Canadians are suffering from an acute affordability crisis and governments are taking welcome steps to relieve some of their immediate financial pain.
Don’t think for a minute though that these financial band aids are actual cures for our real problem – the woeful state of household financial health in Canada.
According to a recent J.D. Power study, 59 per cent of retail bank customers in Canada are financially unhealthy. Canadians currently save 8.1 per cent of their annual income, but savings are concentrated in higher income households and 51 per cent of employees report living paycheque to paycheque.
Why are we so financially sick?
The answers are complex, but here are some of the likely factors at play.
Decades of rising housing and post-secondary education costs have increased the burden of mortgage and student loan debt. The rise of non-standard work has left 37 per cent of working age Canadians without a steady paycheque, making it hard for them to budget, plan financially, and save, and causing them to borrow more to make ends meet.
A profusion of financial products and services have made financial decisions more complex and high-cost, high-risk, financial products undermine our financial health. Many households cannot afford professional advice to navigate this landscape successfully and community financial help services are effective but not widely available.
While income supports for seniors and families with children lift many out of poverty, one in five Canadians with low incomes do not tax file, and consequently, miss out on their benefits.
Social assistance benefits for single working-age adults and people with disabilities have eroded so badly that some fall as low as 66 per cent below the poverty line.
So, how can we rebuild Canadians’ financial health?
Like any doctor, we should start by treating those who are in most urgent need.
Job one is ensuring people have enough income to cover basic needs by turning minimum wages into liveable wages, boosting provincial social assistance rates and indexing both to inflation.
Let’s also make sure everyone has quality financial help and advice when they need it by investing nationally in community financial help services that build financial capability, health, and resilience, as Australia, the UK and New Zealand have done.
We can prevent financial gouging by dropping the maximum allowable annualized interest rate from 60 per cent to 30 per cent, eliminating the interest rate exemption for payday loans, and tightening provincial regulation of other high-cost, high-risk, financial products and practices.
Now is also good time to stop paying wealthy people to save more and, instead, provide a federal matching grant to encourage low/moderate-income Canadians to save in Tax Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs), building a buffer against future hardship.
And finally, let’s reform education financing to reduce the debt burden on struggling households.
Will these remedies cure all our financial woes? No. But they are sure better than the box of band aids currently on offer.
Elizabeth Mulholland is the CEO of Prosper Canada.
Financial band aids are nice, but cures are better
Canadians are suffering from an acute affordability crisis and governments are taking welcome steps to relieve some of their immediate financial pain.
Canada’s investments in tech entrepreneurship are paying off
When I graduated with a bachelor of engineering from McGill in 1987, the best engineering students went to big Canadian companies like Pratt and Whitney, IBM, Nortel, CAE Industries, Dofasco and Alcan. In 1987, our naive impression was that it was those engineering students no one wanted to hire that started their own companies.
In those days, there was little discussion or support for engineering students to take the bold step to become entrepreneurs or founders, to forge their own path.
Fast forward to 2022 and the landscape has completely shifted.
Today, an engineering student who decides to become a founder is heralded as courageous and brave and admired by their classmates. Today, there are many supports in place for entrepreneurship — from mentorship to seed funding to free start-up space, and more.
We have Communitech and the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo, Creative Destruction Labs in Toronto and Vancouver and Volta in Halifax. Across the country we have invested in helping people start companies in an effort to pave the way for innovation and Canada’s economic future.
A recent report, Startup Genome, listed the Waterloo-Toronto Region Corridor as Canada’s leading tech ecosystem, with the highest concentration of AI startups in the world. Nearly half of the venture capital deployed in Canada in 2021 — a record CAD$7.7 billion — went to companies based in the Waterloo-Toronto corridor — now one of the most concentrated tech workforces in North America with 15,000 tech companies and 5,200 tech startups employing over 200,000 workers.
Canada’s investments in the tech entrepreneurship space are paying off and our prominence on the world stage in this sector is growing. We need to keep up the momentum.
