowest in Alberta, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Research shows that targeted cash transfers can reduce poverty rates and food insecurity as well as improve access to basic needs. Governments have made considerable headway in bringing down poverty rates among seniors and children because of programs such as old age security, the guaranteed income supplement and the Canada child benefit.

But some groups are slipping through the cracks. Low-income rates remain high among single parents and single working-age adults without children.

My research indicates the fastest and most efficient way of making a meaningful dent in low-income rates is increasing the GST/HST credit for working-age adults and their children.

That would also help with growing food insecurity. In 2022, 18 per cent of Canadians lacked stable access to sufficient food, up from 16 per cent in 2021 and 17 per cent in 2019. More than 40 per cent of these families were led by single mothers while more than one-third of Black and Indigenous families were food-insecure.

Visits to food banks have also been on the rise. Food Banks Canada recorded almost two million visits across the country in March 2023, the latest month for which data is available. That’s up 32 per cent from the same time in 2022 and more than 78 per cent from 2019. Single working-age adults accounted for 44 per cent of users, one of the largest subsets of visitors.

These are troubling trends. To bring down grocery prices, the federal government has announced measures to spur competition among Canada’s major grocery retailers, but these efforts on their own are unlikely to have a substantial impact.

What’s more, the causes of food insecurity extend beyond grocery prices. The steep rise in housing costs, interest rates, gas and transportation are also squeezing family budgets. Many households are forced to choose between putting food on the table and paying the rent. Food is often what gets cut.

Research shows that income support is the best way to reduce food insecurity. The Affordability Action Council, a non-partisan group of policy experts and community leaders, asked me to research and assess the most effective and cost-efficient way to increase federal income support for low-income households.

I examined possible reforms to existing cash-transfer programs including the goods and services tax/harmonized sales tax credit, the Canada child benefit and the Canada workers benefit because these reforms can be implemented faster than designing a new benefit.

I concluded that the federal government should expand the existing GST/HST credit for working-age adults and their children.

The GST/HST credit is a broadly based benefit that reaches all family types, including working-age single adults and single-parent families, and is well-targeted to low-income households. The Canada child benefit goes only to families with children and the Canada workers benefit goes only to those with low levels of employment income.

However, the existing GST/HST credit is modest. It provides a base benefit of $325 a year per adult and $171 a year per child. Single adults receive an additional $171 a year phased-in for income over $10,544.

Overall, single adults receive a maximum of $496 a year and couples with no children receive a maximum of $650 a year. Single parents with one child and couples with one child both receive a maximum of $821 a year.

I recommend that the federal government adopt one of two options: provide a credit of either $100 a month per working-age adult, spread evenly over low- and middle-income households, or $150 a month to those in deep poverty. Both options would reach about 10 million households and add between $10 billion and $11 billion to what the government spends on the benefit.

I don’t recommend extending the top-up to people who are 65 years old and older because they are less likely to be low-income or to experience food insecurity. However, they would continue to receive the same amount as now.

I also recommend that the expanded credit be distributed monthly rather than quarterly as now. That would spread the payments evenly throughout the year and give recipients more stability to cover day-to-day expenses.

Regardless of the cash-transfer method chosen, some people who would be eligible to receive the proposed benefit wouldn’t get it. This is because income supports are delivered by the Canada Revenue Agency and therefore go only to people who file tax returns. Up to 12 per cent of Canadians don’t file a return.

Non-filers are more likely to be people living in poverty, Indigenous Peoples (especially mothers), people experiencing homelessness and social assistance recipients – the very people who require the most support.

In the 2023 budget, the federal government announced that it would pilot an automatic tax-filing service for low-income and fixed-income Canadians who don’t file a return. The government has since expanded a more modest phone tax-filing system but has not implemented the automatic service. It should move ahead with the promised reform as soon as possible.

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Based on my analysis, the Affordability Action Council recommended in a report released in December 2023 that the federal government restructure and expand the GST/HST credit and rename it the grocery and essentials benefit.

The proposed benefit would build on the federal government’s one-time grocery rebate implemented in 2023. The option selected by the council would give $150 a month per adult ($1,800 a year) and $50 per child ($600 a year) to the lowest-income households.

The top-up is unlikely to contribute to inflation because any additional income support that low-income families receive is likely to go to purchasing food and other necessities rather than luxury items.

Even so, the lowest-income households shouldn’t be expected to bear the burden of fighting inflation. Everyone deserves to have the means to put food on the table and to pay the rent.

The federal government recently announced that it will spend $1 billion over five years to launch a national school food program, which is expected to deliver meals to an additional 400,000 children a year starting in 2024-25. The program is a step in the right direction, but more action is needed.

To make a meaningful dent in low-income rates and rising rates of food insecurity, Canada needs a more generous targeted cash-transfer program. Expanding the GST/HST credit is the fastest and most efficient way of doing that.

A timid reform for parental unionsTEST

(Version française disponible ici)

Since 1980, unmarried cohabitation, or de facto union as it is known is Quebec, has emerged as the province’s dominant form of conjugal life. Yet during this time, the National Assembly has never addressed the relations between de facto spouses, whose relationships entail neither rights nor obligations under family law.

This long inaction ended with the justice minister’s tabling of Bill 56 in March respecting family law reform and establishing the parental union regime. However, this long-awaited reform gives cause for hesitation and even worry.

The centrepiece of the reform is the recognition of a legal status for de facto spouses who become parents of the same child after June 29, 2025. Parental union will attach to these couples’ primary residence the protections of the family residence under matrimonial law. It will trigger the creation of a “parental union patrimony,” or set of assets the increase of which is shared on union’s end, irrespective of which spouse is owner. Bill 56 proposes a light version of married spouses’ family patrimony. Moreover, the reform will allow a spouse by parental union to claim a compensatory allowance from the other on relationship breakdown.

It is worth acknowledging upfront that the bill proposes good measures relating to access to justice. For instance, it will authorize courts to better redress abuses of procedure in family law by taking into account family violence. Nonetheless, it is necessary to consider the reform’s problematic effects for children, for future spouses in parental union, and those de facto spouses who will stay outside the new regime.

Several categories of children

The justice minister says he wants to create “a safety net for the children whose parents are in a de facto union. […] When separation occurs, the children must be protected.” It is a worthy objective. But the proposal misses its target in numerous cases.

To be sure, the expanded application of the family residence regime, which allows the court to grant a right to use the family residence to the spouse to whom it awards custody of a child, can guarantee a certain stability during a separation. Yet, because of the regime’s prospective character, it will bring no new protection to children already born or who will be born to parents in a de facto union before June 29, 2025. Moreover, limiting the policy to children common to de facto spouses excludes the many other children living in a blended family, without a formal bond to their legal parent’s spouse.

In any event, parental union will offer these still unborn children much thinner protections than those benefiting children born to married parents. On divorce, spousal support for the poorer partner can address her need or mitigate the financial effects of childrearing. In contrast, the parental union will not subject the spouses to any measure based on family solidarity, such as an obligation of support. Yet the stability and economic security of the poorer parent, including when separation occurs, are inseparable from those of the child.

In short, Quebec’s children, who are said to be at the heart of the government’s concerns, will find themselves in three categories. First, those born to married parents will keep their current protections. Next, those born or adopted into a de facto union from June 2025 will benefit from a reduced version of those matrimonial protections. Finally, those who were born into a de facto union before the reform took effect, or who live in a blended family, will remain neglected relative to the others.

This segregation seems to contradict the spirit, if not the letter, of the foundational declaration of article 522 of the Civil Code: “All children whose filiation is established have the same rights and obligations, regardless of their circumstances of birth.”

Uneven results for those parents affected

As for those parents subject to the new status, we have seen that a union without any measures based on solidarity is lacking in substance.

What’s more, it is worth examining the proposal to codify the right of a spouse by parental union to seek a “compensatory allowance” from the other. Already available for married spouses, a compensatory allowance is a payment ordered by a court to recognize enduring contributions to one spouse’s property at the other’s expense. This recourse requires the claimant to prove her contribution to enriching the other as well as her correlative impoverishment. The burden of proof is heavy and the result uncertain.

Extending to unmarried parents the compensatory allowance – an add-on to the regimes for married spouses – will only increase the uncertainty. In effect, in the matrimonial context, courts have applied this mechanism using the opposition between any extraordinary contributions by the claimant and what the wealthier spouse received legitimately by virtue of marriage law, including the family patrimony, and any marriage contract (article 427 of the Civil Code). How will the case law developed in the complex matrimonial setting apply in the different context of the parental union?

More worrying still, the possibility of claiming a compensatory allowance may be less advantageous than the current law. At present, a de facto spouse, although excluded from matrimonial law, can bring a claim in unjust enrichment under the general private law.

Over decades, the Supreme Court of Canada and the Court of Appeal of Quebec have adapted the conditions for applying this recourse to take account of the distinctive context of de facto union. Among other things, the courts have recognized that a de facto union that can be characterized as a “joint family union” may justify sharing the value accumulated during the relationship. The result is that awards in unjust enrichment may be much bigger than ones for a compensatory allowance, despite the mechanisms’ similarities.

Although this recourse, adapted to de facto union, remains imperfect, it is an important tool. But, since unjust enrichment is a subsidiary recourse, it is precluded when the claimant could enforce another claim against the person enriched. Will the right to claim a compensatory allowance block access to the beefed-up claim in unjust enrichment, to the detriment of potential claimants?

Many couples ignored

In identifying the reform’s distinctions between children, we can see numerous couples for whom the reform does nothing. Think of de facto spouses whose children were born before June 29, 2025, as well as those who, in a blended family, are raising a child who is the legal child of only one of the partners.

However, a de facto union without children can also prompt investment in the endeavours of the couple and lead to an economic imbalance. Eldercare, often performed by women for the aging parents of their male partner, can be a major factor. Recall the famous lawsuit known as Éric v Lola. Five judges of the Supreme Court of Canada clearly recognized that excluding de facto unions from family law was discriminatory, albeit constitutional. That case, recognized as a catalyst for the proposed reform, concerned all de facto unions, without focusing on those constructed around a common child.

All told, the bill could be improved substantially. Its scope of application is narrower than necessary. In any event, couples’ freedom and autonomy are protected by the possibility, foreseen by the reform, of opting out of its key provisions. As for the praiseworthy aim of protecting children, the bill promises too little to too few of them.

L’union parentale, une réforme trop timideTEST

(English version available here)

Depuis 1980, l’union de fait s’est imposée comme le mode dominant de vie conjugale au Québec. Durant ce temps, l’Assemblée nationale n’a pourtant jamais touché aux rapports entre conjoints de fait, dont la relation n’entraîne ni droits ni obligations en vertu du droit familial.

