This is the moment to fix the mismatch in Canada’s housing supplyTEST

(Version française disponible ici)

Solving Canada’s housing affordability crisis requires addressing the mismatch of housing supply and need.

For too long, we have focused on building “sprawl and tall” – expensive houses further afield and small, costly units in high-rise buildings while neglecting critical segments of our housing system needed to accommodate a range of household incomes and sizes.

Unsold supply amid a housing crisis

Here is one stark mismatch: This year, the average vacancy rate for rental housing across the country reached its lowest level since 1988, the year the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. began keeping track.

Contrast that with the largest unsold inventory of condo units in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in seven years and the slowest sales since the financial crisis. The unsold stock is prevalent throughout the development pipeline from pre-construction sales to completed units.

Thousands of approved condo units haven’t even made it to the showroom. Data firm Urbanation found 60 projects comprising 21,500 units in the GTA have failed to launch at all since 2022.

Data from Altus shows sales of houses are also lagging. New, completed single-family homes in the GTA fell by 62 per cent in May from the same month last year, suggesting that developers in the low-rise and high-rise markets are waiting for inventory to be absorbed before building more.

The apartment complex sits next to a square green soccer field. The homes behind it sit on a curved road just off a highway with a roundabout. Land has been cleared on the hill behind the homes. Farther in the distance, a low-rise apartment building sits. Beyond that are hills covered with forest.
A rental apartment complex under construction, bottom centre, at a new housing development in Langford, B.C., May 30, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Lack of affordable housing and rising rents

Also misaligned are household incomes and rental rates. Research at the University of British Columbia found 20 per cent of Canadian households cannot afford housing costs including utilities greater than $1,050 per month, while another 20 per cent cannot pay more than $1,600 per month.

By comparison, the average market asking rent nationwide is more than $2,200, with one-bedrooms in Vancouver and Burnaby fetching $2,700 and more than $2,500 respectively.

This gap between what households can afford and what the market can charge cannot be filled by our feeble supply of social housing (a.k.a. public housing or “community housing”), which accounts for about 3.5 per cent of existing housing stock while 95 per cent is in the private market. The waitlist for subsidized housing is 12 years in Toronto and eight years in Montreal.

Meanwhile, in Ontario, proposed legislation could require municipalities to expand their urban boundaries into farmland, greenspace and wetlands (outside the protected greenbelt) for the development of large houses that few families can afford.

The good news is we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to start fixing the mismatch.

Perhaps the most alarming mismatch is seen in housing expert Steve Pomeroy’s research into the loss of affordable homes: Canada lost 10 affordable units for every new one built over a decade. Therefore, our first step to solving the housing crisis is to preserve our existing affordable housing stock from financialization and demolition.

Build for end users rather than investors

Part of the problem is the development financing system, which requires developers to pre-sell most of their units to secure financing from lenders. When interest rates are low and real-estate prices keep ticking up, investor demand is high. Since at least 2018, the GTA has boasted more cranes in the sky than any other city in North America.

Our reliance on an investor-driven housing market has pushed up prices all over the map as end-user homebuyers have been forced to bid higher and higher to compete with those who have deeper pockets. Investors also influence the types of units constructed – predominantly one-bedrooms, studios or micro-condos in tall buildings that optimize profitability.

Not only are these smaller condos not matched to the needs of many households, but if municipalities continue to meet their intensification goals with mostly small units in very tall buildings, it can increase car-dependent sprawl and drive up greenhouse gas emissions because single-family homes in former farm fields become the only attainable three-bedroom family-friendly housing option.

Four of the units are clad in dark grey brick. Four more are clad in light-brown wood, awaiting their final cover material. Orange tarps are draped in front of the windows.
Townhouses under construction in the Blatchford neighbourhood in Edmonton, Alberta, on April 12, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Don Denton

Redirect resources to the right areas

Even as conventional construction slows down, governments can redirect some of their financing and incentives toward non-traditional segments of the housing system, if only to ensure we don’t lose trades people.

In recent years a shortage of skilled trades workers contributed to Canada’s housing crunch. Yet, the pullback in residential construction is leading to job losses in skilled trades – a trend that experts fear could inhibit apprenticeships to feed this critical labour pool.

The new federal housing plan commits a suite of incentives, such as removing the GST, to stimulate the construction of purpose-built rentals that can help offset high interest rates.

However, a separate analysis by Pomeroy demonstrates that the federal rental construction finance initiative is producing rental units priced at market or above-market rates.

Stack savings to scale not-for-profit housing

We can harness this moment to build more affordable and attainable rental housing not only by directly subsidizing the building of more social housing but also by financing not-for-profit developers, housing co-operatives, land trusts and community housing corporations.

This sector can reduce costs by 20 to 25 per cent by greatly reducing the profit margin normally anticipated on development projects.

The Institute for Research of Public Policy’s Affordability Action Council recommends stacking these off-the-top cost savings with other initiatives such as preferential federal financing, priority access to public land, construction grants and a range of incentives already being directed to the private sector.

For example, co-operatives could build mixed-income communities with a range of units priced for low- to middle-income households.

Target the missing middle

We can also redeploy labour and resources to build thousands of secondary suites, multiplexes, stacked townhomes and small apartment buildings throughout existing urban and suburban residential neighbourhoods, which is now possible thanks to rezoning in most municipalities.

However, a concerted effort by all orders of government is required to remove a myriad of secondary barriers to make the missing middle cost-effective and replicable, such as innovations in financing and mortgages, pre-approved designs and full-service municipal programs with help from the federal housing accelerator fund.

Although often dismissed as insignificant, the missing middle can add up. Last year, accessory dwelling units comprised up to 22 per cent of total housing permits in Guelph and 18 per cent in Waterloo. Scaling the missing middle throughout our communities offers attainable family-friendly alternatives to more car-dependent single-family houses.

Recycle single-family homes owned by older Canadians

Finally, Canada has eight million single-family dwellings, most of which are occupied by older generations who will age out of their homes at some point.

If a seniors housing strategy could be developed to build desirable housing options that aging Canadians want to live in – for instance, small congregate living or co-ownership – more seniors would likely move sooner and by choice, freeing up millions of single-family houses for younger and newcomer families.

Housing is more than a unit count. What, where and for whom we build is as important as how much. We need to target the right housing supply while creating livable communities. We have this moment to get started.

Il est temps de rĂ©gler l’inadĂ©quation de l’offre locativeTEST

(English version available here)

Pour rĂ©soudre la crise du logement au Canada, il faut remĂ©dier Ă  l’inadĂ©quation entre l’offre et les besoins.

Pendant trop longtemps, nous nous sommes concentrĂ©s Ă  construire plus haut et plus loin (de grandes maisons coĂ»teuses loin des grands centres, ou bien de petites unitĂ©s trĂšs chĂšres dans de hautes tours), avec pour rĂ©sultat d’avoir nĂ©gligĂ© des segments essentiels du parc locatif nĂ©cessaire pour rĂ©pondre aux besoins de mĂ©nages aux revenus et aux tailles variĂ©s.

Des unités invendues pendant une crise du logement

Voici une diffĂ©rence frappante : cette annĂ©e, le taux moyen d’inoccupation des logements locatifs dans l’ensemble du pays a atteint son niveau le plus bas depuis 1988, annĂ©e oĂč la SociĂ©tĂ© canadienne d’hypothĂšques et de logement a commencĂ© Ă  recueillir des donnĂ©es.

En revanche, le stock d’unitĂ©s invendues dans la rĂ©gion du Grand Toronto est le plus important depuis sept ans et les ventes sont les plus faibles depuis la crise financiĂšre. Le stock d’invendus est prĂ©sent tout au long du processus de dĂ©veloppement, depuis les ventes sur plans jusqu’aux unitĂ©s achevĂ©es.

Des milliers de condos approuvĂ©s n’ont mĂȘme pas Ă©tĂ© mis en vente. La sociĂ©tĂ© de donnĂ©es Urbanation a constatĂ© que 60 projets comprenant 21 500 unitĂ©s dans la rĂ©gion du Grand Toronto ont Ă©tĂ© mis sur pause indĂ©finiment depuis 2022.

Les donnĂ©es d’Altus montrent que les ventes de maisons sont Ă©galement Ă  la traĂźne. Les nouvelles maisons unifamiliales achevĂ©es dans la rĂ©gion du Grand Toronto ont chutĂ© de 62 % en mai par rapport au mĂȘme mois de l’annĂ©e derniĂšre, ce qui suggĂšre que les promoteurs des marchĂ©s des immeubles de faible et de grande hauteur attendent que les stocks soient absorbĂ©s avant de construire davantage.

Le complexe d’appartements se trouve Ă  cĂŽtĂ© d’un terrain de football carrĂ© et vert. Les maisons situĂ©es derriĂšre le complexe se trouvent sur une route incurvĂ©e, juste Ă  cĂŽtĂ© d’une autoroute avec un rond-point. Le terrain a Ă©tĂ© dĂ©frichĂ© sur la colline derriĂšre les maisons. Plus loin, on aperçoit un immeuble d’habitation de faible hauteur. Au-delĂ , des collines couvertes de forĂȘts.
Un complexe d’appartements locatifs en construction, en bas au centre, dans un nouveau lotissement à Langford, C.-B., le 30 mai 2024. LA PRESSE CANADIENNE/Darryl Dyck

Un manque de logements abordables et des loyers qui explosent

Les revenus des mĂ©nages et les loyers ne concordent pas. Une Ă©tude de l’universitĂ© de Colombie-Britannique a rĂ©vĂ©lĂ© que 20 % des mĂ©nages canadiens n’ont pas les moyens de payer des frais de logement, charges comprises, supĂ©rieurs Ă  1 050 $ par mois, tandis que 20 % d’entre eux ne peuvent pas payer plus de 1 600 $ par mois.

À titre de comparaison, le loyer moyen demandĂ© sur le marchĂ© national est de plus de 2 200 $, les appartements d’une seule chambre Ă  Vancouver et Ă  Burnaby atteignant respectivement 2 700 $ et plus de 2 500 $.

Cet Ă©cart entre ce que les mĂ©nages peuvent se permettre et ce que le marchĂ© peut facturer ne peut ĂȘtre comblĂ© par notre faible offre de logements sociaux (logements publics ou « logements communautaires »), qui reprĂ©sentent environ 3,5 % du parc de logements existant, alors que 95 % se trouvent sur le marchĂ© privĂ©. La liste d’attente pour un logement subventionnĂ© est de 12 ans Ă  Toronto et de 8 ans Ă  MontrĂ©al.

Pendant ce temps, en Ontario, une proposition de loi pourrait obliger les municipalitĂ©s Ă  Ă©tendre leurs limites urbaines sur des terres agricoles, des espaces verts et des milieux humides (en dehors de la ceinture verte protĂ©gĂ©e) pour y construire de grandes maisons que peu de familles peuvent s’offrir.

La bonne nouvelle c’est que nous pouvons saisir l’occasion, qui se prĂ©sente une fois par gĂ©nĂ©ration, de commencer Ă  remĂ©dier Ă  cette inadĂ©quation.

L’inadĂ©quation la plus alarmante est peut-ĂȘtre celle qui ressort des recherches de l’expert en logement Steve Pomeroy sur la perte de logements abordables : au cours des 10 derniĂšres annĂ©es, le Canada a perdu 10 logements abordables pour chaque nouveau logement construit. Par consĂ©quent, la premiĂšre Ă©tape pour rĂ©soudre la crise du logement est de prĂ©server notre parc de logements abordables de la financiarisation et de la dĂ©molition.

Construire pour les occupants, pas pour les investisseurs

Une partie du problĂšme rĂ©side dans le systĂšme de financement du dĂ©veloppement, qui oblige les promoteurs Ă  prĂ©vendre la plupart de leurs unitĂ©s pour obtenir le financement des prĂȘteurs. Lorsque les taux d’intĂ©rĂȘt sont bas et que les prix de l’immobilier ne cessent d’augmenter, la demande des investisseurs est Ă©levĂ©e. Depuis au moins 2018, la rĂ©gion du Grand Toronto compte plus de grues dans le ciel que n’importe quelle autre ville d’AmĂ©rique du Nord.

Notre dĂ©pendance Ă  l’égard d’un marchĂ© immobilier dominĂ© par les investisseurs a fait grimper les prix partout, les acheteurs finaux Ă©tant contraints de faire des offres de plus en plus Ă©levĂ©es pour rivaliser avec ceux qui ont les poches plus profondes. Les investisseurs influencent Ă©galement les types d’unitĂ©s construites — principalement des appartements d’une chambre, des studios ou des microcondos dans des gratte-ciels qui optimisent la rentabilitĂ©.

Non seulement ces petits appartements ne correspondent pas aux besoins de nombreux mĂ©nages, mais si les municipalitĂ©s continuent d’atteindre leurs objectifs de densification avec de petites unitĂ©s dans de trĂšs grands immeubles, cela peut accroĂźtre l’étalement urbain et augmenter les Ă©missions de gaz Ă  effet de serre parce que les maisons individuelles dans d’anciens secteurs agricoles oĂč la voiture est indispensable deviennent la seule option accessible de logement familial de trois chambres Ă  coucher.

Quatre des unitĂ©s sont revĂȘtues de briques gris foncĂ©. Quatre autres sont revĂȘtues de bois brun clair et attendent leur revĂȘtement final. Des bĂąches orange sont drapĂ©es devant les fenĂȘtres.
Maisons en rangée en construction dans le quartier de Blatchford à Edmonton en Alberta, le 12 avril 2023. LA PRESSE CANADIENNE/Don Denton

Rediriger les ressources aux bons endroits

MĂȘme si la construction conventionnelle ralentit, les gouvernements peuvent rĂ©orienter une partie de leurs financements et de leurs incitations vers des segments non traditionnels du systĂšme de logement, ne serait-ce que pour s’assurer que nous ne perdons pas de gens de mĂ©tier.

Ces derniĂšres annĂ©es, la pĂ©nurie de travailleurs qualifiĂ©s a contribuĂ© Ă  la crise du logement au Canada. Or, le recul de la construction rĂ©sidentielle entraĂźne des pertes d’emplois dans les mĂ©tiers spĂ©cialisĂ©s. Selon les experts, cette tendance risque d’inhiber l’apprentissage nĂ©cessaire pour alimenter ce rĂ©servoir de main-d’Ɠuvre essentiel.

Le nouveau plan fĂ©dĂ©ral pour le logement prĂ©voit une sĂ©rie de mesures incitatives, telles que la suppression de la TPS, afin de stimuler la construction de logements locatifs spĂ©cialisĂ©s qui peuvent contribuer Ă  compenser les taux d’intĂ©rĂȘt Ă©levĂ©s.

