Canada’s digital nomad program could attract tech talent – but would they settle down?

Written by Hari KC, Toronto Metropolitan University, and Anna Triandafyllidou, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation

Digital nomad programs have proliferated in recent years. Now, Canada is seeking to use the idea to attract highly skilled tech workers.

Over the summer, the Canadian government unveiled its Tech Talent Strategy, which aims to attract global tech workers to come to Canada. Promoting Canada as a destination for digital nomads is one of the four key pillars of the strategy.

Though full details are yet to be revealed, only a well-calibrated policy — attuned to the changing conceptions of work and employment — can help Canada develop a high-skilled workforce and prevent unintended consequences.

Digital nomads are location-independent workers who use technology to do their jobs remotely, travelling to different countries for brief periods. Several countries have introduced new programs to attract digital workers over the past few years.

Canada’s new digital nomad program is part of the government’s broader vision to fulfil in-demand jobs and attract the talent necessary to sustain future economic growth.

The government expects that the digital nomads coming to Canada will seek employment with Canadian companies while here, leading to them eventually seeking permanent residency and help Canada retain tech talent. But Canada has work to do to clarify how tax and social benefits programs would apply to digital nomads.

Canada’s approach at odds with digital nomadism

The government’s assumption that the digital nomads will find jobs in Canada and become permanent residents contradicts the notion of digital nomadism. It is naïve of the government to take it for granted that while here they would choose to permanently settle down.

A Canadian visa in a passport
The government’s assumption that digital nomads will settle in Canada is out of step with the notion of digital nomadism. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

The government also expects digital nomads to seek employment with the local Canadian employers. However, digital nomads by definition are either paid employees working for companies based in other countries, or they are simply independent contractors or entrepreneurs. On the contrary, digital nomads are usually not allowed to work for any local employers in their destination countries. The country of residence and the country of work are principally different.

Yet, the decision to migrate — where to go and how long to stay — is often a complex process. And, some digital nomads may eventually decide to settle in Canada. Again though, Canada may not be the endpoint of their journeys.

Can Canada be an attractive destination?

Many countries around the world have introduced digital nomad visas — usually some sort of hybrid between a tourist and temporary work visa. Merely creating a new temporary resident category is not enough to make Canada a desirable destination for digital nomads.

If Canada seriously aims to attract digital nomads, it has leeway. A 2022 report published in the United Kingdom ranked Canada the No. 1 destination for digital nomads among 85 countries.

Digital nomadism exists in a sort of “nebulous space” between work-focused migration and lifestyle-related mobility. It goes against the traditional notions of place-based work, migration, taxation and citizenship. Governments must make policies in ways that align with those changing realities.

Canada could set an example for others to follow by co-ordinating its digital nomad program with policies in taxation and social protection.

In Canada, the government should clarify how tax and social benefits programs would apply to digital nomads. For example, the Canadian government taxes any foreigners staying here for more than 183 days. The government would need to clarify whether digital nomads would be taxed or given tax breaks in an effort to incentivize them to stay. If digital nomads are taxed, would they be allowed to access Canada’s social welfare system in the same way as any other resident?

Caution and clarity

Not all digital nomads are high-income earning transnational workers in pursuits of the freedoms and privileges that come with remote work. The realities of day-to-day life are complex even for digital nomads who are from the western world, but especially more so for those who are women or from the Global South. A new digital nomad program would need to address such intersectional challenges.

A backpacker carrying a laptop and smartphone.
Digital nomadism goes against the traditional notions of place-based work, migration, taxation and citizenship. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Rhetoric around attracting and retaining tech talent is one thing, but implementing it demands that the government clarify and adjust its policies in many other areas such as taxation, social protection and health care.

The government’s vision for retaining the tech talent in Canada is not straightforward either. Compared to Canada, the tech industry in the United States can offer high salaries. Digital nomads would potentially consider financial factors before deciding to seek employment with the Canadian tech companies.

If a large number of digital nomads are locally employed as expected, the Canadian tech industry would naturally become more competitive. Inviting international high-tech workers to the Canadian tech industry could inadvertently sideline local talent.

Research shows that digital nomads tend toward peripheral “exotic” locations with high-speed internet and a lower cost of living than their home country. As seen in places like Mexico City, the surge of digital nomads can price out local communities.

At a time when Canada is facing a housing crisis, such a program might make the situation even worse if not done with due diligence.

The government appears to be conflating a digital nomad with a high-tech remote worker. The focus on attracting tech workers could embed inequalities into the program. Canada’s preference is only for the high-tech sector where women constitute only 26.7 per cent of the global workforce.

Digital nomads are not all high-tech workers. They also work in a range of digital-intensive sectors, such as marketing, media, writing, tutoring and accounting.

Canada can play a leading role in developing digital nomad policies. In the global competition for talent, an evidence-based digital nomad program could meet Canada’s immigration priorities while showcasing Canada as a destination for global talent.

Enhancing survey data with high-tech, long-range drones

Gathering geoscientific data for mining and energy industries through ground-level surveys can be time-consuming, costly and physically dangerous. Drones can replace traditional surveying methods, reducing labour and equipment costs and completing surveys more quickly, but they have their own limitations.

To improve the versatility and quality of typical remote-system surveying data, Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) engineering alumni Robel Efrem (mechanical) and Alexandre Coutu (electrical) teamed up with Sajad Saeedi from TMU’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. In partnership with the alumni’s company, Rosor Corp., they develop near-surface, remotely piloted aircraft systems that support multi-datatype output surveying, such as geophysical and topographic, in a single pass.

(From left to right) TMU alumni Alexandre Coutu (BEng Electrical Engineering ‘20), Robel Efrem (MEng Mechanical Engineering ‘23) and professor Sajad Saeedi
(From left to right) TMU alumni Alexandre Coutu (BEng Electrical Engineering ‘20) and Robel Efrem (MEng Mechanical Engineering ‘23), co-founders of Rosor Corp., collaborate with Sajad Saeedi from TMU’s Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering

These long-range survey drones will improve geophysical data collection using custom-designed sensor suites, improved low-altitude accuracy, longer stamina and untethered, long-range communication systems. Enhanced geophysical survey data can provide mining investors greater insights into national and global mining resources, help solve demand shortages through mineral discoveries, and support environmental monitoring and developing technologies like electric vehicles.

Funding for this project by Mitacs. To learn more about how Mitacs supports groundbreaking research and innovation, visit the Mitacs website.

‘Child care’ or education? Words matter in how we envision living well with children

Written by Nicole Land, Toronto Metropolitan University & Kathleen Kummen, Capilano University. Photo credit: CC BY-NC. Originally published in The Conversation.

Investing in non-profit programs that provide culturally-relevant education is important to children and families.

