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Our relationship with our jobs is increasingly dysfunctional, and too many of us wear the amount of work we do as a badge of honour at the expense of our mental and physical well-being.

That’s Rahaf Harfoush’s take on modern life in her latest book, Hustle and Float, an unsparing look at working conditions and the changes being wrought by technology — with insight that sprang partly from her own experiences.

“Culturally, the rituals that we’ve developed around how we talk about work … it’s like, not just the job that we do, but how hard we work at it,” Harfoush says. “That goes counter to all of the actual things we need to do to be healthy and to be more creatively prosperous.”

While working on the book, she suffered her own disastrous episode of burnout.

“I was very much focused around this idea that I had to do more and more and more and more in order to reach this success, and for me what ended up happening was I ended up overworking.”

The result — insomnia, anxiety, hair loss — are symptoms familiar to anyone who has gone through sustained periods of overwork.

She says people need to question why the sheer amount of work we do is so thoroughly woven into our identities these days — and looms so large in how we measure our success.

Harfoush’s career has taken her all over the world, helping people understand how technology is changing our behaviour and society itself. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Harfoush is perhaps a perfect example of the kind of multicultural digital native this country incubates. The Damascus-born, Toronto-raised author and public speaker is based in Paris these days, but her work has taken her all over the world. Her mission: helping people understand the often hidden ways that technology is changing our behaviour, both as individuals and within the places we work.

Harfoush’s own drive for creative prosperity got a chance to flower, she says, when her parents — an engineer and an architect — decided to leave their home in Syria and move to Canada when she was just five.

“They came here with three suitcases, a family of five,” she says. “My mom didn’t speak any English. She worked in Tim Hortons.”

Life wasn’t easy at the beginning, but being in Canada gave her family opportunities they would not have had elsewhere, and they worked hard to take advantage of them. Today her father teaches at Harvard, her mother works in interior design.

Harfoush has built a career that’s grounded in understanding technology, the impact it has on people, and how they adapt their lives and behaviour around it.

Part of that expertise can be traced back to her work with Don Tapscott on Grown Up Digital, the follow-up to his groundbreaking look at the generation of “digital natives” entering the workforce. Through her research, Harfoush met Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook. And that connection led her to work as a volunteer on Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

“This was the first large-scale movement driven by tech,” she recalls.

“I was so moved by the willingness of all these young people to throw it all behind this campaign … people forget how much of a long-shot he was.”

Rahaf Harfoush holds up her election-night passes to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign headquarters. She worked as a volunteer on Obama’s campaign, which was heavily driven by social media. (Rahaf Harfoush)

The work she did on the campaign was a lesson in how people used technology and social media to build the real human connections that powered Obama’s grass-roots driven election victory. Harfoush kept a journal throughout this period, and it became her first book, Yes We Did.

A common theme in Harfoush’s research has been the potential that comes from putting people at the centre of technological advancements, and this formed the core of another book project, her New York Times bestseller The Decoded Company.

It was co-written with the leaders of a Toronto-based firm called Klick, the world’s largest independent health care marketing agency. The book defines a decoded company as a business of any size that puts people ahead of customers and profit, and uses data to unlock its employees’ potential. The Decoded Company is billed as, “a powerful guide to building a data-centric corporate culture that unleashes talent and improves engagement.”

In contrast, Hustle And Float is in many ways a cautionary tale.

The book details Harfoush’s realization, partly as a result of her own experience with burnout, that she is part of a generation of people who have stopped putting their most human needs first, allowing their work to dominate their identities.

Technology has made it possible to work non-stop, no matter where we are, and that has enabled jobs to influence and transform how people conduct their entire waking lives. She says people need to be conscious of that, and not be drawn in to the point where they drown in their work.

“I saw something on Instagram the other day that said if you’re not going where you want to be in your life … consider what you’re doing between 7 p.m. and 12 a.m. This is the narrative that I want to fight against,” Harfoush says.

She adds that she’s not against working hard, dreaming big, and sacrificing some things to build a life and a career. But Harfoush says people also need to redefine, “this idea of what success looks like and what is required for us to get there. I think there’s definitely room for improvement.”

Burnout: Stress at Work

From how we think about our jobs, to where and when we do them, the stress of modern work is affecting Canadians in a lot of ways and across industries.

This week, CBC News and The National take a look at the forces behind this stress and the ways we can avoid burning out. We’ll examine new approaches to productivity and creativity, how we structure shift work, the mental health effects of telecommuting and what Canada can learn from other countries.

