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Here's what Canada's business leaders think about heading back to the office – CBC.ca

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It’s been more than 500 days since millions of Canadian employees were forced to suddenly work from home because of COVID-19.

While the pandemic is far from over, some workplaces are starting to tackle the tough questions of when and whether to come back into the office again — and what work life will look like for people, no matter where they do it.

CBC News reached out to dozens of business leaders across the country for their thoughts on the return to work.

In responses from across Canada, from tiny non-profits with a handful of employees, to tech startups, energy firms and financial giants with tens of thousands of workers, one sentiment was echoed again and again: Things definitely won’t be exactly how they used to be.

“It won’t be a one-size-fits-all,” said Guy Cormier, CEO of the Montreal-based financial services giant Desjardins.

Desjardins doesn’t plan on flipping a switch and calling everyone who used to be in the office to come back in. Instead, the company plans to allow for all sorts of arrangements. Many people will come back into the office basically full time, if they want to and it makes sense to, while some former office dwellers will stay at home permanently. Others will adopt the so-called hybrid model, where they switch between the two.

“We will adapt with our staff and be sure that there’s … balance between their lives and their work,” Cormier said.

It’s a similar story at the big banks; both TD and CIBC say they plan to incorporate a lot more work from home into their business from now on.

“The majority of our team can work from anywhere, be productive and do incredible work. But there are also things we do best in person and together,” said CIBC’s group head of people Sandy Sharman. “The future of how and where they work will blend the best of both worlds.”

The pandemic that started in March 2020 forced millions of Canadian office workers to work from home, but that will likely not be the case forever. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“We anticipate that colleagues will continue to enjoy more work-life flexibility, including remote work and hybrid options where it is possible. However, we believe that most roles will require some presence in the office, in order to foster collaboration, innovation and strengthening of our culture,” said TD’s chief human resource officer Kenn Lalonde.

Cenovus Energy will be going the hybrid route, allowing people to work up to two days a week from home — if they want it and if the job realistically allows.

“We’re planning to use a hybrid workplace flexibility model — with office staff able to work from home up to two days a week, role permitting,” the Calgary-based company’s executive vice-president, Sarah Walters, said in an email. “The new model will be implemented in September to coincide with the majority of our office returns and we will be assessing this approach over time to ensure it’s the best fit for our workplace.”

Hybrid approach

Staffing firm Manpower knows better than most that tailoring the arrangement on a case-to-case basis works best, so that’s what they’ll be doing with their own employees. “We need to be flexible in order to attract and retain some of the top talent in the market,” said Darlene Minatel, Manpower’s country manager for Canada.

Marketing agency Brand Momentum will be similarly flexible, but they will require staff to make an appearance in the office in either Toronto or Montreal at least three days a week, said CEO Hesham Shafie.

Insurance giant Sun Life, meanwhile, is open to anything that gets the job done. “We’re not imposing any minimum or maximum in terms of being in the office,” president Jacques Goulet said. “In fact, we don’t talk about return to office — what we’re talking about is opening our offices for work.”

Businesses of all stripes are struggling with how to operate in the middle of a pandemic — and beyond. (Stefanie Loos/Bloomberg)

St John’s-based software company Celtx says it plans to proceed with whatever system works best for its employees — and above all, whatever they decide to do, it will roll out slowly. “We’re not going to do anything sudden, it’ll be done with a lot of consultation,” CEO Mark Kennedy said, adding that, ultimately, keeping his employees happy is good for business. “If you have a happy employee, usually you have a productive employee.”

Indeed, if there’s one lesson the pandemic disruption has taught Canadian business leaders, it’s that there can be a better way than what they were doing.

Lessons learned

Celtx employed a good chunk of remote workers even before COVID-19 hit, so the company had a bit of a leg up in terms of making it work for everyone. “We actually leaned on our remote workers to tell people who were used to working in an office what were some of the tips they could employ,” Kennedy said. “We just put some of those best practices into use for everyone.”