As people across Canada begin to understand the implications of the Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care program, public conversations often centre on the economic benefits of getting children back into quality child care, and their parents or guardians back into a robust Canadian economy.

In this narrative, early childhood education matters primarily as a driver of economic growth.

This nurtures a belief that children and their learning should be conceptualized as a primarily economic issue: We need child care, the logic goes, so that women can work or children can learn the skills they need to contribute to the future market economy.

We are part of a collective of educators and scholars, the Early Childhood Pedagogies Collaboratory, invested in thinking about early childhood education otherwise. We ask: What narratives or stories are going unnoticed in the face of the universal child care plan in Canada?

Our proposal: Canada creates an education system that focuses on the work of living well with children.

A hand is seen holding a child's drawing in front of woods.
Our society urgently needs us to pay more attention to the education of young children. Photo credit: (Sherri-Lynn Yazbeck), Author provided.

Operating like a business?

We are concerned with the current marketization of the early childhood education profession — how childhood education is increasingly forced to adapt itself to the needs of the market economy, where what becomes important is how well the field operates like a business.

For us, education is not about market-based economics. The buying and selling of children’s education and the labour of educators concerns us. What is urgently needed is to pay more attention to the education of young children — their relations to learning, which we call “pedagogy.” We define this pedagogy as the work of living well with children.

By focusing on living well with children, we are able to ask different questions that relate to early childhood education. This means asking how we can foster ethical spaces with children and families.

Education as an event, experience

Pedagogy takes education as an event and an experience. It is more than simply caring for children’s basic needs. Instead, it’s about collaborating with children and families to craft curriculum that truly matters to the messy worlds that children inhabit and inherit.

Amid the new federal funding, there is the creation of a market economy around childhood.

For example, as Ontario grapples with a shortage of early childhood educators, some advocates are concerned the province will focus mostly or exclusively on recruiting more early childhood educators, increasing admissions to programs or offering low-cost tuition.

Such initiatives would see early childhood education as a numbers game, easily and inexpensively creating educators who can quickly fill positions. This would be at the detriment of longer, slower education required to think carefully about how to live well with children.

The risks to children, families and educators of rapidly expanding “spaces” under corporate business models are also apparent: The Globe and Mail reports that after the North Toronto Early Years Centre was acquired by a “rapidly expanding daycare chain,” existing staff were presented with new contracts that paid less and said they could be moved to another location at any time.

Turn the narrative around

Our society needs to turn the narrative around: children are not in early childhood education to provide employment opportunities for educators and guardians.

Instead, educators are involved in co-creating locally meaningful and responsive educational and social spaces. This means being co-investigators with children into the inquiries that arise out of their complex and diverse lives.

Together as a society, educators, community members, parents and caregivers need to ask what roles we all need to take on in order to build a truly universal system that can meet the unknowns of children’s lives now and into the future.

We want to share two actions the community and early childhood education field can act upon.

These follow the seven actions our collaboratory recommended in an earlier article.

Children's and an educator's hands seen working with paper at a table.
Early childhood education involves more than merely meeting children’s basic needs. Photo credit: Pexels/Yan Krukov.

1. Understand ethical responsibility and shift our language.

We, as a Canadian society, need to recognize the complexity of early childhood educators creating spaces for young children instead of simply warehousing children to advance the economy.

Shifting our language means educational and training institutions, policymakers and society must change our expectations of early childhood education, as we ask it to become an educational undertaking, not just about “supervision.”

We have an ethical obligation to our youngest citizens to re-frame the educator and the early childhood education system as ethically responsible for meeting children and families in all the richness of their diverse life stories.

We invite everyone to intervene when hearing early childhood education referred to as only supervisory care.

We instead raise the possibility that early childhood education involves more than merely meeting children’s basic needs.

Changing the expectations, stories and knowledge our society brings to concepts about educators, children and families is a good first step to changing the narrative around early childhood education.

2. Invest in non-profit programs which provide education that centres living well with children.

We need opportunities to understand education as a learning space, not strictly one for supervision, so guardians can join the workforce.

This requires that we, as government, advocates, families and communities, understand educators as capable and competent professionals, and education as a vibrant space full of life.

Public investment needs to be tied to non-profit programs where the primary concern is the meaningful and culturally relevant education of young children.

Thinking beyond economics

The two actions we propose are not a recipe but an invitation to disrupt problematic narratives that position educators and children as resources toward a market economy.

We are not proposing a “solution”; we propose we need an ongoing discussion about the purposes of early childhood education.

Shifting the narratives our society brings to understanding early childhood education in Canada matters to children’s and families’ lives. We can think beyond economics with children and families and educators.

Authored in conversation with Early Childhood Collaboratory members: Alexandra Berry (Capilano University); Alicja Frankowski, Courtney Amber, Cristina Delgado Vintimilla (York University); B. Denise Hodgins (British Columbia Early Childhood Pedagogy Network); Cory Jobb (Thompson Rivers University); Iris Berger (University of British Columbia); Kelly-Ann MacAlpine, Narda Nelson, Randa Khattar, Tatiana Zakharova-Goodman and Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw (Western University); Sylvia Kind (Capilano University).

Working one day a week in person might be the key to happier, more productive employees

Written by Sam Andrey, Cory Searcy and Patrick Neumann, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit Shutterstock.  Originally published in The Conversation.  

Employees and supervisors are more likely to rate their job satisfaction high while working remotely compared to when working in-person. 

The COVID-19 pandemic spurred a global shift to remote work, with the latest evidence suggesting almost half of workers in Canada are still regularly working remotely. Employers are grappling with how to strike the right balance between flexibility for work from home and expectations for in-person time together.

In November, Elon Musk announced the end of remote work at Twitter — a move 80 per cent of Canadians said would cause them to quit. Some of Canada’s largest companies are taking diverging approaches, from Shopify’s “work anywhere” policy to some of the big banks moving to two or three in-person days a week.

A new survey by Toronto Metropolitan University with the support of the Future Skills Centre provides new insights into the ongoing transition to hybrid workplaces. The study, conducted in October 2022 with 1,500 employees and 500 supervisors who regularly work remotely, aimed to shed light on how Canadian workers are feeling and being supported.

Remote workers like remote work

The study’s first major finding will come as no surprise: remote workers like remote work. Both employees and supervisors were more likely to rate their job satisfaction as somewhat high while working remotely (78 per cent) than when working in person (41 per cent).

Compared to before the pandemic, 60 per cent of remote workers said their work-life balance has improved. More than half of employees (54 per cent) said the amount of work they got done increased as a result of remote work. A similar proportion of supervisors agreed (52 per cent), while just 15 per cent said their employees’ output decreased because of remote work.

An over-the-shoulder shot of a woman waving to people she is on a virtual call with.
Working remotely impacts how connected employees feel with their colleagues. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

What’s the catch?