For more on our series “Burnout: Stress At Work,” watch The National and read more at

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The federal government’s latest proposed measures to protect pensions don’t actually accomplish much, according to pensioner groups disappointed with the policy outlined in the Trudeau government’s omnibus budget bill.

In the wake of high-profile bankruptcies at Sears and Nortel that left former employees with greatly reduced pensions, the Liberal government promised action.

It undertook consultations last fall with stakeholders and looked at several options to protect unfunded defined benefit plan pensions.

In the March federal budget, the Trudeau government committed to strengthening various laws to better protect Canadians’ pensions following a bankruptcy.

But what the government is offering now falls well short of what pensioner groups want.

“It feels like very first, tenuous steps towards positive reform. Is it enough? Is it pension protection? It certainly isn’t,” said Laura Tamblyn Watts, chief of public policy for CARP, formerly the Canadian Association of Retired Persons. “It’s a profoundly missed opportunity.”

The 392-page omnibus Budget Implementation Act, which will be debated and eventually voted on when the House of Commons returns April 29, outlines a number of proposed legislative changes to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act and the Canada Business Corporation Act.

Justifying C-suite bonuses

Prominent among those proposed changes is one that would make the directors of a corporation liable for any bonuses, incentive benefits or severance pay issued to executives, managers or directors during the year prior to a bankruptcy.

In practical terms, that means a judge in a bankruptcy proceeding could compel company executives to prove the bonuses were justified. If the judge finds that they were not, says the federal Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, “directors found liable for such payments may decide to seek recovery from the recipients of excessive compensation payments.”

“Directors have the ultimate responsibility and powers to act in the best interest of the company,” says the department. “With these amendments, we are encouraging increased vigilance if a company is in financial difficulty and approaching insolvency.”

News reports about executives awarding themselves big bonuses as their companies spiralled downward have triggered widespread outrage among Canadians. The aim of this proposed measure is to stop senior executives from paying themselves exorbitant sums just before a company fails.

“I think it will certainly give directors … pause and may make them look more closely at decisions at a more micro level than they otherwise may have in the past, because of the potential risk of liability that this provision would impose on them,” said pension lawyer Jana Steele, a partner at Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt in Toronto.

That could mean more money remaining in the pot for creditors if a business does go under — which, in theory, could be used to top up an underfunded pension plan.

But since pensioners tend to be just one in a long list of creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding, and are never at the head of the line for repayment, the rule change might not be that useful.

“If there’s no money left over in the end for pensioners, it’s cold comfort indeed,” said Tamblyn Watts.

Bankruptcy is not a problem for defined benefit pension plans when the pensions are fully funded — but often it’s companies with pension deficits that run into financial trouble.

‘Super priority’ for pensioners rejected

Defined benefit plans are ones which guarantee pensioners a certain level of income at retirement, based on length of service and age.

Both CARP and the Canadian Federation of Pensioners had called on Ottawa to move pensioners up the creditor priority list, by giving them something called “super priority.”

But federal Minister for Seniors Filomena Tassi said the government decided the risk of unintended consequences associated with such a move was too great.

“We do not want to make it difficult for companies in insolvency to restructure. We want to make it easier for them to restructure,” Tassi told CBC News.

Minister of Seniors Filomena Tassi. “We want to make it easier for (companies) to restructure.” (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

She argues that super priority status for pensioners would discourage investors from trying to save a troubled company.

Pensioner advocates also have argued for some kind of insurance fund that pension plan sponsors would pay into, which could be tapped if a pension is unfunded and a company faces insolvency. Tassi said the government hasn’t closed the door on that idea and others, but they need more study.

The budget implementation bill also states that those involved in insolvency proceedings must act in good faith. It says executives and directors of a corporation must act in its best interests, which must include the interests of retirees and pensioners as well as shareholders, employees and creditors.

“[The federal government is] acknowledging that the insolvency legislation in Canada is not fair, balanced or equal when it comes to dealing with pensioners,” said Michael Powell, president of the Canadian Federation of Pensioners. “Unfortunately, their implementation doesn’t really move the yardstick forward very far.”

But pension experts say the federal government can only do so much, given the complexity of insolvency proceedings.