Cependant, une analyse distincte de Pomeroy dĂ©montre que l’initiative fĂ©dĂ©rale de financement de la construction de logements locatifs produit des unitĂ©s locatives dont le prix est Ă©gal ou supĂ©rieur Ă  celui du marchĂ©.

DĂ©velopper le logement sans but lucratif

Nous pouvons profiter de ce moment pour construire plus de logements locatifs abordables et accessibles, non seulement en subventionnant directement la construction de plus de logements sociaux, mais aussi en finançant des promoteurs sans but lucratif, des coopératives de logement, des fiducies fonciÚres et des sociétés de logement communautaire.

Ce secteur peut réduire les coûts de 20 à 25 % en diminuant considérablement la marge bénéficiaire normalement prévue pour les projets de développement.

Le Conseil d’action sur l’abordabilitĂ© de l’Institut de recherche en politiques publiques recommande d’ajouter ces Ă©conomies Ă  d’autres initiatives telles que le financement fĂ©dĂ©ral prĂ©fĂ©rentiel, l’accĂšs prioritaire aux terrains publics, les subventions Ă  la construction et toute une sĂ©rie de mesures incitatives dĂ©jĂ  destinĂ©es au secteur privĂ©.

Par exemple, les coopératives pourraient construire des communautés à revenus mixtes avec une gamme de logements dont le prix est adapté aux ménages à revenus faibles ou moyens.

Viser le milieu manquant

Nous pouvons Ă©galement redĂ©ployer la main-d’Ɠuvre et les ressources pour construire des milliers de logements secondaires, de multiplex, de maisons de ville et de petits immeubles d’appartements dans les quartiers rĂ©sidentiels urbains et de banlieue existants, ce qui est dĂ©sormais possible grĂące au redĂ©coupage du zonage dans la plupart des municipalitĂ©s.

Cependant, un effort concertĂ© de tous les niveaux de gouvernement est nĂ©cessaire pour Ă©liminer une myriade d’obstacles secondaires afin de rendre le milieu manquant rentable et reproductible, comme les innovations en matiĂšre de financement et d’hypothĂšques, les designs prĂ©approuvĂ©s et les programmes municipaux Ă  service complet avec l’aide du Fonds pour accĂ©lĂ©rer la construction de logements.

Bien qu’ils soient souvent considĂ©rĂ©s comme insignifiants, les logements faisant partie du milieu manquant peuvent s’additionner. L’annĂ©e derniĂšre, les logements accessoires reprĂ©sentaient jusqu’à 22 % du nombre total de permis de construction Ă  Guelph et 18 % Ă  Waterloo. En augmentant la part du milieu manquant dans nos communautĂ©s, nous offrons aux familles des alternatives accessibles et adaptĂ©es aux maisons unifamiliales plus dĂ©pendantes de l’automobile.

Recycler les maisons unifamiliales des aßnés

Enfin, le Canada compte huit millions de maisons unifamiliales, dont la plupart sont occupées par des générations plus ùgées qui quitteront leur logement à un moment ou à un autre.

Si une stratĂ©gie de logement pour les personnes ĂągĂ©es pouvait ĂȘtre Ă©laborĂ©e pour construire des logements dans lesquels les Canadiens vieillissants veulent vivre — par exemple, de petits logements collectifs ou des copropriĂ©tĂ©s — davantage de personnes ĂągĂ©es dĂ©mĂ©nageraient probablement plus tĂŽt et par choix, libĂ©rant ainsi des millions de maisons individuelles pour les familles plus jeunes et les nouveaux arrivants.

Le logement ne se rĂ©sume pas Ă  un nombre d’unitĂ©s. Ce que nous construisons, oĂč et pour qui, est aussi important que la quantitĂ©. Nous devons cibler l’offre de logements appropriĂ©e tout en crĂ©ant des communautĂ©s habitables. Il est grand temps de s’y mettre.

What to do about intergenerational wealth inequalityTEST

The Liberal government called this spring’s federal budget “fairness for every generation,” claiming it would help “restore fairness” to millennials and Gen Z by reducing the costs of housing and education, as well as increasing the tax rate on capital gains of more than $250,000.

Heeding the economic well-being of younger generations is long overdue, but raising taxes on capital-gains earnings will do little to solve the gaping inequality of wealth distribution that is becoming a threat to Canada’s economic and cultural stability.

Years of galloping housing costs outstripping income growth have left more and more working Canadian families struggling to afford a place to live.

To achieve a course correction for Canada’s troubling prosperity gap, governments must escape the trap of notions from a different era. They need to study and consider policy directions that were once seen as radical or unorthodox but increasingly look like strategic options in a narrowing field.

For our recently published book, Fiscal Choices: Canada after the Pandemic, we interviewed more than 70 politicians, bureaucrats and economists about income and wealth inequality. Every one of them expressed concern about the disparity, but no one had any convincing suggestions about the right policy response.

For many policy-makers, the default solution for bringing fiscal stability to more Canadians is to have strong economic growth with low interest rates. But apart from the difficulties of achieving such an agreeable formula, there is no guarantee that inequalities would be any less pronounced if that were to occur.

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Despite various governments’ efforts to improve income redistribution, inequalities in Canadian incomes and wealth have typically only worsened during previous periods of non-inflationary growth.

Policy, however, does work. The child tax credit has made great inroads in reducing child poverty, while $10-a-day child care promises to help families increase their household income.

Unfortunately, these kinds of programs, combined with a progressive tax system, have done little to stem the rise of income inequality, specifically when it comes to tempering the share of wealth that goes to the very top of the income pyramid.

As it begins to dawn on people that redistribution schemes cannot address the disadvantages faced by those without inherited wealth, attention has shifted to wealth inequalities even though wealth is more equally distributed now than it was a century ago.

Wealth is measured in terms of net worth: financial and non-financial assets minus total liabilities.

The problem for younger generations is that asset prices have soared. Most people’s wealth is wrapped up in their homes and pensions. Because of rising housing prices, many new entrants to the labour force cannot attain the income level required for buying a home.

Not that younger generations are necessarily poor. In 2016, after adjusting for inflation, the millennial and Gen Z cohorts (ages 12 to 43) had a higher median disposable income ($44,093) than older generations when they were in that age bracket ($33,276 for Gen-Xers and $33,350 for boomers), according to Statistics Canada.

The reason? Younger generations today are working in an era of labour shortage, which puts upward pressure on wages. But despite having higher inflation-adjusted incomes than their parents at the same age, young people cannot expect to close the wealth gap.

What Canadian youth are experiencing is an effect of a self-reinforcing cycle of capital accumulation. Thomas Piketty’s 2014 book Capital in the Twenty-first Century argues that as long as returns to investment income are greater than the rate of economic growth, they will outpace growth in wage income. This pattern may not be inevitable, but evidence suggests it is unrelenting.

If accumulated wealth passed down to family members is not adequately taxed, wealth inequalities will only worsen, making upward mobility a false promise, reducing household demand, inhibiting incentives to invest in human capital and ultimately choking off economic growth.

Politically, gross inequalities threaten the liberal ideal of politically free and equal citizens co-operating in the solution of shared problems.

For these reasons, we asked policy-makers how they would feel about such unconventional policy approaches as a wealth tax or a universal basic income (UBI).

A wealth tax attacks wealth inequality directly, rooted in the idea that redistribution is the key to ameliorating inequalities.

A universal basic income, on the other hand, is more of a predistribution strategy, an income that is paid unconditionally to everyone, without any means test or work requirement.

Wealth taxes have well-known problems. By taxing wealth that was already taxed as income, they offend a basic principle of a capitalist economy: the supposed sanctity of property rights. As well, some critics claim that wealth taxes discourage investment or prompt capital flight and therefore don’t actually raise much revenue.

Collecting data on wealth is difficult and subject to efforts to exempt certain categories such as primary residences. For these and related reasons, the members of Canada’s economic elite whom we interviewed expressed little enthusiasm for slapping a wealth tax on selected asset classes.

UBI policy, meantime, has been attracting growing interest in the past several years. While scholars have examined the social and economic implications of this approach, critics are concerned with its costs and the fate of other, targeted programs whose recipients could end up with less support than now.

Proponents also face the task of explaining why people disengaged from the labour market deserve the support of those who are fully committed. Again, our Fiscal Choices interviewees – all experienced economic-policy practitioners – expressed little enthusiasm for what would be a vast overhaul and reimagining of social policy.

But if the future is one in which returns to capital continue to outstrip returns to wage labour, skeptics may have little choice but to confront the need for both predistribution as well as redistribution.

This shift is already under way and has been ever since human capital investment claimed a place in the logic of social policy.

Rather than concentrating exclusively on reducing income inequalities, Canada and other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries have already been expanding investment in public goods, particularly education, that are designed to stop gross inequalities from emerging in the first place.

That all sounds good, but if Piketty and his followers are right, something more than increases in human capital investment will be required.

Assuming that artificial intelligence will wreak havoc on opportunities for people to support themselves through full-time employment, the right to income will need to be divorced from returns to wage labour to avoid immiserating those without adequate capital.

Long before that point, however, governments will need to think through a predistribution strategy that extends beyond social investments and full employment into the realm of property rights and capital endowments.

Piketty has suggested providing every individual on their 25th birthday with an endowment of 120,000 euros (slightly more than $175,000). That’s the equivalent of 60 per cent of the average adult’s net worth.

This grant would be financed by taxes on inheritance and net wealth. Piketty calls this system “inheritance for all,” whose goal is to level the playing field of wealth creation and accumulation.

How recipients spend that money is their choice: paying for higher education and training, starting a company, buying a home. The goal is to encourage property and assets to change hands between generations, promoting both economic equality and a more efficient capital market.

Rather than framing inequality as a problem of redistribution in the here and now, a predistribution approach focuses on launching a lifetime of investment in a competitive knowledge economy.

There are formidable objections to this kind of scheme, much like the objections to UBI and wealth taxes. Cost, implementation and justification are serious challenges.

But as long as we work within a capitalist economy where the owners of capital can claim an expanding portion of the economic pie while others have a shrinking share, consideration of predistribution strategies is unavoidable.

If it is possible to justify CEO salaries that are hundreds of times larger than those of average employees, it should be possible to justify providing a publicly funded endowment to those who are otherwise inheriting a deeply unequal system.

Co-creating cities through Indigenous knowledge and nature-based solutionsTEST

In a time of rapid urbanization, cities and nature are often seen as incompatible: either biodiversity suffers as cities grow or cities are contained to protect nature.

There is no question that human activities impact biodiversity in multiple ways – deforestation, habitat loss, changes in soil, water and chemical compositions, etc.

But with more than 70 per cent of the world’s population expected to be living in cities by 2050 and about half of the world’s GDP highly or moderately reliant on nature, according to the World Economic Forum, we must stop thinking that cities and nature cannot co-exist.

We need to start reframing, reimagining and creating our cities as contributors toward safeguarding biodiversity and understanding its numerous benefits to our well-being and sustainable development.

There are two main ways to do this.

First, utilize Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Indigenous communities around the world have long had the most proactive planning for climate-change adaptation and mitigation. There is great power in their knowledge, so including their voices in planning and understanding climate risks in our cities is vital, although often disregarded.

Second, emphasize nature-based solutions that range from green roofs that regulate water and air flows to reinstating mangrove forests to decreasing coastal erosion and protecting local communities and infrastructure from rising sea levels.

Nature, culture and TEK

One example of the importance of the TEK approach is the development of floodplain maps for the Deshkan Ziibi (Thames River) watershed in Lake St. Clair – an initiative primarily led by Indigenous communities, conservation specialists and community organizations.

Flood maps were devised using both Indigenous and Western scientific practices through the “two-eyed method,” which focuses on engaging with and incorporating Indigenous Peoples in the initial phases to co-construct project objectives and methods.

Through this and a shared-waters approach, a watershed management plan was created through the Thames River Clear Water Revival Initiative.

That plan can be adapted for building cities that are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable. Precise floodplain maps can help mitigate damage in cities by identifying high-risk flood areas where construction should be avoided or limited, and by devising emergency strategies for these areas when floods occur.

The farmhouse has a property bordered by highways on two sides. Water fills 80 per cent of the property shown in the frame. In the distance, buildings and businesses are clustered.
Water floods a low area of a farm near a house in Abbotsford, B.C., Jan. 31, 2024. A weather system with unseasonable warmth melted snow and brought drenching rain to the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The importance of nature-based solutions

Most proposed solutions to address the consequences of the climate crisis – such as increased greenhouse gas emissions, disaster management, food insecurity, etc. – rely on technology and engineering.

But there’s a better way. Nature-based solutions address societal problems by sustainably managing and re-establishing natural ecosystems. They also aim to reduce disaster risks, simultaneously boosting public health and urban resilience.

Their benefits go beyond economic, social and environmental domains by reducing storm surges, urban heat and other extreme weather impacts.

What’s next?

In 2021, Canada recorded more than $2 billion worth of damage due to extreme weather events. The country’s aging infrastructure and poorly maintained stormwater systems, coupled with severe and frequent rainstorms, have elevated the risks associated with flooding and high water levels.

The federal government recently announced its commitment to introduce a nature accountability bill. This is a positive step.

In addition, at COP15 in Montreal in 2022, 196 nations agreed to the Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework (GBF). Canada can – and should – play a significant role in the success of the framework. We have the second-largest area of intact nature globally and so we also have a great role and responsibility in protecting nature.

However, such biodiversity commitments are usually implemented at the national level. But it is at the city level that many of our infrastructure and development decisions take place. All those decisions drastically affect nature and would benefit from Indigenous knowledge to create solutions.

For example, a major new research report in New Zealand suggested a sequence of actions for its towns and cities to respond to extreme and recurrent rainfall by integrating traditional Māori knowledge about natural water flows to create nature-based infrastructure to help reduce urban flood risks.

Central to Māori knowledge is an emphasis on working harmoniously with nature instead of trying to dominate or control it.

Nature-based solutions are critical to dealing with climate change

Canada needs a bold new soil-health strategy

Arctic policy must embrace Indigenous knowledge and Artic science

Winnipeg’s Boldness Project reimagines an urban landscape with Indigenous voices shaping policy

It is important to remember that the lands and waterways of Canada have been cared for by Indigenous communities for many years across generations. This is a golden opportunity for city-planning officials to collectively work with Indigenous Peoples and their sustained knowledge of nature in producing resilient cities.

Traditional ecological knowledge is the continuous build-up of knowledge, practices, beliefs and values acquired by Indigenous Peoples across generations, through culture and their direct relationship with natural ecosystems.