It’s as important to mark what we are doing right as it is to critique what’s missing from our strategy, so we can continue to build on it.
One of the reasons for our tech success is attracting and forging a depth and quality of talent in the Waterloo-Toronto corridor that ranks alongside the globe’s elite tech regions. More broadly, Canada continues to attract a steady influx of diverse, ambitious immigrants from across the globe that add significant value to our talent pool.
The University of Waterloo in particular has had outsized success as a University that spawns entrepreneurs. Why?
It has a unique entrepreneurial culture that includes a policy permitting creators to own their ideas. The University was designed to be industry-relevant right from the start, and the diversity of experiences students acquire from multiple co-op opportunities in different sectors brings new ideas back to the University.
This fall, University of Waterloo will also offer a Canadian first: unique Entreprenuerial PhD fellowships to support outstanding business-minded doctoral students who are interested in commercializing their research. This will allow students to enrol in a Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) part-time program while completing their PhD in their area of study.
Other Univerisites across the country have similarly had success with directly fostering and embracing tech entrepreneurship in creative ways. We need to continue to encourage and broaden this support to sustain Canada’s startup success.
Mary Wells is the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo.
Getting more immigrants to run for political office means paving the way for active citizenship
Kristyn Wong Tam just made history. They became the first Asian-Canadian, queer and non-binary person elected to Ontario’s legislature, significantly expanding the vision of what a politician looks like in this country.
Kristyn joins other recent Canadian political “firsts,” including Bhutila Karpoche, the first elected official in North America of Tibetan descent, and Doly Begum, the first Bangladeshi-Canadian woman to be elected in the country.
These leaders share a similar journey that first began with meaningful participation in civic engagement and community work, increasing political engagement, culminating in the decision to run for elected office.
Why does the political engagement of people like Kristyn, Bhutila and Doly matter so much?
Seeing a visibly powerful immigrant woman or non-binary person in an elected, decision-making role in the political arena empowers others to do the same. Emerging research shows that visibility and role modeling increases political participation and results in a stronger democracy from more diversified representation.
Higher engagement from traditionally under-represented groups strengthens our social and political fabric, creating more trust in our institutions as they begin to more accurately reflect the society they purport to serve. This is particularly important now when our democracy is threatened by the rise of misinformation, low voter turnout and a growing distrust of authorities and institutions.
So how can we support civic engagement for future trailblazers like Kristyn Wong-Tam? In our recent academic and community-based research on civic participation of immigrants and refugees in Canada, undertaken with my colleagues at the Journeys to Active Citizenship project, we found that the journey starts first with community involvement.
We found that newcomers often become involved in local community-based activities before engaging in formal political activities like voting and running for office.
Voting and other forms of formal political engagement do not happen in a vacuum. Behind the decision to run for office are often journeys built on community engagement, a belief that the system is worth participating in and a social network that supports you.
Unsurprisingly, voter turnout amongst immigrants is higher the longer someone has been in Canada. Elections Canada even acknowledges that language can be a barrier to voting for new Canadians, alongside a lack of knowledge of the election process, less awareness of early voting opportunities and a lack of trust in the Canadian political process. However, once immigrants and refugees overcome settlement challenges, they are more likely to vote.
Immigrant women in the past have been less likely to participate in formal political processes, however, they are much more likely to participate in informal civic activities, which often act as a critical stepping-stone to formal participation through actions like voting, writing to your elected representative or running for office.
So how can we bolster opportunities for formal and informal civic participation for immigrants, and particularly immigrant women?
Building social networks has been proven to strengthen integration and belonging and is critical to help immigrants establish trust with fellow Canadians. Enabling community engagement is another key piece of the puzzle.
Creating and strengthening civic education and engagement that is tailored to newcomers, particularly women, would be important to build the skills, knowledge, capacity and confidence that would enable newcomers to engage more fully in Canada’s democracy.
In our interviews and group sessions with immigrants and refugees over the last two years, we found three recurring sources of community for newcomers to Canada: religious spaces, community-based organizations and post-secondary institutions. Academic literature also tells us that community-based organizations may act as mobilizing agents for civic participation.
