The Canadian Press – Jan 1, 2022 / 7:35 am | Story: 355868
Photo: The Canadian Press
In the nearly two years since the COVID-19 pandemic forced workers out of Calgary’s downtown towers and into home offices, the city’s core has changed.
Many of the changes are subtle. On 4th Ave SW, the 1980s-era Sun Life Plaza building is now The Ampersand — revamped and modernized by commercial landlord Aspen Properties in an effort to attract startups and companies of the future.
In the revitalized East Village area, the massive $80-million parkade opened by the city last spring is home not just to car and bike stalls, but to Platform Calgary, a non-profit organization that will offer incubation space for startups and programming for entrepreneurs.
On 1st St. SE, 79,000 square feet of space in First Tower is now occupied by localsoftware company Symend, which shot to prominence in 2020 after receiving $73-million in a funding round.
But perhaps the most significant change Calgarians will notice if they return to the office in 2022 is the composition of the downtown workforce itself. For the first time in Calgary’s history, a city core that was once almost solely the domain of the energy sector and the various companies that service it is home to a small but growing contingent of technology workers.
According to commercial real estate firm CBRE, Calgary has seen its ranks of technology workers grow by 17.9 per cent between 2015 and 2020 — an increase of 46,700 workers. Calgary also moved up six spots last year to number 28 on CBRE’s 2021 Scoring Tech Talent report, which ranks 50 North American markets according to their ability to attract and grow tech talent.
“We used to have a few tech companies, but they occupied, I would suggest, less than 250,000 square feet of the downtown core. Which is a drop in the bucket,” said Greg Kwong, Calgary-based regional managing director for CBRE.
“Now they represent anywhere from between 5 and 8 per cent of the occupying space in the downtown core. That still pales in comparison to the oilpatch, which occupies about 80 per cent, but it’s not bad.”
Calgary has been working hard in recent years to diversify its oil-and-gas-based economy and boost its burgeoning tech sector. It’s also been trying to tackle its downtown vacancy rate problem, which has served as a dramatic illustration of the city’s economic fortunes in recent years.
Between the end of 2014 and the first quarter of 2020 — a period defined by low oil prices, corporate downsizing and economic stagnation — Calgary’s downtown commercial vacancy rate increased from 9.8 per cent to 26.6 per cent.
That rate has since ticked higher due to the impact of COVID-19 and 2020’s sharp downturn in the price of oil. (The price of crude has since recovered to seven-year highs, but energy companies remain far below their 2014 numbers in terms of employee head counts).
The city’s downtown commercial vacancy rate sat at an eye-popping 32.9 per cent in the third quarter of 2021, according to CBRE. That amounts to 43 million square feet of space available to rent, and is by far the highest downtown vacancy rate of any major city in the country.
But as oil and gas tenants have moved out of downtown, it’s created opportunities for tech startups to move in. Prime commercial real estate that was once leasing for $30 per square foot is now going for closer to $10.
“Among major markets, Calgary is now one of the lowest cost alternatives for tech companies,” Kwong said. “Far lower than Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. If you compare us to Kitchener-Waterloo, which is a hotbed of tech activity, it’s kind of on par.”
Calgary-based financial technology company Neo Financial, which has swelled to 400 employees since its founding in 2019, is one of those placing its bet on a future in the downtown core. The company plans to formally announce in January that it has leased 60,000 square feet of office space (the exact location is yet to be disclosed).
Neo Financial co-founder Andrew Chau (who also co-founded Winnipeg-based food delivery giant Skip the Dishes), said being downtown makes it easier for talent-hungry tech companies to attract young workers who want to live in an urban environment and have access to transit and amenities.
At the same time, he said Calgary’s tech sector wants to play a role in helping to bring life back to downtown and solving the city’s economic challenges by creating jobs and filling vacant real estate.