Remote work has impacted workers’ sense of connectedness and can result in loneliness and lack of social support. When respondents were asked if the shift to remote work had impacted connection with their colleagues, 43 per cent said their connection had declined, while only 21 per cent said their connection had improved.

It’s understandable that many organizations are trying to set expectations for on-site work at least some of the time.

Flexible in-person expectations

The survey found nearly half of remote workers either had no fixed in-person work requirements or worked entirely remotely. Another 37 per cent were expected to work in person once or twice a week and only 17 per cent were expected to work in person three or more days a week.

Bar graph showing requirements for working on-site: 21 per cent no fixed expectation; 23 per cent fully remote; 16 per cent once per week; 21 per cent twice per week; 13 per cent three days per week; 4 per cent four days per week.
A survey of 2,000 remote workers in Canada finds nearly half have no fixed expectations for working in person. Author provided.

However, expectations did not always match reality. When remote workers were asked how often they actually worked on site in the week prior to the survey (the first week of October), about 67 per cent went worked the required amount of days, 17 per cent went in less often and 16 per cent went in more often.

Table comparing remote workers' on-site expectations vs. attendance last week.
Two out of three remote workers went to the office the same number of days they were required to. Author provided.

Remote workers without fixed in-person expectations, or who were fully remote, tended to report lower stress levels, higher levels of trust in their employers and better job performance. However, these same workers also reported lower levels of connection to their colleagues. To balance the costs and benefits of working remotely, one approach seems to hit a sweet spot: working one day per week in person.

Flexibility increases satisfaction

Job satisfaction with remote work didn’t fall significantly when people worked one day a week in person. Eighty-four per cent of workers (employees and supervisors) had high satisfaction working fully remotely and 83 per cent had high satisfaction working in person one day a week. For workers that worked two or more days in person, that number dropped to 70 per cent.

Similarly, the perceived level of trust workers said their employers had in them didn’t change significantly when people worked one day a week on site.

Eighty per cent of fully remote workers, and 76 per cent who worked one day a week in person, felt their employers had high trust in them. This number decreased to 62 per cent once workers started working two or more days in person.

Table comparing job satisfaction, perceived employer trust, connection with colleagues and amount of work done by employees by on-site attendance.
One day per week on site has higher levels of job satisfaction and perceived trust than more days in person. Author provided.

Hybrid work also impacted how management viewed the productivity of their employees.

Sixty-seven per cent of supervisors who worked in person one day a week believed their employees were more productive, while only 47 per cent of supervisors who worked two or more days a week did. Of supervisors who were fully remote, 53 per cent believed their employees were more productive.

But did working one day a week in person solve the challenge of connectedness with colleagues? Not quite — those working one day a week in person still reported an overall loss of connectedness to colleagues. But that reversed when employees worked three or more days in person, which correlated with significant drops in perceived job satisfaction and performance.

The future of remote work

Most Canadians who work remotely are still very satisfied and able to get more work done with less stress. This latest survey suggests about half of employers are letting their employees choose when to work in-person. And of those with specific expectations, many employees work less or more in-person than they are expected to.

The biggest issue for employers is how to maintain flexibility while keeping teams connected and productive. Employers across the country are grappling with the right approach to mandating back-to-work requirements, while also balancing concerns about team performance and culture.

In this new world of hybrid work, managers need to support their teams with high-quality working conditions that build and maintain interpersonal connections while allowing for both high productivity and superior job satisfaction.

For employers requiring on-site attendance, this new survey indicates that working one day a week in person might be a sweet spot for maintaining job satisfaction and performance, while still providing opportunities for building in-person connections.

Gig platforms help immigrant care workers find jobs, but they are only a temporary solution

Written by Laura Lam, University of Toronto and Anna Triandafyllidou, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation. 

Will precarious alternative forms of work, like gig platform jobs, become the norm for immigrant care workers?

For internationally trained health-care professionals faced with unemployment and underemployment in the Canadian labour market, digital platforms offer the possibility of finding jobs in the industry they are trained in.

Even though Canada is in the midst of a health-care labour shortage, immigrant care workers are struggling to find jobs and are looking for alternative solutions. One of these solutions is gig platforms, where immigrants are over-represented as workers.

Take, for example, a newly arrived nurse from the Phillipines who is awaiting her registered nurse license. Without her license, she is unable to work as a registered nurse, so in the meantime she might pick up a gig from a digital care platform like to care for a client with dementia twice a week.

Many immigrant care workers turn to these platforms while waiting for accreditation to find meaningful employment. Considering the Canadian health sector is so chronically short-staffed, this suggests that Canada is struggling to support the integration of immigrant workers into the care sector.

Canada’s immigrant care professionals

Immigrant care workers are overwhelmingly represented in Canada’s health-care system. According to Statistics Canada, they make up over 40 percent of Ontario’s nurse aides and support workers.

Personal support workers, nurse aides and orderlies are needed to support the dearth of care workers in Canada. But many are facing barriers to obtaining quality occupations in the care industry.

Despite Canada’s merit-based point system, which is meant to select immigrants to contribute to the skilled labour market, immigrants often run up against regulatory, employment and policy barriers.

Some immigrants, for example, struggle to get international professional degrees recognized in Canada. Other barriers include long wait times from licensing authorities, restrictive testing requirements and a lack of training opportunities.

For immigrant care professionals facing employment barriers, care platforms seemingly offer an opportunity for them to work in their field. But while digital platform work can be a stepping-stone for new immigrants in Canada, for some it only offers them a temporary reprieve while they figure out how to find permanent jobs in the health-care industry.

A nurse in puts on a protective gown, gloves, and mask in a care home.
A health-care worker puts on protective clothing at a long-term care home in Laval, Que., in February 2022. Gig platforms are only temporary solutions for care workers, who aim to get full-time employment in health care. Photo credit: Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS.

A different type of platform work

Our forthcoming research in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies about platform workers finds that there are two different types of platform work: relational and non-relational.

Digital care platforms are different than casual, one-off gig platforms like ride-hailing or food delivery. These latter forms of work are non-relational, since there is neither a need nor a possibility of relationships forming between customers and service providers.

The immigrants we interviewed found that engagement on digital platform work, like Uber and SkipTheDishes, offered them opportunities to practice their language abilities or expand their networks, but didn’t provide opportunity for deeper relationships. But care or domestic platform work is different.

This is because the work of care is innately relational and demands a connection between care workers and receivers. This creates both opportunities and motivation for care workers to engage more deeply with their care recipients, in hopes of cultivating a lasting relationship with regular clients.