Delivering programs through these places of community important to newcomers in their early years would be critical for success.
Supporting programs that bolster opportunities for newcomers to engage in a wide range of community initiatives such as volunteering, participating in local community events, or joining social clubs will help foster a sense of trust and belonging in our political processes and institutions, and ultimately lead to an increase in formal political participation.
Canada already benefits greatly from the labour of immigrant women — something that has been highlighted throughout the pandemic. It’s time we included their voices, expertise and experiences in the political process. Our democracy will only become more robust as a result.
Seher Shafiq is the Journeys to Active Citizenship Manager at North York Community House. She is also a writer, speaker and commentator on civic engagement and political participation in Canada.
The University of Saskatchewan has plans to revitalize the Emma Lake Kenderdine Campus while honouring the camp’s legacy.
Lengthy asylum wait times are a slow death for refugees – this can change
They were relatively civilized middle-class Europeans who looked more like the family living next door than the refugees western nations had become so accustomed to seeing trickle across their borders. At least, that’s how western news media and politicians depicted the Ukrainian citizens forced to flee their homes following the Russian invasion in February 2022.
As a second generation Canadian and daughter of two Eritrean refugees, the distinctions drawn between “us” and “them” were textbook dog-whistle messages that were impossible to ignore. When I traveled to Ethiopia and visited my uncle this past May, I witnessed first-hand how those refugees not considered part of “us” become forgotten casualties of broken immigration systems.
Picture this: you grow up living in an eight-bedroom home in a residential neighbourhood two-hours outside the capital city. Your father runs a public transportation business, and your mother is a shopkeeper who sells spices. You and your seven siblings attend the only private school in town. The life you lead is a good life until one day, the political situation of your country changes and suddenly your family loses everything. In the blink of an eye, fifteen years passes by in the refugee camp where you’ve been waiting in limbo for your asylum papers to arrive.
This is my uncle’s story, in a nutshell. Despite hailing from a part of the world considered “uncivilized,” the life he led prior to the 1998 Ethiopia-Eritrea border war was not all that different from the life of your average middle-class Canadian citizen.
Research studies have long indicated that lengthy asylum processes adversely impact the mental health of refugee claimants, leading to an increased risk of life-long psychiatric disorders and my uncle is no exception. After fifteen years in Shimelba camp we lost all contact with him for two years until 2021 when he was found homeless and sleeping in the streets of Addis Ababa. When I met him this summer, his mental health had deteriorated to such a point that my family pooled resources and placed him in a private facility where he could receive treatment for depression while he continued waiting to be granted asylum.
While his case is an extreme one, long asylum wait-times are not uncommon. In a 2017 memo, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada estimated that by 2021 wait times for asylum claims would take up to 11 years – this is much closer to the bleak reality faced by refugees than the projected 24-month period indicated on the department’s website.
So, when the Canadian government announced measures in March that would fast-track the arrival of an unlimited number of Ukrainian asylum seekers and allow them to apply for a renewable three-year temporary residence, many wondered why the same quick action couldn’t be taken for the refugees who have languished in the system for years.
Canada moving at a breakneck speed to implement targeted supports for Ukrainian asylum seekers was a reminder that our refugee policies are not race-blind commitments to humanitarianism. Who a nation welcomes across its borders and into its society reveals who belongs, who doesn’t and which lives it believes are worth saving.
This December marks 18 years since my uncle first filed an asylum claim in 2004 yet because he is not one of those refugees deemed to “look like us,” there is no telling when his ordeal will end.
Criticism of slow resettlement processes are usually met with the excuse that an increasing number of asylum claims have placed an untenable weight on a system already weakened by a mounting backlog. Yet the international response to the Ukraine crisis has revealed how governments in the west can operate like well-oiled machines when they feel the need.
Applaud our government for the exemplary support provided to Ukrainians in need – now urge them to apply this same urgency and care to all refugees, equally.