“The more that we can get that critical mass of exciting, fast-growing startups and tech companies into downtown, the better,” Chau said. “Because that’s how we’re going to sort of chip away at that 30 per cent vacancy rate. Obviously, we won’t fix it overnight, but we can continue to sort of build up and gradually sort of get back to where we were before.”
City officials have suggested it will take decades, not years, to solve Calgary’s empty office tower crisis.
But Susan Thompson, insight manager for Alberta with commercial real estate firm Avison Young, said there are reasons to be optimistic — not the least of which is the City of Calgary’s decision last year to approve $200-million in spending on downtown improvements.
Thompson also pointed out that the “trophy buildings” in downtown Calgary — the Class AA real estate which represent a third of the total office market, have a combined average vacancy rate of 7.7 per cent, proving that high-quality space in a downtown location remains attractive.
“We’ve seen a number of these buildings try to kind of reinvent themselves to attract a different type of tenant — particularly the tech sector versus the old school oil and gas sector,” Thompson said. “As they (the tech sector) start to approach that critical mass, it’s really going to start to grow faster.”
The Canadian Press – Dec 31, 2021 / 7:35 am | Story: 355826
Restaurants in Canada are once again scaling back New Year’s Eve plans or shutting their doors altogether amid climbing COVID-19 cases and renewed public health measures across the country.
For the second year in a row, the pandemic has dampened what is ordinarily one of the biggest nights of the year — a celebration that in good times yields sales that help carry the hospitality sector through sluggish winter months.
Eateries, bars and event venues are facing a range of restrictions, from capacity limits to rules barring dancing and outright curfews.
Many restaurateurs are now grappling with cancelled reservations or refunding tickets as the highly transmissible Omicron variant decimates the festive plans of Canadians that just weeks ago appeared a safe bet.
Brenda O’Reilly, owner of four restaurants in Newfoundland and Labrador, said two of her restaurants will be closed on New Year’s Eve.
She says Yellowbelly Brewery and Public House in downtown St. John’s, which is one of her most popular locations, will be open but reservations have been “dropping like flies all week.”
Her fourth location, in the airport, is open but seeing a fraction of its usual business.
“This is normally one of our best nights of the year,” O’Reilly said. “From a cash flow perspective, it carries us through some of January.”
O’Reilly said she’s had to cancel bands, refund tickets and manage a cancelled wedding that’s been on the books for two years.
Yet her bigger concern is how Canada’s restaurant industry will survive the coming year amid ongoing restrictions and rising inflation.
“Our overhead is going up … wages are accelerating, food prices are accelerating,” O’Reilly said. “The only thing that’s not going up for us is our revenue.”
She added: “I’m really nervous for the viability of our sector in the next coming year. It’s really challenging and stressful and mental health is becoming a huge issue in our industry.”
The Canadian Press – Dec 30, 2021 / 4:00 pm | Story: 355807
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has shortened the prison sentence of a truck driver convicted in a deadly crash to 10 years, drastically reducing his original 110-year term that drew widespread outrage.
The decision Thursday on Rogel Aguilera-Mederos’ sentence was among several end-of-the-year commutations and pardons issued by Polis.
The move comes days after a judge scheduled a hearing for next month to reconsider the sentence at the request of the district attorney, who had planned to ask that it be reduced to 20 to 30 years.
Around 5 million people signed an online petition seeking clemency for Aguilera-Mederos.
Judge Bruce Jones imposed the 110-year sentence on Dec. 13 after finding it was the mandatory minimum term set forth under state law, noting it would not have been his choice.
The explosive 2019 crash killed four people.
Aguilera-Mederos testified that he was hauling lumber when the brakes on his semitrailer failed as he was descending a steep grade of Interstate 70 in the Rocky Mountain foothills.
His truck plowed into vehicles that had slowed because of another wreck, setting off a chain-reaction wreck and a fireball that consumed vehicles and melted parts of the highway.
The Canadian Press – Dec 30, 2021 / 1:21 pm | Story: 355791
Photo: Times Colonist – file photo
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned people on Thursday not to go on cruises, regardless of their vaccination status, because of onboard outbreaks fuelled by the omicron variant.