It is not the same as localized knowledge, which stems from personal or community experiences over the years. TEK leads to a holistic understanding of nature and can inform inclusive actions toward equitable, just and sustainable cities on both domestic and international levels.

As Indigenous researcher Zena Cumpton notes: “Aboriginal perspectives of biodiversity in urban areas are underrepresented and have much to offer as holistic approaches to sustainability, custodianship and resource management.”

Myrle Ballard, the first director of Environment and Climate Change Canada’s new division of Indigenous science, agrees:

“Indigenous science is 
 a science of the way of knowing the land. It’s a way of knowing the water, the air, everything about the Earth. Their knowledge of the weather patterns, their knowledge of how species migrate. It’s this knowledge that has enabled them to survive.”

L’attaque du QuĂ©bec contre le parrainage des rĂ©fugiĂ©sTEST

(English version available here)

Le Canada compte une riche histoire de communautĂ©s qui travaillent ensemble pour recueillir des fonds et parrainer les rĂ©fugiĂ©s qui s’installent dans notre pays. Des organismes communautaires d’un ocĂ©an Ă  l’autre tentent d’assurer un avenir meilleur aux personnes forcĂ©es de fuir leur terre natale. Cependant, au QuĂ©bec, ces groupes font face Ă  des dĂ©fis supplĂ©mentaires.

L’arrivĂ©e de rĂ©fugiĂ©s en provenance du Vietnam, du Cambodge et du Laos Ă  la fin des annĂ©es 1970 a marquĂ© notre histoire, tout comme celle plus rĂ©cente de Syriens, il y a une dizaine d’annĂ©es. Dans les deux cas, le QuĂ©bec a jouĂ© un rĂŽle important.

Un fait peut-ĂȘtre un peu moins connu est que plus de 400 000 personnes ont immigrĂ© au Canada grĂące au parrainage de rĂ©fugiĂ©s. Ce parrainage permet aux Canadiens de rĂ©pondre aux crises humanitaires et d’exprimer leur solidaritĂ© envers les personnes rĂ©fugiĂ©es. Aujourd’hui, des groupes soutiennent des Afghans, des Irakiens, des Congolais et des ÉrythrĂ©ens. Ils soutiennent Ă©galement des personnes LGBTQ dont les droits ne sont pas protĂ©gĂ©s dans leur pays d’origine.

Ce programme s’appuie sur des citoyens qui forment des groupes de parrainage et fournissent une aide financiĂšre et un soutien Ă  l’intĂ©gration pendant l’annĂ©e suivant l’arrivĂ©e au Canada. Les groupes choisissent les personnes qu’ils aideront. Souvent, la personne rĂ©fugiĂ©e est un ami ou un parent d’un membre du groupe. Partout au pays, le programme est administrĂ© par le gouvernement fĂ©dĂ©ral, sauf au QuĂ©bec.

De nombreuses politiques d’immigration au QuĂ©bec sont distinctes, puisque le gouvernement fĂ©dĂ©ral permet Ă  la province d’avoir certains pouvoirs en la matiĂšre. Depuis la fin des annĂ©es 1990, le gouvernement du QuĂ©bec contrĂŽle ainsi des aspects du parrainage des rĂ©fugiĂ©s. Quatre diffĂ©rences clĂ©s montrent comment le programme quĂ©bĂ©cois est menacĂ© par son propre gouvernement.

Des cibles réduites et insuffisantes

Le QuĂ©bec a considĂ©rablement rĂ©duit le nombre de rĂ©fugiĂ©s parrainĂ©s admissibles dans la province. Dans le cadre de ses cibles annuelles d’immigration, le gouvernement vise entre 1850 et 2100 parrainages cette annĂ©e. Il y a six ans, le maximum Ă©tait de 4400.

Une fois les objectifs fixĂ©s, les deux niveaux de gouvernement doivent s’efforcer de les atteindre, mais ces derniĂšres annĂ©es, le QuĂ©bec n’a jamais rĂ©ussi Ă  tenir sa promesse, comme le montre la figure 1.

Les restrictions de voyage imposĂ©es pendant la pandĂ©mie de COVID-19 ont fortement affectĂ© les cibles de 2020 et 2021. Mais l’annĂ©e suivante, alors que la vie reprenait son cours normal, 2010 rĂ©fugiĂ©s parrainĂ©s sont arrivĂ©s sur un objectif de 2750 Ă  3000. En 2023, le mĂȘme objectif a Ă©tĂ© fixĂ©, mais seulement 1190 rĂ©fugiĂ©s ont Ă©tĂ© accueillis. En comparaison, plus de 4000 rĂ©fugiĂ©s parrainĂ©s sont arrivĂ©s au QuĂ©bec chaque annĂ©e entre 2016 et 2018. Le contraste est saisissant.

La baisse des cibles du QuĂ©bec et son incapacitĂ© Ă  les atteindre contrastent avec le reste du pays, oĂč les objectifs ont non seulement Ă©tĂ© augmentĂ©s, mais aussi atteints. Quelque 22 517 rĂ©fugiĂ©s parrainĂ©s sont arrivĂ©s au Canada en 2022, et 27 655 en 2023. Le QuĂ©bec a le taux de rĂ©installation de rĂ©fugiĂ©s le plus bas de toutes les provinces.

De longs délais de traitement

Le fait de traiter moins de demandes entraĂźne une augmentation des dĂ©lais d’attente. L’an dernier, des reportages ont rĂ©vĂ©lĂ© que le gouvernement du QuĂ©bec avait mis en veilleuse des demandes de rĂ©fugiĂ©s afghans, alors qu’Ottawa les priorisait. Comme l’a rapportĂ© Le Devoir, une famille afghane est arrivĂ©e dans les six mois qui ont suivi la prĂ©sentation d’une demande par un groupe de Toronto. Un an plus tard, un groupe de MontrĂ©al attend toujours que le QuĂ©bec Ă©value une demande faite au mĂȘme moment.

La ministre quĂ©bĂ©coise de l’Immigration, Christine FrĂ©chette, a promis que toutes les demandes seraient traitĂ©es et envoyĂ©es Ă  Ottawa d’ici la fin de l’annĂ©e 2023. Pourtant, de nombreuses organisations n’ont reçu aucune rĂ©ponse Ă  des demandes soumises dĂšs 2022, mĂȘme si des organismes de parrainage ont demandĂ© des amĂ©liorations.

Les longs dĂ©lais d’attente placent les rĂ©fugiĂ©s qui sont toujours Ă  l’étranger dans des situations pĂ©rilleuses. Les familles afghanes qui ont fui vers des pays tels que le Pakistan ou le Tadjikistan pour Ă©chapper aux talibans, doivent souvent payer des pots-de-vin pour prolonger leur statut d’immigrant ou trouver un logement. Certains dĂ©veloppent des problĂšmes de santĂ©. Les groupes de parrainage finissent par envoyer de l’argent Ă  l’étranger pour aider les rĂ©fugiĂ©s, qui ne peuvent rien faire d’autre qu’attendre et espĂ©rer.

Un manque de consultation et de collaboration

Les rĂ©fugiĂ©s parrainĂ©s reçoivent le statut de rĂ©sident permanent dĂšs leur arrivĂ©e au Canada et leurs parrains les aident Ă  s’adapter Ă  leur nouveau pays. Les gouvernements et les groupes de parrainage doivent travailler ensemble pour que cette approche rĂ©ussisse.

Le fĂ©dĂ©ral dĂ©ploie des efforts considĂ©rables pour collaborer avec les groupes de parrainage. Il finance la formation et soutient les efforts de coordination par des organisations de parrainage expĂ©rimentĂ©es, notamment par des rencontres rĂ©guliĂšres. Cela permet d’assurer une communication claire et une bonne gestion du programme.

Le gouvernement du QuĂ©bec finance l’embauche d’une personne-ressource pour le parrainage des rĂ©fugiĂ©s, mais l’interaction entre les organismes et les reprĂ©sentants du gouvernement est minime. Les groupes de parrainage ne sont pas informĂ©s des changements de politique.

Des obstacles pour les organismes expérimentés

Tant au niveau fĂ©dĂ©ral qu’au QuĂ©bec, il existe trois types de parrainage. PremiĂšrement, de petits groupes d’individus peuvent se prĂ©senter sur une base ad hoc dans le cadre du programme fĂ©dĂ©ral du « groupe de cinq » et, au QuĂ©bec, du programme du « groupe de 2 Ă  5 ». DeuxiĂšmement, les organismes communautaires peuvent poser leur candidature dans le cadre de programmes spĂ©cifiques Ă  chaque ordre de gouvernement. TroisiĂšmement, des organismes qui ont une plus grande expĂ©rience du parrainage travaillent avec des organismes locaux ou des co-parrains pour aider les rĂ©fugiĂ©s aprĂšs leur arrivĂ©e. Ces organismes sont connus sous le nom de signataires d’entente de parrainage (SEP) dans toutes les provinces, sauf au QuĂ©bec, oĂč ils sont appelĂ©s « organismes expĂ©rimentĂ©s».

Les organismes avec une plus grande capacité et mieux établis apportent leur expertise aux co-parrains des réfugiés et garantissent des résultats constants. Au niveau fédéral, la plupart des demandes sont soutenues par des SEP. En revanche, le gouvernement du Québec semble préférer travailler avec des groupes ad hoc. Plus de la moitié des places disponibles pour les demandes de parrainage dans la province leur sont réservées.

Le gouvernement quĂ©bĂ©cois choisit un nombre limitĂ© de demandes via une loterie. Ce n’est pas le cas dans le cadre du programme fĂ©dĂ©ral, bien que des contrĂŽles Ă  l’admission soient envisagĂ©s. Les dĂ©fenseurs du parrainage de rĂ©fugiĂ©s au QuĂ©bec ont dĂ©noncĂ© le systĂšme de loterie.

Les exigences en matiĂšre de soutien financier varient en fonction du type d’organisme de parrainage. Tous les groupes dont la demande est acceptĂ©e doivent avoir suffisamment d’argent pour soutenir les rĂ©fugiĂ©s qu’ils parrainent. Au fĂ©dĂ©ral, les parrains sont encouragĂ©s Ă  recueillir des fonds et Ă  les conserver dans un compte en fiducie. Au QuĂ©bec, les parrains ad hoc sont Ă©valuĂ©s sur la base des revenus des deux Ă  cinq membres du groupe. Un rĂ©cent changement de politique au QuĂ©bec cible les parrains expĂ©rimentĂ©s et affaiblit la surveillance du programme.

QuĂ©bec a rĂ©cemment informĂ© les organisations qu’il Ă©tait interdit de conserver des fonds en fiducie, aprĂšs avoir enquĂȘtĂ© sur des cas de fraude prĂ©sumĂ©e. Cela a laissĂ© les groupes de parrainage exaspĂ©rĂ©s et incertains sur la façon de gĂ©rer la suite. Cette nouvelle politique n’a d’ailleurs fait l’objet d’aucune discussion entre le gouvernement et la communautĂ© de parrainage. Des organismes de longue date ont indiquĂ© qu’ils n’étaient pas certains de pouvoir poursuivre leur travail.

Interdire aux groupes de conserver des fonds en comptes fiduciaires va Ă  l’encontre des meilleures pratiques en matiĂšre de parrainage de rĂ©fugiĂ©s. Ces comptes permettent aux parrains de rĂ©pondre aux besoins des rĂ©fugiĂ©s une fois qu’ils sont arrivĂ©s. L’approche du QuĂ©bec, qui consiste Ă  interdire les fiducies et Ă  prĂ©fĂ©rer les groupes ad hoc, ne permet pas d’assurer la conformitĂ© ou la bonne gestion des parrainages.

Québec doit changer de cap

Le parrainage de rĂ©fugiĂ©s fait depuis longtemps partie de l’identitĂ© canadienne. Si le QuĂ©bec veut garantir la viabilitĂ© du parrainage et le respect de ses objectifs humanitaires, il doit rĂ©former son programme. De nombreux citoyens et groupes du QuĂ©bec sont prĂȘts Ă  parrainer des rĂ©fugiĂ©s, mais ils sont dĂ©couragĂ©s par les obstacles rĂ©sultant de l’approche du gouvernement actuel.

Les objectifs doivent ĂȘtre revus Ă  la hausse, les dĂ©lais de traitement doivent ĂȘtre rĂ©duits, une plus grande collaboration est nĂ©cessaire et les groupes de parrainage devraient ĂȘtre encouragĂ©s Ă  dĂ©tenir des fonds en fiducie afin de garantir un bon accueil aux nouveaux arrivants. Ces changements soutiendraient Ă©galement les citoyens dĂ©sireux d’aider les rĂ©fugiĂ©s Ă  commencer une nouvelle vie au QuĂ©bec.

Quebec’s attack on refugee sponsorshipTEST

(Version française disponible ici)

There is a rich history of communities across Canada working together to raise funds to sponsor refugees who come to our country. Local groups with humanitarian goals are focused on ensuring a brighter future for people forced to flee their homelands. However, groups in Quebec are facing challenges not experienced elsewhere in Canada.

Sponsoring refugees changes lives and enriches our society. The arrival of refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the late 1970s was a notable point in our history, as was the more recent arrival of Syrians, about a decade ago. Both times, Quebec played an important role in these initiatives.

Perhaps less well-known is that more than 400,000 people have immigrated to Canada through refugee sponsorship. Sponsorship allows Canadians to respond to humanitarian crises and express solidarity. Today, groups support Afghans, Iraqis, Congolese and Eritreans. They also support other refugees, including LGBTQ individuals whose rights are not protected in their home countries.

The program relies on citizens who form sponsorship groups and provide financial aid and integration support for a refugee’s first year in Canada. Groups choose who they will help. Often, the refugee is a friend or relative of a group member. In all but Quebec, the program is administered solely by the federal government.

Many immigration policies in Quebec are distinct from the rest of Canada as the federal government allows the province more control over its affairs. Since the late 1990s, Quebec’s government has controlled aspects of refugee sponsorship. Four key differences show how Quebec’s program is threatened by its own government.

Reduced and insufficient landing targets

Quebec has drastically reduced the number of sponsored refugees allowed in the province. As part of its annual immigration target, the government has cut the figures this year to between 1,850 and 2,100 from a maximum of 4,400 six years ago.

Once targets are set, both levels of government must work to reach them, but Quebec has consistently failed in recent years to hold up its end, as figure 1 shows.

Travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic dampened numbers in 2020 and 2021. But the following year, as the world began to emerge from restrictions, 2,010 sponsored refugees arrived out of a target of 2,750 to 3000. In 2023, the same goal was set, but only 1,190 arrived. This is in stark contrast to the over 4,000 sponsored refugees who arrived in Quebec each year from 2016 to 2018.