Cette longue inaction a pris fin avec le dépôt par le ministre de la Justice, le 27 mars dernier, du projet de loi 56 portant sur la réforme du droit de la famille et instituant le régime d’union parentale. Toutefois, cette réforme attendue depuis longtemps soulève des réticences, voire des inquiétudes.

La clé de voûte de la réforme est la reconnaissance d’un statut juridique aux conjoints de fait qui deviendront parents d’un même enfant après le 29 juin 2025. L’union parentale conférera à la résidence de ces couples les protections de la résidence familiale sous le droit matrimonial. Elle entraînera aussi la constitution d’un patrimoine d’union parentale, une version allégée du patrimoine familial des époux. De plus, cette réforme permettra à un conjoint en union parentale de réclamer à l’autre une prestation compensatoire en cas de rupture.

Il convient de souligner d’emblée que le projet de loi comporte de bonnes propositions favorisant l’accès à la justice. Notamment, il habilitera le tribunal à mieux sanctionner les abus de procédure en matière familiale en tenant compte de la violence familiale. Il faut cependant considérer les effets discutables de la réforme pour les enfants, les futurs conjoints en union parentale et les conjoints de fait qui y échapperont.

Les conjoints de fait devraient aussi être protégés

Ouvrir le débat sur la réforme du droit de la famille au Québec

Plusieurs catégories d’enfants

Le ministre de la Justice dit vouloir créer « un filet de sécurité pour les enfants dont les parents vivent en union libre. […] En cas de séparation, il fallait protéger les enfants ». Il s’agit d’un objectif louable. La proposition paraît toutefois rater sa cible, du moins dans de nombreux cas.

Certes, l’étendue élargie du régime de la résidence familiale peut assurer une certaine stabilité lors d’une rupture. Ce régime permet au tribunal d’attribuer au conjoint auquel il accorde la garde d’un enfant un droit d’usage de la résidence familiale. Or, en raison du caractère prospectif du régime, celui-ci n’assurera aucune nouvelle protection aux enfants qui sont nés ou qui naîtront de parents en union de fait d’ici le 29 juin 2025. Qui plus est, le critère de la prise en charge de l’enfant commun aux conjoints laisse de côté les nombreux autres enfants qui vivent dans une famille recomposée, sans lien de filiation avec le conjoint de leur parent.

Par ailleurs, l’union parentale prodiguera à ces enfants à naître une protection bien plus mince que celle dont profitent les enfants nés de parents mariés. Lors du divorce, une pension alimentaire au profit de l’époux le moins fortuné peut pallier son besoin ou amortir les contrecoups financiers de l’éducation des enfants. En revanche, l’union parentale n’imposera aux conjoints aucune mesure basée sur la solidarité familiale, comme l’obligation alimentaire. La stabilité et la sécurité économiques du parent moins favorisé, y compris au moment où survient la rupture, sont pourtant inséparables de celles de l’enfant.

Bref, les enfants québécois, qui sont censés s’inscrire au cœur des préoccupations du gouvernement, se classeront en trois catégories. D’abord, ceux nés de conjoints mariés garderont leurs protections actuelles. Ensuite, ceux nés ou adoptés en union de fait à partir de juin 2025 profiteront d’une version réduite de ces protections matrimoniales. Enfin, ceux qui sont nés en union de fait avant l’entrée en vigueur de la réforme, ou qui vivent dans une famille recomposée, resteront négligés par rapport aux autres.

Cette relégation semble contredire l’esprit, sinon la lettre, de la déclaration fondamentale de l’article 522 du Code civil : « Tous les enfants dont la filiation est établie ont les mêmes droits et les mêmes obligations, quelles que soient les circonstances de leur naissance ».

Des gains mitigés pour les parents affectés

Quant aux parents soumis au nouveau statut, nous avons vu qu’une union qui ne comporte aucune mesure basée sur la solidarité manque singulièrement de contenu.

En outre, il faut examiner de plus près la proposition de codifier le droit du conjoint en union parentale de réclamer de l’autre une prestation compensatoire. Ce recours, déjà disponible pour les époux, exige que le demandeur prouve sa contribution à l’enrichissement de l’autre ainsi que son appauvrissement corrélatif. Le fardeau de la preuve est lourd et le résultat, incertain.

Or, l’incertitude ne fera vraisemblablement que s’accroître au vu de la jurisprudence sur la prestation compensatoire entre époux. En effet, celle-ci s’est élaborée autour de l’opposition entre les « avantages que procurent le régime matrimonial et le contrat de mariage », dont le patrimoine familial, et les contributions extraordinaires à l’enrichissement du patrimoine de son époux (article 427 du Code civil). Comment cette jurisprudence pourra-t-elle s’appliquer au contexte différent de l’union parentale ?

Plus inquiétant encore, la possibilité de réclamer une prestation compensatoire pourrait être moins avantageuse que l’état actuel du droit. À l’heure actuelle, un conjoint de fait, quoiqu’exclu des régimes matrimoniaux, peut se prévaloir du recours en enrichissement injustifié issu du droit commun.

Au fil des années, la Cour suprême du Canada et la Cour d’appel du Québec ont assoupli les conditions de son application afin de tenir compte de la spécificité de l’union de fait. Ces tribunaux ont reconnu entre autres que l’union de fait se qualifiant de « coentreprise familiale » peut justifier un partage de la valeur accumulée durant la relation.

Bien que le recours ainsi ajusté à l’union de fait demeure imparfait, il s’agit d’un outil important. Or, l’enrichissement injustifié étant un recours subsidiaire, il est exclu lorsque le demandeur peut faire valoir un autre droit contre l’enrichi. Le droit de demander une prestation compensatoire viendra-t-il écarter le recours bonifié en enrichissement injustifié, au détriment des demandeurs potentiels ?

Plusieurs couples mis de côté

En signalant les distinctions entre enfants que creusera la réforme, nous entrevoyons de nombreux couples qui seront laissés pour compte. Il s’agit des conjoints de fait dont les enfants sont nés avant le 29 juin 2025 ainsi que ceux qui, en situation de famille recomposée, élèvent un enfant qui n’a de lien de filiation qu’avec un des deux conjoints.

Toutefois, l’union de fait sans enfant peut, elle aussi, occasionner un investissement dans le projet du couple et engendrer un déséquilibre économique. Les soins prodigués par un conjoint, souvent une femme, aux parents âgés de l’autre peuvent en être un facteur majeur. Rappelons à cet égard la célèbre affaire d’Éric c. Lola. Cinq juges de la Cour suprême du Canada ont clairement reconnu l’exclusion de l’union de fait du droit familial comme étant discriminatoire, quoique constitutionnelle. Dans cette affaire, qui est reconnue comme un catalyseur principal de la réforme proposée, il était question de toutes les unions de fait, sans isoler celles bâties autour d’un enfant commun.

Somme toute, le projet de loi reste perfectible. Son champ d’application est plus étroit que nécessaire. De toute manière, la liberté et l’autonomie des couples sont sauvegardées par la possibilité, prévue par la réforme, de renoncer à ses mesures phares par consentement. Quant à l’objectif louable de protéger les enfants, le projet promet trop peu, à trop peu d’entre eux.

It’s time for Ottawa to treat food production as a strategic assetTEST

(Version française disponible ici)

Most Canadians interact with agriculture only in the grocery store – often worrying about high food prices. With their daily preoccupations and the physical distance between where they live, work and shop, and most farms, it is not a surprise that many people are unaware of the sector’s importance.

However, agriculture is an increasingly important strategic asset and the time is right for Canada to put it at the core of future plans.

This April’s federal budget is an opportunity to commit to a more strategic, ambitious vision for agriculture and food, with investments focused on growth and sustainable prosperity, along with a variety of other measures.

While the opportunity is significant, agriculture and food have unique dynamics that make it a more challenging sector than most. In fact, it is often inappropriate to think of it as a “sector.” Rather it is a collection of value chains that produce very different products, serving very different domestic and international markets.

For example, cows and pigs are animals that produce animal proteins, but producing beef and pork requires very different approaches. The products also end up in different markets. In 2022, 43 per cent of Canadian beef was exported but that figure is almost 70 per cent for pork.

A farmer in Western Canada may grow canola, wheat and pulse crops in rotation, but the canola may end up as renewable diesel fuel, the wheat ground into flour in Canada and around the world, and the pulse crops exported to India, where crops grown in Saskatchewan end up part of a difficult geopolitical relationship.

The supply-managed sectors focus on serving the domestic market, looking to take advantage of Canada’s rapid population growth. Then there are the differences with smaller but still significant crops such as potatoes, greenhouse vegetables and more.

No two farms are the same and require a tailored policy response

Rather than a small group of big companies leading the sector, as is the case in automotive, mining and forestry, agriculture is in the hands of Canada’s 200,000 farmers, with no two the same.

This diversity within agriculture and food makes it difficult to develop sector-wide strategies as is being done for critical minerals, electric vehicles and renewable energy.

But just because it is difficult doesn’t mean it should not be done.

The federal government is working on a sustainable agriculture strategy. However, it struggles to connect its vision for more sustainable agriculture to Canada’s broader economic, geopolitical and strategic interests.

That connection is, however, at the heart of the government’s critical minerals strategy, which refers to critical minerals as “a generational opportunity for Canada’s workers, economy and net-zero future.”

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Growing global demand, a food crisis driven by “conflict, economic shocks, climate extremes and soaring fertilizer prices” and Canada’s position as a supplier of low-carbon crops and animal products are just some of the reasons why agriculture and food can, and should, be a driver of more generational opportunity in Canada.

The 2022 federal budget demonstrated Canada’s commitment to the generational opportunity of critical minerals with a $3.8-billion investment in infrastructure, research and data, as well as a tax credit to encourage mineral exploration.

The 2024 budget could take a similar step forward for agriculture and food.

It could build on proposals including a sustainable agriculture value chains initiative, developing a Canadian ag-tech moonshot and going further to increase agri-food exports to the Indo-Pacific.

Missed opportunities

Ottawa has taken some steps in these directions, but it continues to miss the opportunity to have a more ambitious strategic approach. This year’s budget can fix that by connecting sustainability with growth and prosperity, and positioning the sector as a geopolitical asset.

The budget can also add to the policy toolbox for the sector. The 2023 budget embraced tax credits to drive growth in the clean economy. This year’s budget could do the same to encourage investment in ag and food.

The 2023 budget outlined Canada’s plan for a clean economy as a simple triangle, with pollution pricing as the base, working toward targeted programming at the top.

An agriculture strategy in the April budget could establish priorities including animal and plant protein, sustainable productivity growth, R&D, infrastructure and trade.