The CDC said it has more than 90 cruise ships under investigation or observation as a result of COVID-19 cases. The agency did not disclose the number of infections.
“The virus that causes COVID-19 spreads easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of getting COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high,” even if people are fully vaccinated and have received a booster, the CDC said.
The CDC also recommended that cruise passengers get tested and quarantine for five days after docking, regardless of their vaccination status and even if they have no symptoms.
The omicron variant has sent case levels soaring across the U.S., including Florida, the hub of the nation’s cruise industry. The state set another record this week for new daily cases, with more than 58,000 recorded Wednesday.
U.S. cruise lines have not announced any plans to halt trips, though vessels have been denied entry at some foreign ports.
The Canadian Press – Dec 30, 2021 / 11:40 am | Story: 355782
Photo: The Canadian Press
WestJet Airlines Ltd. is dealing with so many employees out sick with the Omicron variant that it is being forced to cut 15 per cent of its scheduled flights through to the end of January.
WestJet spokeswoman Morgan Bell confirmed via email that the airline has seen a 35 per cent rise in active COVID-19 cases among staff in recent days, with 181 employees currently testing positive for the virus.
In a statement Thursday, WestJet’s interim chief executive Harry Taylor said the airline has seen a significant increase in delays and cancellations impacting its business over the past 72 hours.
“We could not have anticipated the rapid and unpredictable impact of the Omicron variant on our people and operations, coupled with prolonged frigid temperatures across Western Canada and global staffing shortages,” Taylor said.
“Despite all contingency planning, in addition to hiring back thousands of WestJetters to safely support peak operations, we find ourselves no longer able to predictably resource our planned schedule due to Omicron impact.”
As a result of the staff shortages, WestJet will remove about 15 per cent of flights from its schedule through Jan. 31. Prior to the cuts, which will be implemented over the next few days, the airline has been operating 450 flights per day.
The move is a “last resort,” Taylor said, but reflects the reality of the service level WestJet can now “realistically deliver.”
“It is the best option to ensure the availability of our frontline staff and third-party service providers, while minimizing the impact on our guests,” he said.
WestJet said it will notify all customers with affected flights. For any WestJet-initiated cancellation or schedule change, where the schedule change was greater than 90 minutes or one or more stops were added, guests are eligible for a refund.
The announcement comes as more than 850 flights were cancelled in the U.S. on Wednesday, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightAware. There were nearly 1,300 cancellations for flights entering, leaving or inside the U.S. Tuesday, and about 1,500 on Monday.
Both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said the nationwide spike in cases this week has affected flight crews and left carriers short-staffed.
Canadian airlines across the board have seen an uptick in flight delays and cancellations this week. However, Air Canada said Monday that adverse weather has been the major factor, rather than COVID-19.
Air Transat said Monday it had not cancelled any flights due to Omicron, while both Porter Airlines and Flair Airlines said they have seen a small uptick in sick calls and staffing issues.
The federal government requires both Canadian airline employees and passengers departing from Canadian airports to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
On Thursday, WestJet said additional measures from federal and provincial governments are “urgently needed” to minimize further disruption to the aviation sector.
In his statement, Taylor called for the removal of “inconsistent provincial isolation requirements that are restricting staffing abilities.”
The Canadian Press – Dec 29, 2021 / 12:53 pm | Story: 355716
Photo: The Canadian Press
A man displays his COVID-19 rapid test kit after receiving it at a pharmacy in Montreal, Monday, December 20, 2021. Canadian business and labour groups are at odds over the preferred isolation times for people who have tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Canadian business and labour groups are at odds over preferred isolation times for people who have tested positive for COVID-19
The question has renewed urgency after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommended on Monday that Americans with COVID-19 should isolate only for five days rather than 10 if they’re not showing symptoms.