Hermona Kuluberhan is an Ottawa-based writer currently completing a master’s in journalism at Carleton University.
‘Role model effect’ can transform how women and girls think of political leadership
Alberta’s next provincial election could see two women competing to lead the province. If the NDP wins, Rachel Notley, currently leader of the opposition, would become the first woman in Canadian history to be re-elected as premier. If any of the four women in the current UCP leadership race become premier, Alberta would make history by having elected three different women as premiers.
The long-term consequences of having so many women competing for the UCP leadership could transform how women and girls think about political leadership.
Women leadership hopefuls are getting a lot of media attention. The current frontrunner, mainly due to her name recognition, is Danielle Smith, the former Wildrose leader who crossed the floor to join the Progressive Conservatives in 2014. She’s emerging as a favourite amongst a segment of conservatives who oppose COVID-19 restrictions and believe Alberta should aggressively assert independence from the federal government.
The other women in the race aren’t yet attracting as much attention, but they are serious candidates — all three are former ministers in Kenney’s government. Leela Aheer was Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism & Status of Women before being removed last summer for her criticisms of Kenney. Rajan Sawney and Rebecca Schulz both resigned from Cabinet when entering the leadership race. Sawney was Minister of Transportation and Schulz was Minister of Children’s Services.
The election could also be historical on another front. In addition to bringing different ideas to the table, Aheer and Sawney, come from Alberta’s South Asian community. If either of them wins the leadership, they’ll join Calgary’s mayor, Jyoti Gondek, in challenging a lengthy history of white male leadership.
Emerging research offers powerful evidence of how important it is to challenge the deeply entrenched association of political leadership with men.
A team of American political scientists studied how children perceive politics and found that when both boys and girls think of political leadership, they see it as masculine. When children from grades one through six were asked to draw a political leader, most drew a man. Ideas about gender roles and what sorts of things boys and girls are good at — sports for boys and sharing and caring for girls — emerge early and are reinforced by what children see around them.
Exposure to the political world, whether through watching the news with their parents, learning about politics in school, or taking field trips to provincial legislatures, reinforces the association between men and political leadership.
Girls don’t start out believing that politics isn’t for women, they learn it.
A few years ago, I toured Saskatchewan’s legislature. Not far from me was a group of elementary school children. The very first thing the children encountered was a room filled with photographs of former provincial leaders — all men. Looking at the young girls on the tour, I realized that if this was their first introduction to politics, they were learning that leaders do not look like them.
The good news is that women’s heightened visibility among UCP leadership hopefuls sets the stage for a transformation in how girls and women see political leadership. That’s because the many women in the race will generate a “role model effect,” activating women’s political interest. Researchers have documented this in several studies from countries around the world.
Two American scholars who focused specifically on teenage girls found that the record number of women running for U.S. Congress in 2018 improved how young women felt about democracy in their country compared to when the same girls were surveyed in 2016. Between now and October 6th — when the new leader is selected — teenage girls in Alberta, and across Canada, including racialized girls, are going to see people who look like them on the political stage competing to lead the province’s governing party.
Women are rising to the challenge of leadership, showing the next generation of potential leaders that there is space in politics for those who look different from past leaders. Future school children may stop drawing pictures of men when asked to draw a politician.
Susan Franceschet is Professor of Political Science at the University of Calgary.
The online abuse and harassment of women in politics must stop
Heidi Tworek QUOI Media
Many Canadians believe we have a better track record on women’s participation in politics than the facts warrant. A record number of women became MPs after the 2019 and the 2021 federal elections – that’s good news. But the increase was minimal: from 98 women in 2019 to 103 women out of 338 MPs in 2021 – hardly worth boasting about.
Currently, only 30.5 per cent of MPs are female, even though just over 50 per cent of Canadians are women. As of May 2022, Canada ranks 59th in the world for female representation in parliament, below countries like Cameroon and Chile, Spain and Senegal.
As a collective, MPs don’t reflect the Canadian population that they are elected to serve. That needs to change.