While Brand Momentum will want its staff to be in the office at least part time, Shafie says they have no intention of forcing people back. Far from it; he says working from home has actually made the company more productive.

Business leaders say smart companies will come up with arrangements that work best for their employees’ life situations, to keep them happy and productive. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

“Because many of our people were driving half an hour, an hour each way to get to the office, now these two hours they’re able to use [that] productivity for the family, for the life. So they’re happier as a result,” he said. “It’s been a transformation.”

Ultimately, no company should expect things to go back to how they were before — and any ones that do are likely to suffer for it.

Montreal-based marketing firm helloDarwin plans to go the hybrid route of having office space there for those who want it, home work for others, and a mix-and-match for everyone else. The system has worked well through the pandemic, says CEO Mathieu Plante, so they have no plans to change it.

And he has a warning for any corporate executives who long to get back to the days of valuing face time in the office over everything.

“If an employer cannot accommodate his workforce in 2021, for sure, [they] will see departures, people leaving the company.”

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Customers cry foul as Air Canada, WestJet continue to deny certain compensation claims despite new directive – CBC News

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A recent Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) decision was supposed to help clear the air on flight compensation. 

When issuing a decision in a WestJet case on July 8, the transport regulator clarified that, in general, airlines can’t deny passengers compensation for flight disruptions caused by crew shortages. 

However, the clarification has only ignited fury for some passengers, including Frank Michel, who have since been denied compensation — due to crew shortages.

“It’s insulting,” said Michel, of Marquis, Sask.

He and his wife, Leigh, flew with Air Canada in June. The couple’s flight from Regina to Victoria was delayed by more than five hours. Then, the second leg of their return flight was cancelled, so the couple wound up spending the night at the Vancouver airport. 

“I’ve got arthritis, I’m aching and sore; I’m sleeping on a frigging concrete floor,” said Michel, who is 67.

After Air Canada cancelled his flight, Michel, 67, wound up spending the night on the floor of the Vancouver airport. (Frank Michel)

The couple applied for compensation, which would total $2,800 if they qualified. But in late July, Air Canada rejected the Michels’ claim. In two separate emails seen by CBC News, the airline said each flight disruption was “due to crew constraints” linked to COVID-19 and was “safety-related.” 

Under federal rules, airlines only have to pay compensation — up to $1,000 per passenger — if the flight disruption is within the airline’s control and not safety-related. 

Michel argues Air Canada isn’t playing by the rules.

“CTA has already made it clear that crew constraints is not an acceptable excuse,” he said. “It’s not a safety issue. It’s a management issue. You have to manage your resources.”

‘This decision doesn’t seem to mean anything’

The CTA issued its clarification last month based on a case where WestJet denied a customer compensation, claiming his flight had been cancelled for safety reasons due to a crew shortage. 

In its ruling, the CTA emphasized that staffing issues typically warrant compensation because, in general, they are an airline’s responsibility and can’t be categorized as a safety matter. Thus, the agency ordered WestJet to pay the passenger $1,000. 

“Training and staffing are within airline control and therefore crew shortages are within airline control, unless there’s compelling evidence” to the contrary, said CTA spokesperson Tom Oommen in an interview. “It’s a high threshold.”

WATCH | Air passengers say they’ve been unfairly denied compensation:

Travellers say they’re being unfairly denied compensation for Air Canada flight cancellations

3 days ago

Duration 2:01

Some travellers say they’re being denied compensation for cancelled Air Canada flights as the airline claims the flight disruptions were ‘due to crew constraints’ and beyond their control.

Oommen said the CTA’s decision will help ensure airlines follow the rules. But some passengers remain skeptical. 

“This decision doesn’t seem to mean anything,” said Jennifer Peach, of Langley, B.C., who, along with her husband, had booked a trip with WestJet to attend a wedding last month in St. John’s.

They almost didn’t make it. WestJet cancelled their connecting flight and Peach said the airline then offered to rebook them on a flight one day later — which would mean they’d miss the wedding. 