Ontario’s top doctor postponed a news conference Tuesday so that the province can review isolation guidelines, while Quebec has already relaxed its isolation guidelines for healthcare workers who have tested positive.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, said it would be welcome news if provinces were to follow a similar policy as the CDC because the labour shortage is a “massive” issue for small and medium businesses.
He says that the more provinces can safely limit the amount of time people are out of the workforce, the better.
Unifor National President Jerry Dias however said in a statement that now is “precisely the wrong time to let down our guard.”
He says that shortening isolation times is like playing with fire, a gamble on workers’ lives, and that public health policy shouldn’t be used to resolve the deep-rooted crisis in the job market.
The Canadian Press – Dec 29, 2021 / 10:45 am | Story: 355699
Photo: The Canadian Press
Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland
Jan. 1 is going to feel like Groundhog Day for all those paying into the Canada Pension Plan. Like last year, contributions are going up again by more than originally planned, and the reason again lies with the unique impacts of the pandemic on the labour market.
Here’s a rundown of what’s happening.
Why CPP premiums are going up
The increase is part of a multi-year plan approved by provinces and the federal government five years ago to boost retirement benefits through the public plan by increasing contributions over time. The rises started in 2019.
A KPMG note in November said the maximum employer and employee contributions will hit $3,499 each in 2022, an increase from the $3,166 this year. For self-employed contributions, the maximum amount will be $6,999, up from $6,332.
What makes 2022 different (or the same as 2021)
The pension plan requires contributions to go up alongside the upper limit on earnings that are subject to those premiums.
For next year, the earnings ceiling, known as the yearly maximum pensionable earnings or YMPE, was supposed to be $63,700, an increase of $2,100 from the 2021 limit. But the actual amount is going to be higher at $64,900, for a 5.3 per cent increase that is the largest in three decades.
The reason is due to the pandemic’s lingering effects on the labour market.
The formula to calculate the earnings limit looks at what people are earning on average each week, and compares changes between 12-month periods that end June 30.
What has happened during the pandemic is that average weekly earnings have jumped because there are fewer people working in lower-paying jobs. Without them, the average increase appears more dramatic than what it is.
What happens next
Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole had called on the government to push off this year’s bump, saying it wasn’t the right time for another premium increase with inflation driving up the cost of living for consumers, and many small businesses still trying to build back their revenues.
Any changes to contribution rates or the earnings ceiling where contributions top out would need the approval of Parliament and seven provinces representing at least two-thirds of the national population — a higher bar than what’s required to amend the Constitution.
So premiums are going up. But there’s more.
The changes to the Canada Pension Plan aren’t done. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asked Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to work with provinces to increase by 25 per cent the amount paid out in CPP benefits to widows and widowers.
EI premiums are going up as well once a two-year federal freeze on increases thaws next year. Premiums are set to rise thereafter from $1.58 per $100 of insurable earnings, to $1.83 by 2027. The yearly increases are the maximum amount allowed by law and need to go up to refill the EI fund after it was drained by pandemic-induced demand.
The government’s fall economic statement projected that the EI account would come back to balance by 2028.
The Canadian Press – Dec 29, 2021 / 9:34 am | Story: 355690
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A pedestrian walks past the TransAlta building in downtown Calgary, Monday, Oct. 5, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
A major Canadian electricity producer is successfully off coal power in this country, nine years ahead of a government deadline.
Calgary-based Trans-Alta Corp. announced Wednesday it has finished its planned transition from coal to natural gas in its Canadian power generation.
The company said the recently completed conversion of the Keephills Unit 3 power plant west of Edmonton was the last of three coal-to-gas conversions at its Alberta thermal power generation facilities.
In a news release, TransAlta president and chief executive John Kousinioris said the company has achieved a significant milestone well ahead of the federal mandate that will require the full phaseout of coal-fired electricity generation in Canada by 2030.
“We are pleased to have completed this important step, nine years ahead of the government target,” Kousinioris said. “Our coal transition is among the most meaningful carbon emissions reduction achievements in Canadian history.”