A female nurse assists a senior woman in wheelchair. Both are wearing masks.
Care work is innately relational and demands a connection between care workers and receivers. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Immigrant care workers felt more fulfilled when they were able to find work on platforms that offered relational forms of work. These temporary jobs allowed their professional identity to be formally recognized by performing caring-related tasks. Even if the tasks were below the expertise of the workers, their ability to fulfil them was affirming to their professional identity.

But while digital care platforms might allow immigrants to find work that aligns with their field of expertise, it comes with consequences. Workers on care platforms are incentivized to put themselves at risk for their employers, creating a power imbalance between them and the platforms they work for, and between them and care receivers.

Quality care work is needed

Policy and regulatory changes are needed to help immigrant care workers find jobs within their field of expertise. In Ontario, for example, international nurses are allowed to start practising while they wait for their full registration. Yet, the journey to full credentialing is a long and expensive process.

The Government of Canada recently announced its new immigration target of welcoming 500,000 new immigrants a year by 2025. Will this new immigration target help address labour shortages in the care sector? It should — the large number of immigrants will surely include highly educated care professionals. But unless barriers to care work are addressed in a timely manner, the care sector labour shortage will persist.

Alternative working arrangements like gig platforms might be a temporary solution, but many care professionals are still unable to put their skills and experience to use in permanent jobs. Canada needs to work with these new immigrants to understand how regulatory barriers can be assuaged. We have to ask: are immigrant care workers able to thrive, or will precarious alternative forms of work, like gig platform jobs, become the norm?

Gender inequality is still rampant in the maritime longshore profession

Written by Lucas Dufour, Toronto Metropolitan University, Meena Andiappan, University of Toronto. Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation.

There are fewer women working on the French harbours today than there were 70 years ago.

Gender equality has made enormous strides over the past century. In Canada today, women participate in the labour market at much higher rates than they used to — there are almost 3.5 times more women working now than there were in the 1950s.

The proportion of women in traditionally male-dominated fields has also grown significantly. The number of female medical residents taking on orthopedic surgery residencies, for example, increased by 111 per cent from 2006 to 2016. In addition, women’s representation in STEM fields has increased over the past several decades.

Despite this progress in certain male-dominated fields, other professions still remain difficult for women to break into. The fact that many of the jobs in these fields are dirty, dangerous and physically difficult is frequently used to justify women’s lack of access, and women’s workforce participation often remains concentrated in less physically tasking jobs.

But what about professions that have become cleaner and less physically taxing over the years? While you might expect these jobs to be more open to women, such as was the case with police work in the UK, our upcoming study in Research in the Sociology of Organizations proves this isn’t the case.

The longshore profession

For our study, we looked at the longshore profession (people who manage the transfer of shipped goods at docks) in France over seven decades. What we found was surprising: As jobs became cleaner, safer, and less physically arduous, fewer women were seen on the docks.

In fact, there are fewer women working on the French harbours today than there were 70 years ago: As our interviewees note, there are exactly none. Longshore workers in France are not alone — only five per cent of longshore workers in British Columbia are women and women constitute soley 1.2 per cent of the entire global seafarer workforce.

To understand why, we must go back 50 years. In France, before 1968, women were accepted into the longshore profession but were relegated to performing “women’s work,” like sowing and repairing sacks that held transported goods or cleaning warehouses.

A painting of a group of men lounging on a wharf during their lunch break.
‘The Longshoremen’s Noon,’ by John George Brown, 1879. The longshore profession is one that has been historically dominated by men. Photo credit: Shutterstock

In contrast, men transferred heavy cargo, which was considered a higher prestige job since it involved direct contact with goods and boats. Lower-status tasks were given to women who remained inside the warehouse with little direct contact with shipped goods. A clear division of labour was implemented, resulting in lower salaries for women.

Justifying discrimination

Longshoremen tended to view women either as too delicate and fragile to work on the docks, or as too distracting to labour alongside men. They justified their exclusion of women based on classic gender essentialist arguments: Women were not as strong as men and would be put off by the gruelling nature of working in the ship holds.

Cargo containers were introduced onto French harbours starting in 1970 and the work that the women used to do disappeared as most goods became transported and stored in containers.

Due to this increasing mechanization, less physical labour was required and less dirt and danger were involved in longshore work. However, mechanization also reduced the total number of longshore positions. At the same time, the workers’ union became stronger, meaning salaries rose and longshore jobs became increasingly attractive and scarce.

In response, men decided to support those who most closely resembled members of their existing group by recruiting their sons and male family members. By only hiring men, longshore workers kept women out of the profession, even though the work became less physically taxing over time.

Gender inequality persists

How did these men justify their exclusion of women? We found that longshoremen used three tactics. First, men claimed that their jobs were more stressful than before and that although physical strength was no longer a barrier, another type of strength — psychological strength — was necessary.

Second, the stereotype of women being distracting was used to suggest that the presence of women on the docks would disturb men’s ability to stand strong and united in the face of employers wanting to cut salaries and jobs.

A longshore worker sweeping long rods, which are used to secure containers on a ship, with a broom.
Longshoremen thought women were either too delicate and fragile to work on the docks, or too distracting to labour alongside men. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Third, although there was now less physical labour involved in their jobs, men decided that each longshore worker needed to be able to perform all tasks, physical and non-physical. This meant that men could, once again, excuse their discrimination by claiming women wouldn’t be able to perform the few strenuous physical tasks that remained.

Hope on the horizon

The longshore profession is not entirely unique in its exclusion of women: For example, as of 2018, only three women work on nuclear submarines in France. In the U.S., as of 2020, less than 8 per cent of truck drivers were women.

The longshore profession is, according to our knowledge, the only profession in France that still has no women in it. However, we did see hope in the attitudes of younger longshoremen we interviewed — some of whom were strongly in support of the arrival of women, though even they noted “it might take one generation of longshoremen or two.”

Gender discrimination has existed since the beginning of the labour markets and continues to be prominent in many countries and professions across the globe. Our study suggests that, although justifications for discrimination may easily evolve, getting discrimination to budge is arduous work indeed.

Uber Eats’ cannabis delivery partnership with Leafly is mostly smoke and mirrors

Written by Brad Poulos, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation. 

A new partnership between Uber and Leafly allows users to order cannabis for delivery using the popular Uber Eats app. 

Before 2018, cannabis was illegal in Canada. Now, as of mid-October, Uber Eats can deliver it in Toronto as the result of a partnership with Leafly, an online marketplace for licensed cannabis retailers. This is the first time Uber will deliver cannabis anywhere in the world.

This deal is being touted by Uber and Leafly as a great leap forward for the industry. The companies claim the arrangement will provide several benefits, including more business for the retailers, increased choice and flexibility for consumers while reducing the illicit market, and cutting down on impaired driving. However, these arguments hold little water.

How it will work

Consumers are able to use the Uber Eats platform to order cannabis products from any of three Toronto-based retailers — Hidden Leaf Cannabis, Minerva Cannabis and Shivaa’s Rose — provided they are within the retailer’s delivery footprint.