Scholars and journalists have identified many long-standing reasons for the gender imbalance such as parental leave policies and the tendency to nominate women in less winnable ridings. But another problem is newer, getting worse and needs our immediate attention: online abuse and harassment of women political candidates.
In 2019, I was part of a team that examined online abuse of all political candidates during the federal election. We developed a machine-learning model that classified all the tweets at political candidates as positive, neutral or low/medium/high negativity. By negativity, we meant something that attacked candidates for their identity, not robust discussion around policies.
Sadly, but unsurprisingly, our research found only seven per cent of tweets were positive, while 16 per cent were abusive and around 40 per cent negative.
We also interviewed 31 candidates and campaign staff to understand how online abuse affected campaigning. One NDP MP, Jenny Kwan, noted that abuse and misinformation often intertwine, telling us that “misinformation is often the first step. Then it can escalate to an attempt to generate negativity – and hatred – towards certain groups of people.”
Former MP, Celina Caesar-Chavannes described how online abuse increased whenever she garnered greater public attention, particularly after she started to discuss her experiences of discrimination as a Black female politician.
Former leader of the Green Party, Elizabeth May, worried that harassment “leaves decent people out of the space because it’s so unpleasant to be in it.” Some candidates also expressed regret that they now had to use social media as a bulletin board rather than a space to engage with constituents.
Overall, we found that online abuse exacerbates distrust in politics and presents another barrier to political participation by people from under-represented groups.
Unfortunately, surveys indicate the problem of online abuse is worsening and certain types of abuse are likelier to affect women than men.
In a 2021 survey, 39 per cent of female and 32 per cent of male journalists said they experienced online harassment at least once a month. 78 per cent of female journalists said in 2021 that online harassment has increased in frequency over the last two years. Women were nearly twice as likely to receive sexualized messages or images and six times as likely to receive threats of rape or sexual assault. LGBTQ2+ and those with multiple marginalized identities receive the most harassment.
What can be done?
Along with Chris Tenove, we published a report making wide range of recommendations for how to address this situation.
First, candidates and campaign teams need to develop proactive plans to manage harassment. Candidates should also communicate norms for productive online discourse to their own supporters to discourage them from abusing opponents.
Second, political parties should ensure that they provide training and resources to candidates that also address candidates’ diverse experiences and risks.
Third, social media platforms need to improve their transparency and be more responsive to threats, particularly during elections.
Fourth, policymakers can create regulations that mandate transparency from platforms, push for more effective content moderation and provide support to groups addressing online abuse.
Finally, individual users can consider their own behaviour online and how far their kneejerk comments or retweets might be contributing to the problem. They can also think about how to support those who are experiencing abuse.
Canada has had female MPs for over 100 years. Yet Switzerland, where women only gained the right to vote in 1971, comes closer to parity with 42.5 per cent female parliamentarians. If parliament’s composition is ever going to reflect the Canadian population, we need to address the full range of issues keeping women from running and winning.
Heidi Tworek is a Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor in International History and Public Policy at the University of British Columbia.
Canada is getting older – why not make our communities wiser?
John Muscedere and Alex Mihailidis
The recently released 2021 Census data reveals Canada’s population is not just aging, it’s already aged.
Baby boomers, who make up almost a quarter of Canada’s population, are now hurtling toward their mid-70s. That’s not a problem, as it is often made out to be – unless we refuse to age wisely.
The Census considers a baby boomer anyone aged 56 to 75, born between 1946 and 1965. Canada has over 9.2M boomers, making it our largest generation. Boomers make up the largest cohort both in our cities (24.7 per cent) and outside out of our urban centres (29.7 per cent).
So, are our health, homecare, community and social services ready for them? They are not. But instead of panicking about our status quo shortcomings, what if we took this as an opportunity instead to rethink aging in Canada? After all, we are all aging.
What if we adapted our cities and towns into age-friendly communities with age-appropriate infrastructure? What if we promoted aging in place? And what if we supported Canadians to age connected to community and with a robust quality of life?