A regulatory patchwork

“I think the federal government is trying to find a middle ground,” said Steele. “The proposed legislative changes, to me, are trying to strike a balance and trying to do something, but there’s only so much you can do given all the different factors and all the different interests that are at play when an insolvency is happening.”

Ottawa is also hampered by the fact that more than 90 per cent of pensions in Canada fall under provincial jurisdiction, so the rules on the degree to which those plans must be funded vary from province to province.

“The answer isn’t, in my mind, that the federal government’s just going to write the cheque on all these potential companies that end up in this situation,” said Tassi. “The answer really is to work together with the provinces and territories to prevent this from becoming a problem in the first place.”

Tamblyn Watts said that more still needs to be done and she hopes to see further commitments in political party platforms in the fall election, given that there are nearly six million seniors in Canada.

“What’s most important is the lived experience of people who have been plummeted into poverty because this government hasn’t taken action.”

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Just before barbecue season ignites, Heinz ketchup has launched a new TV ad to woo Canadians. The commercial climaxes with the brand smothering a lonely plate of fries to the tune of What About Love by Heart.

But the ad may not be enough to win back the hearts of Canadians who left Heinz a few years ago, angered by its decision to move its ketchup manufacturing operations from Leamington, Ont., to the U.S.

Many defectors turned to a relative newcomer to the ketchup scene, French’s, which promised to use only Canadian-grown tomatoes. 

French’s customers have remained loyal, allowing the brand to take a bite out of Heinz’s stranglehold on the Canadian ketchup market — a notable feat, considering Heinz has been selling ketchup in Canada for more than a century.

“Condiments are intrinsically linked to attitudes and habits,” said Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at Halifax’s Dalhousie University who specializes in food distribution and policy. 

“What French’s has accomplished in recent years is unheard of.”

French’s sustained success islikely due to a combination of ingredients, including a spate of free publicity, as well as a Canadian-made ketchup that offers a taste and price consumers find palatable.

“The Canadian stuff only gets you so far,” said food industry analyst Kevin Grier. “Their product must be good enough to stick around.”

French’s ketchup — owned by U.S. food company McCormick — launched in Canada in late 2015. According to market research company Euromonitor, the brand quickly gained ground, and snagged 5.1 per cent of Canadian retail ketchup sales by 2018. It ranks as Heinz’s biggest competitor.

Heinz ketchup —  owned by U.S. food company Kraft Heinz — still held 77.5 per cent of the market share in 2018. But that’s a 6.2 per cent drop from 2015.

Presumably, French’s growth has come at Heinz’s expense.

How did French’s do it?

A year before it merged with Kraft in 2015, Heinz planted the seed for potential troubles when it sold its Leamington processing plant and moved its Canadian ketchup operations to the U.S.

Kraft Heinz told CBC News that the company never actually left Leamington, as the plant’s new owner still processes many products for Heinz — other than ketchup. Kraft Heinz said the value of those products, such as tomato juice, is worth four times the Canadian retail ketchup market.

“Kraft Heinz continues to be a proud Canadian employer,” spokesperson Montana Brisbin said in an email.

But that wasn’t the perception of many Canadians when Heinz pulled its ketchup production, leaving some Leamington tomato farmers without a customer. 

Heinz sold its processing plant in Leamington, Ont., in 2014 and moved its ketchup operations to the U.S. (Geoff Robins/The Canadian Press)

In December of 2015, French’s came to the rescue, pledging to make ketchup with Leamington tomatoes.The move led to prolonged free publicity for the brand — the kind that money can’t buy.

First, a Facebook post praising French’s, and detailing how Heinz ketchup had left Leamington, went viral, with more than a quarter of a million shares.

“[That] was the catalyst,”said Joanne Duguay, of Bathurst, N.B. At that time, she decided to abandon Heinz for French’s.

“It was shabby what they did to Canadian farmers. You just can’t do that and think that people are going to turn around and just say, ‘OK, not a problem.'”

After briefly pulling it in 2016, Loblaws returned French’s ketchup to its shelves following a public outcry. (CBC)

Then, grocery giant Loblaws stopped selling French’s ketchup in March 2016 due to “low” demand. The move sparked outrage from fans on social media, so the grocer quickly backtracked and the event made headlines. As a result, French’s became a household name.

“Loblaws did them the biggest favour, because it just caught on with Canadians,” said Beth Mouratidis, of Barrie, Ont., who learned about French’s commitment to Leamington at that time.

“French’s came along like a knight on a white horse and saved the day, and I wanted to support that.”