The ordering experience is similar to ordering food delivery on the app: customers navigate to the “recreational cannabis” category, then to their chosen retailer’s menu where they select their desired products, then state whether they will pick up the order or prefer delivery. Uber then transmits the order to the applicable store. Once filled, the order is delivered to the customer by the retailer’s own delivery staff, as prescribed by law.

Ontario’s provincial cannabis regulations were only recently modified to permit delivery, although they do not permit third-party delivery. The retailer’s drivers must be employees of the retailer, be CannSell certified and are required to verify identity and age at the time of delivery.

Hands holding a smartphone with the Uber Eats app loading screen visible on it.
Consumers can use the Uber Eats platform to order cannabis products from any of three Toronto-based retailers. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Little to gain for consumers and retailers

From the consumer’s perspective, the deal will merely provide another online location to order cannabis for delivery, on top of the Ontario Cannabis Store and other private retailers.

All three of the initial stores currently offer online ordering for either in-store pickup or free same-day delivery to a designated area within the Greater Toronto Area (with a minimum purchase amount).

Consumers can also order these same products from the Ontario Cannabis Store run by the Ontario government where they can opt for same-day delivery within Toronto for a fee of eight dollars. Any gain on the part of consumers is minimal.

There’s also little in this for retailers. They will likely see a marginal increase in orders, but at what price to them? Neither the retailers nor Uber have been willing to disclose the commercial terms of this deal so we’re left to guess. Cannabis, as of this moment, doesn’t enjoy the kind of margins that can sustain the fees that Uber is charging.

It’s not hard to imagine that most cannabis retailers will also want to join Uber Eats down the road, when the industry has consolidated more. When this happens, it will mean overwhelming choices for consumers, something that has been proven to reduce sales in other categories.

The profitability question

Since the majority of cannabis retailers are private, we don’t have visibility into their profitability. We can, however, gain some insight into it using the Québec-owned la Société québécoise du cannabis as a case study. It represents the upper boundary of profitability, since they have the highest sales per store in Canada on average, and a relatively modest 90 store footprint compared to the 1,680 currently authorized in Ontario.

La Société québécoise du cannabis is, by any measure, a healthy cannabis retailer. In their most recent quarterly report, they reported a net income of $20.5 million on sales of $139 million, which translates to a net profit margin of just under 15 per cent.

SQDC logo on the outside of a store.
La Société québécoise du cannabis store in Montreal. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

Uber charges food retailers 15 per cent of their total revenue to those that provide their own delivery service and use the platform solely to take orders (30 per cent if Uber’s drivers are used). Assuming Uber takes a similar bite out of cannabis retailers’ profits, there isn’t margin enough for this to make sense to retailers. The math just doesn’t work.

The value offered by Leafly in this arrangement is unspecified, but given their recent losses in both end user and retail accounts, it may be in the deal to merely juice their stock price.

Uber and Leafly come out on top

Arguments claiming that this partnership will help reduce cannabis-impared driving and the size of the illicit market are simply not defensible. While driving while high is a serious and increasingly prevalent issue, the existence of another cannabis delivery service will not affect the current statistics.

There are already plenty of delivery options for people who would rather stay on the right side of the law and avoid driving to the nearest store. Similarly, consumers who are interested in purchasing legal weed, not black market weed, already have the means to do so.

There is no reason why an Uber Eats-specific delivery service will have any more of an impact than current delivery services do. It also remains to be seen if people will want to use Uber to buy their weed in the first place, considering the options already available.

It’s clear that retailers and consumers will not be the winners in this new partnership — that honour goes to the middlemen, Uber and Leafly. At the moment, that seems to be the state of the Canadian cannabis industry — business is booming for provincial wholesalers, while private retailers and cannabis producers are left in the lurch.

Amid flight cancellations and airport chaos, is it worth traveling right now?

Written by Frederic Dimanche and Wayne Smith , Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit (JeShoots/Unsplash). Originally published in The Conversation. 

The key to a successful trip is to properly plan for it.

We all realized the importance of the COVID-19 pandemic when we were asked by the government to stay home in Winter 2020.

When Canadians were given the green light to travel again, the government and media instilled a fear of travelling and many chose not to.

Although we’re not out of the pandemic yet, when it comes to restrictions, things are looking better. Take the EU for example: Restrictions have been dropped, and as a result, international trips increased 182 per cent from 2021 to 2022 for the first three months of the year.

And while some are still preferring to stay at home or avoiding international air travel, many are eager to fly, but are confronted with difficult travel conditions: Flights are delayed or cancelled, people are waiting in line for hours at airports and missing their flights, luggage is being lost and emotions are high.

So, is it worth travelling right now?

Revenge travel and a labour crisis

On one hand, the good news is many people have overcome their fear of travelling amid the pandemic. They long for a time when they could visit other places, or see friends and family they’ve missed these past 30 months.

Revenge travel — a term coined to define people’s need to travel after being deprived of it — and nostalgia for travelling are fuelling people’s return to travel. And Europe is a top destination.

Compared to 2021, Europe welcomed almost four times as many international travellers during the first three months of the year, while the U.S. welcomed more than twice as many.

A mountain with homes embedded along the side is pictured by the sea.
Europe is a top travel destination right now. Pictured: Portofino, Italy. Photo credit: Kristine Tanne/Unsplash.

On the other hand, the travel rebound has met a labour crisis: Employers are struggling to hire qualified people after many left due to pandemic unemployment. The result? Travel chaos.

From lost luggage to missed connections and cancelled flights, airports are struggling. In particular, Toronto Pearson airport has received poor publicity the past several weeks and been ranked “worst in the world” for the number of delayed flights (over 50 per cent of all flights) from the end of May until July 19.

Is it going to be fixed anytime soon? Probably not. But airports like Pearson say they are seeing improvements. In the meantime, it’s a safe bet for travellers to get accustomed to paying more for lower quality services.

Plenty of health benefits

But it is still worth travelling. We know how important travel is: We travel to reconnect with friends and family, to escape our normal lifestyles, to discover other landscapes and cultures. And taking vacations is actually good for your health and wellness, even when it’s a short trip!

Travelling has health benefits, like recovering from mental and physical fatigue, improving household relationships and making people happier. Researchers have shown that satisfaction with leisure travel is positively connected to quality of life. And several studies have even shown that international travel restrictions led to unintended negative health and social consequences.

Arco de Triunfo de Barcelona in Spain.
Travelling has many health benefits. Photo credit: Toa Heftiba/Unsplash.

While travel for vacation is recommended, beware: According to air travel specialists, more disruptions are in the cards and more air travel chaos is on its way. The labour issues that are the main reason for the disruptions are unlikely to disappear anytime soon and will continue to affect all tourism sectors, from transportation to hospitality and attractions.