We could also harness the technological revolution in our arsenal of solutions.
The pandemic showed us how important technology is for older adults too. Virtual health care has become a viable option, so have virtual exercise programs. Video conferencing calls soared in popularity, and other technologies, such as smart-home sensors and wearable tech, are evolving to be important tools for aging in place.
Aging wisely and well is a path our policy makers and politicians have yet to adequately explore and resource. Yet if you ask Canadians, as our organizations have done in recent surveys, it’s exactly what they want.
Polling shows Canadians want to live at home for as long as possible, they want to stay out of hospitals when they can, and they prefer homecare to long-term care. Most are also willing to pay out of pocket for technology that allows them to stay at home as they age. Older adults also want to remain valued and valuable members of their community.
Older adults in Canada have much to contribute to our communities.
It’s time all levels of government caught up to our aging demographic and got innovative about the health, social and community care services this generation needs – now, and in the immediate future. A proactive approach to healthy aging, instead of the reactive one that we currently use, would make a positive difference and deliver many more benefits in the long term.
Yes, Canada needs a significant investment in home, community and long-term care, and the adoption of national long-term care standards. But we also need investments in social, health and technological innovation that will help older adults stay in optimal health for as long as possible and support the needed societal transformation.
This should include building age-friendly workplaces to encourage older adults to remain in the workforce for longer. It should also include more innovative health delivery, like virtual care and physical therapy apps. It should include technologies like smart home systems and non-intrusive health monitoring to help people stay independent and to identify health issues early on.
It certainly means including older adults on advisory boards and planning committees so they are directly involved in the programs and innovations targeted to them.
Such innovative, thoughtful ‘wrap around’ programming – more than just immediate health care — can help minimize older adult use of acute care hospitals and long-term care homes and enable people to live robustly in the community for as long as possible.
This is not a pie-in-the sky dream, it’s what many European cities are already embracing to provide for their aging demographic. It’s time Canada did the same.
Dr. John Muscedere is CEO of Canadian Frailty Network and Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Queen’s University. Dr. Alex Mihailidis is CEO of AGE-WELL and the Barbara G. Stymiest Research Chair in Rehabilitation Technology, University of Toronto and KITE Research Institute at Toronto Rehab-University Health Network. The two organizations work in partnership to advance healthy aging.
The right to living with dignity
Rabia Khedr and Nick Saul
In March 2021, the federal government made it legal for Canadians living with a disability to apply for medical assistance in dying – regardless of whether natural death is inevitable. One year later, many people living with a disability in Canada are considering this route. Not because they want to die, but because their income is too low to survive on.
The message is clear: your government will help you die, but not live with dignity.
In Ontario, a single person on disability support receives a maximum of $1,169 per month. This is supposed to cover all basic needs. Pause and take a moment to add up your monthly expenses. Exactly. It’s not even close.
There’s a similar story in British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and other provinces and territories. No matter where you live, monthly disability income supports are woefully inadequate.
Through the eDemocracy platform, Ethelo, Canadians with disabilities have been sharing their experiences. One person writes: “My rent is the amount that I receive. To have food, I must borrow. It is so stressful. It makes my MS worse.”
We also heard from someone who spends 30 per cent of their monthly ODSP income on medication alone. “How am I supposed to live on that and feed my child and myself?” they ask.
Yet, there is a solution – and it’s already in front of us.
In the 2020 Throne Speech, the federal government promised to introduce a new Canada Disability Benefit. The benefit would be a direct monthly payment for low-income Canadians ages 18-64 with disabilities. And these payments would be above and beyond existing provincial and territorial income supports.
The government also vowed to make the benefit permanent through a bill called the Canada Disability Benefit Act. But due to the 2021 federal election, momentum slowed. The Liberals showed continued commitment while campaigning, then, until recently, fell silent.
Another year has ticked by, and every person living with a disability in this country is still waiting. The toxic combination of inadequate income supports and skyrocketing inflation means that people who rely on disability benefits can no longer afford to live. And some are choosing not to.