Since 2019, TransAlta says it has invested $295 million into its coal-to-gas program, which also included the conversion of Sundance Unit 6 and Keephills Unit 2 near Wabuman, Alta., and Sheerness Units 1 and 2 near Hanna, Alta., plus the construction of new high-volume gas delivery infrastructure.
Converting to natural gas from coal maintains the company’s current generation capacity while at the same time reducing carbon dioxide emissions by almost 50 per cent, the company said.
As of Friday, TransAlta will also close its Highvale thermal coal mine, which is the largest in Canada and has been in operation on the south shore of Wabamun Lake west of Edmonton, since 1970.
TransAlta’s move away from coal is a major milestone in Alberta, which has been working to reduce its reliance on coal for power generation.
In 2014, 55 per cent of Alberta’s electricity was produced from coal. The province, under then-premier Rachel Notley, announced in 2015 — three years ahead of the federal government’s own coal mandate — that it would eliminate emissions from coal-powered generation by 2030.
In addition to TransAlta, other Alberta-based companies have also made major utility conversion commitments. Edmonton-based Capital Power Corp. has said it will spend nearly $1 billion to switch two coal-fired power units west of Edmonton to natural gas, and will stop using coal entirely by 2023.
TransAlta said that overall, it has retired 3,794 megawatts of coal-fired generation since 2018. The company still operates the Centralia coal-fired power plant in Washington State, which is set to shut down at the end of 2025.
TransAlta said that it is on track to reduce its annual greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent, or 19.7 million tonnes, by 2030 over 2015 levels and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
The Canadian Press – Dec 28, 2021 / 7:10 am | Story: 355620
Photo: The Canadian Press
A homes sale sign is shown in front of a new home construction site in Northbrook, Ill., Wednesday, June 23, 2021. U.S. home prices rose briskly in September, another sign that the housing market is booming in the aftermath of last year’s coronavirus recession. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
U.S. home prices surged again in October as the housing market continues to boom in the wake of last year’s coronavirus recession.
The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, out Tuesday, climbed 18.4% in October from a year earlier. The gain marked a slight deceleration from a 19.1% year-over-year increase in September but was about in line with what economists had been expecting.
All 20 cities posted double-digit annual gains. The hottest markets were Phoenix (up 32.3%), Tampa (28.1%) and Miami (25.7%). Minneapolis and Chicago posted the smallest increases, 11.5% each.
The housing market has been strong thanks to rock-bottom mortgage rates, a limited supply of homes on the market, and pent-up demand from consumers locked in last year by the pandemic. Many Americans, tired of being cooped up at home during the pandemic, are looking to trade up from apartments to homes or to bigger houses.
“Home price growth will slow further in the year ahead, but continue to go up,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com. “As housing costs eat up a larger share of home purchaser’s paychecks, buyers will get creative. Many will take advantage of ongoing workplace flexibility to move to the suburbs where despite home price gains, many can still find a lower price per square foot than nearby cities.”
It remains unclear if that shift is permanent or an aberration, said Craig Lazzara, managing director at S&P Dow Jones Indices.
“We have previously suggested that the strength in the U.S. housing market is being driven in part by a change in locational preferences as households react to the COVID pandemic,” Lazzara said. “More data will be required to understand whether this demand surge represents an acceleration of purchases that would have occurred over the next several years, or reflects a more permanent secular change.”
Last week, mortgage rates fell — to 3.05% for the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate and 2.66% for the 15-year fixed-rate home loan. The persistently low rates signal that credit markets appear more concerned about the omicron variant depressing economic growth than about the highest inflation rates in nearly 40 years.
The National Association of Realtors reported last week that sales of previously occupied homes rose for the third straight month in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.46 million.
The Canadian Press – Dec 28, 2021 / 7:09 am | Story: 355619
Photo: The Canadian Press
Alicia Dempster poses for a photograph at her home in Stouffville, Ont., on Wednesday, December 22, 2021. Dempster anticipated she’d return to her work in events after her maternity leave ended, but has yet to do so as a result of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
When Alicia Dempster started her maternity leave in June 2019, she never dreamed that she would still be at home two and a half years later.
