Welcome to the 24th issue of the Digital Policy Salon weekly briefing.
September is upon us and beyond adapting to cooler weather many of us have started juggling a new school year or semester, planning for the conference season, and assessing how COVID-19 may permanently impact our work going forward. While the long-term impacts of COVID-19 are still unknown, this week, ICTC’s Ryan McLaughlin dives into Statistics Canada’s newly released sector-level Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and breaks down what it means for Canada’s recovery.
Our policy update covers the signing of a new competition enforcement framework with the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand and what that could mean for Canada’s Competition Bureau. We also highlight a potential Albertan hyperloop from the minds of a Toronto-based startup and new labour standards protections for interns and student interns that will be coming into effect soon.
With an eye on the future, our research visualization, research, and what we’re reading sections all highlight how our world is changing due to COVID-19. One thing is clear, being digital-ready is no longer merely a potential competitive advantage, it is paramount to ensuring Canada’s recovery. With many wondering what being digitally-ready may look like, today’s interview is pulled from the archives to highlight how a Canadian strength trainer went digital and grew her traditional business in an international digital economy.
We’re happy to have you here and hope you enjoy this week’s issue!
- Khiran & Tyler
Policy Updates 🇨🇦
New mobility projects in the sky, on land, and at sea are changing the face of modern transport
Toronto-based startup, TransPod, in partnership with the province of Alberta, is pursuing a feasibility study for a hyperloop track between Edmonton and Calgary. If pursued, the project would provide a fossil-fuel-free alternative to short-haul flights.
Kraken Robotics, based out of St. John’s, has secured almost $3 million from the National Research Council of Canada to build an autonomous underwater vehicle. The vehicle will be capable of staying underwater for up to a year and will reach depths of up to 6,000 metres.
A Swiss parachutist completed the first ever jump from a solar-powered aircraft last week. The plane reached a height of 1,520 metres using only solar energy, and the team hopes to be able to reach an altitude of 20,000 metres by 2022.
Competition Bureau strengthens information sharing and enforcement mechanisms abroad
Canada’s competition authority signed on to a new competition enforcement framework with the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand on Tuesday. The framework will strengthen the Bureau’s ability to cooperate internationally on investigations and enforcement in “an increasingly digital and global economy.”
Traditional frameworks for competition policy have been called into question in recent years: intangible assets like data and IP account for an growing share of company value and pricing decisions are increasingly made by artificial algorithms.
A paper published this month by the Queen’s University’s Economics Department provides the first real-world case study on algorithms and competition, and suggests that “AI adoption has a significant effect on competition.”
Government of Canada establishes new policy for work integrated learning programs and work permit applications
Monday marked the coming into force of new labour standards in federally regulated workplaces. Going forward, interns will be entitled to new labour standards protections, and the right to be paid at least minimum wage (though the former doesn’t apply to internships for academic credit).
A temporary policy change will allow visitors to Canada to apply for a work permit without having to leave Canada; and allow some workers to begin working for a new employer before their application has been fully approved. The change is intended to benefit employers who are facing difficulty finding workers. - Mairead Matthews | email
On Friday, Statistics Canada released new sector-level Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for June 2020. After much speculation, this data offers an idea of how Canada’s recovery from the COVID-19 economic crisis is likely to unfold.
In short, the resumption of economic activity has been faster than many analysts expected. This relief comes after months of record-breaking plunges in economic indicators. Figure 1 above shows that aggregate Canadian GDP in June had nearly recovered to the level of March 2020, just following the onset of the pandemic, and was about 9% below the February peak.
The steep recovery in GDP in June does not, of course, preclude additional lock-downs, and reversals in economic fortune in the fall. Many viruses, including Coronaviruses like the “common cold” are seasonal. Indeed, the high probability of a “second wave” of infections in the fall appears to be the consensus view, for whatever that is worth.
On the other hand, there are reasons for continued optimism. Progress on vaccines has been remarkable, considering that a vaccine typically takes a decade to develop. Across the developed world, COVID-19 mortality rates have fallen sharply and somewhat mysteriously across all age brackets. Statistics Canada’s June report gives Canadians the chance to breathe a sigh of relief. The crisis is far from over, but there are reasons for cautious optimism that the worst fears of a second “Great Depression” are less likely.
Record keeping has been central to human civilization for millennia. Ledgers and contracts underpin legal, political, and economic systems; however, traditional record keeping is fraught with delays, waste, overcharging, corruption, and security risks that amount to billions in lost revenue.
Blockchain technology for record keeping offers the following key features:
- Optimized processes
- The potential to reinvent entire value chains, especially when combined with other advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the internet of things (IoT).
Today, businesses are becoming aware of blockchain’s practical applications.
A 2018 Deloitte’s global blockchain survey of over 1,000 respondents (mostly employed by large companies of over $500 million-plus revenue) found that only 5% of businesses reported having no plans for blockchain investment. About 39% of respondents said their organization plans to invest $5 million or more in blockchain technology.
While the initial cryptocurrency hype has now subsided (Bitcoin is a blockchain-based currency), the conflation of blockchain with cryptocurrency persists. A lack of understanding of blockchain remains a barrier to wider adoption.
This study builds on ICTC’s 2019 blockchain report Building Canadian Consensus, which provides an introduction to blockchain technology in Canada, blockchain trends, blockchain workforce by sector, type, and size of company).
Interviews in the Field
In May 2020, Research and Policy Analyst Mairead Matthews published an interview from her sit down with Canadian blogger and certified strength trainer Katie Crewe to discuss how social media influencers “make it work” in the online world. Based in Toronto, Ontario, Katie’s career has seen immense growth both online and offline through social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube.