We can do better. We must do better. And we need to act now.
And the country agrees. A 2021 Angus Reid survey showed that 89 per cent of Canadians are in favour of creating a federal disability benefit. Recently in the House of Commons, there was all-party support to establish a Canada Disability Benefit without delay.
We’re not surprised that Canadians care about this issue. But we are surprised by the length of time it’s taking to make this lifeline for 1.5 million people a reality.
Parliament breaks for the summer on June 23. Bill C22 – an Act to reduce poverty and support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada Disability Benefit – was given its first reading in the House of Commons on June 2. An encouraging step, but we need to keep the pressure on.
Join us in this urgent campaign by contacting your MP and speaking out about the indignities people with disabilities face daily. We can’t afford further delays or a lengthy consultation process. Now is the time to take action.
Let’s ensure that Canadians with disabilities living in poverty are not forced to choose between paying the bills or applying for the right to die.
Rabia Khedr is the National Director of Disability Without Poverty. Nick Saul is the CEO of Community Food Centres Canada.
The non-profit labour force is in crisis
Non-profits across this country are at the forefront of helping communities survive and thrive. Non-profit workers are committed to serving their communities and have found innovative ways to do this throughout the pandemic. But we’re at a tipping point. If governments do not act to support this labour force now, the most vulnerable in our communities will be impacted. Unlike many other sectors, an HR crisis in the non-profit sector directly impacts essential services and affects Canadians in their everyday lives.
As we move past year two of the pandemic, the non-profit sector is facing skyrocketing demands for services, coupled with significant drops in fundraising and the end of government pandemic support. Our staff are burnt out and leaving the sector in droves. Women are disproportionately impacted by both the surge in demand and the struggle to keep the doors open, as they make up 77 per cent of the non-profit labour force, as well as a disproportionate number of caregivers to the most vulnerable in our communities.
A non-profit crisis means Canadians are losing access to crucial services.
Already, childcare centres can’t open spaces and are shortening hours as they struggle to hire and retain staff to care for our little ones. Family counselling agencies can’t keep up with the exponential calls from families struggling, and clients across multiple programs are giving up when they hear of wait lists of over six months. In many places, programs like Meals on Wheels and adult day programs have long waitlists and no staff to run them. Drop-in programs for people experiencing homelessness are seeing unprecedented demand yet with rising rents and food costs, may have to drop hot meal programs.
All of this has a ripple effect throughout the community, as loss of services means increased caregiver burden, as well as added pressures on other already over-burdened institutions that everyone relies on, such as hospitals.
According to recent results of the Canadian Survey of Business Conditions, 32 per cent of non-profit sector employers believe retaining skilled staff will be an obstacle over the next three months, while 36 per cent are concerned about recruiting skilled staff.
It’s a job seekers’ market, but the non-profit sector is starting from a considerable disadvantage to fill roles and remain competitive in retaining staff. Average salaries in community non-profits are already 35 per cent lower than the economy-wide average in Canada. Additionally, thin operating budgets and inflexible funding agreements mean many organizations are significantly constrained in their ability to increase wages.
This is a national crisis affecting every region in the country and which needs the attention of all levels of government.
Without non-profit workers, there will be massive gaps in community supports — and governments will be left to fill in services for many people who rely daily on non-profit supports and programs. As we’ve seen in the long-term care and other care sectors, large for-profit chains are not the answer.
There are solutions. Addressing the working conditions and acute labour shortage will require a multi-factored approach. This means investment in non-profit labour force strategies, modernizing antiquated funding agreements so organizations have flexible operating budgets to meet increased demand and retain talented workers, and public policies that enable non-profits to offer competitive salaries and benefits to people who are providing priority services.
Non-profit organizations and their workers are collaborating with their peers and governments with a laser focus on their mission and the people they serve. With 170,000 organizations and 2.5 million workers in Canada, the non-profit sector is an economic driver contributing $189 billion annually. Supporting non-profit workers is a critical part of rebuilding local economies and preventing downstream costs from systemic issues facing communities.