Rather than a base of pollution pricing, the triangle could start with a base of improving domestic and international market access by implementing a grocery code of conduct and investing in infrastructure; a regulatory framework that enables innovation and growth; tax credits to encourage investment and sustainability; strategic finance to close the capital gap; and a pointy top of targeted programming to boost R&D and grow value-chains.

One of the greatest benefits of a strategy focused on agriculture and food growth may be the least tangible.

The rural-urban divide

The divide between rural and urban Canada is “getting deeper,” author Donald Savoie wrote in The Globe and Mail.

There are increasing calls for a rural policy lens, with the decision to exempt home heating fuels from the carbon tax an example of “how smaller communities and their residents often get overlooked in the national conversation,” according to Derek Nighbor, president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada.

The decision to effectively exempt home heating fuel in Atlantic Canada from the carbon tax, but not propane and natural gas used for grain drying and barn heating, has perpetuated the perception of a rural-urban divide. It is in the long-term interest of the country that the gap be closed.

This federal budget is an opportunity to bridge the gap and give rural Canada its proper place in the national policy agenda. It also happens to be good for the economy, for sustainability and for the future of the country.

Federal budget an opportunity to seed transformational change to fix failing primary care systemTEST

Primary care is failing many Canadians in terms of universality, comprehensiveness and accessibility, despite the enshrinement of these core principles in the Canada Health Act.

Canada currently has a hodgepodge of independent primary care practices, operating without clear performance expectations or accountability. It is more by design than by an unforeseen circumstance that so many primary care providers are burned out and 6.5 million Canadians have no regular source of care.

In addition, with some exceptions, comprehensive, person-centred primary care is neither accessible nor effective for those with complex needs. An exhausted workforce and a demoralized public seem oddly tolerant of the dysfunction.

A strategy of tepid incrementalism – with elements such as short-term pilot projects, more international recruitment, new medical schools – is wasteful, ethically dubious or simply implausible. It will not bring the change that is needed.

The federal government has a unique and timely opportunity to make a difference with its 2024 budget. Investment is needed in team-based primary care education and the development of performance indicators and accountability standards. In addition, Ottawa should focus on 21st-century technologies and leading by example in a complicated field where jurisdiction is shared with the provinces and territories.

Widespread consensus exists

Despite the inertia that plagues primary care “reform” in Canada, there is considerable consensus on what needs to be done – a large-scale reorganization of our health system and real accountability, buttressed with substantial and targeted funding that is sufficient to make a difference.

Report after report has called for a primary care system that moves beyond its cottage industry roots to one that provides every Canadian with a continuous source of care and timely access to health teams that utilize the full skill sets of all practitioners.

In an ideal world of more collaborative federalism, Ottawa and its partners would negotiate significant increases in the proportion of federal transfers that would go to primary care. History suggests that such an outcome is unlikely.

Take a team approach

The alternative is to seed transformational change.

Job 1 is to make primary care fit for purpose. Today’s population is on average 20 years older than it was at the dawn of medicare.

Millions of Canadians have more complex needs, especially the frail elderly; people with multiple chronic conditions; marginalized socioeconomic and cultural groups; and people with mental health and addiction challenges. No family doctor or nurse practitioner can manage this complexity alone.

To succeed it takes a village – interdisciplinary primary care teams. Comprehensive primary care must include mental health, rehabilitation, pharmacy, dietetics, an array of diagnostics and partnerships with other community agencies. It also needs good infrastructure: buildings designed to support teams and a first-rate health information system.

The federal government should be health care’s source of “venture capital.”

Smart money looks to release and harness organizational and clinical leadership potential, facilitate difficult conversations and support a combination of top-down and bottom-up innovations.

To this end, the 2024 budget should take steps to support large-scale innovation in our health system by putting more money on the table for provinces and territories with the most ambitious plans for fundamentally new primary care models designed to serve those in greatest need.

What needs to be done?

Here are four specific transformative roles the federal government should incorporate into the budget:

1) Invest in new approaches to primary care education. There will be no fully realized interdisciplinary, team-based care if providers continue to be trained in isolation. Instead of medical schools, nursing schools and physiotherapy schools, there should be schools of primary care where students learn the basics of health, illness, population health and the social determinants of health together.

Students should also learn how to work in teams from Day 1 and how to organize and deploy team resources and talents in the interests of their patients (and their own sustainability).

Schools of primary care should not be ports of entry on the way to specialty roles in institutions. They should be the training centres for a growing and much more capable primary care sector that also provides the great bulk of lifelong education.

2) Invest in the development of performance indicators, workforce optimization strategies and policies to make primary care genuinely accountable for quality, efficiency and outcomes.

These supports should be co-designed and embraced by governments, providers, researchers and the public, with data generated in real time and widely available to all involved in improving performance.

Through its pan-Canadian health organizations, the federal government could also upgrade its public reporting on performance as a key element of continuous quality improvement. This would support enhanced accountability and a better-informed public. Concurrent robust and integrated research and evaluation initiatives would enable the spread and scale of the strongest approaches.

3) Support the adoption of 21st-century processes and technologies to make primary care more accessible, convenient and effective. Already, many people prefer virtual appointments, want access to their electronic health records and welcome connection to high-quality, evidence-based websites that support self-management and that help guide their decisions.

The notion of patients as partners has the potential to become the new normal. There are, of course, uncertainties, risks and unintended consequences in these developments. Both providers and the public will have to work through the adaptations.

4) The federal government should lead by example by developing the most innovative and cutting-edge forms of primary care.

Its responsibility for Indigenous health services is the greatest opportunity to make the most dramatic impact. There is a particular need for Indigenous-led, team-based care that integrates and recognizes the essential roles played by elders, herbalists, Indigenous midwives and others in innovative interdisciplinary teams.

Canadian Armed Forces medical, dental and physiotherapy centres throughout Canada and abroad could support the spread of primary care service innovations by adopting and showcasing leading team-based practices.

Of course, federalism means that Ottawa cannot impose solutions on the provinces/territories or unilaterally attach strict conditionality to its cash transfers. But it can support the work needed to kickstart significant change.

By the standards of other wealthy OECD countries, Canada spends far too little on primary care.

Budget needs to set an accelerated course for a low-carbon future

Health-care accounts could help control costs

It’s time we think bigger than the federal primary care transition funds of two decades ago, which focused on microprojects not big enough to spread and scale, and which lacked a coherent set of principles and accountability tying them together to create system transformation.

Canadians also need to step up, expect more, demand more and be open to innovation, acknowledging that primary care can be more than just access to a family doctor. Don’t applaud when governments add more money that simply props up the status quo.

Show no patience with governments that simply want more federal dollars without any accountability for how it would make things better. After all, it is citizens’ money and it is the citizens to whom all levels of government are accountable.

Demand that both levels of government get along because health and health care are everyone’s business. The key to mobilization is to show that transformation is not a quixotic fantasy, but rather is both necessary and achievable through sound strategy, prudent investment and effective design.

It’s time for everyone to step up, have the difficult conversations, take innovative risks and develop the system Canadians deserve.

Intégrer le Groenland à l’Amérique du Nord doit être une priorité pour le CanadaTEST

(English version available here)

La valeur géopolitique du Groenland prend de l’importance et sa vision internationale inclut le Canada. Il est temps pour le pays de réagir et de ne pas se laisser doubler par ses alliés.

En février, le Groenland a publié une stratégie pour l’Arctique, suivie en mars d’une campagne de promotion de son secteur minier lors de la convention de l’Association canadienne des prospecteurs et entrepreneurs, l’un des plus grands symposiums industriels au monde.

Le Groenland fait partie du Royaume du Danemark. Dans la langue groenlandaise du Kalaallisut, il est appelé Kalaallit Nunaat. Il exerce déjà la plupart des responsabilités en matière de gouvernance nationale. Copenhague lui a également donné le leadership dans l’Arctique et une présence au sein de l’OTAN

Le Groenland souhaite obtenir son indépendance totale à long terme. Bien que leurs relations ne soient pas exemptes de tensions, le Groenland et le Danemark disposent d’un cadre politique qui les guide dans cette voie. Si le Groenland réalise son indépendance, il s’agira d’un micro-État doté d’un macro-territoire. Peuplé d’environ 56 500 personnes, son territoire est plus grand que l’ensemble de la côte est des États-Unis.

Les États-Unis, l’Union européenne (UE) et l’Islande renforcent tous leurs liens avec le Groenland en cette période critique. Le Canada devrait faire de même, voire plus, notamment en renforçant ses relations diplomatiques, en encourageant une plus grande collaboration multinationale avec les Inuits, en contribuant à la sécurité et en augmentant son commerce bilatéral avec le Groenland.

La stratégie arctique du Groenland a des objectifs clés pour ses relations avec le Canada. Le Groenland souhaite accroître sa mobilité humaine, son commerce et ses communications. Il souhaite s’engager davantage dans le nord du Canada, en particulier avec l’Inuit Nunangat, la patrie des Inuits qui s’étend sur le Yukon, les Territoires du Nord-Ouest, le Nunavut, le nord du Québec et le Labrador. L’exploitation minière et l’éducation sont deux de ses priorités.

Malheureusement, les États-Unis et l’UE font preuve de plus d’initiative que le Canada pour resserrer les liens avec le Groenland.

En 2023, le Groenland a signé un partenariat stratégique avec l’UE, centré sur le lien entre ses gisements de minéraux et l’ambition de l’UE d’accroître son autosuffisance énergétique et de diversifier ses fournisseurs.

Les États-Unis considèrent le Groenland avec un sérieux renouvelé. Lors de la convention des prospecteurs, les hauts fonctionnaires ont qualifié le Groenland de partenaire clé dans la mise en place de chaînes d’approvisionnement résilientes, et les entreprises américaines soutiennent cette démarche en investissant des fonds.

Les États-Unis et l’UE envisagent cette question sous l’angle de leur concurrence stratégique avec la Chine, qui domine l’extraction et le traitement des minéraux et des terres rares, essentiels à la fabrication de matériel électronique et de technologies de transition énergétique.

La géoéconomie pourrait donc être la voie de l’indépendance du Groenland. Son secteur minier est aujourd’hui restreint, mais son formidable terrain recèle un ensemble de gisements de minéraux essentiels et de terres rares. Le Groenland recherche des partenaires et des investisseurs pour les exploiter de manière durable sur le plan social et environnemental.

Trois intérêts pour le Canada

Le Canada a au moins trois intérêts distincts à renforcer ses liens avec le Canada.