While travellers should not feel discouraged as the benefits outweigh the costs, it may be time to consider alternative, less environmentally damaging forms of travel: closer to home, without flying and favouring domestic tourism as a substitute to international tourism.

The key to a successful trip is to properly plan for it, consider any alternatives that may be needed and be diligent about checking and double checking travel regulations and restrictions — even while on your trip, as they may change.

Make sure you have digital copies of all relevant documents (like your passport, prescriptions and vaccination records) and pack at least a couple of days of clothes in your carry-on (or don’t check a bag at all). Also remember to be respectful of the people and countries you visit (wearing a mask, for example, may be encouraged or required in some countries or public places).

Finally, bring some patience, flexibility and a willingness for adventure.

Calls for ‘ethical oil’ are pushing Canada to become a petro-state

Written by Sibo Chen, Toronto Metropolitan University. Photo credit: Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press. Originally published in The Conversation.

Pumpjacks draw oil in a canola field near Olds, Alta.

Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine has brought fossil fuels and geopolitics to the forefront of public discussion. In an effort to evade economic sanctions, Russia has weaponized its energy exports.

In March, President Vladimir Putin said he expects “unfriendly” countries — those that have imposed sanctions over Russia’s war in Ukraine — to pay for gas sales in rubles. In May, Russia halted gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria after they refused to pay in rubles. The European Union buys a significant portion of its natural gas (40 per cent) and imported oil (27 per cent) from Russia. Some analysts have said a few countries, like Germany, could see a recession if gas from Russia were completely cut off.

The escalating energy crisis has reignited calls to increase the production and export of Canadian oil and gas to diversify Europe’s energy supply. Pro-bitumen think tanks such as the Canadian Energy Centre and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute have made similar arguments accusing opposition to pipelines as dooming western countries’ energy security.

A map showing LNG terminals and pipelines in Europe.
Imports of natural gas into Europe from both pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG). Photo credit: The Associated Press.

In essence, these arguments repackage the ethical oil rhetoric that frames investment in bitumen as morally superior to oil from non-democratic regimes. But the significant expansion of bitumen infrastructure comes with economic uncertainties and contradicts Canada’s COP26 commitment to decarbonization. Moreover, it diverts public attention away from the inconvenient reality that Canada and Russia are petro-states that share numerous similarities in energy policy making.

Oil booms and petro-states

Political scientist Terry Lynn Karl introduced the idea of a petro-state in her 1997 book, The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petro-States. She developed the petro-state thesis to explain the inability of oil-exporting nations such as Saudi Arabia and Nigeria to convert their petroleum revenues into more stable and self-sustaining economies.

Karl’s main insight was that a nation’s reliance on oil exports leads to economic and political problems such as weak economic growth in manufacturing sectors, vulnerability to price shocks, widespread social inequality, authoritarianism, corruption and so on.

Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, soaring oil prices substantially altered the global energy demand and supply landscape. This trend considerably bolstered the oil and gas industry in countries like Canada, Norway and Russia. In response, scholars began to debate whether the petro-state thesis should include them, given their increasing dependence on fossil fuel revenues.

A man in a black suit speaks via microphone in front of several brightly coloured flags.
Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Moscow on May 16, 2022, shortly before halting gas supplies to Finland, after the country refused to pay in rubles. Photo credit: Alexander Nemenov/Pool Photo via AP.

For instance, scholars noted that Russia is compelled to prioritize the energy sector over other economic sectors due to the influence of natural gas in generating export revenues and in sustaining its geopolitical influence in Europe. This results in an economic structure that is vulnerable to energy market volatility. In 2020, record-low oil prices imposed a hefty cost on Russia, contributing to a dramatic currency depreciation and negative GDP growth for the whole year.

Overcome the petro-state curse

Scholars have debated the extent to which Canada can be classified as a petro-state. After all, energy products only account for 8.3 per cent of national GDP, which is notably lower than typical petro-states. Nonetheless, the Canadian economy and well-known petro-state economies exhibit comparable structural vulnerabilities.

A multi-level oil platform with rocky shoreline behind it.
The Hebron Platform, anchored in Trinity Bay, N.L., in April 2017. Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly.

Canada’s energy sector has struggled from declining demand, as a result of the pandemic. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador rely heavily on the energy sector, and have been hit especially hard.

The resurgence of “ethical oil” narratives that moralize bitumen extraction and demonize critics aim to frame resource dependence as part of Canadian identity. Put differently, the bitumen industry and its allies are pushing for “petro-nationalism,” which symbolically celebrates bitumen while obfuscating the unequal distributions of bitumen’s economic benefits and its environmental costs.

In search of a path to net-zero

Days after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tweeted, “Now if Canada really wants to help defang Putin, then let’s get some pipelines built!”

However, building more pipelines to increase the Canadian economy’s reliance on fossil fuels is not the only option. Norway, whose economy is currently reliant on the oil and gas industry, is a shining example of how to overcome the petro-state curse.

As policy analyst Bruce Campbell has written, instead of the denial, delay and division that characterizes current Canadian climate policy, Norway’s path to net-zero is built on climate action, close collaboration with labour unions and NGOs and strong government leadership in collecting and redistributing energy revenues.

If Canada is truly concerned about becoming a moral energy producer, then our public conversations need to focus on exploring immediate policy actions aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector and planning for its phaseout.

How rural Canada can attract and retain international health-care providers: Address discrimination, provide support

Written by Melissa Kelly, Toronto Metropolitan University; Natalya Brown, Nipissing University; Victoria Esses, Western University. Photo credit: Shutterstock. Originally published in The Conversation.

Common approaches used to encourage internationally educated health-care professionals to work in smaller communities often focus primarily on attraction, but do not address the reasons why they tend to leave.

Smaller communities in Canada, particularly those located in rural areas, find it difficult to attract and especially retain health-care professionals, leading to poorer health outcomes.

For example, in March 2022, the physician shortage in Northern Ontario forced the emergency department in Red Lake to close for 24 hours, and those with medical emergencies had to drive over 200 kilometres to the nearest hospital. In the same region, staffing shortages of nurses and personal support workers are exacerbated by recruitment and retention challenges. Similar situations exist in many small communities across Canada.

It’s no surprise then that all five Northern Ontario cities participating in the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot, designed to bring more immigrants to smaller communities, are prioritizing health-care professionals. But can they keep them?

Recruiting internationally educated health-care professionals (IEHPs) to work in underserved communities is not new. However, challenges in keeping them in these communities persist. As immigration researchers, we have documented the challenges of retaining newcomers in Canada’s small communities, with a recent focus on IEHPs.