With the alarming rise in the cost of living and a country still grappling with pandemic impacts, Canada’s non-profits and charities will be relied upon even more. We can’t get the work done without a robust workforce of skilled non-profit workers.
In a year with many provincial and municipal elections, it’s time for political parties and candidates to turn their policy focus and commitments to where communities need them most.
Cathy Taylor is the Executive Director of the Ontario Nonprofit Network
Canada’s poor health data infrastructure can be deadly, but we can still build a world-class system
May 19th was the 10-year anniversary of my brother Greg’s death. Greg was a healthy, intelligent 31-year-old who had only told us of his potential diagnosis of testicular cancer days before. Our family was shocked and devastated.
A major factor in my brother’s early death was Canada’s poor health data infrastructure.
Greg and his various health providers didn’t have access to all his health information. A red flag for testicular cancer was in his electronic medical record at one clinic but wasn’t available to the walk-in clinic doctor Greg saw when he started having back pain. One of his doctors moved his practice; the clinic didn’t have a process in place for follow-up. A specialist he was urgently referred to — via fax — was out of the office for an extended period and the referral sat there until Greg finally called the specialist’s office.
When my family wanted to learn what happened so we could help prevent this from happening again, we asked questions about how common cases like Greg’s were. The system couldn’t provide what we thought was basic information. We asked for statistics on surgeries like Greg’s and the frequency of blood clots for the hospital, region, province and nationally – which didn’t seem like a big ask at the time – and learned the information doesn’t exist.
Since Greg’s death, we’ve learned a lot about healthcare and have realized that we made a lot of dangerous assumptions.
In the first year after Greg’s death, Dr. Ward Flemons and the team at the Health Quality Council of Alberta investigated what happened, releasing the Continuity of Patient Care Study. Five years later, we partnered again to produce the film, Falling Through the Cracks: Greg’s Story. To date, it has been screened more than 470 times and we’ve participated in almost every screening’s post-film discussion. These conversations have been an opportunity to deepen our understanding of healthcare and refine what we believe is crucially important for its future.
We have learned a few things that we believe are fundamental truths:
• We need a health system that puts patient safety as a real priority and that doesn’t harm patients.
• Safe care is provided by teams.
• Teamwork requires information to make safe decisions.
• We need a health system that uses information to continuously learn, improve and innovate.
Everyone deserves safe care, yet Canada has an unacceptable level of harm. One in every 17 hospital stays results in at least one unintended harmful event — and that is just hospital stays.
Harm impacts the entire care team. It’s not okay to put people in a position where a single mistake could result in patient harm. We need a system that enables health providers to do their best work, where they’re surrounded by a team that relies on each other, and where the whole team, including patients, have access to the information they need.
As Dr. Ewan Affleck puts it, “information is the currency of care.” Health information systems must be intentionally designed to enable teams to provide safe care by giving access to information whenever decisions are being made.
For patients to be engaged partners who participate in making decisions in their own care as contributing members of their team, they also need access to their information.
A recently released series of reports from the Pan-Canadian Health Data Strategy Expert Advisory Group honestly outlines the current problems in health information in the country and provide an actionable strategy to create the healthcare system that we need and deserve. They call for a learning health system that uses interoperable data standards and person-centred data architecture, with collaboration across health jurisdictions and stakeholders. This would create a robust health system based on data-supported insights and evidence-based decisions.
Bold collaboration is needed for success, and we all have a role to play.
Before Greg’s death, we assumed that healthcare, like other sectors, had evolved over time to adopt tools for effective communication and information sharing. We were wrong.
As citizens across Canada, we need to support the system changes and mindset shifts needed. This isn’t going to happen overnight. There isn’t a single sector, organization, or jurisdiction that can independently cause this change. Just as a team is required for patient care, we need collective action to prevent more people from falling through the cracks.Teri Price is the Executive Director of Greg’s Wings Projects.