The brand got even more free publicity in 2017 when it started bottling its ketchup in Canada to make it a 100 per cent Canadian-made product.

French’s started bottling its ketchup at a plant in North York, Ont., in 2017. (Jacqueline Hansen/CBC)

To top it all off, when the federal government imposed retaliatory tariffs last year on some U.S. imports — including ketchup — French’s got a shout-out from the prime minister.

“We have ketchup made in Canada — called French’s ketchup — that’s just great,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last September, when discussing the tariffs at a Council on Foreign Relations event in New York.

“Obviously, when you have your brand mentioned by the prime minister, it’s certainly publicity you can’t buy,” said Charlebois.

Taste and price matter, too

While French’s has had ample opportunity to win over Canadians, the love-affair likely wouldn’t have lasted unless customers agreed with the taste and price.

“The combination of the quality and price is probably allowing it to hold its own,” said food industry analyst, Grier.

CBC News checked major grocers’ regular prices online for both brands and found they were comparable.

And French’s parent company, McCormick, insists its ketchup’s taste is key.

“Our continued success and increase in sales over the past three years is driven by its great taste and pride in being prepared and bottled in Canada,” said Cheryl Radisa, vice-president of marketing for McCormick Canada, in an email.

Fans like Duguay and Mouratidis said the ketchup tastes pretty much like Heinz — and they’re happy with that.

Kraft Heinz will launch a new product in Canada next month: Mayochup, a condiment that combines Heinz’s ketchup and mayonnaise. (Kraft Heinz)

And the battle is far from over. Kraft Heinz said it’s about to step up its ketchup advertising campaigns. And next month, it launches a new product in Canada: Mayochup — a blend of Heinz ketchup and mayonnaise.

Kraft Heinz also suggests its future up north looks bright: It said its Canadian ketchup sales have grown over the past six months and are now higher than they were a year ago. 

“Canadians continue to be incredibly passionate about Heinz ketchup,” said spokesperson, Brisbin.

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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said Friday it is recalling more than 320,000 Dodge Dart compact cars in North America — including 20,117 in Canada — that could roll away because of a defective part that could allow the shift cable to detach from the transmission.

In addition to the Canadian cars, the recall covers about 298,000 U.S. vehicles, 3,400 in Mexico and about 900 outside of North America.

The Italian-American automaker said the recall covers 2013 through 2016 model year automatic transmission Dart cars and that the defect could prevent drivers from shifting vehicles into park.

Fiat Chrysler said it is not aware of any crashes or injuries related to the issue but has several thousand reports of related repairs to vehicles. The company said a cable bushing may degrade after prolonged exposure to high ambient heat and humidity.

The company said owners should make sure they shut off the vehicle and engage the parking brake. Fiat Chrysler said it will replace the transmission side shifter cable bushing, but did not say when repairs will be ready.

Fiat Chrysler ended production of the Dart in 2016.

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Delbert Wapass will be paying close attention when two new Prairie Records cannabis shops open up in Saskatoon on April 20 — also known as 4/20.

The business advisor for Thunderchild First Nation was chief when the reserve became the biggest investor in Westleaf, the company opening both locations.

The $8 million investment, made more than a year ago, came with an announcement that Westleaf is building a 10,700-square-metre production facility on Thunderchild-owned land near North Battleford. If things go according to plan, weed that will end up in those shops could start growing on that land as early as December.

‘We wanted to get in where it counted’

Prairie Records is owned by Westleaf, which Thunderchild is the primary stakeholder in. (Prairie Records/Facebook)

Wapass, who is on the Westleaf board of directors, said he is not worried about whether the Prairie Records shops will succeed. There’s already a Prairie Records shop in Warman and five more planned in Alberta.

“We researched where the trends are, what should happen, where should we invest and we didn’t want to get in after the fact — we wanted to get in where it counted, in the beginning,” he said.

This is how his First Nation operates, he said. It makes savvy investment with groups like Westleaf, “who understand capital markets, who understand Bay Street.”

The benefits for Thunderchild include alleviating financial pressure on band members for education, health and housing. The production facility will also provide jobs, both during construction and once it’s built.

The facility is expected to employ 150 people once it’s up and running.

Getting the lay of the land

Thunderchild isn’t the only First Nation in the province with a stake in physical pot stores. Dozens of First Nations have investments in shops, either directly or via larger tribal councils.