Quebec’s lower targets and inability to meet them contrast with the rest of the country, where targets have increased and have been met. Some 22,517 sponsored refugees arrived in Canada in 2022 and 27,655 in 2023. Quebec has the lowest rate of resettlement of all provinces.

Lengthy processing times

Finalizing fewer applications causes wait times to increase. News reports a year ago revealed the Quebec government had shelved applications from Afghan refugees while Ottawa prioritized those requests. As reported in Le Devoir, an application submitted by a Toronto group saw an Afghan family arrive within six months. But a Montreal group was still waiting a year later for Quebec to assess an application made at the same time.

Quebec Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette promised that all applications would be processed and sent to the federal government by the end of 2023, yet many organizations have not received any response on requests  submitted as far back as 2022, even as advocates for refugee sponsorship made clear calls for improvement.

Lengthy wait times leave refugees overseas in perilous situations. Afghan families who fled to countries such as Pakistan or Tajikistan to escape the Taliban often need to pay bribes to extend their immigration status or find housing. Some develop health concerns. Sponsor groups end up sending money abroad to help refugees, who can do little more than wait.

Lack of consultation and collaboration

Sponsored refugees receive permanent residence status upon arrival in Canada and their sponsors help them adjust to their new country. Governments and sponsorship groups need to work together for this approach to succeed.

The federal government makes significant efforts to collaborate with sponsorship groups. It funds training and supports co-ordination efforts by experienced sponsorship organizations, including regular meetings. This ensures clear communication and good program management.

The Quebec government provides some funding to employ a resource person for refugee sponsorship, but there is minimal interaction between organizations and government officials. Sponsor groups are left in the dark when policy changes are introduced.

Roadblocks for experienced organizations

Both federally and in Quebec, there are three types of sponsorship. First, small groups of individuals can step forward on an ad hoc basis in the group of five program at the federal level and the group of 2 to 5 program in Quebec. Second, community organizations can apply through specific programs in both jurisdictions. Third, large bodies with significant experience in sponsorship work with local groups or co-sponsors to help refugees once they arrive. These are known as sponsorship agreement holders (SAHs) in all but Quebec where they are called “experienced organizations.”

The larger, established organizations provide expertise to refugee sponsors and ensure consistent outcomes. At the federal level, most applications are supported by SAHs. In contrast, the Quebec government appears to prefer working with ad hoc groups. Over half the spots available for sponsorship applications in the province are reserved for them.

The Quebec government uses a lottery to select a limited number of applications. This is not the case under the federal program, although intake controls are under consideration. Refugee sponsorship advocates in Quebec have decried the lottery system.

Requirements for financial support vary depending on the type of sponsorship organization. All groups whose applications move forward must have enough money to support the refugees they sponsor. At the federal level, sponsors are encouraged to raise funds and keep them in a trust account. In Quebec, ad hoc sponsors are assessed on the income of the two to five members in the group. A recent policy change in Quebec targets experienced sponsors and weakens program oversight.

Quebec recently notified organizations that keeping funds in trust is forbidden after investigating suspected cases of fraud. This has left sponsorship groups exasperated and uncertain how to manage. There was no discussion between the government and the sponsorship community on this new policy. Long-standing organizations have indicated they are uncertain if they can continue their work.

Prohibiting groups from keeping trust funds goes against the best practices for refugee sponsorship. These accounts ensure sponsors can provide for the needs of refugees once they arrive. Quebec’s approach of banning trusts and preferring ad hoc groups leaves no way to ensure compliance or good management of sponsorships.

Quebec must change course

Refugee sponsorship has long been a part of Canada’s identity. If Quebec wants to ensure sponsorship remains viable and that humanitarian objectives are respected it needs to reform its program. Many individuals and groups in the province are willing to sponsor refugees, but are disheartened by the roadblocks resulting from the government’s approach.

Targets must be raised, processing times must decrease, more collaboration is needed and sponsor groups should be encouraged to hold funds in trust to ensure a good welcome for newcomers. These changes would also support citizens who are eager to help refugees start a new life in Quebec.

Bill C-71 opens up a possible never-ending chain of citizenshipTEST

Bill C-71 sets out to allow Canadians to pass on their citizenship to any of their children born abroad past the first generation and expands “Lost Canadians” to cover a much larger number than before.

It is fraught with potential unintended consequences.

The bill is in response to a ruling by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in 2023, which declared previous limitations for citizenship transmission unconstitutional. Essentially, the court objected to a limitation inherent in previous citizenship laws that prevented Canadian citizens born outside Canada from passing on citizenship to a child also born abroad, or for an adopted child born outside Canada.

To remedy the issue, Bill C-71 uses residency as the “substantial connection test.”

However, the new standard in Bill C-71, which requires a foreign-born Canadian parent to have spent a total of 1,095 days in Canada prior to the birth or adoption, differs significantly from what is required of new Canadians.

Specifically, while in both cases the parent must have spent 1,095 days (the equivalent of three years) in Canada, new Canadians must have done so within a five-year time limit.

Bill C-71 places no such time limit to accumulate 1,095 days of residency in Canada for foreign-born Canadian citizens in the same circumstance.

This lack of a timeframe for meeting the critical requirement for passing on citizenship to descendants suggests the government has failed to fully consider the implications of such an open-ended condition.

The number of people potentially affected is significant.

There are an estimated four million Canadians living outside Canada. About half of them were born abroad.

As of 2017, two-thirds of them lived in the U.S., with another 15 per cent in the U.K., Australia, France and Italy – the total living in all other countries has unsurprisingly risen from 14 per cent in 1990 to 20 per cent in 2017.

This trend is significant in the context of Bill C-71: for second- and subsequent-generation expatriates in the U.S., EU and other politically stable places, seeking Canadian citizenship may not be a priority. It is likely a higher priority for those in other countries with less secure conditions.

Fueling the issue triggered by Bill C-71, expatriates as a whole are older than Canadians living in Canada – 45.3 years old compared to 41.7. Citizens by descent are much younger, at an average age of 31.7.

Without an established timeframe, it will be challenging or impossible for the federal government to accurately predict citizenship acquisition year over year.

Same rights, divergent pathways

Consider these scenarios:

My grandson was born in Europe. He cannot pass down Canadian citizenship to any future child. Under C-71, he would have that right, but only after first spending 1,095 cumulative days in Canada. One strategy would be to attend a Canadian university and accumulate most or all of the 1,095 days while getting a degree.

Consider a Canadian born abroad who maintains a cottage in Canada and spends summers there. Spending eight weeks a year in Canada, it would take nearly 20 years to acquire the right to give their descendants Canadian citizenship.

For second-generation Canadians who spend most of their life abroad, the road is even longer. Perhaps they make occasional trips to Canada, accumulating days to meet the 1,095-day requirement. But they would not likely meet the threshold unless they choose to return permanently in retirement.

Many descendants who are temporary residents either through a job transfer or as spouses of skilled workers or students would likely meet the physical-presence requirement. Temporary foreign workers on seasonal or short-terms contracts, on the other hand, would likely not meet the requirement.

The first two scenarios are manageable given that the physical-presence requirement for most would be met within a defined time period. In the latter situations, it is impossible to forecast if or when descendant citizenship rights would eventually be required.

Questions persist as Ottawa prepares Citizenship Act amendments

Birth tourism is rising again post-pandemic

Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) needs to determine and share estimates for the approximate number of new citizens expected under the change, along with the incremental workload and resources that are required before the bill goes before committee.

Media in India are characterizing Bill C-71 as legislation that “will open up the chain of citizenship without end as long as the parents have spent at least 1,095 cumulative days.”

Arguably, this change moves Canada closer to a hybrid jus sanguinis/jus soli regime, as it will make it possible for families to maintain intergenerational Canadian citizenship through different scenarios, which currently is not possible.

It may also provide opportunities for longer-term sophisticated foreign-interference efforts by countries like China and India by exploiting descendants who can acquire Canadian citizenship in their recruitment strategies.

Another question that remains unanswered is how many “Lost Canadians” want to be found. As seen in previous efforts to respond to public pressures, the actual number of those who request citizenship proofs is relatively small, at an average of just 1,500 per year between 2009 and 2022. (Similarly, the low number of expatriates who register and vote is another indicator that interest may be limited.)

However, the potential impact of Bil C-71 could be potentially large. So, before the government enshrines a new pathway to citizenship for some, all of the facts need to be properly considered.

Canadian citizenship is a precious gift. At the committee stage, members of Parliament must be able to fulsomely examine the implications of an open-ended residency requirement and consider establishing a specific time frame of five or 10 years.

Canada’s recreation and parks sector is much more than fun and gamesTEST

A widespread lack of understanding among policymakers about the importance of recreation and parks means Canadians are not reaping the full benefits of places vital to supporting healthy, vibrant and resilient communities.

Parks are not only recreational spaces. They have a direct impact on many aspects of society, including the economy, homelessness, natural-disaster mitigation and emergency response.

Yet, these indispensable community assets and the professionals who manage them and bring them to life are often seen as non-essential luxuries.

This misunderstanding poses significant risks because it undermines the sector’s ability to effectively contribute to building complete communities, promote physical and mental well-being, and equip us to respond to crises in an increasingly complex world.

The 2024 federal budget reflects some investment for recreation and parks, but much more needs to be done to reinvigorate our recreational spaces while ensuring municipalities are prepared to respond to emergencies. The Canadian Parks and Recreation Association has five suggestions to help achieve this.

The woman has a walking cane. The sun is a dazzling spot between the two pink-flowered trees on a day with a clear blue sky.
A woman walks past flowering cherry trees in Centennial Park, in Toronto, April 22, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Multipurpose public spaces

Recreational infrastructure such as skating rinks, soccer fields and public pools help enrich the quality of life. They are spaces to engage in physical activity to help prevent long-term health problems. An active lifestyle also improves mental health, including reduced anxiety and depression.

Recreational assets also build community: think of seniors in their local aquafit class or parents in the stands or on the sidelines on a Saturday morning as their kids make friends on the ice or the field.

Recreation and parks play a meaningful role in advancing a range of federal and provincial public policy priorities, particularly as we address the housing crisis.

Homeless encampments have become almost commonplace in many cities. Often, they sprout up in public parks.

Four red tents sit side by side, with a blue tarp tied over the top of one of them. Piles of clothing and plastic bins are strewn on the ground.
A person cleans out a tent at a homeless encampment in Victoria Park in Halifax’s downtown on March 4, 2024. A fence was erected around the perimeter of the park that morning as officials began working with the few remaining residents to leave the de-designated encampment site. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese

Courts in B.C. and Ontario have ruled that municipalities may not remove them if there is a lack of indoor shelter space available. In December 2023, the Better Living Centre in Toronto housed 300 refugees until other accommodations became available.

While not a permanent solution, the existence of parks buys time while more permanent shelter and housing options are developed.

Last year, the Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse was used on several occasions to house wildfire evacuees from Old Crow, Mayo and Yellowknife. It is reasonable to assume these types of facilities will continue to be temporarily repurposed as part of Canada’s broader emergency response strategy.

Parks are well-suited to mitigate the impact of extreme weather. Well-designed greenspaces provide drainage to prevent flooding. Trees in urban areas provide shade and lower temperatures in their immediate vicinity during heat waves.

Boulders line a plot of land covered in pebbles, ornamental grasses and a couple small shrubs. A maze of walkways connects other spaces like this. In the distance, more trees and greenery in front of a couple of low-rise brick buildings.
Parc Dickie Moore on October 4, 2023 in Montreal. The city has announced it will add 30 so-called sponge parks as well as sidewalks and streets designed to soak up water during heavy rainfalls. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Arenas, community centres and gymnasiums were transformed during COVID-19 into testing centres and vaccination clinics. These large spaces allowed physical distancing, making them the perfect venues to deal with this public-health emergency.

These parks and recreation spaces are pivotal in crisis preparedness and response, providing safe havens and operational bases during different types of emergencies. They play a role in reducing our climate footprint and are already demonstrating they can play a significant role in mitigating the impacts of climate change.

They also provide a public space that helps new Canadians integrate by fostering inclusive community networks.

The evolving nature of the sector places an enormous burden on recreation and parks professionals, many of whom are overwhelmed and, in some cases, traumatized after having to pivot to address crises such as wildfires, storms and homelessness encampments.

Re-creating recreation

More can be done to help the sector achieve these goals. The Canadian Parks and Recreation Association has made five recommendations to the federal government to help ensure recreation and parks facilities across the country contribute as fully as possible to the development of our communities.

Additional studies are needed to develop data on community infrastructure to better understand its impact in the context of housing development. This could be done through Infrastructure Canada’s research and knowledge initiative.

The ongoing shortage of lifeguards and swimming instructors can be addressed by enabling more work opportunities through the youth employment and skills strategy. While infrastructure investments are vital, we also need to make sure that these spaces are adequately staffed to prevent interruptions to services.

The push for faster, more nimble change in our cities

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Arrested for sleeping? The struggle to occupy public space

Aging and insufficient facilities call for a comprehensive process of recreational infrastructure renewal through Infrastructure Canada’s green and inclusive community buildings program. Enhanced standards such as accessibility are key to ensuring that these spaces can be used during an emergency.

Municipalities and provinces have disproportionately been forced to take on the bulk of funding for recreation and parks. Given the size of the federal budget and its more robust revenue sources, Ottawa can use its bargaining power to fund much-needed multipurpose recreational infrastructure.

Parks and recreation infrastructure and the professionals who bring it to life play a vital role in supporting sports and tourism, as well as emergency preparedness, housing and health.

Making sure they will continue to play a central and growing role requires the federal government to invest more in these assets to build a more resilient, equitable and prosperous future for our communities.

L’insatisfaction croissante envers le systĂšme de santĂ© est une menace pour sa viabilitĂ©TEST

(English version available here)

La pandĂ©mie de COVID-19 a mis en Ă©vidence les failles du systĂšme de santĂ© et a placĂ© l’enjeu en tĂȘte des prĂ©occupations des Canadiens. L’an dernier, une analyse de l’enquĂȘte annuelle de la ConfĂ©dĂ©ration de demain avait montrĂ© la perception selon laquelle le systĂšme est en crise avait atteint des niveaux jamais vus. C’est encore pire cette annĂ©e.

Le principal facteur derriĂšre cette mauvaise Ă©valuation des performances de l’ensemble du systĂšme de santĂ© est le manque d’accĂšs aux soins, et dont les symptĂŽmes les plus courants sont des longs dĂ©lais d’attente pour des soins essentiels et des urgences dĂ©bordĂ©es.