Fortunately, Peach found a Porter Airlines flight that would get the couple to St. John’s about five hours later than originally scheduled, but still in time for the wedding. WestJet told her to book the flight and file for compensation, she said.

Peach asked WestJet for the $773 total she paid for the Porter flight, plus compensation for the couple’s delayed trip. On Aug. 2, WestJet turned down both requests. 

In an email seen by CBC News, the airline stated that the flight cancellation “was due to crew member availability and was required for safety purposes.” 

That didn’t sit well with Peach, especially in light of the recent CTA decision.

“I don’t know what’s going on here,” she said. “I would assume that if there’s a decision like this made by the Canadian Transportation Agency that it would be the sort of the benchmark for all of these [claims].”

Enforcement options ‘could include fines’: CTA

WestJet and Air Canada each declined to comment on individual cases, but both said they abide by federal air passenger regulations. WestJet said that safety is its top priority. Air Canada said airlines shouldn’t be penalized for cancelling flights for safety reasons. 

Air passenger rights expert Ian Jack said the CTA needs to threaten airlines with harsh penalties, such as public shaming and stiff fines, if they fail to comply with compensation regulations. 

“The major concern is that the regulator is not exactly striking fear into the hearts of the carriers to make them follow the rules,” said Jack, a spokesperson with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), a non-profit travel agency. 

“They need to know that they might get caught, embarrassed and called to task by the regulator.” 

This graphic shows the compensation air travellers could be entitled to depending on the length of their flight delay. (CBC)

CTA’s Oommen suggested that tough penalties may be coming for non-compliant airlines. “We are indeed looking at all the enforcement options … which could include fines.”

Meanwhile, both Michel and Peach have filed complaints with the CTA. However, they may be in for a long wait. The agency is currently dealing with a backlog of more than 15,000 complaints, Oommen said.

He said the CTA recently made changes to streamline the complaints process and is trying to hire more staff.

But Jack said he’s concerned the backlog may encourage airlines to flout the rules, because any repercussions will be far down the road. 

“They don’t have to pay out today, and who knows, maybe in 2025, they might have to pay money.”

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Across Canada, cities struggle to respond to growing homeless encampments – CBC.ca

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On a patch of green space at the edge of a Charlottetown parking lot, Steve Wotton lives in a tent with his dog, Nova. The homeless shelter where he used to stay doesn’t allow pets.

“I’ve been on the streets since two days after Christmas, but I’ve been in shelters off and on,” he said.

Wotton said shelters make him anxious, and his dog is a source of support and strength when he’s feeling unwell.

“This is in the area where I should be or I kinda need to be,” he said.

“It’s tough. Some of it can be OK, but it’s very rough.”

A man crouches by his tent in a patch of bushes.
Steve Wotton said he was forced to move into a tent in Charlottetown after he couldn’t find a shelter that would let him keep his dog. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Across Canada, city officials are trying to figure out how to deal with the increased presence of homeless encampments.

In Vancouver, city staff began the removal of tents in the city’s Downtown Eastside earlier this week.

In Halifax, the city recently ordered people living in a west-end park to leave, and have said police could be called in to clear out those who remain.

In Montreal, several encampments have been cleared out in recent years, and the city is seeking to hire a liaison officer to help dismantle others that pop up. A city spokesperson said encampments are not a safe or sustainable solution to homelessness, and pose a safety risk, too.

Short- and long-term goals

Yet advocates such as Marie-Pier Therrien, a representative for the Old Brewery Mission shelter in Montreal, argue that simply shutting encampments down doesn’t help.

“We agree with the city that the encampments are not a long-term solution to the housing crisis right now,” Therrien said. “But we would like them to lead an effort … to provide affordable housing solutions to the people in the camps, because moving them around is not going to be a long-term solution either.” 

As the former United Nations special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Leilani Farha has studied the issue closely. She said city governments cannot be left to solve the problem on their own.

