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Automation may be the future, but it hurts employment

I went to see a movie a few weeks ago, and I was shocked at what I saw when waiting to purchase my tickets — a long row of automated machines and a single employee. The employee was there to deal with cash purchases only. Everyone else was encouraged to use their credit or debit cards at one of these computers to buy their movie tickets.

It’s not just Cineplex. Shoppers drug mart now has a series of machines for self-checkouts (Debit/credit only) and you can order fast food at Macdonalds using a fancy touchscreen.

Metro, the grocery chain, announced earlier this week they will be testing scan-and-go technology so they can increase the number of self-checkout machines in their stores. The reason? To offset the higher minimum wages in Ontario and Quebec.

Metro already has self-scanning checkouts in 30 stores across Ontario, and plans to add more by the end of the summer, including a few at the Food Basics discount store.  After the pilot, more machines will be added, assuming it is successful.

Automation may be the way of the future, but it will have a drastic impact on the younger generation, most of whom get their first jobs at places like Cineplex, Shoppers, and Metro. If those jobs disappear, where will these young people go to make an income? Where will they gain valuable work experience?

A study written by the McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2030, as many as 800 million jobs could be lost worldwide to automation, particularly in middle and low-skill occupations. This will create a two-tiered labour market, according to the report, in which “stepping stone jobs” are eliminated while high-paying creative jobs are not.

“New jobs will be available, based on our scenarios of future labor demand and the net impact of automation,” the report reads. However, people will need to find their way into these jobs. Of the total displaced, 75 million to 375 million may need to switch occupational categories and learn new skills.”

At the same time, the report says that worries about future jobs are unfounded, as the labour market will adjust over time. The benefits of automation, which were outlined in a previous report by McKinsey, such as an increase in productivity and efficiency, will outweigh the dangers. “Automation of activities can enable businesses to improve performance, by reducing errors and improving quality and speed, and in some cases achieving outcomes that go beyond human capabilities.” In the United States alone, automation will equal savings of approximately $2.7 trillion in wages.

The key in these findings is that change occurs slowly over time. Replacing minimum wage workers with automated machines the year the minimum wage increases, is moving rather quickly. Other jobs need to open up for younger people before their traditional positions are eliminated. The unemployment rate in Canada may be relatively low at the moment at 5.7 per cent, but for youth, that number is 10.3 per cent. That number is going to increase unless companies make room for young people, despite their move to automation.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Sexual assault rate in Canada remains unchanged after 13 years

A new report was released Tuesday by Statistics Canada that showed the rate of self-reported sexual assault in 2014 was about the same as it was in 2004 — a disturbing fact, but not very surprising.

Considering the trauma of a police questioning and court hearings, in addition to the circus of high-profile sexual assault cases in the media, it’s not a shock to see that women still feel uncomfortable reporting an attack. These women are often judged for what they were wearing and what they were drinking. More often than not, it is assumed the woman “wanted it” or “led them on”. Not to mention 1 in 5 cases are determined baseless by the police.

Why would anyone go through all of that willingly?

According to Statistics Canada, in 2014 there were 22 incidents of sexual assault for every 1,000 Canadians over the age of 15. This equates to 636,000 self-reported incidents, which is similar to statistics collected in 2004. Just when you think society is starting to evolve, it goes backwards.

“Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes,” the report reads. “Research has attributed this to a wide range of reasons, including the shame, guilt and stigma of sexual victimization, the normalization of inappropriate or unwanted sexual behaviour, and the perception that sexual violence does not warrant reporting.”

Of these sexual assaults, 87 per cent were committed against women.

This report is proof that Canada still has a long way to go towards supporting women after they have reported a claim of sexual assault. The majority of these women are between the ages of 15 and 24, meaning they were students. While many Canadian campuses have changed (or are in the midst of changing) their sexual assault policies, it isn’t happening fast enough.

And then there are the moments in which a sexual assault case is actually taken in front of a judge who doesn’t understand the difference between consent and an unconscious woman. Women are constantly being forced to explain and define the term “consent” — something that is probably dissuading a lot of women from actually reporting these horrific assaults.

The Canadian government has made changes to laws and encouraged college campuses to update their policies, but obviously there hasn’t been enough done to reduce the stigma of sexual violence or support victims of assault. My only hope is that somebody, anybody, steps up to help change the stigma of sexual assault. Police, government, and university agencies need to step up and take an active role in altering not just policies, but also cultural norms surrounding crimes of a sexual nature.