Battleford Agency Tribal Chiefs is expected to co-open Nipawin’s first cannabis shop with a company called Green Tec Holdings later this year.

5 Buds Cannabis, which has shops in Warman and North Battleford, is owned by a consortium of development companies for Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation, Prince Albert Grand Council, English River First Nation and several Athabasca Basin First Nations. The company plans to open another store in Yorkton this summer, according to Sean Willy, president and CEO of the English River company, Des Nedhe Developments.

Sean Willy is CEO of the Des Nedhe group of companies. (Sean Willy/Twitter)

Both Prairie Records and 5 Buds have delved into the online world as well. That hasn’t been as successful for 5 Buds as initially hoped, Willy said.

“The black market’s still alive and well and running through the online portals and there doesn’t seem to be a hurry to shut those down at this time. It’s just a bit frustrating that there’s not a push to shut those avenues down,” he said.

On-reserve sales

Muscowpetung Saulteaux First Nation, located in the Fort Qu’Appelle area northeast of Regina, has the only publicly advertised on-reserve cannabis shop in the province. It does not have a permit under the legal cannabis framework set up by Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Association (SLGA).

Muscowpetung opened doors on the Mino-Maskihki shop in mid-November. The shop’s Facebook page says it sells medicinal and recreational cannabis.

Other provinces, Ontario in particular, have seen weed shops pop up on-reserve only to be raided by police soon after.

Muscowpetung filed documents in court in November seeking a declaration that it has the power to sell and regulate cannabis under the constitutional rights of Indigenous people in Canada.

The filing has not officially been served to the Justice Ministry, according to spokesperson Jennifer Graham. She added that discussions between the province and Muscowpetung are ongoing.

Muscowpetung’s choice to create its own cannabis laws and operate outside the province’s system has thus far only been met with a warning from the province.

Justice Minister Don Morgan said he wants the shop to voluntarily close down and encouraged Muscowpetung to follow the SLGA approval process, but said he was leaving it up to police to decide whether enforcement is needed.

On-reserve sales hesitation elsewhere

There are three Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan — Onion Lake Cree Nation, Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and Lac La Ronge Indian Band — that are SLGA-approved to apply for a licence to sell marijuana on-reserve.

Onion Lake Chief Henry Lewis said his nation was initially under the impression that being approved for a permit meant it could open up a shop in Lloydminster.

Chief Henry Lewis says Onion Lake has no current ambitions to open a cannabis shop on reserve. (Onion Lake Cree Nation)

It wasn’t until after Onion Lake bought a vacant medical building in the city that it realized the approval only applied on reserve. For now the building in Lloydminster is sitting empty, but Onion Lake is considering applying later to open up a shop in the city, Lewis said.

A shop on-reserve was never a logical choice for them, Lewis said, considering Onion Lake is a dry reserve.

“It should be treated no different from alcohol,” he said.

“They’ll go off reserve and purchase [cannabis] since it’s legal now, it’s a given. So why not capitalize on that?”

Other than Lewis, chiefs of First Nations who have money invested in the cannabis industry declined comment for this story or did not respond to calls from CBC.

It can be a touchy topic, said Andrew Gordon, the Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances & Community Engagement at Kiaro — a company that is opening the first legal cannabis store in La Ronge in May.

Andrew Gordon, Senior Vice President of Kiaro, is set to open a cannabis shop in La Ronge next month. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

“Cannabis is something that is definitely new, and unprecedented, and unfamiliar for a lot of people so we are definitely mindful of the concerns in the community,” he said.

“You have to engage, you have to inform and you have to empower to really change hearts and minds to end the stigma that surrounds cannabis use and cannabis retail in the community.”

Wapass said there will always be detractors, but Thunderchild’s investments have mostly received positive feedback.

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Leigh Mitchell left a traditional office job in September 2017, after finding the culture and work structure incompatible with raising her two busy kids, then 13 and eight.

With its tight deadlines and intense pressure to be physically present in the office, “I just didn’t feel like the culture there was good for working moms,” said Mitchell, who lives in Toronto. 

In addition, she said, it was an old-fashioned work environment — “nothing was on the cloud.” If one of her kids woke up sick on a school morning, Mitchell would still have to find a way to get into the office and put the files she needed onto a memory stick so she could work from home.

When she raised these issues with her boss, Mitchell was told she should just get used to buying rotisserie chickens for dinner and “find a grandmother or another older person that would maybe like to be around kids.”