The Stouffville, Ont. woman fully intended to return to her job as an event planner for an area municipality after 15 months at home caring for her baby son and his toddler brother.
But COVID-19 derailed those plans. When her planned return-to-work date rolled around, the complete absence of public events meant the job she once had no longer existed. The alternative work her employer offered her — cutting grass and picking weeds with the parks department — seemed a poor match for her skills, so she opted to stay home “just a little longer.”
Now, her sons are five and two and a half and the Omicron variant is on the rise.
Like many Canadian women, Dempster is not only concerned about how long she’s been out of the workforce, but should she find a job, she knows she’ll be juggling the demands of work and parenting, including COVID tests and mandatory isolation every time one of her children gets a cough or the sniffles.
While recent data suggests a jobs recovery for working age women, the statistics fail to capture the whole picture, one in which many women are still struggling to balance work and family life.
Early in the pandemic, much was written about the disproportionate toll of COVID-19 on the finances and career prospects of Canadian women. Female-dominated industries like accommodation and food services were the hardest-hit by restrictions and lockdowns, and many women also suffered from a lack of child care as daycares and schools shut down in the pandemic’s early months.
Even one year on, in March of 2021, employment among women remained about 5.3 per cent below where it sat in February 2020, compared to a drop of about 3.7 per cent for men, according to a report from the Labour Market Information Council.
But as the economy gradually reopened over the summer and fall, women’s prospects improved. Canada as a whole caught up with its pre-pandemic job numbers in September of this year, and according to Statistics Canada, the only age group of women that has yet to recover to its pre-pandemic employment level is the 55-plus category.
“Now if you look at younger women, their employment rate is higher than it was before the pandemic. A little more than one percentage point higher,” said University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe. “It’s the same story for the 25-54 age group — their employment rate is one percentage point higher.”
But Armine Yalnizyan, a Toronto-based economist and the Atkinson Foundation’s Fellow on the Future of Workers, cautions against declaring the “she-cession” over. She pointed out that statistics offer an aggregate look at a population, and many individual women are still struggling with the impacts of the pandemic on their careers and finances.
In addition, Yalnizyan said, it’s crucial to remember that Statistics Canada employment data only looks at the “quantity” of jobs, not “quality” — a key part of the story when it comes to COVID-19 and its affect on gender and the workforce.
“The quality of work question is really, really important to the question of what’s been happening to women,” she said. “For the ‘I’m not able to get a promotion, I’ve had to change jobs or I have stress about possibly losing my job, I’m barely hanging on because my kids are home half the time,’ the binary of ‘are you employed or aren’t you employed’ isn’t a very good metric.”
Before the pandemic hit, Stephanie Bakker-Houpf of High River, Alta., was excited to finally have time to focus on getting her creative consultancy and content management business off the ground after years of putting her own career dreams on the back-burner to raise her two now-teenage daughters.
But not only did her bread-and-butter contracts with musician and entertainer clients dry up in the absence of live performances last year, the divorced Bakker-Houpf found herself sacrificing precious work time as she helped her daughters with home-schooling and supported them through all of the disruptions and anxieties that go along with being a kid in a pandemic.
“Kids today are constantly dealing with uncertainty and their lives being interrupted. And yet, we as moms are still supposed to be able to function the same way and show up at our jobs the same way,” Bakker-Houpf said.
Jennifer Hargreaves, founder and CEO of diversity recruitment organization Tellent – which aims to help women in career transition find new opportunities — said while it’s true that as many women may be working now as before the pandemic, the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
In fact, Hargreaves said she worries Canadian working women may be heading into another crisis in 2022, as employers begin to urge employees to come back to the office on at least a part-time basis even as schools and daycares continue to struggle with COVID cases and children under 5 remain unvaccinated.