I think a common misconception about social media influencing is that you can sustain yourself on just brand collaborations alone. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do this interview, to get a more realistic understanding of what influencers do and how they make their income, so it’s interesting that you say that.
It is interesting because with a lot of companies, it’s the Wild West. There just isn’t a lot of consistency between what different companies offer in terms of compensation. That’s not to say you can’t make very good money from collaborations, because you can. It’s just that it’s likely not reliable or sustainable. I wouldn’t feel comfortable solely relying on that. I’ve also had some great long-term partnerships myself, but it’s difficult to find ones that make you feel good about promoting them, and I think you should always try to operate with integrity. If it doesn’t make you feel good, don’t do it.
Based on your conversations with other influencers from Canada and around the world, how is the Canadian influencer experience different from other countries and how is it the same?
I think we’re a little more isolated here, and you definitely feel that, especially if you’re interested in doing collaborations with other influencers or working with brands where in-person contact is required or is beneficial. There just isn’t as much happening here in Canada with larger companies, and so when working with larger companies for in-person content, I’ve flown out to New York or LA or different places to do so. To be fair though, I definitely don’t capitalize on all the local relationships that I could be forming, and I’m sure many Canadian influencers do a much better job of making social connections here. I would love to work with and promote more quality Canadian companies if the opportunity presented itself.
Does being a social media influencer from Canada mean your audience demographic is mostly Canadian, or have you found success with other audiences around the world?
By a vast majority, my audience is mostly based in the US. My second biggest country is the UK and my third is Canada. Canada is a smaller market, so I don’t think it’s unusual that when you start gaining a larger audience it becomes more US-based.
What We’re Reading
Digital talent will be Canada’s most critical competitive advantage.
The crucial success factor in this changing economy will hinge on our ability as a nation to continually upskill the workforce to meet the needs of tomorrow’s labour market. The strength and agility of our academic institutions will play a vital role in allowing our economy to adjust to the evolving nature of work.
Forecasting the course of this pandemic is far from certain, however, with adversity comes opportunities, and the best way to predict the future is to create it.
These insights come directly from ICTC’s President and CEO, Namir Anani. The impacts of COVID-19 on a variety of Canadian sectors have been less devastating — though still significant — when it comes to the digital economy. With reference to ICTC’s revised labour market outlook, The Digital-Led New Normal, Namir argues that attention to workforce development, as well as policies that support Canada’s wide-ranging digital economy, are of utmost importance if Canada is to rebound from the economic damages wrought by the pandemic. - Khiran O’Neill | email
Since the Industrial Revolution, economic activity has tended to concentrate in a few ever-expanding urban hubs. But now that the COVID-19 crisis has acquainted everyone with the benefits of remote work, many of the factors that have traditionally attracted talent and capital to megacities are suddenly in flux.
Digital platforms, in particular, provide opportunities for remote social and professional interactions. Teleconferencing, virtual collaboration tools, dating apps, and many other innovations have all proven effective in reaping some of the benefits of agglomeration from a distance. The potential, apparent before the pandemic, now is being realized on a massive scale.
Urban-rural divides exist largely because work that is available in cities is not available outside of them. This simple fact colours political, social, and cultural differences. But COVID-19 — and the disruptions that it has brought to the work lives of many — has swiftly discarded the notion that such differences are inherent to geography. Our report, Loading: the Future of Work, brings up the potential for remote work to both “reverse the rural brain drain” and to relieve urban housing markets of immense pressure. Moving forward, it is worth considering what policies can both support and take advantage of all of the ways in which we might become less urban and more…remote. - Khiran O’Neill | email
After a recession, business travel is more volatile and slower to recover than leisure travel is.
Beyond the tragedy wreaked by COVID-19 and its immense and enduring economic and social impacts, the pandemic has certainly ruined more than a few travel plans. As this chart shows, traditionally, people are fast to get back to travel after recessions, particularly when compared to business travel. This perspective is based on data from recent recessions. Nonetheless, we might have to throw some historical analysis out of the window when trying to predict the wide-ranging impacts of COVID-19: business travel, along with remote work, may have been permanently altered.
The economic shocks of COVID-19 and the oil price drop have spiked unemployment in Canada to the highest levels since the Great Depression, but employment in the Canadian digital economy has actually notched up to 11% of total employment between February and June 2020, from the previous rate of 10%. ICTC’s new study, The Digital-Led New Normal: Revised Labour Market Outlook for 2022, is an update and addendum to ICTC’s flagship forecast report Digital Talent Outlook 2023, released in 2019. The revised forecast includes an analysis of the impacts of COVID-19 and other noteworthy events such as Brexit and the oil price collapse.
The digital economy is still expected to employ over 2 million people by the end of 2022, which is comparable to the ICTC forecast of over 2.1 million people by 2023.
“Preparing a digital-ready workforce will be paramount in fast-tracking Canada’s economic recovery post COVID-19. A heightened focus on the six innovation areas will enable expanded employment prospects for Canadians in a greener-based economy.” - Namir Anani, ICTC President and CEO
The report emphasizes the importance of digital adoption, especially for Canadian small businesses. Investments in critical digital infrastructure — such as cloud technology, fintech applications, eCommerce, intelligent supply chains, and automation — are becoming essential for operational efficiencies and resiliency in a post-COVID economy.
The study also updates the six key innovation areas forecasts outlined in the pre-COVID Outlook:
- Agri-foods and food tech
- Interactive digital media (IDM)
- Advanced manufacturing
- Clean resources
- Health and biotech
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