“I don’t know where that Mary Poppins person exists that just magically wants to help out,” she said.

Leigh Mitchell has a 25-hour-per-week job working remotely from home as a website editor, and runs a network for self-employed women on the side. She finds it better suits her lifestyle than her former office job. (Jenny Jay)

Today, Mitchell has a 25-hour-per-week job working remotely from home as a website editor, and runs a network for self-employed women on the side. The mix is working much better, she said.

Mitchell is not alone among women who have left a job for family reasons. The difficulties of managing family and work life — child-care shortages, schools that let out hours before the end of the work day — continue to push disproportionate numbers of women out of the workforce compared to men.

In 2018, 15 per cent of women who left their jobs and are now out of the labour force did so for personal or family reasons, according to Statistics Canada. In comparison, only three per cent of men who left jobs did so for the same reason.

But labour market experts say more flexible workplace policies across the board — regardless of gender or family status — are a key part of stopping the economy from hemorrhaging qualified female workers.

If we were able to raise female participation to that of men, we could add over 1.3 million people to Canada’s labour force.– Emna Braham , senior economist, Labour Market Information Council

Emna Braham, senior economist at the Labour Market Information Council in Ottawa, said women’s labour force participation in Canada is about eight per cent lower than it is for men.

That gap might seem modest on first glance, she said, “but when you’re looking in a context of growing skills and labour shortages, that actually has a very important significance.”

“If we were able to raise female participation to that of men, we could add over 1.3 million people to Canada’s labour force.”

Given that women represent 57 per cent of all people graduating from university — according to Statistics Canada data from 2016, the most recent year available — their absence removes a highly educated cohort from the labour market at a time when there’s a shortage of skilled workers.

Of course, access to child care must improve as well. A Statistics Canada report released last week found that one third of parents with kids under six had difficulty finding child care

But alongside quality care for kids, a flexible work environment is a critical piece of the puzzle. 

“The literature on flexible work is a bit smaller, but we think it’s still something that’s very important,” said Braham. “Even if you have access to child care, it often entails flexibility from your employer to drop off and pick up your child.”

Without a range of flexible work options, workplaces “cannot help women reconcile what is unreconcilable.”

Flexibility benefits more than just moms

When employers offer more than just the standard 9-5 day in the office, it makes them appealing to more than just moms.

“We’re also in a context of millennials entering and developing in the workforce, and they have a very strong preference for flexible working arrangements,” said Braham.

Tara Dragon, an Edmonton-based human resources expert who founded flexible work organization Work Evolution, agrees. 

“Flexibility is something of value to people regardless of where they are in their career,” she said. 

“Lots has been studied about the millennials and how they like variety, but we also know that folks who are late in their careers — the ones with all of the experience and organizational history and knowledge — they don’t want to just stop working one day. They want to ease out just as some people would like to ease in at different points in their career.”

Flexible work includes things like part-time or off-peak hours, the option to work remotely and even short-duration contracts.

Toronto mom of two Jennifer Hargreaves said her own quest for work that would allow her to manage her load at home led her to found tellent — an online resource for women that provides access to flexible work opportunities as well as return-to-work programs for moms who’ve been out of the workforce for a while.

Jennifer Hargreaves founded tellent, a community and resource that helps connect women to flexible work arrangements, after finding herself carrying most of the responsibility for the care of her two children. (Andy Heics photo )

While working for a branding agency in London, Hargreaves was laid off when she was four months pregnant. Newly married and recently moved from contract to a full-time position, her bosses had taken the opportunity to say that the role “wouldn’t suit someone looking to have a family,” said Hargreaves. “Then I told them I was pregnant, and four days later I was out of there.”

When her family moved back to Canada in March 2014, Hargreaves was pregnant with her second child. Convinced that no one would hire a pregnant woman, and lacking a network of business contacts in Toronto, Hargreaves struggled to see how she could maintain a career.

Her husband, an investment banker who manages a team spread across New York, London and Montreal, travels frequently. “I thought, ‘Oh, well I guess this is my lot in life. I’m the mom — it’s my job to stay home.’

“But the problem with that is I love to work.”

Trust vs. accommodation

Too often, when flexibility is extended to a parent who needs to work from home because a child has a doctor’s appointment, or to leave early to make a summer camp pickup, workplaces treat these as accommodations — as though they’re doing the employee a favour, said Hargreaves.