Le premier est la sécurité économique. Le Canada souhaite également être moins dépendant des chaînes d’approvisionnement chinoises. En tant que source majeure d’expertise minière, le Canada peut participer pleinement au développement économique du Groenland et possède le savoir-faire nécessaire pour relever les défis de l’extraction des ressources dans les régions éloignées.

Le second est la sécurité nord-américaine, dont le Groenland pourrait devenir un joueur important. La sécurisation de l’espace aérien et des voies maritimes du Canada sera davantage axée sur le Groenland à mesure que la glace de mer arctique se retirera et que de plus en plus de navires navigueront dans les eaux septentrionales. Les États-Unis sont à la tête de cette relation depuis la Seconde Guerre mondiale, mais des avions de chasse canadiens décollent régulièrement de la base spatiale américaine de Pituffik, dans le nord du Groenland.

Le troisième est la compétitivité économique stratégique du Canada, alors que la coopération avec le Groenland favoriserait la réconciliation avec les peuples autochtones. Les arguments géoéconomiques en faveur de la réconciliation sont solides. Les présentations faites lors de la conférence des prospecteurs ont décrit un monde dans lequel le succès du secteur minier dépendra des relations avec les communautés autochtones en tant que copropriétaires et codécideurs.

Le Canada et le Groenland abritent la majorité des Inuits du monde et, ensemble, ils pourraient créer un puits de partage des connaissances et des pratiques durables pour faire avancer les projets à long terme.

La ville de Nuuk. Alt text: Un village enneigé de bungalows dans les tons rouge, bordeaux, bleu, vert et orange, avec en toile de fond des collines enneigées au-delà d’un lac non gelé. Shutterstock.com

Quelle est la prochaine étape ?

Le Groenland a fait valoir ses arguments et demande au Canada d’en faire plus. Comment pouvons-nous y répondre ?

Tout d’abord, le gouvernement fédéral devrait immédiatement ouvrir un consulat à Nuuk, la capitale. Les États-Unis et l’Islande l’ont déjà fait et l’UE est sur le point de les rejoindre.

Il devrait être doté d’une équipe parlant le kalaallisut et le danois et prévoir un espace pour l’Inuit Nunangat, les provinces, les territoires et les autres Premières Nations. À l’instar des États-Unis, ce consulat devrait disposer d’un budget d’aide à l’étranger afin d’assurer la présence canadienne dans la société groenlandaise.

Ensuite, le Canada devrait s’appuyer sur les travaux réalisés par les Inuits pour favoriser les interconnexions sociales transfrontalières entre l’Inuit Nunangat et le Kalaallit Nunaat.

Puis, le Canada devrait plaider en faveur d’une participation pleine et entière à la sécurité du Groenland. L’objectif principal serait d’adhérer à l’accord de défense entre les États-Unis, le Danemark et le Groenland, en mettant l’accent sur le renforcement de la contribution canadienne dans les domaines maritime, aérospatial et des ressources globales en matière de sécurité.

En outre, les Rangers canadiens et la Garde côtière auxiliaire canadienne possèdent une expérience et une expertise qui pourraient aider le gouvernement groenlandais à mettre en place ses propres structures de sécurité civile. Le Canada pourrait également réunir des acteurs nationaux et infranationaux pour une discussion entre les États-Unis, le Groenland et l’Islande sur l’évolution des besoins en matière de sécurité dans la région élargie.

Enfin, Ottawa devrait immédiatement prendre la tête d’un effort bilatéral visant à supprimer les barrières commerciales entre les deux pays. D’un point de vue plus stratégique, le Canada pourrait mener une action quadrilatérale avec les États-Unis et le Mexique afin d’ouvrir la voie, si le Groenland le souhaite, à l’adhésion à l’accord Canada-États-Unis-Mexique.

Le Groenland est une partie négligée de la géographie de l’Amérique du Nord, avec un riche héritage autochtone et nordique. Son importance géopolitique est grandissante pour le Canada. Même pas besoin de frapper : le Groenland a déjà ouvert la porte, et le Canada devrait la franchir.

Budget needs to set an accelerated course for a low-carbon futureTEST

Budget 2024 will be pivotal in building a low-carbon future in ways that need to go beyond tables and tax credits. To keep Canada on course, the federal government must foster material solutions to rapidly reduce emissions while addressing regional polarization and divisiveness.

Since humans began burning fossil fuels as a source of energy, we have significantly altered the composition of Earth’s atmosphere. As of May 2023, the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii estimated the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to be 424 ppm. The last time concentrations were that high was roughly four million years ago. Then, the planet was three degrees warmer and sea levels were many metres higher.

Canada has an opportunity to make an outsized difference.

Despite having a population of just over 40 million, total emissions produced in Canada are 11th highest in the world. If the numbers are broken down on a per-capita basis, Canadians are the second-highest emitters on the planet.

Nearly one-third of these emissions are produced in the oil and gas sector. Transportation and buildings represent 22 per cent and 13 per cent of all emissions, respectively.

Budget 2024 needs to set the country on an accelerated track to decarbonize our electricity and transportation sectors and ensure that buildings are as close to net-zero emissions as possible. To be successful in these decarbonizing efforts, it also needs to address different viewpoints on climate change.

Material investments needed to reach net-zero by 2050 

Budget 2023 made clear Canada’s commitments to reducing emissions, investing roughly $20 billion over five years into energy transition. But there is still much need to do much more.

Despite aiming to eliminate “inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies” the 2023 federal budget still included at least $16.7 billion in subsidies to the fossil-fuel sector.

While a small portion of those subsidies are earmarked to help enable clean-growth projects, ending fossil-fuel subsidies is necessary if we are to decarbonize the Canadian economy. Doing so would free up at least $15 billion in available funds that could be redirected toward other, more impactful and equitable uses.

New IRPP research | The New Mobility Era: Leveraging Digital Technologies for More Equitable, Efficient and Effective Public Transportation

And, ending these subsidies would also reduce emissions from the oil and gas sector in Canada by making new, non-conventional fossil-fuel projects economically unfeasible, and making renewable energy much more cost competitive. This is non-negotiable if Canada hopes to reach net-zero by 2050.

To meet the growing demand for electricity, Canada also needs to invest in upgrading and electrifying the power grid.

The Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways Program already provides $4.5 billion through 2035. By eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies, funding to this program can be significantly increased, including more money for Indigenous communities already at the forefront of renewable-energy development.

Transportation and buildings

Electric vehicles are an important piece of the energy transition, but they perpetuate an inefficient transportation system and require critical minerals that could be better used elsewhere in the energy system. As such, the federal budget should enhance public transportation initiatives like electrifying buses and expanding electric light-rail and streetcar networks in dense urban areas.

More public-transportation capacity connecting commuter regions with urban centres is also needed. This means dramatically expanding regional transportation networks in areas surrounding cities such as Vancouver, Montreal and Halifax, where soaring housing prices have forced many people, especially those living on low and middle incomes, to move outside of the city in search of affordability.

Ottawa previously allocated nearly $15 billion in public transportation over the next eight years. With additional funding, shorter approval periods, more incentives to use public transit, and increased funds for rural transportation options, an even greater impact can be achieved.

To reduce emissions from Canada’s buildings, we need far more expansive federal programs for subsidizing electric residential and commercial heating and cooling systems like heat pumps.

Existing provincial heat-pump rebate programs do not provide enough support to make the act of purchasing them possible for low- and middle-income Canadians, first-time home buyers, small-business owners and others.

In order to reach net-zero emissions for the building sector, estimates suggest that heat pumps need to increase from 13 per cent of heating in 2021 to between 55-90 per cent in 2050. Making heat pumps accessible to more Canadians is imperative for reaching our climate goals.

Regional polarization

Technologically, Canada could accelerate the process of decarbonization immediately. The barriers standing in the way of doing so are cultural and financial.

Emissions from oil and gas development means that CO2 produced in Alberta is the highest in the country, at an estimated 256.1 million tonnes as of 2021. Given the scale of that industry, despite high rates of acceptance that the climate is changing and caused by human activities, Alberta’s government opposes Ottawa’s timetable for decarbonization.

Alberta was one of only two provinces where emissions did not decline between 2005 and 2021 (the other being Manitoba). When seeking to build solutions, pointing a finger as the Climate Action Network did in December 2023 by awarding the province the “Fossil of the Day” award is not very constructive, and fails to inspire meaningful change.

An important driver of polarization is the tendency to label relationships to the environment as “good” or “bad.” Vilifying oil-producing provinces misrepresents the lived reality of those from there, and implies an artificial divide exists between regions of the country where none need exist.

Carbon pricing is not to blame for Canada’s affordability challenges

Reaching net-zero calls for nimbler, more transparent assessment of clean energy projects

Regulators should remain independent as Canada moves away from fossil fuels

Budget 2024 should fund programs to address the impacts that decarbonization will have on adversely affected demographics, regions and industries. Central to this is increased funding for regional economic redevelopment in resource communities incongruent with a low-carbon future.

The proposed Sustainable Jobs Act offers a hopeful framework if it meets two important criteria. First, it must place a priority on revitalizing local economies over retraining for work in industries located elsewhere. For example, offering retraining to an oil-and-gas worker in Fort McMurray to build solar panels in Calgary does little to ensure the long-term vitality of an existing way of life.

Second, it must ensure that affected communities and workers are at the centre of any policy aimed at phasing out their industry. If decarbonization entails eating less beef, cattle ranchers should have agency in determining their future.

Investing in the right measures works. Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) proportional to GDP have decreased by roughly 40 per cent, and GHG emissions per capita have decreased by 18 per cent compared with 1990 levels. This means that the investments and policies Canada made 20 years ago resulted in Canadians being more climate secure today.

Budget 2024 represents a turning point where more must be done to build on and amplify this decarbonizing trajectory in an inclusive way that sees all Canadians benefiting from our march toward a low-carbon future.

Le programme canadien d’adoption du numérique : 60 fois pire qu’ArriveCANTEST

(English version available here)

Donner quelques milliards de dollars peut être plus difficile que vous ne l’imaginez.

Ce n’est peut-être pas pour la philanthrope américaine MacKenzie Scott, qui a fait don de 16 milliards $ au cours des cinq dernières années, avec une efficacité saluée. En comparaison, notre gouvernement fédéral n’a pas réussi à distribuer les 4 milliards $ prévus au budget de son programme d’adoption du numérique (PCAN).

Lancé pendant la pandémie en 2022, le programme devait couvrir 90 % des coûts déboursés par les entreprises pour identifier les moyens de mettre à jour leurs technologies en ligne. Il ouvrait ensuite la porte à des prêts publics sans intérêt pouvant aller jusqu’à 100 000 $ pour la mise en œuvre de ces mesures.