In another decade, let’s hope Canada doesn’t see a report similar to this one.

 

Note about survey: About 33, 127 people across 10 provinces responded to the General Social Survey for which this report was based.

“Let’s Talk Housing” report leaves many wondering what’s next

Affordable housing in Canada is in a state of crisis. Every year, more than 150,000 Canadians stay in an emergency shelter and 35,000 people are homeless each night. Considering the housing problem across the country, what is the federal government doing about it?

On National Housing Day on Tuesday, a report was released by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), based on of four months of consultation from 7000 Canadians. The report detailed various themes including affordable housing, indigenous issues, and funding of the housing strategy from a variety of stakeholders.

Though the report discussed a variety of important issues in Canada, it didn’t describe any concrete solutions to the housing crisis currently plaguing the country. It laid out a variety of housing issues that need to be solved, and was vague in scope when providing answers. The long-awaited report from months of consultations mostly gathered data from the online survey that was provided, which also asked vague questions such as whether low-income or sustainable housing was more important. It is now clear that the report seems to be more of a tool of distraction than to actually begin the process of providing affordable and sustainable housing solutions.

The report assessed how Canadians feel about housing across the country, which is useful for research though doesn’t begin to solve concrete housing issues. Social housing renewal, which consists of paying to fix current social housing, was ranked in the top four themes in every province and territory except Yukon, where it was instead voted as the least important issue. ‘Housing that contributes to Canada’s climate changes goals’ was ranked as the least important theme across the country. Interestingly, the survey response rate in Alberta and B.C far exceeded the overall population proportion where as in Ontario and Quebec it was the opposite. This indicates that the western provinces had a more responsive population per capita than Ontario and Quebec. Finding housing for vulnerable Canadians was voted as a top issue and will be a key commitment in the coming housing strategy.

Unfortunately, in the ‘Next Steps’ section of the report, little was offered to the public as to which ideas will be adopted. Instead, the 10 year housing strategy is due to be released in 2017 in time for the federal budget. This leaves many affordable housing associations in a limbo in the meantime while they wait for the government to make final decisions on which strategies will be adopted under the housing umbrella. The #letstalkhousing campaign and the resulting report left many disappointed because of its lack of direction towards next steps for the future of the housing crisis in Canada.

As a housing and sustainability reporter, it is frustrating to see how slowly the federal housing agenda is moving in developing a 10-year strategy. Homelessness and a lack of low-income housing is a key issue and needs to be a top priority in Canada. Immediate solutions are needed such as providing the much needed $1.7 billion to begin fixing homes that are falling apart under the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) and allowing municipalities to use dedicated funding to finding new housing solutions now instead of next year.

Though consultations and public participation are important, it should be a priority to make concrete decisions alongside collecting data instead of waiting so long to start making changes for Canadians desperate to find homes. The housing crisis needs to be dealt with in a more timely fashion, and hopefully in the meantime cold Canadians on the street can keep themselves warm with the pages of the housing report.

New study suggests increasing provincial fuel taxes

Today, the Residential and Civil Construction Alliance of Ontario (RCCAO) published an independent research study called “Increasing Provincial Fuel Taxes” by Harry Kitchen, Professor Emeritus from the Department of Economics at Trent University. The report, which was published today, raises some important points and adequately proves why increasing fuel taxes is the easiest and most beneficial tax to raise in order to balance Ontario’s 2017-18 provincial budget.

The study makes numerous recommendations on how to do go about raising fuel taxes, including planning for the introduction of some form of road pricing within major metropolitan areas and heavily populated regions. As the report clarifies, compared to fuel taxes or other revenue sources, road and parking pricing would effectively manage congestion, improve productivity, and generate funds for urban roads and public transit.

The tax increase could generate additional provincial revenues of around $14 billion over the next seven years – revenues which Professor Kitchen adds, should be dedicated to transportation improvements across Ontario. Earmarking the revenues, he further suggests, can prevent the political abuse of funds as it increases accountability and transparency. Most importantly, it boosts public support because people know where their taxes are being spent.

Although the increase in fuel taxes may cause some controversy, those against the suggestion can be ensured that the increase is most certainly not a long term solution. As the need for dedicated transit funding becomes crucial, it is evident as to why increasing fuel taxes may just be a critical step to unlocking the gridlock.

Read the full report at:

http://www.rccao.com/news/files/RCCAO_Increasing-Provincial-Fuel-Tax_July2015_WEB.pdf

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