“These companies don’t have a culture of trust; they have a culture of accommodation,” she said. In a culture of trust, managers understand that people will get their work done, regardless of whether they’re in the line of sight of their bosses between nine and five, she said. “If Joe is not at his desk, who cares?”

In October 2018, Amanda Munday founded a Toronto-based co-working space called The Workaround, which offers on-demand child care.

Co-working spaces are used by the self-employed, remote workers, small startups, creative professionals and anyone else who might need a workspace alternative to the home office or crowded coffee shop some or all of the time. They can also offer an opportunity for water-cooler conversation for those looking for an antidote to some of the isolating aspects of working from home.

The Workaround is a co-working space in Toronto that offers child care. (Amanda Munday)
Munday was inspired to start The Workaround as a result of her own challenges managing family and work responsibilities.

“I felt like a real outcast returning to tech as a parent,” said Munday. With meetings frequently held at 9 a.m. or 5 p.m. — incompatible with daycare drop-offs and pickups — she felt like “the whole infrastructure” wasn’t set up to help her succeed.

In order to keep the economy thriving … we need to shift our idea of what the workday looks like.– Amanda Munday , founder and CEO of The Workaround

Munday is clear to note that it’s not just women availing themselves of the co-working and child-care services at The Workaround. About 40 per cent of clients are dads.

“One tech executive father came in early on a Tuesday morning; his nanny had got called for jury duty,” said Munday. “We had never met them before, but he was able to utilize our emergency child care.”

Same-day child-care emergencies are par for the course with parenthood, and Munday said it makes good business sense for employers to offer things like flexible hours and remote working options — especially given the number of millennials becoming parents.

“We’ve got this boom of a workforce that’s moving into the parenting years. In order to keep the economy thriving, to address tech and new jobs, we need to support parents at work and we need to shift our idea of what the workday looks like.

“It’s not an HR issue, or a diversity and inclusion issue. It’s an economic issue about fiscal responsibility. It’s expensive to lose senior employees. It’s expensive to have a woman go on maternity leave and not come back.”

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WestJet Airlines Ltd. is going to the Supreme Court of Canada in an attempt to have a proposed class-action lawsuit launched by a former flight attendant thrown out of court.

The airline lost efforts to scuttle the action in both the B.C. Supreme and Appeal courts, but documents asking for leave to appeal filed with the high court say the case raises several questions of national importance.

Mandalena Lewis worked for WestJet for eight years and alleges in her legal action that the employer broke its promise to provide a harassment-free workplace for women.

WestJet claims in its filing that the high court needs to decide if the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal have exclusive jurisdiction over the claims of sexual harassment in a non-unionized, federal company.

The documents say if the case is allowed to proceed to court, the jurisdiction of the commission and tribunal have effectively been nullified, which couldn’t have been the intent of Parliament when they were created.

Lewis alleges in her civil lawsuit that she was sexually assaulted by a pilot while on a stopover in Hawaii in 2010 and that WestJet breached its anti-harassment promise in her contract.

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The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has ordered Quebecor to comply with its regulations.

The CRTC called TVA Group to a public hearing Wednesday to explain its decision to cut the TVA Sports signal to Bell subscribers at the start of the NHL playoffs last week.

The broadcast regulator found that TVA Group violated the CRTC’s discretionary services regulations by withholding the signal.

If TVA Group fails to comply with the order, it could face fines of up to $250,000 for the first violation and $500,000 for each subsequent violation. 

Should it again withhold or interfere with the TVA Sports signal before the dispute with Bell is resolved, TVA Sports will have its licence automatically suspended for the duration of time that the signal is not provided to Bell Canada.

The CRTC created a rule to protect Canadians from losing access to television services during commercial negotiations between broadcasters and television service providers.

“The CRTC is very concerned by TVA Group’s actions,” said Ian Scott, chair of the CRTC, in a statement.

“Not only are their actions a serious violation of our regulations, but hundreds of thousands of Canadians were deprived of a channel to which they are subscribed.”

“Holding a licence is a privilege, not a right,” Scott said.

TVA Group has argued Bell is not paying a fair price for its service. At the hearing Wednesday, Quebecor owner Pierre Karl Péladeau pleaded for equitable rates, saying the fate of TVA Sports is at stake.

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The case for ratifying the revised North American trade agreement got a boost Thursday with the release of a new analysis by the U.S. International Trade Commission that predicted economic gains for all three partners if its changes are implemented.