Les plus grands utilisateurs du systĂšme sont souvent les plus critiques. Cela inclut notamment les personnes les plus vulnĂ©rables – les femmes, les personnes ĂągĂ©es et les mĂ©nages Ă  faible revenu. Ces groupes sont presque deux fois plus nombreux que les autres Canadiens Ă  considĂ©rer que le systĂšme de santĂ© est en crise.

Ces Ă©valuations d’une situation de crise doivent ĂȘtre prises au sĂ©rieux car elles menacent la viabilitĂ© Ă  long terme du systĂšme. Si les gouvernements ne font rien pour amĂ©liorer l’accĂšs aux soins, cela pourrait entraĂźner un cercle vicieux : le doute sur l’accĂšs aux soins en temps utile pourrait entrainer une plus grande baisse de satisfaction Ă  l’égard du systĂšme de santĂ©, et rendre les contribuables moins enclins Ă  le financer.

Une insatisfaction croissante

Le mĂ©contentement Ă  l’égard du systĂšme de santĂ© n’a cessĂ© d’augmenter. Selon l’enquĂȘte 2024 de la ConfĂ©dĂ©ration de demain, qui porte sur la confiance envers les dĂ©cisions des gouvernements fĂ©dĂ©ral et provinciaux sur des enjeux clĂ©s, la proportion de personnes ayant rĂ©pondu positivement au sujet du systĂšme de santĂ© n’a cessĂ© de se dĂ©tĂ©riorer depuis 2019.

En 2023, 28 % des Canadiens considĂ©raient que le systĂšme de santĂ© Ă©tait en crise. Un an plus tard, cette proportion est de 32 %. En 1988, elle n’était que de 5 %.

La figure 1 montre l’évolution de l’opinion des Canadiens sur le systĂšme de santĂ©. Les rĂ©ponses possibles Ă©taient les suivantes :

1) Le systÚme fonctionne assez bien, et seulement de petits changements sont nécessaires;

2) Il y a de bonnes choses dans notre systÚme de soins de santé, mais des changements fondamentaux sont nécessaires;

3) Notre systÚme de soins de santé va si mal que nous devrions le repenser dans son intégralité;

La derniÚre option suggÚre que les répondants pensent que le systÚme est en crise.

L’enquĂȘte de la ConfĂ©dĂ©ration de demain posait aussi la question suivante :

« Si vous ou un membre de votre famille tombiez malade et deviez consulter un médecin, dans quelle mesure avez-vous confiance que le systÚme de santé arriverait à vous traiter dans un délai raisonnable ? »

La proportion de personnes interrogées trÚs confiantes ou assez confiantes dans leur capacité à obtenir des soins en temps voulu a diminué, passant de 58 % à 53 % en un an, comme le montre la figure 2.

Cette perception de crise n’est pas ressentie de la mĂȘme maniĂšre par tous. Les personnes qui ont des contacts frĂ©quents avec le systĂšme de santĂ© peuvent avoir des expĂ©riences gĂ©nĂ©ralement positives, mais leur Ă©valuation tend Ă  ĂȘtre moins bonne que celle des personnes qui ont moins de contacts avec le systĂšme, en particulier en ce qui concerne sa capacitĂ© Ă  rĂ©pondre aux demandes futures.

Seulement 9 % des personnes ĂągĂ©es de plus de 55 ans et 10 % des femmes ont rĂ©pondu que le systĂšme de santĂ© « fonctionne bien » dans l’enquĂȘte 2024 de la ConfĂ©dĂ©ration de demain. En comparaison, presque deux fois plus d’hommes (18 %) et de Canadiens de moins de 55 ans (17 %) ont une opinion positive du systĂšme de santĂ©.

Cela s’explique probablement par le fait que les femmes, les personnes ĂągĂ©es et les mĂ©nages Ă  faible revenu utilisent plus souvent le systĂšme de santĂ© public que les autres Canadiens, et qu’ils sont directement confrontĂ©s Ă  ses problĂšmes. En outre, ils sont gĂ©nĂ©ralement moins en mesure de s’offrir des soins dans le privĂ©.

Autrement dit, ces perceptions reflÚtent les inégalités sociales et sanitaires.

Les provinces dont la population est plus ĂągĂ©e et plus pauvre, comme les provinces atlantiques, demeurent celles oĂč l’évaluation du systĂšme est la plus sĂ©vĂšre. MĂȘme si les dĂ©penses en santĂ© tendent Ă  ĂȘtre plus Ă©levĂ©es qu’ailleurs au pays, il est plus coĂ»teux de fournir des soins de santĂ© de qualitĂ© Ă  une population plus ĂągĂ©e, et la rĂ©gion a traditionnellement Ă©tĂ© freinĂ©e par une faible croissance Ă©conomique.

Une mince consolation pour les provinces de l’Atlantique est que les perceptions se sont lĂ©gĂšrement amĂ©liorĂ©es depuis 2023, alors qu’elles se sont dĂ©tĂ©riorĂ©es dans presque toutes les autres provinces (voir la figure 3).

L’influence de l’idĂ©ologie politique

À bien des Ă©gards, l’évaluation de la performance est Ă©galement idĂ©ologique. Le clivage gauche-droite dĂ©termine en partie la perception de l’état de crise. Lorsque l’on tient compte des prĂ©fĂ©rences politiques, on constate que les personnes s’identifiant Ă  la gauche sont plus susceptibles de penser que le systĂšme de santĂ© est en crise que celles s’identifiant Ă  la droite.

Il y a deux explications possibles. D’une part, l’idĂ©ologie politique peut servir de marqueur pour les valeurs et les croyances liĂ©es Ă  la santĂ©, comme, par exemple, la religiositĂ©, qui est associĂ©e Ă  une meilleure autoĂ©valuation de la santĂ© et Ă  l’électorat de droite.

D’autre part, les personnes qui se situent Ă  gauche de l’échiquier politique attendent souvent davantage du systĂšme de santĂ©, et plus susceptibles de lui attribuer une note infĂ©rieure lorsque celui-ci ne s’amĂ©liore pas. En revanche, les personnes qui penchent Ă  droite sont probablement plus satisfaites du statu quo.

Les causes profondes

Plusieurs explications peuvent ĂȘtre avancĂ©es pour expliquer la mĂ©diocritĂ© de l’évaluation des performances.

Tout d’abord, l’insuffisance des transferts fĂ©dĂ©raux en santĂ© a exercĂ© des pressions financiĂšres sur les systĂšmes de santĂ© provinciaux. La part fĂ©dĂ©rale du financement des soins de santĂ© a diminuĂ© jusqu’à l’accord fĂ©dĂ©ral-provincial de 2023 sur les transferts en matiĂšre de soins de santĂ© (qui a eu lieu aprĂšs l’enquĂȘte de 2023).

Cet accord a haussĂ© le financement fĂ©dĂ©ral afin qu’il demeure constant au fil du temps. Toutefois, la majeure partie des nouveaux fonds est issue d’accords bilatĂ©raux entre le fĂ©dĂ©ral et les provinces dont la nĂ©gociation a pris du temps. L’impact du nouveau financement fĂ©dĂ©ral ne peut pas ĂȘtre ressenti immĂ©diatement.

DeuxiĂšmement, l’enquĂȘte de 2023 a Ă©tĂ© rĂ©alisĂ©e pendant une pĂ©riode de morositĂ© Ă©conomique faisant suite Ă  une pĂ©riode d’inflation Ă©levĂ©e. Les citoyens qui se sentent Ă©conomiquement vulnĂ©rables ont tendance Ă  ĂȘtre moins satisfaits des services publics et Ă  faire moins confiance au gouvernement.

L’enquĂȘte de 2024 montre que la proportion de Canadiens qui ne font confiance ni au fĂ©dĂ©ral, ni Ă  leur gouvernement provincial pour prendre les bonnes dĂ©cisions sur des enjeux importants comme la santĂ©, l’environnement ou l’économie est en hausse constante. Les institutions publiques jouent un rĂŽle essentiel dans le bien-ĂȘtre des Canadiens. Lorsque la confiance envers les institutions est faible, cela peut entraĂźner des consĂ©quences pour le systĂšme de santĂ©.

Une troisiĂšme hypothĂšse est l’impopularitĂ© de Justin Trudeau. L’enquĂȘte de 2024 montre clairement un effet liĂ© au premier ministre sortant. Ceux qui ont votĂ© pour le Parti libĂ©ral du Canada sont plus enclins Ă  penser que le systĂšme de santĂ© fonctionne bien, et moins enclins Ă  croire qu’il « doit ĂȘtre entiĂšrement repensĂ© », comme le montre la figure 4.

Toutefois, cette relation joue dans les deux sens. Le mĂ©contentement suscitĂ© par la gestion du systĂšme de santĂ© par les libĂ©raux peut contribuer Ă  une baisse de leur popularitĂ©. Cet effet s’est reflĂ©tĂ© dans le niveau de satisfaction Ă  l’égard des services publics.

Cette Ă©valuation d’une perception de crise dans le systĂšme de santĂ© est importante pour la lĂ©gitimitĂ© et la durabilitĂ© de l’État-providence canadien. Elle ouvre Ă©galement la voie Ă  des appels en faveur d’une privatisation accrue du systĂšme.

Un autre cercle vicieux est possible : les soins de santĂ© privĂ©s pourrait drainer les ressources du systĂšme public sans rĂ©duire les coĂ»ts totaux des soins, tandis que l’expansion d’un systĂšme privĂ© parallĂšle pourrait rĂ©duire l’appui de la population envers le systĂšme public.

AccroĂźtre l’accĂšs aux soins pour amĂ©liorer l’évaluation des performances du systĂšme devrait ĂȘtre une prioritĂ© absolue pour les gouvernements du pays.

Crisis-level ratings of the health system are a flashing danger signTEST

(Version française disponible ici)

The COVID-19 pandemic identified cracks in the health-care system and put the issue at the top of people’s minds. Last year, the perception that the system is in crisis has continued to rise to levels not seen before according to an analysis of the annual Confederation of Tomorrow Survey. It’s even worse this year.

Long wait times for essential treatments and overcrowded emergency rooms have made lack of access to care the single most important factor explaining bad performance evaluation of the whole health-care system.

Those who use the system are often the most critical of it. This includes the most vulnerable Canadians – women, the elderly and low-income households. They are almost twice as likely as other Canadians to say the health system is in crisis.

These crisis-level evaluations are vitally important because they stand to threaten the long-term viability of the system. If governments don’t take steps to increase access, a vicious circle could develop: Doubts that care will be available when needed could cause even lower satisfaction with the system, and a lack of willingness by taxpayers to fund it.

Steadily rising dissatisfaction 

Dissatisfaction with the health-care system has been steadily rising. According to the 2024 Confederation of Tomorrow survey, which looks at trust in provincial and federal decision-making on key issues, the proportion of those who responded positively about the health-care system has continuously deteriorated since 2019.

To put this into perspective, in 2023, 28 per cent of Canadians considered the health-care system to be in crisis. One year later, it’s 32 per cent. In 1988, that proportion was only 5 per cent.

Figure 1 shows the evolution of Canadians’ views of the health-care system. The possible answers were:

1) the system is working well and only small changes are needed;

2) there are good things about the health-care system but fundamental changes are needed;

3) our health-care system is so bad that we should rethink it entirely.

The last option suggests that respondents think the system is in crisis.

The survey asked: “If you or a member of your family were to get sick and need to see a doctor, how confident are you that you would be able to get treatment from the health-care system within a reasonable period of time?”

The proportion of respondents who are very or somewhat confident that they can access timely care decreased from 58 per cent to 53 per cent in a year (figure 2).

This perception of crisis is not felt equally. Those who are in frequent contact with the health system can have generally positive experiences, but their assessment tends to be worse than those with less contact with the system, especially regarding its ability to meet future demands.

Only nine per cent of those over the age of 55 and 10 per cent of women responded that the health system “works well,” the 2024 Confederation of Tomorrow survey shows. By comparison, nearly twice as many men (19 per cent) and Canadians under 55 (17 per cent) have a positive view of the health system.

This is likely because women, the elderly and low-income households use the public health-care system more often than other Canadians, and they experience its problems firsthand. They are also generally less able to afford the private system.

In short, these assessments reflect social-health inequalities.

Provinces with older and poorer populations, such as those of the Atlantic region, maintain the lowest evaluation. Although heath care spending tends to be higher than elsewhere in the country, it costs more to provide high-quality health care for an older population, and the region has traditionally been constrained by weak economic growth.

The only silver lining for the Atlantic provinces is that perceptions have improved slightly since 2023 while they deteriorated in all other provinces with the exception of Saskatchewan where the perception of the system is more evenly distributed (figure 3).

The influence of political ideology

In many ways, performance evaluation is also ideological. The left-right divide partly determines crisis-level assessments. When controlling for partisanship, those on the left are more likely than those who are right-leaning to believe the health system is in crisis.

There are two potential explanations: On the one hand, political ideology can serve as a marker for health-related values and beliefs, such as, for example, religiosity, which is associated with self-rated better health and with those who lean to the right.

On the other hand, those who place themselves on the left of the spectrum often expect more from the health system, and when it does not improve, they are more likely to give the system a lower rating. Those who are right-leaning are likely more content with the status quo.

Root causes

We can point to several explanations for poor performance evaluation.

First, insufficient federal transfers for health care spending put financial pressures on provincial health systems. The federal share of health-care funding had been declining until a 2023 federal-provincial agreement on health-care transfers (which occurred after the 2023 survey).

That agreement increased investment to keep the federal share of funding constant over time. However, the bulk of the new spending came out of bilateral agreements between Ottawa and each individual province, which took time to negotiate, and the impact of the new federal funding cannot be felt immediately. This means that the effects of the bilateral agreements are not yet captured in the survey data.

Secondly, the 2023 survey was conducted during a period of economic gloom following a period of high inflation. Citizens feeling economically vulnerable tend to have lower satisfaction with public services and lower trust in government.

Indeed, the 2024 survey shows that the share of Canadians trusting neither the federal nor their provincial government to make the right decisions in important issues such as health care, the environment and the economy, has been steadily growing. Public institutions play a pivotal role in the well-being of Canadians. When public trust in institutions is low, there are potential consequences for the health-care system.

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A third potential explanation could be the lack of popularity of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Interestingly, the survey shows a clear incumbent effect at play. Those who voted for the Liberal Party of Canada are more likely to think the system “works well,” and less likely to think that is has it “needs complete rethink”, as shown in figure 4.

However, this relationship works both ways. Discontent with the Liberals’ handling of the health-care system has the potential to contribute to a decline in its popularity. The effect of this has been mirrored in the level of satisfaction with other public services, too.