Why popular approaches don’t work

Common approaches used to encourage IEHPs to work in smaller communities often include “return of service” contracts requiring that IEHPs work in underserved areas for several years as a pathway to licensure to practise within the province or territory. For example, the National Assessment Collaboration’s Practice-Ready Assessment programs for international physicians, offered in seven provinces, require a return-of-service commitment in a rural area of the province.

These somewhat coercive strategies tend to be ineffective in the long term because they focus primarily on attracting IEHPs to smaller communities and do not address the reasons why they tend to leave. These reasons include social and professional isolation.

A man in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck handing a piece of paper to a woman seen from behind.
Internationally educated health-care professionals in smaller communities may experience long work hours and limited time off for vacation due to the small size of the health-care team, and have limited opportunities for professional development and advancement within a cohort of peers. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

The factors driving social isolation for IEHPs in smaller communities include distance from family members and social connections, limited access to settlement services that can facilitate connections to the community, the lack of a large immigrant population and access to cultural and religious supports, limited employment and educational opportunities for family members, and experiences of racism and discrimination.

The factors driving professional isolation in smaller communities include long work hours and limited time off for vacation due to the small size of the health-care team, and limited opportunities for professional development and advancement within a cohort of peers. IEHPs may also find that they lack the generalist skill sets required for practising in smaller communities, which can differ considerably from urban health care.

While several of these factors apply to all health-care professionals, whether Canadian-born or internationally trained, others tend to be unique to IEHPs, compounding their sense of isolation and their motivation to move to a large urban centre.

Reasons to stay

Several strategies can be used to support the retention of IEHPs, including training and experience in small community health care. As an example of the importance of training and experience, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) has increased the number of physicians and dietitians who practise in smaller communities in Northern Ontario.

NOSM graduates are familiar with the needs of these communities and, due to their specialized training, are prepared to serve them long-term. Once established in a community, professional networks and professional development opportunities can also help IEHPs to overcome professional isolation.

A man and a woman and a child potting plants on a green lawn in front of a house.
Internationally educated health-care professionals will be more likely to stay in small communities if their families are happily settled in the community and they feel socially connected. Photo credit: Shutterstock.

In addition, IEHPs will be more likely to stay in small communities if their families are happily settled in the community and they feel socially connected. Addressing racism and discrimination in the community is a first step. Also, the spouses of IEHPs may require special assistance to find employment related to their field of study. The children of IEHPs may benefit from connections to educational and extracurricular activities.

The right fit

Efforts should also be made to attract IEHPs with characteristics that make them more likely to stay. IEHPs who are from small or rural communities may find it easier to adapt to living and working in smaller Canadian communities, making them much more likely to stay.

Communities should also communicate what kind of lifestyle they can offer to IEHPs, and IEHPs should know what to expect, improving fit. IEHPs may be attracted to smaller communities because of the housing, educational and outdoor leisure opportunities on offer, or because of the sense of safety and community that some smaller centres can provide. Importantly, these location attributes may appeal more to IEHPs who are at a certain point in their lives. Those prioritizing homeownership or raising children may be more likely to have their needs met in a smaller community.

For the upcoming Municipal Nominee Program, in which communities will have more say in the selection of new immigrants, a key measure of success will be how the program addresses labour shortages and retention in key sectors such as health care. The ability of small communities to make the right matches and address professional and social isolation for IEHPs will be essential.

It’s not just that Canadian restaurant workers have left — many have yet to arrive

Written by Maggie Perzyna, Ryerson University. Photo credit: Canadian Press/Ryan Remiorz. Originally published in The Conversation

Although the pandemic was an accelerant, labour shortages have plagued the hospitality industry for years.

Recent media reporting about the hospitality industry has been dominated by stories about mass resignations and workers leaving for white-collar jobs.

Many sources cite a combination of low wagesinstability and the lack of a decent working environment as factors pushing workers out of restaurants and into better paying, more secure jobs.

While repeated pandemic lockdowns and closures have pushed workers to find jobs in different sectors, this version of the story ignores that one in four restaurant workers are immigrants and that border closures over the past two years have meant that many potential immigrants have not been able to enter Canada.

Contrary to the headlines, our ongoing research project — based on interviews with immigrants working in Toronto’s restaurant industry — shows that the overwhelming majority of workers planned to return to the industry as soon as pandemic restrictions were lifted.

The labour shortage is not new

Although the pandemic was an accelerant, labour shortages have plagued the hospitality industry for some time. According to Restaurants Canada’s senior economist, Chris Elliott, numbers from Statistics Canada were signaling the trend for years.

Young people generally account for about 40 per cent of all food service workers. In the late 70s and early 80s, 15- to 24-year-olds accounted for about 20 per cent of the overall population in Canada. That number has declined to just 12 per cent.

Before the pandemic, immigration was an important source for filling job vacancies. In contrast, 2020 saw a decrease from 2019 of 145,687 international students alone.

As of December 2021, employment in accommodation and food services remained 206,000 workers short (16.9 per cent) of its pre-COVID level, even though there are more people working now than there were in February 2020.

According to the 2021 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration, 2020 saw a record low number of temporary resident visas and electronic travel authorizations delivered as a result of border closures and travel restrictions.

Graph showing the amount of temporary residents in Canada.
Temporary residents coming to Canada, which include visitors, students and temporary foreign workers, must receive either a temporary resident visa or an electronic travel authorization before departure to Canada, with few exceptions. Photo credit: 2021 Annual Report to Parliament on Immigration.

A recent study published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that, rather than leaving the labour market, workers are finding jobs in professional services, leading them to conclude that the Canadian economy is seeing a “major sectoral realignment.”

A highly stratified industry

Accommodation and food services is a broad category, including everything from quick service chains to high-end full-service restaurants. Under this large umbrella, the types of jobs and corresponding pay vary widely. While quick service restaurant jobs tend to be minimum wage, wages in full-service restaurants are supplemented by tips.

Although the lion’s share of tips go to customer-facing servers — as well as managers and chefs sometimes — bussers, food-runners and cooks all make tips on top of hourly wages.

A man in an apron stands behind a counter covered in prepared food dishes.
Most sources cite a combination of low wages, instability and the lack of a decent working environment as factors pushing workers out of restaurants and into better paying, more secure jobs. Photo credit: AP Photo/Brittainy Newman.

The claim that workers are simply moving to white-collar sectors also obscures structural barriers to being able to freely move between jobs, including racism and discrimination.

Racialized migrants tend to be in back-of-house jobs, such as cooks and light duty cleaners, in comparison to front-of-house jobs like servers and front desk clerks. For example, in Toronto, Filipino workers, Jamaican-born women and Sri Lankan-born men are more than twice as likely to work these jobs as other immigrants.