“In light of the size of the U.S. economy relative to the size of the Mexican and Canadian economies, as well as the reduction in tariff and nontariff barriers that has already taken place among the three countries under NAFTA, the impact of the agreement on the U.S. economy is likely to be moderate,” the ITC concluded in its report.

Still, the ITC’s model suggests the revised trade deal offers both economic growth (a boost to U.S. real GDP worth $68.2 billion) and employment growth (an estimated 176,000 jobs).

On the politically-sensitive matter of employment, the commission says the greatest gains likely would be for workers with between 10 and 15 years of education. Workers with all levels of education may see their wages rise by an average of 0.27 per cent, the analysis concluded, with highly-educated workers earning more because of the tighter labour market for their skills.

U.S. exports of goods and services to Canada are expected to increase by 5.9 per cent annually under the new deal. U.S. imports from Canada are estimated to rise by 4.8 per cent.

U.S. trade with the rest of the world is also expected to increase, but trade with NAFTA partners would represent a larger share of total U.S. trade, the ITC projects.

The study was requested and required by the U.S. Congress as part of its “fast-track” ratification process. American politicians now have an opportunity to review its findings before proceeding with legislation to approve the new agreement.

Its findings are good news for proponents of the deal eager for evidence that replacing the existing NAFTA would benefit all three countries.

The study modelled the changes in tariffs and quotas that will affect trade in goods between the three countries. But it also included a qualitative analysis of the significant measures on things like intellectual property and e-commerce.

The ITC says it believes the parts of the agreement likely to have the most significant effects are the provisions that “reduce policy uncertainty about digital trade” and the substantial new rules of origin for tariff-free trade in the automotive sector.

Under the existing NAFTA, most tariffs on goods between the three countries were already eliminated, so the net impact of the tariff changes is relatively small compared to the overall size of the U.S. economy. Much of the revised agreement deals with non-tariff barriers to trade.

More to come …

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Sears Holdings Corp. is suing its former chairman and largest shareholder Eddie Lampert, alleging the billionaire stripped the once iconic company of more than $2 billion US in assets.

The lawsuit, which was filed late Wednesday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York, also names former Sears directors, including U.S. Treasury Steven Mnuchin as well as executives at Lampert’s hedge fund ESL.

Sears, which also operates Kmart, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October amid years of massive losses and sales drops. Lampert saved the company by acquiring the assets in a court-approved auction through an affiliate of ESL in February. Unsecured creditors had tried to block the sale, maintaining that Lampert was to blame for the company’s downfall.

Sears Canada went bankrupt in 2017, with many long-time employees losing part of their pensions and suppliers left unpaid. Lampert had sold off the company’s lucrative real estate and board members received bonuses.

The 110-page U.S. lawsuit cited sales or spinoffs of key assets that were allegedly used to line Lampert’s own pockets and that of his hedge fund. That includes the spinoff of Lands’ End in 2014 and Lampert’s real estate investment trust Seritage Growth created four years ago to extract revenue from Sears’ properties.

Lambert to fight lawsuit

“Altogether, Lampert caused more than $2 billion of assets to be transferred to himself and Sears’ other shareholders and beyond the reach of Sears’ creditors,” the suit stated.

ESL said it “vigorously” disputes the claims and calls them “baseless” and “fanciful” in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.

“The debtors’ allegations are misleading or just flat wrong,” ESL said, adding that Sears received proceeds of more than $3 billion from the transactions, all of which were applied to reduce debt and fund operations.

“ESL was a constant source of financing for Sears Holdings for many years,” it said.

Lampert, who merged Sears and Kmart in 2005, steered Sears into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in October. The company’s corporate parent had 687 stores and 68,000 employees at the time of the bankruptcy filing. At its peak in 2012, its stores numbered 4,000. The approval of Lampert’s new business means roughly 425 stores and 45,000 jobs will be preserved.

Unsecured creditors, who rank at the bottom of the list to be paid, objected to Sears’ sale to Lampert, alleging falsified financial projections, excessive buybacks, and a spinoff of brands that stripped the business of key assets in a 100-plus page document filed in late January. It chronicled what it called a “tortured story of Sears.” That served as a preview of Wednesday’s lawsuit.

Before the sale, Lampert personally owned 31 per cent of the Sears’ outstanding stock, and his hedge fund has an 18.5 per cent stake, according to FactSet. He stepped down as CEO in October after serving in that role since 2013.

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