“Encampments are unfortunately incredibly common across Canada, in big cities and small cities. And this has really increased since the pandemic,” she said.

“That’s because congregate settings like shelters were deemed unsafe at the beginning of the pandemic. And already people were not loving shelters. They are violent places; they are institutions.”

While more affordable housing should be the ultimate goal, she said, in the meantime officials should ensure people living in encampments have access to things like clean water.

“I expect city and other orders of government to ensure that when people are living in encampments, they can live as much of a dignified life as possible, but that the end goal should be figuring out how to get that population properly housed,” she said. 

Journalists and onlookers surround a tent in Toronto during an eviction.
People living in an encampment at Lamport Stadium, in downtown Toronto, faced eviction in July 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Councillors in Kitchener, Ont., for instance, have approved a plan to provide support to encampments while coming up with a longer-term plan.

“The way I view people living in encampments is they are human-rights holders and they’re making a claim,” Farha said.

“They’re saying, ‘Hey, I have the right to adequate housing and there is no other place for me to find that’s right to live. And so I’m going to roll out my sleeping bag or pitch my tent here because I have no other options.'”

More shelters, more housing

In Toronto, there still aren’t enough spots in shelters to accommodate those living on the streets.

On a nightly basis over the past year and a half, an average of 40 people were turned away because of a lack of beds, according to data released earlier this month.

WATCH | Former UN rapporteur says encampments highlight need for affordable housing solutions:

Encampments highlight need for affordable housing solutions, advocates say

20 hours ago

Duration 2:03

With a tent encampment in Vancouver making headlines, some say the homeless encampments demonstrate the need for affordable housing solutions across Canada.

Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor who works with people experiencing homelessness in the city, said the lack of space in shelters needs to be urgently addressed, but more housing is the only real solution.

“The only way out of this is to build good, solid, dignified social housing at scale,” he said.

Speaking outside his tent in Charlottetown, Wotton said he’s not certain where he will live when it gets colder later this year.

“This is my first time experiencing this,” he said. “I’m still learning as I go along.”

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Sierra Leone: 8 killed in anti-government protests

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Sierra Leone: 8 killed in anti-government protests

Freetown, Sierra Leone- Eight police officers have been killed in anti-government protests that erupted on Wednesday over inflation and the rising cost of living.

According to Youth Minister Mohamed Orman Bangura, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the capital, Freetown where the protests grew violent at times.

“We are yet to know how many people were injured, but I can confirm that eight police officers were killed. Those are not protesters. There is a difference between protest and riot and acts of terrorism (sic). Protesting is different from acting as a terrorist going against the State and killing young police officers.

This was well planned, calculated and financed by members of the opposition, All People’s Congress. Members of the opposition paid young people to come to the street to take over governance.

If the protest is a result of the cost of living, why is it not happening in all the strongholds of the current government? Why is it Makeni that happens to be the headquarters town of the opposition? Why is it not a nationwide strike? Out of 16 districts, why is it only in three districts that they (the opposition) think is their stronghold,” said the Minister.

Discontent has been boiling over for a number of reasons, including a perceived lack of government support for ordinary people who are struggling.

Long-standing frustration has also been exacerbated by rising prices for basic goods in Sierra Leone, where more than half the population of around 8 million lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

Earlier on Wednesday, internet observatory, NetBlocks said Sierra Leone faced a near-total internet shutdown during the protests, with national connectivity at five percent of ordinary levels.

The government has since imposed a nationwide curfew which was imposed on Wednesday in a bid to stem the violence.

“As a government, we have the responsibility to protect every citizen of Sierra Leone. What happened today was unfortunate and will be fully investigated,” said President Julius Maada Bio.

Footage circulating on social media showed crowds of demonstrators burning tires in Freetown and other groups of young men throwing rocks at security forces which have also been castigated by Vice-President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh

“These unscrupulous individuals have embarked on a violent and unauthorized protest which has led to the loss of lives of innocent Sierra Leoneans including security personnel,” said the  Vice-President.

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