For many international students and newcomers without recognized foreign credentials, restaurants jobs provide low barriers to entry and flexible hours, where language skills can be honed and the coveted Canadian experience acquired. Many restaurants also sponsor professional cooks, chefs and managers who come to Canada to work in the sector.

A place of opportunity

Low wagesquestionable employment practices and precarity are all part of a reckoning that the restaurant industry as a whole must confront if it is to recover from its current image crisis and attract workers in the future.

In the meantime, we need to dig deeper and ask more questions, not just about the leavers, but also about the stayers. We know that COVID-19 had a disproportionate impact on immigrants and racialized people in Canada. It is vital that the hospitality industry that employs many of them is a place of opportunity rather than a source of oppression and exploitation.

What China’s plans to decarbonize its economy mean for Canada’s energy exports

Written by , Ryerson University. Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward. Originally published in The Conversation.The Conversation

The ongoing construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, near Kamloops, B.C. in September 2021. China’s clean energy plans could create problems for Canada.

One of the surprises to come out of COP26 was the U.S.-China joint declaration on enhancing climate action through the 2020s. Although the declaration lacked details, it offers a positive sign of progress toward curbing global greenhouse gas emissions, in part because China and the United States are the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

The declaration also marks “a rare moment of co-operation between two superpowers locked in geopolitical rivalry” over trade tariffs and intellectual properties, among others, according to Bloomberg News.

For scholars who have been following China’s climate politics closely, this news reaffirms China’s resolution to rapidly decarbonize its economy. This resolution, however, has been largely neglected by Canadian policy-makers and investors in the oil and gas sector, in part because the Canadian mainstream media has underreported China’s evolving climate governance.

Regrettably, such neglect entails significant economic risks for Canada: China’s increased decarbonization efforts will cast shadows on the future of Canada’s fossil fuel exports.

China’s evolving climate governance

The joint declaration reaffirms both countries’ commitment of stepping up their carbon-cutting policies in order to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to “well below 2 C” and keeping the 1.5 C target “within reach.”

China’s chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua, right, walks with John Kerry, United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 12, 2021, shortly after the two countries had issued their joint declaration to accelerate action on climate. Photo credit: AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali.

To this end, the major areas for climate co-operation outlined in the declaration focus on both countries accelerating their energy transitions in this decade. In terms of decarbonizing electricity generation, for example, the U.S. aims to achieve 100 per cent carbon-free electricity by 2035. For its part, China promises to phase down coal consumption and make best efforts to accelerate the process. Both countries have also identified the reduction of methane emissions as a pivotal area for future collaborative efforts.

China’s commitments in the joint declaration are consistent with its evolving climate policy, which has undergone significant changes in recent years. As a recent Environmental Politics article points out, climate governance in China is characterized by the dynamics between climate change and the Chinese government’s quest for “performance legitimacy,” whereby the Chinese government maintains legitimacy by achieving concrete goals such as economic growth and social stability.

The Chinese public is becoming increasingly aware of the dire consequences that can come with extreme weather events, such as the July 2021 flood that killed more than 300 people in the central province of Henan. The importance of government policies that avoid and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases has risen substantially in the public eye.

Vegetables rot in water-logged fields months after torrential rain flooded parts of central China’s Henan province in July 2021. Photo credit: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan.

In response, the Chinese government’s quest of performance legitimacy — once solely based on its economic development — now gives more consideration to environmental issues. It also explains why China has increased the focus on the transition renewables and other sustainability measures in its 14th Five-Year Plan, as well as the country’s ambitious goal to become carbon neutral by 2060.

China’s accelerating eco-transformation

The Chinese government has communicated its sustainability efforts domestically via “ecological civilization” — a policy framework aimed at establishing a green economy that fits China’s developmental trajectory. But a general lack of international awareness about this concept’s centrality in guiding China’s environmental discourse remains.

My recent analysis of the international media’s coverage of ecological civilization suggests that many reports have equated the concept to misleading propaganda. Not only does this dismiss China’s recent environmental achievements in areas such as renewable energy developmentafforestation (the planting of new trees or seed in previously unforested areas) and ecological farming, but it may also result in significant miscalculations by foreign oil and gas producers about the future directions of China’s environmental and energy policies.

Admittedly, China still faces numerous obstacles to decarbonize its economy. For example, its low-carbon development agenda has led to recent power shortages, which left many worried that the government would have to slow downs its efforts to close coal power plants to restabilize its power supply.

China’s national carbon emissions trading program has many problems too. As highlighted in a comprehensive review of the program, factors like as market volatility and inaccurate emissions data at the facility level demonstrate the inherent complexity of establishing the world’s largest carbon market in a short period.

Wind turbines along the route between Beijing and Zhangjiakou. President Xi Jinping pledged in 2020 that China would go carbon neutral by 2060. Photo credit: AP Photo/Ng Han Guan.

Growing risks of investing in fossil fuels

Canada is currently developing two mega energy projects with China as a key customer: the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project (TMX) to carry crude and refined oil from Alberta to British Columbia, and the LNG Canada facility (and its associated Coastal GasLink pipeline) to export natural gas to Asian markets.

Both projects initially promised long-term economic prosperity in exchange for public support. But their economic benefits must now be reassessed in light of how the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated many countries’ transition to low-cost renewables, including China’s.

In October 2020, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published an updated assessment of the need for TMX, based on latest data. The reassessment found that the increase in bitumen production required by TMX runs counter to Canada’s emissions reduction target, and that Canadian heavy oil exported to Asia will “likely sell at a loss of $4-6 per barrel.”

Regarding B.C.‘s LNG exports, a July 2020 report by the Conference Board of Canada claims that a thriving Canadian LNG industry will generate more than $500 billion in investment between 2020 and 2064. However, a closer examination of the report’s methodology reveals two faulty assumptions underpinning its forecasts.

To begin with, the report’s data on natural gas demand in Asia-Pacific markets ends in 2018, prior to the macroeconomic shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Energy Agency estimates that “the COVID-19 crisis will result in 75 billion cubic metres of lost annual demand by 2025.” This poses a significant challenge to future plans for Canadian LNG exports.

Second, the report’s economic projections are based on the development of LNG export capacity of 56 million tonnes of gas per year. For reference, Phase 1 of LNG Canada, with a planned in-service date in 2023, will only be able to export 14 million tonnes per year.

In other words, for B.C. to realize the proposed economic benefits, it must not only secure enough investment to quadruple its LNG production over the next few decades, but it must also find ways to sell its LNG at competitive prices to rapidly decarbonizing economies such as China. Such economic calculations are unlikely to work.

During COP26, Justin Trudeau announced Canada will cap emissions from the oil and gas sector. Yet, there is a more fundamental question that merits broader public conversations: do we want to spend more of Canada’s already limited carbon budget on the fossil fuel sector, which is declining and poses increasing economic risks?