Après avoir dépensé moins d’un cinquième du budget qui y était alloué, le gouvernement a mis fin au programme en février dernier, deux ans avant l’échéance prévue. Une subvention plus modeste pouvant aller jusqu’à 2400 $ et destinée aux petites entreprises pour la création de sites web reste toutefois disponible.

La nouvelle n’a pas reçu l’attention qu’elle aurait dû avoir. Le gâchis de 60 millions $ d’ArriveCAN a suscité une indignation soutenue et des critiques virulentes, mais le programme d’adoption numérique a été largement ignoré. Le PCAN n’a été mentionné que six fois au Parlement dans la dernière année, contre près de 1000 fois pour ArriveCAN, malgré un budget 60 fois plus élevé.

Ce déséquilibre est regrettable. Un meilleur contrôle est nécessaire pour résoudre les problèmes dès la mise en œuvre des programmes, et pas seulement d’une reddition de comptes plus tard. Si quelque chose vaut la peine d’être fait et vaut qu’on investisse 4 milliards $, cela vaut la peine d’être bien fait.

Le PCAN a été conçu parce que les entreprises canadiennes investissent toujours moins dans les technologies numériques que leurs concurrents internationaux. Seule 1 petite ou moyenne entreprise sur 20 utilise la technologie de manière efficace.

Alors, qu’est-ce qui n’a pas fonctionné ? Il faudra plus de transparence de la part du gouvernement pour en avoir le cœur net.

Si l’on considère la manière dont le programme a été conçu et géré, on comprend mieux pourquoi les entreprises ont pu refuser de l’argent tombé du ciel. Le processus était fastidieux. Avant même de parler avec un consultant, les entreprises devaient naviguer sur un site web jargonneux pour choisir si elles souhaitaient « développer leurs activités commerciales en ligne » ou « améliorer les technologies de leur entreprise ».

Elles devaient également se frayer un chemin à travers un processus de demandes centralisé et un marché hébergé par le gouvernement. Cela signifie qu’elles devaient passer du temps à apprivoiser de nouveaux comptes et de nouvelles plateformes, puis trier des fournisseurs classés en fonction des règles du programme plutôt que de la manière dont les entreprises les choisissent habituellement.

Le programme était trop rigide. Les entreprises pouvaient choisir parmi une liste de consultants approuvés par le gouvernement et le type de conseils que ceux-ci pouvaient fournir était défini de façon précise.

Chaque plan d’adoption du numérique devait suivre un modèle standardisé comprenant une évaluation de toutes les technologies actuelles, que le demandeur soit une simple boutique, une petite usine ou une firme de génie employant plus de 80 personnes.

Il y a également eu une pénurie de consultants. On a mis fin très tôt aux demandes d’inscription dans un souci de rapidité en raison de la pandémie. De nombreuses firmes se sont montrées prêtes à fournir des estimations pour un montant correspondant exactement au maximum autorisé de 15 000 $, mais d’autres ont été rebutées par les limites du programme ou n’en ont pas eu connaissance assez tôt pour respecter la date limite.

Les clients potentiels n’avaient donc qu’un nombre restreint de consultants parmi lesquels choisir, surtout s’ils espéraient quelqu’un étant familier avec leur secteur.

Il est facile de critiquer de l’extérieur. Mais le véritable enjeu ne touche pas les lacunes du programme; il concerne plutôt l’absence de réponse lorsque ces failles ont été relevées.

Le journaliste Paul Wells a écrit sur le retard des demandes dans une partie du PCAN plus d’un an avant sa fin. Les difficultés auraient déjà dû être douloureusement évidentes pour le gouvernement, mais Ottawa s’en est tenu au statu quo pendant une année supplémentaire avant de mettre discrètement fin au programme.

Admettre ses erreurs et ne pas les répéter

Le Canada est confronté à des défis bien plus complexes que celui de persuader les propriétaires de petites entreprises de transférer leurs données dans le nuage. Mais sur ces autres enjeux, le pays suit trop souvent le principe de sagesse suivant : « Si vous ne réussissez pas du premier coup, continuez pendant un an, puis arrêtez et espérez que personne ne posera de questions ».

Par exemple, quelques jours après la fin du programme d’adoption du numérique, la Société canadienne d’hypothèques et de logement a discrètement supprimé l’incitatif à l’achat d’une première propriété qui, il y a seulement quelques années, était un élément central de la stratégie nationale d’Ottawa en matière de logement.

La décision de mettre fin à ces programmes plutôt que de les réformer ou de les remplacer était peut-être la bonne. Mais cette décision aurait pu être prise plus tôt, avec moins d’argent en jeu et moins d’entreprises laissées en plan.

Une approche progressive incluant des tests auprès des utilisateurs, aurait pu permettre de détecter et de remédier aux lacunes que comportaient ces programmes. Il n’est pas nécessaire pour cela de procéder à des consultations ou à des projets pilotes sans fin. Au sud de la frontière, l’Internal Revenue Service (IRS) lance un nouveau service de déclaration d’impôts par étapes, via des mises à jour et une mise à l’échelle rapide en quelques mois, ainsi que la publication régulière de suivis.

Pour s’améliorer, il faut être prêt à admettre ouvertement que quelque chose ne fonctionne pas et faire différemment la prochaine fois. Cependant, Ottawa reste réticent à concéder que le programme d’adoption numérique n’a pas été un succès retentissant.

Cette politique de l’autruche risque de nous condamner à répéter les mêmes erreurs.

Par exemple, la semaine suivant la clôture du programme, le comité des finances de la Chambre des communes a publié une recommandation prébudgétaire en faveur de nouvelles subventions agricoles basées « sur le modèle du Programme canadien d’adoption du numérique ».

La moindre des choses, après avoir commis des erreurs de plusieurs milliards de dollars, c’est d’en tirer des leçons.

Reaching net-zero calls for nimbler, more transparent assessment of clean energy projectsTEST

For Canada to reach the goal of a net-zero economy by 2050, more new electricity generation facilities will be needed in the next 25 years than were built over the entire last century.

As we electrify transportation, heating and light industry, as well as produce greater amounts of electricity from renewable sources, regulators will be required to review a large number of new clean energy projects. Currently, clean energy projects in Canada take too long to get built.

The stakes are huge.

If new, expedited ways to review and approve clean energy projects are not developed, Canada’s economic competitiveness and ability to reduce emissions will be severely hampered.

At the same time, unco-ordinated and often overly political decision-making processes around these projects have caused a lack of predictability and transparency. This translates into community resistance and increased investor uncertainty as decisions are perceived to be at risk of reversal due to political capriciousness.

Decision-making processes need improvement not only to scale up and make them faster but also to ensure they are inclusive and protect the public interest and the environment. Against this backdrop, governments should co-ordinate to develop and implement agile regulatory strategies.

This approach is essential to fostering more transparent, predictable and evidence-based decision-making processes that enhance environmental and social outcomes while addressing inefficiencies identified in the current regulatory system.

One such strategy is to use prioritization frameworks as an evidence-based way to assess which types of projects the regulators should prioritize for expedited development. While there is no one model for this kind of strategy, variations are gaining increasing recognition and application in the European Union and the United States. 

Advancing prioritization frameworks

Prioritization frameworks help balance the need to speed up regulatory decision-making for clean energy projects with the capacity constraints of regulators and limited public funds. Governments could co-ordinate with regulators to identify risk-based criteria used to develop project categories.

The resulting framework would then enable accelerated decision-making for clean energy projects with minimal risk to the environment and people (e.g., a solar farm on an orphan oil and gas site).

While the development of prioritization frameworks would have upfront costs, they would be more than outweighed by later resource savings in decision-making processes for prioritized projects. In addition, regulators could shift the resulting “saved” resources and capacity to more complicated, riskier projects.

By establishing clear, evidence-based criteria for project assessment and decision-making, prioritization frameworks also make regulatory reviews more predictable and transparent. This is important for both project proponents and impacted communities that require clarity on participation rights and timelines for regulatory assessments and reviews.

If adopted, this more agile regulatory approach could enable the setting of guidelines that prioritize certain types of projects without being involved in individual project decisions. By moving parts of the review process away from the political arena, it reduces the likelihood of politicians picking “winners.”

Through such depoliticized decision-making, the durability of decisions rendered by regulators would be improved, particularly in the context of changes in government. This in turn could help reduce the policy uncertainty that has hindered investment and Canada’s competitiveness in the global clean economy.

In certain cases, such as the development of clean energy projects on Crown lands, these decision-making frameworks could be developed and implemented unilaterally by one level of government.

In other cases, the division of federal and provincial powers would require co-ordination and in some cases direct collaboration.

The practical approach to Canada’s proposed Clean Electricity Regulations

Four conditions for the new Clean Electricity Investment Tax Credit

While this could be challenging, having in place a shared prioritization framework would overcome some hurdles.

For example, a focus on accelerating clean energy projects in areas where there is broad political agreement, such as on already degraded land, would allow governments across the political spectrum to reach initial alignment and provide a basis for further co-ordination.

Avoiding the deregulation trap

In practice, the efficacy and credibility of such a framework would come down to its design and implementation. Any streamlined, flexible or accelerated review process must not compromise the strictness of environmental and social protections.

Experience has shown that public dissatisfaction with decisions often leads to prolonged delays in the regulatory process.

Governments must not use the urgency to build critical clean energy infrastructure to justify deregulation or the reduction of “red tape” at the expense of due diligence when considering issues of health, safety and environmental protection.

This is where prioritization frameworks can play a vital role. By using transparent, evidence-based criteria to identify the conditions under which a project would be prioritized, critics cannot accuse governments of fast-tracking projects for political reasons.

Moving to a low-carbon economy calls for innovative regulatory strategies that remain rigorous while offering a more inclusive and predictable decision-making process. The decisions we make over the next decade around Canada’s energy transition will shape our economy and society for generations.

Canada should avoid the mistakes the U.K. made in biomass for energyTEST

Two years ago, BBC journalists visited Canada to investigate the wood pellet industry. Their findings, broadcast in the documentary Drax: The Green Energy Scandal exposed, sent shockwaves through climate politics in the U.K.

Both the BBC and the CBC’s Fifth Estate – in a separate documentary called The Big Burn –reported that energy company Drax Power was shipping wood from rare, previously unlogged forests in British Columbia across the North Atlantic to be burned as fuel for the United Kingdom’s largest electric power station.

At the same time, the company received hundreds of millions of pounds a year in U.K. green subsidies.

In February 2024, the BBC published a follow-up story highlighting claims Drax had continued burning wood from these ecologically important forests in 2023. The reporters documented the use of tens of thousands of tonnes sourced from forests which are designated by the B.C. government as critical areas where logging should be avoided.