This assessment of crisis levels in health care matters for the legitimacy and the sustainability of the Canadian welfare state. It also opens a space for calls for further privatization of the health-care system.

And another vicious circle is possible: private health-care services could drain resources from the public system without reducing total health-care costs while expansion of a parallel private system could reduce citizens’ support for the public system.

Increasing access to health care to improve the performance evaluation of the system should be a top priority for governments in Canada.

A safer online experience doesn’t require sacrificing privacyTEST

In May, Ofcom, the U.K.’s communications regulator, proposed a package of measures to implement the Online Safety Act aimed at improving children’s safety on social media.

These proposals offer important insights for Canada as Parliament considers the government’s Online Harms Act, which would establish a digital safety commission charged with promulgating regulations related to “privacy settings for children and other age-appropriate design features.”

Ofcom’s proposal includes practical measures that can help create safer digital environments. For instance, there are product design and service rules requiring tech companies operating online services to:

  • reduce the prominence of problematic content on children’s recommendation feeds;
  • ensure prominent display of easy-to-use moderation tools that allow negative feedback;
  • implement customer-service systems designed to swiftly take action against flagged content and respond to user inquiries;
  • appropriately train, staff and provide resources for moderation teams;
  • appoint a person accountable for complying with children’s safety duties.

These are reasonable regulations. However, another measure in the proposed U.K. package is a step too far – mandating age assurance to access online services that may contain content that is dangerous, pornographic, violent, bullying or bulimic.

Age assurance means requiring a government ID or other method, such as facial age estimation or the use of digital identity services, to sign up for a social media account and access a variety of online services.

In addition to access to information and subjectivity concerns regarding what constitutes specific types of content, there are two issues here: privacy and user experience.

For these reasons, the Canadian Parliament should ensure the Online Harms Act is amended before final approval to proscribe the ability of the proposed digital safety commission to write regulations mandating age assurance to access online content.

What’s at stake

There are two big privacy issues related to requiring age assurance to use online services.

First, age-assurance requirements put platforms in the position of processing and possibly retaining sensitive, personally identifiable data about their users.

If this involves using a government-issued ID to verify a user’s age, the often-stated analogy of requiring a retail store cashier to check a customer’s ID when purchasing an adult product fails.

When I worked in retail, I checked hundreds of IDs to ensure compliance with self-regulatory standards around M-rated (mature) video games. However, those were one-offs that never included me entering sensitive data such as a customer’s home address and date of birth into a corporate database.

Other age-assurance methods, such as facial or algorithmic estimation, come with severe trade-offs between privacy and safety from online harm. As one privacy analysis notes, such methods can be based on data points including one’s browsing history, voice, gait or other device signals. That is a lot of data that one must share to simply access online services.

Second, government-mandated age assurance to access online services forecloses the possibility of using digital spaces anonymously for collective action.

While anonymity may grant some abusers a licence to engage in online harassment, it also fosters a culture of free expression where individuals can challenge political power or find a community online.

This is a foundational principle separating democracies from their authoritarian counterparts. China, for example, has rules requiring all players of digital games, regardless of age, to register online accounts under their legal names, verified by government-issued identification.

Online video games are increasingly important avenues for political mobilization because virtual spaces may serve as useful protest tools when authoritarian governments crack down on physical demonstrations.

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In democracies, we should abandon anonymity only in exceptional circumstances and remain skeptical of measures that further online surveillance while adding barriers to access information.

The other issue is the scale of friction this will add to consumers’ online experience. Most adults are not going to want to get out their ID every time they or their dependents are required to create an account for a new app or online service.

If you think digital cookies are annoying, just wait until you must scan your driver’s licence or link to your preferred digital identity service before accessing a website.

Moving Forward

We know that children are engaging with a range of online services, encountering both educational and problematic content. We can work to foster a safer online experience while doing our best to protect personal information.

A potential solution is to not enact the age-assurance requirement while moving forward with the other practical operational and product design measures outlined above. Then, we can research the effect of such measures on creating safer products and services to determine if further action is needed.

If we must go the way of age assurance – a trend seen in other jurisdictions such as California – we should emulate Apple Pay’s encrypted, on-device system for verifying and storing sensitive information.

It makes much more sense in terms of privacy and user experience to have consumers verify their identity once when setting up a new device or creating an app store account. Yes, honeypots would still exist, but they would be less numerous, contain only partial data and would ideally be guarded by robust cybersecurity teams.

As Canada moves forward with the Online Harms Act, the country has the chance to lead on age-appropriate design that does not sacrifice privacy rights. It should seize that chance.

Aider les Canadiens ùgés à rester au travailTEST

(English version available here)

Par volonté ou par nécessité, les Canadiens prennent leur retraite plus tard que par le passé. 

Mais ce n’est pas suffisant pour compenser le nombre proportionnellement plus faible de jeunes entrant sur le marchĂ© du travail. Cette situation a des consĂ©quences importantes pour l’économie canadienne, qu’il s’agisse des pĂ©nuries de main-d’Ɠuvre ou des coĂ»ts budgĂ©taires Ă©levĂ©s nĂ©cessaires pour financer les programmes de revenu de retraite d’une population vieillissante. 

Convaincre un plus grand nombre des 21,8 % de Canadiens en ùge de travailler qui sont proches de la retraite de continuer encore quelque temps pourrait desserrer une partie de la pression. 

Pour ce faire, il faudra que les lieux de travail soient mieux adaptĂ©s Ă  leurs besoins. RĂ©former le systĂšme canadien de soins de longue durĂ©e pourrait ĂȘtre l’une des clĂ©s, car l’allĂšgement du fardeau que reprĂ©sente la prise en charge des partenaires et des parents vieillissants pourrait permettre Ă  certains travailleurs ĂągĂ©s de continuer Ă  travailler ou de rĂ©intĂ©grer le marchĂ© du travail. 

Méconnu et sous-utilisé 

La croissance du nombre de travailleurs ĂągĂ©s a commencĂ© Ă  s’accĂ©lĂ©rer en 2001, annĂ©e oĂč la premiĂšre vague de baby-boomers a atteint l’ñge de 55 ans. Le taux d’activitĂ© des travailleurs ĂągĂ©s de 55 ans et plus Ă©tait de 36,4 % en avril 2024, contre 25,7 % au mĂȘme mois en 2001. L’ñge moyen des retraitĂ©s est passĂ© Ă  65,1 ans en 2023, son niveau le plus Ă©levĂ© depuis la fin des annĂ©es 1970. 

De nos jours, il est peut-ĂȘtre plus facile pour les personnes ĂągĂ©es de conserver leur emploi. Ils ont un niveau d’éducation plus Ă©levĂ© que les gĂ©nĂ©rations prĂ©cĂ©dentes et une meilleure maĂźtrise de l’informatique. Ils restent en bonne santĂ© plus longtemps et ont une espĂ©rance de vie plus longue. 

La diminution de la couverture globale des retraites et le passage de régimes de retraite à prestations définies à des régimes de retraite à cotisations définies, moins avantageux, influencent également les décisions en matiÚre de retraite. 

La nature des emplois a Ă©galement changĂ©, nombre d’entre eux exigeant moins d’effort physique. 

Néanmoins, comme les baby-boomers continuent de prendre leur retraite et que les jeunes sont proportionnellement moins nombreux à entrer sur le marché du travail, le taux global de participation à la population active a chuté. 

En avril 2024, il Ă©tait Ă  65,4 %, contre 66 % en 2001 et 67,1 % en 2011, annĂ©e oĂč la premiĂšre vague de baby-boomers a atteint l’ñge de 65 ans. Selon les projections de Statistique Canada, il devrait continuer Ă  baisser au moins jusqu’en 2036. 

Les Canadiens ĂągĂ©s pourraient contribuer Ă  combler les pĂ©nuries de main-d’Ɠuvre qui se profilent Ă  l’horizon, mais ils restent une « source de main-d’Ɠuvre nĂ©gligĂ©e et sous-utilisĂ©e », selon un rapport de la Banque Scotia, qui affirme que des centaines de milliers de Canadiens ĂągĂ©s pourraient rester plus longtemps sur le marchĂ© du travail ou le rĂ©intĂ©grer grĂące Ă  des politiques adĂ©quates. 

Le Canada est Ă  la traĂźne de plusieurs pays de l’Organisation de coopĂ©ration et de dĂ©veloppement Ă©conomiques (OCDE), dont la SuĂšde, le Japon et la Nouvelle-ZĂ©lande, oĂč les trois quarts des personnes ĂągĂ©es de 55 Ă  64 ans avaient un emploi en 2022, contre 63,5 % au Canada. En Islande, le taux est de plus de 80 %. 

L’allongement de la durĂ©e de vie professionnelle des Canadiens n’est pas seulement bĂ©nĂ©fique pour le marchĂ© du travail. Des recherches menĂ©es par l’OCDE ont montrĂ© qu’il est bĂ©nĂ©fique pour les performances des entreprises. 

L’étude a rĂ©vĂ©lĂ© que la productivitĂ© des travailleurs ĂągĂ©s est similaire Ă  celle de leurs homologues en milieu de carriĂšre et qu’elle est supĂ©rieure Ă  celle des jeunes travailleurs. Les travailleurs plus ĂągĂ©s ont un taux de roulement plus faible, ainsi qu’une plus grande expĂ©rience en matiĂšre de gestion et en gĂ©nĂ©ral. 

La mĂȘme Ă©tude a montrĂ© qu’il est avantageux de faire travailler ensemble des personnes d’ñges diffĂ©rents, car la complĂ©mentaritĂ© des compĂ©tences des employĂ©s de diffĂ©rentes gĂ©nĂ©rations amĂ©liore les performances de l’équipe et accroĂźt la productivitĂ© globale des entreprises. 

Pourtant, les employeurs ont peu de politiques visant à encourager la collaboration multigénérationnelle, ajoute le rapport. 

Le défi des soins aux personnes ùgées 

Les travailleurs ĂągĂ©s peuvent toutefois rencontrer des difficultĂ©s Ă  rester sur le lieu de travail. On peut penser par exemple Ă  l’ñgisme qui n’attire pas autant l’attention que d’autres enjeux d’équitĂ©, de diversitĂ© et d’inclusion sur le lieu de travail, et qui fait l’objet de moins d’éducation et de formation. 

De nombreux travailleurs ĂągĂ©s doivent Ă©galement faire face Ă  la pression que reprĂ©sente la prise en charge d’autres membres ĂągĂ©s de la famille. Selon une Ă©tude publiĂ©e par l’Institut de recherche en politiques publiques, plus de 33 % des personnes ĂągĂ©es de 55 Ă  64 ans et 23,5 % des personnes ĂągĂ©es de 65 ans et plus s’occuperont d’un adulte dĂ©pendant en 2022. 

Les femmes sont plus susceptibles que les hommes de fournir des soins non rĂ©munĂ©rĂ©s Ă  des adultes, d’y consacrer plus d’heures et d’en recevoir fatigue et anxiĂ©tĂ©. 

La prestation de soins peut entraĂźner des contraintes financiĂšres. Selon une estimation, le manque Ă  gagner des aidants canadiens qui s’absentent du travail, rĂ©duisent leurs heures ou dĂ©missionnent s’est Ă©levĂ© Ă  221 M$ par an pour les femmes entre 2003 et 2008, et Ă  116 M$ par an pour les hommes. 

Les personnes interrogĂ©es dans le cadre d’un rĂ©cent sondage menĂ© auprĂšs de 3000 aidants non rĂ©munĂ©rĂ©s et prestataires de soins rĂ©munĂ©rĂ©s ont rĂ©clamĂ© des politiques plus favorables sur le lieu de travail, telles que des jours de congĂ©, des modalitĂ©s de travail flexibles et des congĂ©s payĂ©s, afin de les aider Ă  concilier leurs responsabilitĂ©s professionnelles et en matiĂšre de soins. 

Lever les freins au travail 

Le gouvernement fédéral a apporté plusieurs modifications au systÚme canadien de revenu de retraite afin de réduire les facteurs qui dissuadent les gens de continuer à travailler. 

Les Canadiens peuvent diffĂ©rer le versement de la SĂ©curitĂ© de la vieillesse (SV) aprĂšs 65 ans jusqu’à 5 ans afin de bĂ©nĂ©ficier d’une prestation mensuelle plus Ă©levĂ©e. 

Le budget fĂ©dĂ©ral 2024 a augmentĂ© l’exemption de gains pour le calcul du SupplĂ©ment de revenu garanti (SRG), une prestation mensuelle offerte aux bĂ©nĂ©ficiaires de la SV Ă  faible revenu. Cela signifie que les bĂ©nĂ©ficiaires du SRG peuvent dĂ©sormais gagner jusqu’à 15 000 $ par an sans que leur prestation ne soit rĂ©duite, contre 3500 $ auparavant. 

Les Canadiens peuvent également choisir de commencer à recevoir leurs prestations du Régime de pensions du Canada (RPC) avant 65 ans tout en continuant à travailler et peuvent continuer à cotiser pour une prestation post-retraite qui complÚte les paiements du RPC dans les années à venir. 

Certains experts ont demandĂ© au gouvernement fĂ©dĂ©ral d’en faire plus, notamment en ajustant le taux de rĂ©cupĂ©ration des paiements de la SV, en introduisant un crĂ©dit d’impĂŽt pour prolongation de carriĂšre similaire Ă  celui du QuĂ©bec et en revenant sur sa dĂ©cision de ramener l’éligibilitĂ© Ă  la SV de 67 Ă  65 ans. 

D’autres ont demandĂ© aux entreprises d’actualiser leurs pratiques de gestion en introduisant par exemple des modalitĂ©s de travail flexibles et en Ă©largissant leur politique en matiĂšre de congĂ©s. 

L’amĂ©lioration des soins de longue durĂ©e et leur financement adĂ©quat contribueraient grandement Ă  rĂ©duire la charge qui pĂšse sur les travailleurs ĂągĂ©s qui fournissent des soins. 

Le budget 2024 souligne que le taux d’activitĂ© des femmes en Ăąge de travailler a atteint un niveau record de 85,7 % en septembre 2023, en partie grĂące au programme de garde d’enfants Ă  10 $ par jour, qu’il qualifie de «bonne politique sociale et bonne politique Ă©conomique ». 

Pourtant, l’amĂ©lioration des soins de longue durĂ©e est rarement considĂ©rĂ©e comme un moyen de permettre aux Canadiens ĂągĂ©s de rester sur le marchĂ© du travail. BientĂŽt, les gouvernements n’auront peut-ĂȘtre plus d’autre choix. 