“What’s frightening is some employers seem eager to say, ‘we’re going back to normal this year,’ ” Hargreaves said. “Because what I actually see on the ground is more and more women reaching out and getting mental health support, because they’ve just got to a tipping point with burnout. And women are taking stress leave.”
If women have one thing working in their favour, Hargreaves said, it’s the fact that employers across a wide range of industries are struggling with systemic labour shortages right now. She said she hopes that will spur employers to recognize that the way to retain talent is to continue to prioritize flexibility.
“I hope employers can take the lessons learned during COVID-19 and start implementing them and doing that culture shift,” Hargreaves said. “I think they’re absolutely going to need to do that in order to stay agile in this new economy.”
The Canadian Press – Dec 27, 2021 / 11:55 am | Story: 355587
Photo: The Canadian Press
Canadian air travelers are experiencing an uptick in flight cancellations this holiday season, but airlines say weather is a bigger factor than COVID-19.
According to airline data company Cirium, Canada’s largest airlines canceled hundreds of flights between Dec. 22 and Dec. 26 of this year.
Flair Airlines canceled nine per cent of its scheduled flights during the period while WestJet Airlines Ltd. canceled seven per cent of its flights.
Air Canada canceled four per cent of its scheduled flights during the period.
The proportion of canceled flights was significantly higher than earlier in December, when the cancellation rate for major carriers hovered around one to two per cent, and also higher than the same period during 2019’s pre-pandemic holiday season.
South of the border, U.S. airlines have reported canceling significant numbers of flights in the past week because of staff shortages tied to the Omicron variant. Both Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said the nationwide spike in cases this week has impacted flight crews and left carriers short-staffed.
But in Canada, airlines say weather has caused more holiday travel disruptions than COVID-19 so far this year.
“The last few days were some of our busiest since pre-pandemic, carrying nearly 50,000 guests a day on more than 500 flights at peak,” said WestJet spokeswoman Morgan Bell in an email.
“We are not seeing similar issues to our U.S. counterparts and the large majority of our posted cancellations are weather related.”
Frigid temperatures and arctic air have left most of the western provinces shivering this week with wind chills dipping down as low as -55C.
Environment Canada says all of Alberta and most of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, along with parts of Manitoba and Ontario are under extreme cold weather warnings.
Air Canada, which cancelled 171 flights from Dec. 22 to Dec. 26, said adverse winter weather was the major factor.
“We have the crews to operate our schedule so we have not been impacted as some other carriers have been by COVID-19,” a statement from the airline said.
Porter Airlines spokesman Brad Cicero said flights have operated “generally well” over the last week. He said the limited cancellations that have occurred are due largely to weather and aircraft maintenance, though a small number have been related to “staffing.”
Flair Airlines acknowledged it has seen an uptick in sick calls from staff and crews, but said that is typically expected this time of year.
“Currently, the biggest challenge for us, and likely most airlines, is that the ups and downs of the pandemic have caused staffing issues on the ground and at the airport due to long lines and increased passengers,” said Matthew Kunz, Flair’s vice-president of business transformation and operations.
Air Transat spokesman Pierre Tessier said the company has not canceled any flights in the last few days due to staffing issues related to the rising Omicron variant, “and does not expect any cancellations at this time.”
Several Canadian airlines reported they have seen travelers cancel holiday plans because of rising case numbers, though they said they also continue to see demand for new bookings.
The federal government requires both Canadian airline employees, as well as passengers departing from Canadian airports, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Canadian Press – Dec 27, 2021 / 7:07 am | Story: 355564
Photo: The Canadian Press
Sunira Chaudhri poses for a photograph at her office in Toronto on Monday, July 30, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
During Danish Yusuf’s morning routine, his work phone rarely rings and seldom is there an appointment with his Toronto insurance company staff.
The lack of disruptions is no coincidence. Yusuf instructed staff not to plan meetings or send electronic communications early in the morning or after 5 p.m. years ago in hopes of helping staff relax and enjoy their personal lives.