Drax did not dispute these findings or that it is still sourcing wood from old-growth forests, but it claimed to be undertaking work to stop sourcing wood from official “old-growth priority deferral areas.”

Both Drax and the U.K. energy ministry have faced regulatory audits and investigations, as well as parliamentary scrutiny, prompting renewed debate about whether to continue the subsidies.

However, it is primarily up to Canadian authorities, not foreign nations, to investigate and regulate the country’s biomass industry.

Ottawa should exclude the utility-scale wood pellet industry from federal funding of forestry programs because much of it is already subsidized by other countries. The B.C. government must toughen environmental law enforcement, particularly in regard to the rarest, or “old-growth,” forests.

Where to count emissions?

Drax Power began burning wood instead of coal in 2012 and fully phased out fossil fuels last year. The power plant remains the U.K.’s largest source of carbon dioxide pollution, but controversial international rules mean that if the wood is sourced from abroad, no emissions need to be counted in Britain.

The British government officially considers Drax’s power carbon neutral, although hundreds of scientists recently argued that there is an urgent need to stop burning forest wood for energy because it undermines international climate and nature targets. Instead, clean energy such as wind and solar should be used, they say.

Even Drax’s own scientific advisers recommended that the company stop using the term “carbon neutral.”

British politicians have become increasingly concerned that their renewable energy subsidies are being spent on greenwashing. An investigation by the country’s National Audit Office recently concluded that the government cannot demonstrate that its biomass supply chains are sustainable.

A separate investigation by the state energy regulator into Drax’s compliance with the subsidy scheme is ongoing.

Parliamentarians from the Conservative, Labour, Green, Scottish National and Liberal Democrat parties have all raised concerns about publicly funding Drax’s supply chain.

This includes two of the country’s last three energy ministers. Kwasi Kwarteng was recorded admitting that Drax’s supply chain “is not sustainable” and “doesn’t make any sense,” while Jacob Reese-Mogg went further, publicly describing Drax’s “ridiculous” carbon accounting as “barmy in-Wonderland stuff.”

The ball is in Canada’s court

Despite this, British authorities do not have the resources to effectively monitor biomass sourcing in foreign countries, as the National Audit Office has made clear.

Instead, the government relies on forestry laws in source countries and third-party certification schemes to check sustainability compliance.

Source countries such as Canada profit from industrial logging, leading to concerns about conflicts of interest with regulatory enforcement. Certification schemes are based on risk assessment rather than verifying that sustainable wood is used and do not cover all forests where biomass fuel is sourced.

Drax is currently waiting on the U.K. government for two stalled funding decisions – one about renewing its bioenergy subsidy when its funding contract expires in 2027 and a second about adding carbon capture technology to the plant.

Right now, it’s a lose-lose decision for the U.K. government – continue funding a controversial and expensive power plant or lose a large source of supposedly carbon-neutral power.

Academics and environmental organizations, including in Canada, have written to British ministers with concerns about continuing subsidies.

This may not be enough. As long as these certifiers and Canadian authorities agree that Drax’s forest practices are sustainable and legally compliant, criticism from the British parliament and independent experts may not justify the U.K. government rethinking a major part of its decarbonization strategy.

Public funding subsidizes Drax’s empire

Public funding from both countries has enabled Drax to build a sizable wood pellet empire in Canada.

In just three years, the company has bought 66 per cent of B.C.’s market, as well as two pellet mills in Alberta, according to an analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

It not only exports more than a million tonnes of wood from Canada to the U.K. each year to burn, but it also ships pellets to Japan and South Korea, helping to make foreign power stations an increasingly large part of Canada’s forestry sector.

Canadian regulators do not seem to recognize the weight of this responsibility.

Last year, Land and Climate Review – a publication covering investigations, academic news and policy analysis in the climate sector – alerted Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) to the fact a Drax plant in Alberta had ignored requirements under federal law to report pollution data.

ECCC replied that it would contact Drax and noted that companies failing to report this data face penalties of up to $1 million.

This made headlines in the U.K., but we have no update from ECCC on whether it has made any findings or decisions.

Many pellet mills in B.C. have a history of repeated rule-breaking, but fines have often been waived or reduced. Drax Group has faced more than ÂŁ30 million (more than $51 million Canadian) in fines over the last decade in the U.K., along with several million dollars in the United States.

The few fines Drax has received in Canada have never exceeded five figures – sums of little significance to a company that earned more than £1.2 billion ($2 billion Canadian) last year.

Silence from Canadian authorities

While British authorities investigate biomass supply chains and Drax’s compliance, Canadian authorities never even replied to Canadian experts and union leaders who raised serious concerns about Drax’s growing monopoly in the pellet industry.

Canada’s problems go beyond one company. Current logging practices risk devastating ecosystem collapse.

A recent report by leading Canadian NGOs offered dire warnings: key animal populations face existential threats; areas are not being regenerated after logging; and Natural Resources Canada uses “misleading” carbon accounting. The report identifies the wood pellet industry as a “dominant” driver of forest degradation.

Canada could help the U.K., as well as learn from its mistakes, but instead appears poised to make matters worse. The federal government’s 2023 fall economic statement lauded biomass as “clean” electricity, despite it emitting more CO2 at the smokestack than coal. Ottawa plans to introduce legislation this year to expand clean energy tax credits to include biomass power.

If Canadian policymakers want to avoid the political mess that the U.K. government now faces over biomass, they should heed the warnings from Canadian environmental organizations. While U.K. investigations are ongoing, it would be shortsighted for Canada to commit to industrial-scale biomass in the long term via new subsidies in the federal budget.

Excluding big biomass companies from the forest industry transformation program, the forest innovation program and the clean fuels fund could free up sorely needed money for Indigenous-led stewardship, restoration projects, and wind and solar power.

At the provincial level, authorities should toughen environmental law enforcement. B.C. must not enter another election cycle without passing the protections for old-growth forests that were promised in 2020.

More than 30,000 hectares of the most at-risk old-growth forests have been logged since then, according to Forest Eye, a satellite monitoring tool developed by Stand.earth, an environmental advocacy group.

Averting a crisis in B.C.

Protecting these old-growth forests would offer reassurance to authorities abroad and ensure that Canadian forestry is environmentally and financially sustainable. Experts have already warned that without better regulation, the B.C. forestry sector is headed toward a financial crisis.

Canadian policymakers will influence the direction of the entire biomass industry this year, along with its place in climate planning, knowingly or not. If they take their responsibility for climate change seriously, they should tread cautiously, while working with experts and Indigenous Nations.

Politicians may feel their hands are tied, but inertia and industry spin make a loose knot. There are many options for clean power, carbon removal, and forestry jobs if people take the time to listen.

The scale of action needed to address the crises we are facing – ranging from mitigating the impacts of climate change and industrial forestry, which have contributed to larger more intense fires and floods, to ensuring a stable, abundant future for forest communities and workers – requires that Canada reject short-lived greenwashing schemes.

Instead, it should take meaningful action to support an economy that will align with a climate-safe future.

Le rapatriement de la recherche vers le ministère de l’Économie est inquiétantTEST

Le mois dernier, le ministre de l’Économie, de l’Innovation et de l’Énergie (EIE) Pierre Fitzgibbon a déposé un projet de loi visant essentiellement à rapatrier à son ministère le dossier de la recherche, qui relève actuellement du ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche, de la Science et de la Technologie (ERST). Ce changement était prévisible puisque le gouvernement du Québec avait déterminé par décret, en octobre 2022, « qu’à l’égard de la recherche, de la science et de l’innovation et de la technologie, le ministre de l’Économie, de l’Innovation et de l’Énergie exerce les fonctions de la ministre de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche, de la Science et de la Technologie ». Y a-t-il matière à inquiétude ?

Un coup d’œil aux changements législatifs proposés permet de comprendre ce qui est en train de se produire. Ces changements, tous majeurs, sont au nombre de trois :

  • L’élaboration d’une politique nationale en matière de recherche et d’innovation  serait dĂ©sormais confiĂ©e au ministre de l’EIE, qui devra en coordonner la mise en Ĺ“uvre et en assurer le suivi ;
  • Le ministre de l’EIE se verrait confĂ©rer l’autoritĂ© sur les trois Fonds de recherche du QuĂ©bec, qui seraient fusionnĂ©s ;
  • La responsabilitĂ© de la Commission de l’éthique en science et en technologie serait elle aussi transfĂ©rĂ©e au ministère de l’EIE.

Les articles au sujet de la commission susmentionnée sont tout simplement retirés de la Loi sur le ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur, de la Recherche de la Science et de la Technologie et insérés dans la Loi sur le ministère de l’Économie, de l’Innovation et de l’Énergie. Les articles au sujet des Fonds de recherche du Québec sont quant à eux abrogés dans la loi sur le ministère de l’ERST. S’ils se retrouvent, pour la plupart, dans la loi sur l’EIE, certaines modifications sont apportées. Il en sera question plus loin.

Liberté académique : pas assez et trop, en même temps

Quand la ministre de l’Enseignement supérieur s’attaque à l’autonomie des universités

La cible de francisation des universités anglophones pourrait nuire à la qualité de l’enseignement

Nous assistons à l’officialisation de la prise de contrôle, entamée à l’automne 2022, du portefeuille de la recherche par le ministre de l’EIE. Dans les faits, on revient à un stade antérieur de la répartition des portefeuilles ministériels. En effet, si le projet de loi 44 est adopté, la responsabilité de la recherche retournera au ministre titulaire du portefeuille de l’Économie, elle qui avait été attribuée au ministre de l’ERST en 2012 par la première ministre Pauline Marois.

D’aucuns se demanderont pourquoi le gouvernement du Québec souhaite un tel changement qui est tout sauf anodin. En effet, si on exclut les dispositions modificatives, le texte de la loi sur le ministère de l’ERST serait amputé de 57 de ses 91 articles, et les trois Fonds de recherche du Québec seraient fusionnés en un seul, un autre retour à un état antérieur des choses qui n’est pas sans en inquiéter certains. Pourquoi dissocier le portefeuille de la recherche de ceux de l’enseignement supérieur, de la science et de la technologie, alors que le premier est étroitement lié aux trois autres ?

Interrogé à ce sujet, le ministre Fitzgibbon a fait valoir qu’il s’agit simplement d’une « question de gouvernance, et qu’il sera plus efficace d’avoir un seul conseil d’administration de 19 personnes que trois d’une quinzaine ». On conviendra que cette justification est plutôt mince pour un changement de si grande envergure.