Les dĂ©penses consacrĂ©es au revenu de retraite devraient exploser au cours des prochaines dĂ©cennies. Le budget 2024 prĂ©voit que les dĂ©penses liĂ©es au programme de la SV (y compris la SV, le SRG et les allocations connexes) devraient atteindre prĂšs de 100 G$ d’ici 2027-2028 et 234 G$ d’ici 2055-2056, contre 80,6 G$ Ă  l’heure actuelle. 

Encourager les Canadiens ĂągĂ©s Ă  travailler plus longtemps pourrait ĂȘtre bĂ©nĂ©fique pour les finances publiques, amĂ©liorer les performances des entreprises, offrir des retraites plus sĂ»res sur le plan financier et amĂ©liorer le bien-ĂȘtre des travailleurs eux-mĂȘmes. Mais cela va nĂ©cessiter des changements. Cela devrait commencer par un meilleur financement des soins de longue durĂ©e. 

How to help older Canadians continue to workTEST

(Version française disponible ici)

By dint of want or necessity, Canadians are retiring later now than in the past. 

But the increase isn’t enough to offset the proportionally fewer number of younger Canadians entering the workforce. This has important implications for Canada’s economy, from labour shortages to the high fiscal costs required to pay for the retirement income programs of an aging population. 

Convincing more of the record high 21.8 per cent of working-age Canadians who are close to retirement to keep working could offset some of the pressure. 

This will require making workplaces more attuned to their needs. Fixing Canada’s long-term care system could be one key because reducing the burden of caring for aging partners and parents could allow some older workers to keep working or re-enter the workforce. 

‘Overlooked and underutilized’ 

The growth in the number of older workers began to accelerate in 2001, the year the first wave of baby boomers turned 55. The labour force participation rate of workers aged 55 and older was 36.4 per cent in April 2024, up from 25.7 per cent in the same month in 2001. The average age of retirees rose to 65.1 in 2023, its highest level since the late 1970s. 

It’s perhaps easier for older adults to remain employed nowadays. They have a higher educational attainment than previous generations and higher levels of computer literacy. They are staying healthier for longer and have a longer life expectancy. 

A decline in overall pension coverage and a shift from defined-benefit pension plans to less advantageous defined-contribution pension plans are also influencing retirement decisions. 

The nature of jobs has changed too, with many requiring less strenuous physical activity. 

Still, as baby boomers continue to retire and proportionally fewer younger people join the workforce, the overall labour force participation rate has fallen. 

In April 2024, it stood at 65.4 per cent, down from 66 per cent in 2001 and 67.1 per cent in 2011, the year the first wave of baby boomers turned 65. Statistics Canada projections show it is expected to continue to fall until at least 2036. 

Older Canadians could help fill pending labour shortages but remain an “overlooked and underutilized source of labour,” according to a Scotiabank report, which argues that hundreds of thousands of older Canadians could remain in the workforce longer or rejoin it with the right policies. 

Canada lags several Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, including Sweden, Japan and New Zealand, where three-quarters of people between 55 and 64 were employed in 2022, compared to 63.5 per cent in Canada. In Iceland, it was more than 80 per cent. 

Extending the working lives of Canadians isn’t just good for the labour market. Research by the OECD found that it benefits company performance. 

The study found the productivity of older workers is similar to that of their mid-career counterparts and is higher than that of younger workers. Older workers have a lower turnover rate, as well as more management and general experience. 

The same study found there are benefits to having workers of different ages working together because the complementarity between the skills of employees from different generations enhances team performance and raises the overall productivity of firms. 

Yet, employers have few policies to encourage multigenerational collaboration, the report adds. 

The challenge of providing elder care 

Older workers can face challenges to remaining in the workplace, though, including ageist attitudes that don’t receive the same level of attention as other workplace equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and fewer opportunities for education and training. 

Many older workers also deal with the pressure of providing care for other older family members. More than 33 per cent of 55- to 64-year-olds and 23.5 per cent of those 65 and older provided care to a care-dependent adult in 2022, according to a study published by the Institute for Research of Public Policy. 

Women are more likely than men to provide unpaid care for adults, put in more hours and are more likely to report feeling tired and anxious as a result. 

Providing care can lead to financial strain. According to one estimate, the foregone wages of Canadian caregivers of older adults due to missing work, cutting back on work or leaving paid employment entirely totaled $221 million annually for women between 2003 and 2008 and $116 million annually for men. 

Respondents to a recent survey of 3,000 unpaid caregivers and paid care providers called for more supportive workplace policies such as days off, flexible work arrangements and paid leaves of absence to help them balance work and care responsibilities. 

Reducing disincentives to working  

The federal government has introduced several changes to Canada’s retirement income system to reduce disincentives to continue working. 

Canadians can defer receiving the old age security (OAS) benefit after 65 for up to five years to receive a higher monthly benefit. 

The 2024 federal budget increased the earnings exemption for calculating the guaranteed income supplement (GIS), a monthly benefit available to low-income OAS recipients. This means GIS recipients can now earn up to $15,000 a year without having their benefit reduced, compared to $3,500 previously. 

Canadians can also opt to start receiving their Canada Pension Plan benefit before 65 while continuing to work and can keep making contributions toward a post-retirement benefit that tops up CPP payments in later years. 

Some experts have called on the federal government to do more, including adjusting the clawback rate on OAS payments, introducing a career-extension tax credit similar to Quebec’s, and reversing its decision to roll back OAS eligibility to 65 from 67. 

Others have called on businesses to update their management practices by introducing flexible work arrangements and expanding leave policy, among other things. 

Enhancing long-term care and financing it properly would go a long way to reducing the burden on older workers who provide care. 

The 2024 budget points out that the labour force participation rate of working-age women reached a record high of 85.7 per cent in September 2023, in part because of the $10-a-day child care program, calling it “good social policy and good economic policy.” 

Yet, enhancing long-term care is seldom seen as a way to allow older Canadians to remain in the workforce. Soon, governments may have little option. 

Spending on retirement income is expected to balloon in the coming decades. The 2024 budget projects that spending on the OAS program (including OAS, GIS and the related allowances) is projected to grow to nearly $100 billion by 2027-28 and to $234 billion by 2055-56 from $80.6 billion currently. 

Encouraging older Canadians to work longer could benefit fiscal finances, enhance firm performance, provide more financially secure retirements and improve the well-being of workers themselves. But it’s going to require changes. It should start with better funding of long-term care. 

Happy FĂȘte nationale to all of Quebec’s ‟polyglots,” but not to anglophonesTEST

Version française disponible ici)

In an advertisement broadcast by the Parti Québécois a few days before St-Jean-Baptiste Day, party leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon declares, to a background of soft music and friendly images:  

QuĂ©bec’s FĂȘte nationale is a time to unite beyond our differences. At a time when people are trying to divide and categorize us, it’s important to celebrate what we have in common, the fact that we have a shared future in our hands.  

So whether you’re a francophone, a francophile, a polyglot, on the left, on the right, and no matter what year your family arrived in Quebec, if you’re proud to live in Quebec, proud of our linguistic and cultural differences, if you refuse to be pigeonholed and put in a box, come and hold the flag with us. Because we are all QuĂ©bĂ©cois, through and through! 

Understandably, many people immediately saw this as a message of inclusion. On X (formerly known as Twitter), for example, one participant was quick to retweet: ‟Well said. A celebration for all Quebecers, without exception.” Another added that ‟French, the common language of Quebec, is what unites us. If you have one or more other languages, no problem, of course, but French is still foundational for Quebecers.”  

On the other hand, when I expressed surprise at the absence of any reference to Quebec’s anglophonie in the PQ leader’s remarks, I received this reply: ‟Anglophones are Montrealers or Canadians. That’s it. They don’t give a damn about Quebec.” 

We could go on and on with similar reactions to the Parti Québécois advertising, all pointing in one direction or the other. How can the same message be interpreted in such diametrically opposed ways?

From the outset, it is not surprising that St-Pierre Plamondon targets his audience based on language, and that language is implicitly part of defining who belongs to the Quebec nation. The oneupmanship of the CAQ and PQ about the so-called ‟decline of French” in Quebec explains this at least in part.

However, this division of the Quebec population and especially the selection of segments being encouraged to feel included is highly unusual: not Francophones, Anglophones and allophones, as one might expect, but rather francophones, francophiles and… polyglots. In other words, those whose language is French, those who love French, and those who speak several languages, one of which is presumably French. 

Where are the anglophones, who make up the largest minority in Quebec, and a linguistic one at that? And what about allophones?

Some have tried to trivialize the issue and suggested that all anglophones are francophiles. Others have argued that anglophones are included among the polyglots. Problem solved? No, because it cannot be assumed that all anglophones or allophones are francophiles or polyglots (even if, statistically speaking, the vast majority of both groups speak French too). In any case, if the objective was to include anglophones and allophones, why not simply mention them explicitly?

Whatever the intention behind the ‟francophone/francophile/polyglot” categorisation, this curious division automatically excludes anglophones, or more specifically, some anglophones, because of their numbers in Quebec and the attractiveness of English for certain immigrants. 

How can such a conclusion be reached? The wording is quite clear: anyone who is not a francophone, francophile or polyglot is not a ‟full-fledged Quebecer,” and implicitly not part of the Quebec nation. 

This includes Quebecers who allegedly don’t like French – which is difficult to measure – and those who don’t speak French, whether they are part of the minority of unilingual anglophones, or allophones who have made English their second language in Quebec.     

In short, the anglophone and allophone population is divided into two groups. Those who ‟love French” and speak it are ‟full-fledged Quebecers.” But anglophones and allophones who don’t like French (whatever that means), and some who don’t speak it, are something else. Or at least, not quite entirely QuĂ©bĂ©cois. 

The adoption of such a divisive stance by a would-be premier is most surprising. What really offends, however, is the timing: was it really necessary to take advantage of what should be an occasion to include everyone to exclude so many? 

As the leader of the PQ himself said in his message: ‟At a time when attempts are being made to divide and categorise us, it’s important to celebrate what we have in common.”

Paul St-Pierre Plamondon could not have said it better. It would have been so much simpler and more unifying to wish a happy FĂȘte nationale to all Quebecers, of all languages and origins.

The danger of turning the refugee sponsorship experience into a paperwork nightmareTEST

The ever-growing administrative burdens that refugee sponsors face when applying to the renowned Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program are an increasing concern to those who make the program work.  

In a recent study, Ian Hennessey and I reviewed the four-and-a-half-decade history of program implementation and spoke to 65 of the people involved, including sponsors, civil society organizations, and former and current civil servants.  

We concluded the application process for sponsors has become overly complex, resource intensive, and time-consuming. Sponsors struggle with onerous paperwork, growing requirements, and lengthy processing times, sullying what is otherwise a largely positive experience. The problem has gradually increased over time and accelerated in recent years. 

Ultimately, under the pressure of administrative burdens, the program is at risk of drifting away from its original objective: to engage civil society in refugee resettlement.   

A feather in Canada’s cap 

The Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program is the oldest and largest such program in the world. It is a feather in Canada’s cap, and for a good reason. Since its establishment in the end of the 1970s, it has facilitated the arrival and settlement of more than 420,000 refugee newcomers. In recent years, a number of countries have emulated the program and have set up their own sponsorship initiatives with the support of the Canadian government. 

In theory, participating in the program appears rather simple. To sponsor refugees, one must be either a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident. Then, one must set up a group of at least five individuals who are willing to take responsibility for providing financial and settlement support to the refugee newcomers for one year after arrival.  

The cracks in our admired private refugee sponsorship program 

Rebalancing and improving refugee resettlement in Canada 

The success of the privately sponsored refugee system 

Building a more sustainable refugee policy 

In practice, this means providing a monthly allowance and assisting the newcomers in finding a house, access health care and education, and eventually find employment. The sponsoring group selects the refugee(s) it wants to sponsor, submits its application to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and voilà – the adventure begins. 

In practice, however, things look quite different. Or, as our study shows, they have become quite different over the course of more than 40 years of program implementation. The reason is the growing administrative hurdles, which according to many of our research participants, have turned the sponsor application process into a bureaucratic nightmare.   

Onerous paperwork 

When the program launched at the end of the 1970s, the sponsorship application was only a couple of pages. Sponsors needed to simply detail the composition of their sponsoring group and to attest their willingness to support the newcomers for a year. The process was easy, straightforward, and satisfying.    

Today, the application packages that sponsors submit to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada are dozens of pages long and a source of near-unanimously unpleasant experience. Gathering the required evidence and filling out the mandatory forms takes seasoned sponsors 30 to 35 hours. Those without experience with the program may struggle to complete the application package for weeks or months. Notably, even highly skilled professionals, such as lawyers and university professors, may find it difficult to understand the application guides and fill out the forms.   

“Absurd! Absurd! You, know, there was less paper involved in planning the invasion of Normandy than [laughs]
 I think it’s bureaucracy gone wild! Why do you need all this information? Because there aren’t enough civil servants to read the damn stuff!” (Former civil servant working on the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program) 

In addition, since 2012, sponsors must include in their application package a form that asks for a detailed description of refugees’ experience of fleeing their country. Obtaining the necessary information to complete this form is not only challenging but also emotionally taxing for both the sponsors and the refugee newcomers.  

Stringent requirements 

Sponsors are also struggling with stringent sponsorship requirements. In the early days of the program, anyone could prove their financial capacity to sponsor refugees by submitting a confidential statement from their employer.  

Nowadays, sponsors must submit a complete breakdown of their financial sponsorship capacity, including income-tax notice of assessment or other tax forms, income slips, and pension statements. This raises confidentiality issues, as it is one member of the sponsoring group who must collect and submit to Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada all required documents.  

Instead of presenting detailed evidence on their income, sponsors can alternatively set up a trust. In this case, however, they must open an account in the name of the refugee newcomer and submit with their sponsorship application every bank statement since the trust’s creation.  

If the sponsorship is supported by multiple donations, it may take hours to collect and submit the full information required for every single donor. The process is again marred by confidentiality issues, which discourage those who are wary of sharing personal information from joining sponsoring groups.  

Long processing times 

Lastly, as a cherry on the top of the layered cake of administrative burdens, lengthy processing times come to further darken the experience of refugee sponsors. At present, sponsored refugees commonly arrive in Canada two to three years after the submission of the application. Such waiting times increase the material and emotional costs for sponsors and newcomers alike. For example, if a refugee family arrives a few years down the road, the family composition may have changed (e.g., having a newborn, children becoming adults).  

This increases the financial support required from sponsors by thousands of dollars – costs that sponsors might not have foreseen. Long waiting times also exacerbate the stress of sponsors and refugees, especially in the numerous cases where sponsors use the program to reunite with displaced family members abroad.  