“I have a three-and-a-half-year-old daughter and people will not schedule a meeting with me between 8 and 9 a.m. because that’s when I’m giving her breakfast, changing her and dropping her off to daycare,” said the chief executive at Zensurance.
“My team knows that and people appreciate that.”
His policy has taken on new importance and been considered by more companies and governments as the lines between work and personal lives have blurred even further during the pandemic.
Canadians working from home during the crisis have found themselves increasingly balancing their boss’s needs with family duties, like caring for children at home because of school outbreaks.
Stepping away from the phone or computer can be tough, when many are no longer commuting and the allure of going out has diminished as COVID-19 cases rise again.
The average time Canadian workers spent logged onto a computer increased from nine to 11 hours a day during the pandemic,cybersecurity company NordLayer found in February.
More recently, a November report from human resources software company Ceridian found 84 per cent of the 1,304 Canadian workers surveyed by Hanover Research felt burned out over the last two years.
Some are anxious for these stats to change.
Inspired by a 2016 law giving workers in France the right to turn off electronic work devices outside of business hours, Canada’s federal government started reviewing labour standards and mulling whether to give workers the right to ignore work-related messages when at home in 2018.
A committee convened in October was expected to analyze the issue and provide then-Labour Minister Filomena Tassi with recommendations in spring.
Michelle Johnston, director of communications for new Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, wouldn’t confirm whether the recommendations were ever received, but said, in an email, “work on this file continues.”
However, Quebec and Ontario aren’t waiting for federal regulations.
Ontario received royal assent for new “right to disconnect” legislation on Dec. 2. It forces employers with at least 25 staff to develop policies on disconnecting from work in the next six months, but doesn’t specify which scenarios businesses have to address.
“It’s going to be a piece of legislation that is pretty nice to see on the shelf, but that doesn’t have a bunch of teeth,” Sunira Chaudhri, a partner at Workly Law in Toronto, predicted.
She feels the legislation will be difficult to enforce and will trigger waves of complaints to the labour ministry from workers completing tasks long after their shifts have ended.
Though inspired by Ontario, Quebec is aiming to be tougher.
The Québec Solidaire party introduced a bill in December demanding that companies share “the periods during which an employee is entitled to be disconnected from all job-related communications” on a weekly basis. Non-compliant employers will be charged $100,000.
Until Ontario and Quebec inched toward legislation, Chaudhri was never asked to draw up disconnect policies.
She knows of businesses that previously implemented rules around electronic messaging afterhours, but was told their policies have largely been ignored by employees. She fears the same will happen when legislation is in effect.
“A policy is only as strong as the employees actually implementing it,” said Chaudhri.
“If employers draw them up and then just put them in the drawer never to be seen again, that is really the risk here.”
Forthcoming legislation will change little for Zensurance, which is already clear about its policies and has designated on-call workers for emergencies like cyberattacks or system outages.
However, the process may be more onerous for companies starting from scratch.
They must consider what circumstances should be exempt from a ban on afterhours messaging, what to do about people skirting or violating policies and how expectations will vary for different departments and industries.
For example, it may be easier for someone on a factory floor to leave tasks at work, but more difficult for health care workers, lawyers and realtors, who are often on call or prone to encountering afterhours issues that can’t be delayed.
But Anthony Kaul hopes employers won’t let complexity keep them from setting expectations around the right to disconnect because workers value clarity.
The co-founder of Kitchener, Ont.-based Cloud DX long encouraged staff at his health technology company to leave work messages unanswered afterhours, unless it’s an emergency on-call staff can’t handle.
The informal policy evolved “naturally” because Kaul is a “family man,” but it’s also part of the company’s roots.
“We don’t really have a culture of people sitting there with their phones, hooked up to the cloud or email, next to their bed at 9 p.m.,” he said.
“We’re here to make health care better for everybody. That’s our mission and it includes our own people. We can’t drive them into the ground.”