Dans un communiqué de presse daté du 8 février 2024, les administrateurs des Fonds de recherche du Québec soutiennent de leur côté que le regroupement des trois fonds actuels permettra de « maximiser les synergies entre les secteurs de recherche et leur agilité dans le déploiement de leurs mandats », en plus de « mieux prendre en compte l’intersectorialité dans les programmes de bourses et de subventions ».

Or, curieusement, l’article 22.2 du projet de loi 44 où le rôle du scientifique en chef est décrit n’inclut pas le second paragraphe de l’article 33 de la loi actuelle sur le ministère de l’ERST, selon lequel « le scientifique en chef assure la coordination des enjeux communs aux trois Fonds et des activités de recherche intersectorielles ». Voilà qui est pour le moins surprenant.

Les promoteurs du projet de loi 44 ont tôt fait d’objecter, en s’appuyant sur le même article, que « le scientifique en chef favorise le rapprochement entre la science et la société ».

S’il est tout à fait vrai que la science doit servir la société, peut-on conclure qu’elle doit être également subordonnée à l’économie ? Cette question doit être posée. Jusqu’à preuve du contraire, cette hiérarchie semble refléter la vision de la CAQ sur la place de la recherche.

Abordé sous cet angle, le projet de loi 44 est inquiétant. Au plan philosophique, la science et la recherche sont au service de l’humanité dans son étroit rapport avec son environnement, ce qui est considérablement plus vaste que la seule économie. Sur le terrain, les impacts de nature économique ne sont qu’un des effets parmi tant d’autres de la recherche.

S’il fallait en venir à financer d’abord et avant tout les projets de recherche bénéfiques pour l’économie, et ce dans un contexte où l’enveloppe de l’éventuel Fonds de recherche du Québec demeure la même, des projets de recherche exclus par ce critère pourraient être boudés. Or, de tels projets, par exemple dans le domaine de la santé ou des sciences humaines, peuvent avoir des retombées d’envergure pour une société, et ce, même s’ils ne créent pas nécessairement des « jobs payants ».

En proposant de transférer le portefeuille de la recherche vers le ministère de l’EIE, Québec laisse entendre que la recherche devrait être d’abord et avant tout, voire uniquement, au service de l’économie. Il est ainsi permis de craindre que dans un avenir rapproché, le même gouvernement puisse orienter la recherche de manière telle qu’en répondant principalement à des impératifs économiques, les autres besoins de la population en pâtiraient.

Hélas, un tel scénario est réaliste, vu l’importance que ce gouvernement accorde à ce qu’il appelle « la richesse ».

Prefabricated housing offers one solution to the supply crisisTEST

Canada is in a housing crisis, but we’re not giving ourselves a fighting chance to fix it. That needs to change.

Instead of making widespread use of innovations in housing construction efficiency, we’re primarily relying on slower and increasingly outdated, century-old methods.

The way forward is prefabricated housing, which offers a host of benefits over traditional onsite construction, such as lower costs and time savings, as the clock is running out to solve the crisis.

The federal government has already taken some action as seen with the recent funding announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but there are multiple other steps that it can and should take now to bolster the use of prefabricated housing and to pull the country out of this downward affordability spiral.

For their part, provincial and municipal governments, which have the primary responsibility for housing, could ensure that transportation laws, zoning bylaws, building codes and approval processes are conducive to prefabricated housing development.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) says Canada needs about 5.8 million more homes by 2030. The real number may be higher.

The severe housing supply shortage has numerous detrimental effects that ripple through the economy and society. To make matters worse, housing affordability is at its worst level in 41 years while escalating prices diminish the quality of lifefor many Canadians.

Benefits of prefabricated construction

The three main types of prefabricated construction are mass timber, panelized, and modular. All of these involve offsite manufacturing of components which are then rapidly assembled onsite, offering a host of benefits compared to traditional construction methods.

Mass timber, where building components are made from multiple layers of wood fastened together, can halve the number of workers needed compared to concrete construction. This makes it especially valuable during the current labour shortage in the industry because construction timelines can be accelerated by up to 30 per cent.

Panelized construction, where individual panels are assembled into a complete structure, creates opportunities for lower labour and material costs as well as time savings of approximately 30 per cent.

With modular construction, manufacturing facilities use precise equipment to construct three-dimensional units, resulting in less waste during the production process, as well as greater quality control and environmentally friendly air-sealing. This kind of construction can reduce build times by 20 to 50 per cent.

Prefabricated construction provides increased certainty on project timelines and costs, which is highly valuable for the viability of projects.

Why has prefabricated construction not become more popular?

Market adoption for mass timber, panelized and modular housing is still in the early stages. Despite the benefits, they have not yet established themselves as the method of choice for homebuilders. Several reasons explain the hesitancy.

One is the lack of understanding and experience among builders about how to employ prefabricated technologies. Transportation of components from factory to site and other logistics are another barrier.

Contract uncertainty and the large investment needed to establish and run a manufacturing facility are the most significant barriers. Once the industry gets to scale, greater productivity and lower costs will encourage mass adoption.

Cost savings remain a debate

However, prefabricated construction benefits will not go far unless the price is right. The home building industry has not reached a consensus about whether offsite is cheaper than onsite building.

According to McKinsey & Company, modular construction presents an opportunity for 20-per-cent cost savings. The CMHC says it can be more affordable, but not always.

Hard construction costs such as dollars per square foot may be higher with prefabricated methods. However, the number of labour hours saved can be significant, along with other benefits which may outweigh hard construction costs.

A 2021 report from the Cambridge Centre for Housing & Planning Research in the U.K. concurs: “It is expected that, if such methods could be deployed at a greater scale, they may provide an opportunity to deliver new homes more quickly, with higher quality and at a potentially cheaper cost than traditional methods.”

Getting the industry to scale will require contract certainty to lower per-unit costs. Prefabricated construction firms may need assistance with the high capital cost and overhead of running their production facilities as they move toward scale.

What has the federal government done to date?

Ottawa’s actions to support prefabricated housing have been timid but encouraging.

A key factor in improving efficiency and quality is the scientific research and experimental development (SR&ED) tax credit, which is available to manufacturers.

In addition, prefabricated construction meets the objective of the $550.8-million affordable housing innovation fund and some of its recipients have included modular developments.

Applicants to the $300-million housing supply challenge have received funding to focus on prefabricated housing. Most importantly, the $4-billion rapid housing initiative employed modular development to rapidly add new housing supply by taking advantage of its time savings.

However, numerous policies could be put in place to encourage expansion to rapidly add supply and ease the housing crisis while bringing costs down.

The federal government has expressed recent interest in further supporting prefabricated construction. However, progress currently remains in the framework stage rather than the development of firm policies and details. The government must put the right measures forward to reap all possible benefits.

Policy recommendations

One effective way is to offer manufacturers greater assurance through contracts and funding arrangements across different funding channels.

For example, the federal government could help match interested developers who want to develop their land with prefabricated housing suppliers.

In addition, a funding stream could be utilized to support the initial phase of production with accredited manufacturers. This would give manufacturers the confidence and stability needed to invest in expanding their production cycles, while simultaneously reducing variable costs and enhancing productivity through accumulated experience.

SERIES: How does Canada fix the housing crisis?

This funding guarantee could be backed by an underlying asset that the government could temporarily acquire on its balance sheet before transferring it to an interested developer.

Potential funding levers may include expanding the Canada Infrastructure Bank’s focus or employing the strategic innovation fund for larger projects.

In addition, the upcoming pre-approved home design catalogue presents an opportunity to further strengthen the industry.

The second way the federal government can encourage industry is by ensuring the housing accelerator fund boosts prefabricated housing. The program’s current design discourages municipalities from helping developers and early adopters from accelerating the use of prefabricated housing. The fund should be expanded or renewed with a component (up to 10 per cent) set aside for municipalities.

At the provincial and municipal levels, there are numerous actions those governments could also take to incentivize prefabricated housing.

The Ontario Real Estate Association (OREA) has identified amending trucking laws, accelerating municipal approval timelines and amending zoning bylaws as key steps to support the scaling of prefabricated homes.

Half-load restrictions mandated by Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act of 1990 can hinder the transportation of modules from factories to building sites during the spring thaw. This creates transportation delays for manufacturers, leading them to operate below full production capacity from March to May.

Enforcing approval timelines for prefabricated housing construction could lead to steady orders and cash flow for manufacturers. This could enable manufacturers to expand their operations and scale up the industry, eventually making it more affordable for consumers.

By educating municipalities about the importance and speed of prefabricated housing construction, we can reduce confusion among municipal staff and speed up the approval process.

It is crucial to ensure that prefabricated homes are not conflated with other types of homes subject to NIMBYism and complex zoning requirements, such as mobile homes. When areas are not zoned for mobile homes and prefabricated homes are mistaken to be mobile, further approval process delays can occur.

Finally, there’s a need for better collaboration between all governments, industry and labour on how to change. A construction innovation strategy table should be created, to be led by federal departments.

Speed is of the essence. Prefabricated housing presents an opportunity to remedy the issues plaguing Canada by rapidly adding supply. It’s time we innovate to solve the housing crisis so more Canadians can find a place to call home.

This article is part of a series called How does Canada fix the housing crisis?

Et si on investissait pour réduire la pauvreté?TEST

Chaque année, la Fondation Maytree publie, en anglais seulement, les données de base sur les revenus d’aide sociale au Canada. Très crédible, ce travail permet de comparer la façon dont sont traitées les personnes recevant de l’aide sociale dans les différentes provinces. Il y a des écarts entre les gouvernements, mais dans l’ensemble, ces différences demeurent modestes et la situation change peu d’une année à l’autre.

En comparaison avec les pays de l’OCDE, les provinces canadiennes se situent toutes en queue de peloton, avec des revenus d’aide sociale calculés en pourcentage du revenu médian plus bas que partout ailleurs, sauf aux États-Unis.

Mais les plus récentes données, publiées en juillet 2023, contiennent toute une surprise. En 2022, les revenus d’aide sociale des personnes seules considérées aptes à l’emploi seraient passés au Québec de 12 968 $ à 20 905 $, une augmentation de 61,2 %. En Ontario, la hausse de ces revenus pour la même période se limitait plutôt à 1,5 %.

Selon les constats de la Fondation Maytree, les gains des Québécois aptes à l’emploi sont si considérables qu’ils recevraient dorénavant davantage que les prestataires de l’aide sociale en situation de handicap. Ce serait une première et une évolution contraire au principe généralement accepté d’un traitement plus généreux pour les personnes ayant des contraintes sévères à l’emploi.