Recommendations to reduce administrative burden  

The long-term sustainability of the program largely depends on the willingness of ordinary individuals to (re-)engage in it. The better the experience, the higher the chance that sponsors will participate again and promote the program to friends, neighbours, and colleagues. This is especially important considering the commitment of the Canadian government to increase refugee intake through the program.  

Our study draws the following recommendations to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada:  

  • Ease up on the application forms and consider more flexible requirements for repeat sponsors.  
  • Take measures to better protect sponsor confidentiality in the application process. 
  • Speed up the application processing time.   
  • Explore opportunities for cross-checking data between government agencies instead of asking sponsors to provide the information. For example, instead of submitting criminal background checks, sponsors could simply provide their consent to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to run a check on their behalf.  
  • Initiate a constructive dialogue with the broad sponsorship community to improve the application process.  

Administrative burdens must be taken seriously. We have reached a point where refugee sponsorship is at risk of turning into a “paperwork experience.” This directly contradicts the original idea of the program, namely to take advantage of the generosity of Canadians and permanent residents. Today’s complex and demanding forms and stringent requirements discourage sponsors and take away from the very essence of why people engage in the program.  

Refugee sponsorship should not be a paperwork experience; it is a deeply personal and rewarding experience that has the power to change minds, hearts, and lives. Therefore, it must be supported by an enabling system that will sustain and nurture wide public interest in the program.  

Bonne fĂȘte nationale Ă  tous les «polyglottes», mais pas aux anglophonesTEST

(English version available here)

Dans un message publicitaire diffusĂ© par le Parti quĂ©bĂ©cois quelques jours avant la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, on entend sur fond de musique douce et d’images empreintes de convivialitĂ© le chef de ce parti, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, dĂ©clamer ceci :

La FĂȘte nationale, c’est un moment pour s’unir au-delĂ  de nos diffĂ©rences. À une Ă©poque oĂč on tente de nous diviser et de nous classer par catĂ©gories de citoyens, c’est important de cĂ©lĂ©brer ce que nous avons en commun, le fait que nous avons un avenir en commun, entre nos mains. 

Alors que vous soyez francophone, francophile, polyglotte, Ă  gauche, Ă  droite, et peu importe l’annĂ©e d’arrivĂ©e de votre famille au QuĂ©bec. Si vous ĂȘtes fier de vivre au QuĂ©bec, fier de notre diffĂ©rence linguistique et culturelle, si vous refusez d’ĂȘtre cataloguĂ© et mis dans une case, venez tenir le drapeau avec nous. Car nous sommes toutes et tous QuĂ©bĂ©cois Ă  part entiĂšre!

On comprendra aisĂ©ment que plusieurs y aient immĂ©diatement vu un message d’inclusion. Sur Twitter par exemple, une intervenante enthousiasmĂ©e a tĂŽt fait de relayer le message : « Bien dit. La fĂȘte de tous les QuĂ©bĂ©cois, sans exception ». Une seconde a renchĂ©ri Ă  l’effet que « le français, langue commune au QuĂ©bec, est ce qui nous unit. Que vous ayez une ou plusieurs autres langues, pas de souci bien sĂ»r, mais c’est quand mĂȘme le français qui est le socle des QuĂ©bĂ©cois ».

Par contre, si on s’Ă©tonne – comme je l’ai fait – de l’absence de toute rĂ©fĂ©rence Ă  l’anglophonie quĂ©bĂ©coise dans les propos du chef du PQ, on se fait rĂ©pondre que « les anglophones sont montrĂ©alais ou canadiens. That’s it. Ils en ont rien (sic) Ă  cirer du QuĂ©bec ».

On pourrait aligner d’autres messages analogues, affichĂ©s sur les rĂ©seaux sociaux au cours des derniers jours et qui vont dans un sens ou l’autre, tous en marge de la publicitĂ© du Parti quĂ©bĂ©cois. Comment un seul et mĂȘme message peut-il ĂȘtre interprĂ©tĂ© de maniĂšres aussi diamĂ©tralement opposĂ©es?

D’entrĂ©e de jeu, il n’est pas surprenant que la dĂ©limitation de la population visĂ©e par M. St-Pierre Plamondon se joue sur la langue, et qu’il en aille de mĂȘme pour qui fait implicitement partie de la nation quĂ©bĂ©coise. La surenchĂšre Ă  laquelle se livrent la CAQ et le PQ au sujet du soi-disant « dĂ©clin du français » au QuĂ©bec l’explique au moins en partie.

Toutefois, le dĂ©coupage de la population quĂ©bĂ©coise que l’on met de l’avant et, surtout, la sĂ©lection des pans de la population que l’on encourage Ă  se sentir incluse, est fort inhabituel : non pas les francophones, les anglophones et les allophones, comme on pourrait s’y attendre, mais plutĂŽt les francophones, les francophiles, et les
 polyglottes. Autrement dit, ceux dont la langue est le français, ceux qui aiment le français, et ceux qui parlent plusieurs langues, dont on peut prĂ©sumer que l’une d’elles est le français.

OĂč sont les anglophones, qui constituent la plus importante minoritĂ©, linguistique en plus, du QuĂ©bec? Et les allophones?

Certains se sont efforcĂ©s de banaliser l’affaire. Les uns ont laissĂ© entendre que tous les anglophones sont francophiles. D’autres ont fait valoir que les anglophones sont inclus dans les polyglottes. ProblĂšme rĂ©glĂ©? Non, car on ne peut supposer que tous les anglophones ou allophones soient francophiles, ni polyglottes (mĂȘme si, statistiquement, au QuĂ©bec, la grande majoritĂ© l’est). De toute façon, si l’objectif Ă©tait d’inclure les anglophones et les allophones, pourquoi ne pas simplement les avoir mentionnĂ©s explicitement?

Quelle que soit l’intention qui a sous-tendu la catĂ©gorisation « francophone/francophile/polyglotte », ce curieux dĂ©coupage exclut d’office les anglophones, ou plus prĂ©cisĂ©ment, des anglophones, et ce en raison de leur nombre au QuĂ©bec et de l’attrait de l’anglais pour certains immigrants.

Comment peut-on en arriver Ă  une telle conclusion? Il suffit d’écouter : qui n’est ni francophone, ni francophile, ni polyglotte n’est pas « QuĂ©bĂ©cois Ă  part entiĂšre » et ne fait partie de la nation quĂ©bĂ©coise, sans qu’on ne le dise directement.

Cela inclut donc ceux qui n’aiment pas – ou qui prĂ©tendument n’aimeraient pas le français, chose difficilement mesurable –, et ceux qui ne parlent pas le français, qu’ils fassent partie de la minoritĂ© d’anglophones unilingues ou d’allophones qui ont fait de l’anglais leur seconde langue au QuĂ©bec.

En somme, on dĂ©coupe la population anglophone et allophone en deux groupes. Ceux qui « aiment le français » et ceux qui le parlent sont des « QuĂ©bĂ©cois Ă  part entiĂšre ». Mais il y a aussi les anglophones et allophones qui n’aimeraient pas le français, et ceux qui ne le parlent pas, qui sont quelque chose d’autre, mais manifestement pas QuĂ©bĂ©cois, en tout cas pas tout Ă  fait.

Ce qui Ă©tonne par-dessus tout est l’adoption par un aspirant premier ministre d’une posture aussi clivante. Ce qui heurte, toutefois, est le choix du moment pour ce faire : Ă©tait-il vraiment nĂ©cessaire de profiter d’une occasion qu’on souhaite normalement inclusive pour exclure Ă  un tel point?

Comme le dit lui-mĂȘme le chef du PQ dans son message : « À une Ă©poque oĂč on tente de nous diviser et de nous classer par catĂ©gories de citoyens, c’est important de cĂ©lĂ©brer ce que nous avons en commun ».

On ne saurait mieux dire. Il aurait Ă©tĂ© tellement plus simple et plus rassembleur de souhaiter une bonne FĂȘte nationale Ă  tous les QuĂ©bĂ©cois, de toutes langues et de toutes origines.

Where are the provinces in Canada’s welfare-state boom?TEST

Canada is undergoing a welfare-state boom financed by the federal government. Since taking office in 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have substantially increased major transfers to individuals as well as to provincial and territorial governments.

Payments to individuals are to rise to $135.l3 billion in 2024-25 from $76.5 billion a decade ago. These include seniors’ benefits (old age security and the guaranteed income supplement), the Canada child benefit and employment insurance.

Funding to other governments during the same period is to climb to $105.5 billion from $68 billion. That includes health and social transfers, as well as money from the equalization program.

These figures exclude the more than $261 billion in stimulus provided by the federal government during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These increases are welcome as a means to address growing inequality and retrenchment in Canada over the last 40 years. However, they have also been accompanied by a greater tendency to view social policy as political because they inadvertently foster competition among provinces and revive past tensions.

Ottawa needs to change its approach

Canada’s welfare state needs reform to remain viable and address the changing socioeconomic needs of its citizens. But the way these policies have been announced and implemented does not reflect a cohesive and collaborative vision in which orders of government work together to resolve challenges.

The Trudeau government has instead reshaped social policy through an unabashed use of its spending power – that is, Ottawa’s ability to fund policy beyond its jurisdiction.

This strategy can be interpreted as the federal government acting decisively, but it can also be seen as an attempt to press provincial governments to adopt its policy priorities to receive much-needed funding.

Support for sovereignty in Quebec: the role of identity, culture and language

Alberta’s Bill 18 is another strategy from Quebec’s playbook

Clarity over Ottawa’s spending power in areas of provincial authority could be coming

Quebec stands alone in the defence of provincial powers

The shift includes significant national initiatives such as a national early-learning and child-care policy and the introduction of dental and pharmacare plans.

These programs rightly put social issues in the public eye. But they also pit the federal and provincial governments against each other by reinforcing fiscal inequities, and thus power dynamics, within the federation.

Federal-provincial imbalance 

The situation is both structural and political. The provinces and territories are constitutionally responsible for providing most welfare programs but face significant challenges.

Provincial debt is rising at an unsustainable rate, notably due to disproportionately high costs of services such as health care. Recent budgets have only heightened concerns over provincial fiscal sustainability. This is compounded by the high visibility of social programs, making them politically sensitive to cut and easy targets for federal spending announcements.

The federal government, in contrast, has relatively more room to manoeuvre. Its programs are less costly to maintain and it has superior revenue-generating capabilities. This contributes to the ongoing fiscal imbalance wherein the governments with the authority to legislate on social issues must rely on Ottawa for access to the public purse.

These fiscal realities and intergovernmental dynamics are important when evaluating the Trudeau government’s increased support for social programs and use of its spending power as it tries to secure centre-left votes and maintain power as a minority government.

One-on-one talks leave policies wanting

Another noteworthy consideration is that these policies have been mainly negotiated through bilateral “take-it-or-leave-it” discussions with each province. The federal government has shown reluctance to pursue multilateral agreements with more than one province.

But there is another side to the coin. While increasingly resistant to federal “meddling,” the provinces have not actively sought to forge a cohesive coalition – with the exception of their stand on increases to federal health transfers.

Negotiations and resulting agreements often seem to serve as fodder for government promises of substantial change, yet they yield incremental results and lead to mutual blame between orders of government.

The pharmacare program is a prime example. Taking a cue from Quebec – a province with a long-standing history of asserting its right to opt out of federal initiatives – Alberta has declared its refusal to participate in the new program but still wants funding. Saskatchewan appears to be contemplating the same approach.

A matter of fairness

A lack of intergovernmental co-operation can lead to unequal coverage nationwide and raises questions of fairness for individuals.

Consider the implementation of the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB). Research by Gillian Petit and Lindsay M. Tedds highlights disparities among Canadians receiving the benefit.

Some provinces exempted it from their income-assistance programs while others did not. For instance, a CERB beneficiary receiving income assistance in British Columbia had full access to all benefits, whereas someone in a similar situation in Nova Scotia did not.

Citizenry must be part of the solution

The public’s perspective is particularly relevant given that we live in a time when fewer people show an interest in politics.

Statistics from Elections Canada show a drop in voter turnout between 2019 and 2021 across all age groups, continuing a downward trend since the 1990s.

Public-opinion research by the Consortium on Electoral Democracy shows Canadians rarely discuss politics with their families or friends. Moreover, young people around the world increasingly express dissatisfaction with their democratic systems.

In a healthy democracy, public participation in political life is fundamental. A first step is to become aware of social policies and informed about how they function. For this to occur, public interest is a fundamental necessity, but this is being hindered by the narrow politicization of social policy.

To govern effectively, politicians must demonstrate genuine co-operation before making announcements. Such an approach would foster the public’s trust by demonstrating a government’s willingness to bridge intergenerational and socioeconomic divides.

Provinces must work together

Given the rarity of institutional change – as evidenced by unsuccessful attempts to reform the electoral system – the ability to fulfil policy promises holds significant importance.

Instead of merely insisting on unconditional funding and inadvertently playing into the federal government’s strategy of divide and conquer, provinces must adopt strategies that promote collaboration.

They could achieve this through regular meetings among ministers responsible for portfolios including health, education and social services. Common priorities and objectives could be discussed and the focus shifted from budgets to problem-solving and solutions.

Given Canada’s cultural, economic and political diversity, a collaborative approach would give the provincial ministers the room to discuss the unique needs and constraints of their jurisdictions.

Instead of being forced into a one-size-fits-all policy, they could actively pinpoint areas for collective reform while respecting the autonomy of individual provinces to address specific concerns.

Only by joining forces can the provinces assertively advocate for federal support that acknowledges and respects the diversity inherent in Canadian federalism. Standing together can also serve as a safeguard against changes in federal governments and any attempts to diminish funding for social programs.

This article is based on a presentation delivered on March 25 at the workshop “The State and Future of Democracy” co-organized by the Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship, the Consortium on Electoral Democracy, and the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

The Future of Community HousingTEST

How could or should Canada’s community housing sector look differently in the future? What are some good examples of innovative housing projects and practices from across the country – and around the world? What lessons can we learn? These are all questions that we tackle in this last episode of our special series on community housing.

In this episode, co-hosts Hanan Ali and Natasha Mhuriro speak with Djaka Blais, Executive Director of Hogan’s Alley Society; Robert Byers, President & C-E-O of Namerind Housing Corporation; Joshua Evans, Associate Professor at the University of Alberta. and Franz Bernhardt, Postdoctoral Researcher at Aalborg University, Denmark about alternative models of community housing.

Show notes

This episode is part of the Demystifying Community Housing Podcast series.