Au Québec, les revenus d’aide sociale des personnes seules aptes à l’emploi s’élèveraient dorénavant à 91 % du seuil de pauvreté établi selon la mesure du panier de consommation (MPC), encore un record. Dans son avis de 2009 mis à jour en 2018, le Comité consultatif de lutte contre la pauvreté et l’exclusion sociale avançait une cible de 80 % du seuil de la MPC pour l’aide sociale. Il s’agissait là d’un objectif ambitieux puisqu’en 2018, ce taux stagnait à 46 %. Le gouvernement n’avait pas retenu cette recommandation. Et soudainement, en 2022, comme par magie, on aurait défoncé ce plafond pour s’approcher du seuil de la pauvreté.

Comment cette hausse de 61,2 % des revenus des plus pauvres a-t-elle pu passer inaperçue ? Pas de débat, pas de pétage de bretelles gouvernemental, pas de dénonciation de l’Institut économique de Montréal soucieux de maintenir l’incitation au travail, pas de rapport critique de l’IRIS sur le chemin qui reste encore à parcourir pour arriver à un revenu viable, pas de chronique de Jean-François Lisée sur la supériorité avérée du modèle québécois, personne pour danser dans les rues ?

Un mirage créé par une méthodologie problématique

En fait, ce bond en avant n’a pas eu lieu. Les chercheurs de Maytree ne se sont pas vraiment trompés, mais ils ont été piégés par leur méthodologie, et peut-être par une certaine distance face à la réalité québécoise. Et comme leur rapport a peu d’échos au Québec, personne n’a tiqué.

Pour mesurer les revenus d’aide sociale en 2022, les chercheurs de Maytree considèrent les revenus offerts à une personne qui arrive à l’aide sociale le 1er janvier et qui y reste pour toute l’année. Or, en 2022, le gouvernement du Québec a considérablement amélioré une mesure instaurée avec la réforme de l’aide sociale de 2017, le Programme objectif emploi.

Au départ, ce programme visait à imposer aux nouveaux prestataires de l’aide sociale, surtout des jeunes, la participation à différentes mesures de formation et d’intégration au travail, avec pour contrepartie des revenus bonifiés.

Quand le gouvernement de Philippe Couillard a introduit cette réforme, les critiques s’inquiétaient surtout du caractère obligatoire de la mesure et des sanctions prévues pour ceux qui refusaient de participer. En pratique, les sanctions ont été très rares et les participants se sont montrés majoritairement satisfaits. Plus encore, en comparaison avec la situation antérieure, le programme a eu des effets nets positifs sur la présence en emploi, les heures travaillées, la rémunération, la participation à des mesures d’employabilité, le retour aux études et la sortie de l’aide sociale. Quel que soit l’indicateur retenu, le Programme objectif emploi favorisait le mouvement, la formation et l’intégration en emploi.

Si bien qu’en juin 2022, les allocations de participation au programme ont été significativement bonifiées. Ce sont les plus généreuses de ces allocations bonifiées, offertes pour une participation à une formation qualifiante, qu’ont retenues les chercheurs de Maytree pour estimer les revenus d’aide sociale au Québec en 2022. D’où l’imposant bond en avant.

Mais il faut garder le sens des proportions. Au Québec, en juin 2022, 95 708 personnes seules considérées aptes au travail recevaient de l’aide sociale. De ce nombre, seulement 3449 étaient de nouveaux demandeurs admissibles au Programme objectif emploi.

Maytree a donc établi les revenus d’aide sociale de toutes les personnes seules aptes au travail en retenant le maximum offert à quelques membres d’un minuscule sous-groupe, qui représente moins de 4 % de cette catégorie de prestataires. En réalité, seules ces personnes ont fait un bond en avant de 61,2 % en 2022.

Pour demeurer pertinents et estimer les revenus d’aide sociale de plus de 96 % des personnes seules en mesure de travailler, les chercheurs de Maytree devraient repenser leurs choix méthodologiques, ou alors présenter deux situations pour les personnes aptes au travail au Québec, comme ils le font pour les personnes avec contraintes sévères à l’emploi en Alberta, qui peuvent ou non se qualifier à des prestations supérieures pour handicap sévère.

Des leçons à tirer du Programme objectif emploi

Il y a tout de même des leçons à tirer de ces chiffres et de ces constats sur le Programme objectif emploi. Voilà une initiative qui offre de l’accompagnement et des parcours vers l’emploi aux personnes en mesure de travailler, combinés avec des revenus qui les rapprochent du seuil de la pauvreté. Surprise : avec des services accrus et des revenus plus décents, les gens sont plus nombreux à s’en sortir, et ils quittent davantage l’aide sociale que ceux qui n’ont pas accès à ces avantages.

Il faudra s’en souvenir quand on entendra à nouveau le sempiternel argument associant la générosité de l’aide sociale ou des transferts sociaux en général à une baisse de l’incitation au travail.

À la fin des années 1990, une politique familiale généreuse a contribué à sortir plusieurs familles monoparentales de l’aide sociale. Le Programme objectif emploi semble donner des résultats semblables pour les nouveaux inscrits à l’aide sociale. Il est peut-être temps d’élargir la portée de cette mesure et d’investir davantage auprès des prestataires d’aide de dernier recours pour réduire la pauvreté.

The paradox of immigration policy will require a new modelTEST

Immigration has been part of Canada’s national story since Confederation and remains the lifeblood of our society. It plays a key role in rejuvenating our population and preserving the country’s economic and social vibrancy.

Immigration accounts for almost all growth at a time when Canada’s population continues to age at an accelerated pace due to lower fertility rates and longer life expectancy. It therefore was not surprising that the federal government’s first news release of 2023 announced that the country had met its record-setting target of new permanent residents for the previous year. A few months later, and with a similar celebratory tone, Statistics Canada declared that the country had reached a new milestone: 40 million Canadians.

These major milestones must also be considered in the context of the social and economic inequalities newcomers and racialized Canadians experience. These disparities, along with changing attitudes about immigration in the face of the country’s current challenges, bring into question the robustness of Canada’s immigration policy and how to improve it.

Pollsters have started to see a change in public opinion about immigration. A Focus Canada survey last fall registered the largest single-year shift since tracking began in 1977. It cited concerns about the current housing crisis as the main reason for an increasing view that the country is taking too many immigrants.

It’s time to restore pride in post-secondary institutions and immigration

Canadian agriculture faces a worker shortage and food security crisis

Canada’s immigration policy is at a crossroads

The shift has refocused attention on an age-old paradox: Immigration is a solution, but immigrants are a problem.

One of the contributing factors to this contradiction is the rise of populism and the prominence in the 1990s of the Reform Party of Canada. Its attack on multiculturalism and immigration narrowed the focus of immigration policy and prioritized economic outputs over social and cultural value as the raison d’être for bringing in newcomers.

This shift gained more currency during the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. The Liberals under Justin Trudeau have failed since taking office to translate rhetoric about immigration and diversity into a new policy framework.

The social, economic and cultural consequences of this policy shift over the last 30 years have affected not only newer Canadians but the country’s economy as well.

Many racial minorities remain disadvantaged compared to white Canadians in almost every socioeconomic indicator. This inequality exposes Canada’s struggle with discrimination and racism. Scholars Keith Banting and Debra Thompson have noted that there remains a big racial disparity that defies proposed solutions. Systemic racism, they assert, was never adequately addressed in any policy frameworks. Once institutionalized, such discrimination self-perpetuates and, as a result, economic inequalities tend to persist and grow over time.

This gap also hurts productivity. Last June, Canada was ranked 18th globally by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Canadian productivity is 72 per cent of that in the United States. Productivity is a complex indicator with many factors; however, adding a labour force to the economy that works below its full capacity hurts productivity and reduces competitiveness.

A 2020 study by the Public Policy Forum think tank revealed that racialized minorities and immigrants experience greater unemployment and underemployment. Immigrants from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East fare worse than those from Europe. It listed devalued foreign credentials, lack of language skills and perceived fit with the Canadian workplace as barriers for immigrants wanting to enter the labour market.

An RBC study estimated immigrants in 2016 earned at least 10 per cent less on average than workers born in Canada – up from only 3.8 per cent in 1986. The gap was as high as 18 per cent for those 45 to 54 years old and with a university education. It also said raising immigrants to the wage and employment levels of their Canadian peers could add $50 billion in annual gross domestic product.

Culture is another area of concern. Since the adoption of the point system in assessing prospective immigrants, the demographic makeup of Canadian society has undergone major change. However, our culture has not reflected this change in significant ways. Cultural institutions and policies have had limited success in expanding the boundaries of the Canadian multicultural character.

These cultural and economic divides should provide an impetus for the government to explore new approaches to immigration.

Over 80 years ago, economist Joseph Schumpeter defined entrepreneurship as the ability to allocate existing resources to “new uses and new combinations.” The federal government could use this wisdom today to use immigration to increase productivity, enable access to new markets, drive innovation and foster cultural renewal.

Any framework for a revitalized immigration policy must include:

  • A recommitment to multiculturalism: Political philosopher Will Kymlicka noted that the idea of multiculturalism adopted in 1971 was rooted in prevailing power structures and ended up reproducing many of its long-standing hierarchies and exclusions. Historian Daniel Meister, in his book The Racial Mosaic, concluded the policy was more effective in combating racism and prejudice faced by European minority groups. An updated multiculturalism policy must prioritize eliminating systemic biases such as Islamophobia and racism against Indigenous Peoples, Blacks and Asian communities.
  • A stand-alone ministry for multiculturalism: It is important that multiculturalism not be part of another department or a number of disconnected programs. Such a ministry could play a key role in developing immigration and citizenship policies, as well as social and cultural programs. It could also monitor the effectiveness of such policies as they relate to equitable access to resources as well as social and economic mobility for newcomers.
  • Increased engagement with diverse communities: This could be achieved by building a partnership with non-profit and charitable organizations. They could become key partners in tackling a growing unmet social need that is estimated to reach $26 billion by 2026. This partnership could be a driver for community wealth creation.
  • Use of government spending power to nurture social innovation: This would improve access to capital for community-based organizations and non-profits and help create new models to grow the economy while addressing social need. Last year, the federal government launched a $755-million social finance fund, which should help the charitable and non-profit sector become more innovative and increase funding support to equity-deserving communities.
  • Invest in a more inclusive cultural mosaic: The 1950 landmark Massey Commission was tasked with assessing arts and culture in Canada. Findings from a similar inquiry today could provide a blueprint for new cultural content in the 21st century and help reduce barriers and encourage diversity beyond tokenism. The result would be an inclusive and dynamic culture that celebrates and validates the experiences of all

Governments of different political persuasions have struggled to solve the paradox of the immigration question. A symptom of this failure is a stubborn fixation on quotas and numbers. Canada must acknowledge that an enduring immigration policy is one that is anchored in nation-building and celebrates immigrants as a valuable part of an expanding mosaic.