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Suburban real estate vulnerable if demand shifts post-pandemic, Bank of Canada warns – CBC News



The gap between downtown real estate and houses in the suburbs narrowed significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, a development that may make markets outside big cities even more vulnerable to a slowdown.

That’s one of the main takeaways from a recently released analysis by the Bank of Canada that looked at housing valuations in 15 cities across the country, both before the pandemic and now.

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Historically, real estate in downtown cores tends to be more expensive because people want to live close to city services and amenities, and more vibrant job markets. “But this pattern may have shifted during the COVID‑19 pandemic,” Louis Morel, a policy adviser at the central bank, said in an analytical note released Monday.

The cost and inconvenience of commuting is typically a downside to suburban living, but the mass movement toward working from home during the pandemic flipped that old adage on its head, as downtown dwellers flocked en masse to the suburbs for more space.

Morel notes that many of the services that downtown residents enjoy about life in cities, such as concerts, restaurants and live entertainment, were shut down in one form or another.

“Between working or studying from home and the public health restrictions, people were spending more time at home than ever before,” he said. “A desire for more living space may have encouraged many Canadians to seek properties in the suburbs, where lots and houses are typically larger and more affordable.”

House prices took off just about everywhere during the pandemic, but the gains were especially big in the suburbs, which has made them less affordable today than they’ve ever been.

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In 2016, a house in the suburbs 50 kilometres outside of downtown would typically be worth about 33 per cent less than a similar home in the city. Even in 2019, before the pandemic, that gap had narrowed to 26 per cent, but by the bank’s calculations, the average cost benefit had shrunk to just 10 per cent last year.

Randall Bartlett, an economist with Desjardins, described the phenomenon causing suburban house prices to boom succinctly: “Drive until you qualify.”

“The increase in remote work during the pandemic encouraged migration within and across provinces in a way which was unprecedented in history,” Bartlett said in a separate report last week. “Where families once left city centres in the pursuit of more space once kids came along, they could now move much further afield, including to rural communities and provinces with better affordability”

But that trend may already be starting to change, as many workplaces that had previously embraced working from home have returned to a hybrid working model that will see most staff return to the office at least part of the time.

The trend is already showing up in the housing market, as suburban markets that saw outsized gains during the pandemic are now seeing price declines, even as major city centres are mostly holding steady.

“It’s difficult to envision the housing markets of some smaller communities maintaining their unprecedented pandemic price gains as people return to in-person work on a more regular basis,” Bartlett said.

He says areas outside of Toronto, some of which saw average prices double during the pandemic, are most vulnerable to a slowdown.

“As we look ahead to how the national housing market correction will play out at the provincial level, in some ways it’s expected to be the inverse of what we saw during the pandemic.”

While the Bank of Canada stops short of speculating on the cause or making any predictions, it does warn that the narrowing price gap between the suburbs and downtowns could become a problem if preferences shift back toward how things used to be.

“If this preference shift is temporary, the proximity premium could return partly toward its pre-pandemic level,” the bank said.

“Such a shift in relative prices could be especially problematic if housing supply in more suburban areas were to respond strongly in anticipation of local demand continuing to increase.”

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Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to take part in G20 despite Russia’s presence



OTTAWA — Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly will take part in a G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, this week, even though Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is also expected to attend.

In March, Joly joined many others in walking out of a United Nations meeting in Geneva when Lavrov, whom Canada had brought sanctions against days earlier, began speaking.

In April, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland joined a walkout of a G20 meeting for finance ministers and central bank governors in Washington to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In May, International Trade Minister Mary Ng joined her counterparts from the United States, Australia, Japan and New Zealand in leaving an APEC meeting in Bangkok when the Russian representative began to speak.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would take part in the G20 leaders’ meeting in November, even if President Vladimir Putin goes too, saying it is important to counteract the voice that Russia will have at that table.

Joly, who recently said it was unacceptable for a Canadian official to attend a reception hosted by the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, is expected to join other foreign ministers at the G20 meeting in opposing the ongoing war in Ukraine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.


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From good job to no job, life in Canada taught me to go with the flow –



This First Person article is the experience of Erlinda Tan, a Filipino immigrant who believes hard work is a prerequisite to a good, middle-class life in Canada. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

It was a memorable day in 2014 when I bought a vacation house in my hometown in the Philippines. I visit my family every other year and being able to gather everyone in that house is like a dream come true. 

I had no idea the property would become a souvenir from my Alberta days. Two years later, the oil and gas industry took a turn for the worse — and took my job with it.

But it’s all part of what I call a beautiful journey of ebb and flow in the 13 years since I arrived from the Philippines. Those ups and downs have made me a strong Canadian and solidified my love for this country.

Working hard to get a foot in the door 

I came to Edmonton in late 2009 as the Alberta economy was emerging from a severe financial crisis that had been felt globally. Timing is everything, they say. This was true for me.

My first job was as a clerical worker earning minimum wage. To get by, I took a second job as a supermarket cashier — three days a week, four hours a shift. 

A note of thanks written for a grocery store clerk.
Tan treasures this note which was submitted by a customer and posted for a time on the bulletin board of the grocery store where she worked. ‘It reminds me of that lovely chapter in my life,’ Tan says. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Doing two jobs was hard and some days were really long but I needed the extra income. Plus, working in the service industry taught me to blend into my new home and honed my confidence speaking with Canadians from all walks of life — a skill I would later need in my professional journey.     

After 20 months of working two jobs, I had the so-called “Canadian experience” that my resume so badly needed and I felt ready for the corporate world. With my background in engineering, I was hired in 2012 as a document controller in the oil and gas industry. 

In those days, the oil price was on its way to $100 per barrel and there was opportunity aplenty. I changed jobs three times in three years. I was a part of the rise of Alberta’s economy.

Becoming a Canadian

A group of Filipino women smile and pose for a photograph. One woman holds a bouquet of flowers.
Tan, fourth from the right, celebrates with friends from the Edmonton Filipino community after her citizenship ceremony at Canada Place in February 2015. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

I was excited about my promising career but was even more excited when I became a Canadian citizen in early 2015. 

At the swearing-in ceremony, I became emotional singing O Canada for the first time as a citizen. I felt like I belonged, that I was secure. My definition of home changed in that instant — the Philippines was “back home” but Canada is my current one. 

And all of a sudden, I felt a solemn duty to become a good Canadian. 

During the federal election in October, I followed the campaign on TV like a soap opera. If the citizenship ceremony was emotionally moving, then voting was empowering. That day, I realized how important I was in nation-building.

Blind faith

But as the saying goes, every flow must have its ebb. 

In 2015, an oil downturn rippled into a global crisis. Energy companies laid off employees by the thousands; I was one of them. 

Career websites in Alberta were empty.  I didn’t want to move but I needed to survive.

A Filipino woman poses with view of Edmonton river valley behind her.
Tan poses for a photograph at one of her favourite places to unwind: overlooking the Edmonton river valley. After being laid off in 2015, Tan was faced with the difficult decision of leaving the city she’d come to love. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Friends and relatives sent invitations to come work in the U.S., U.K., Singapore and Dubai.  It was very tempting. But I had just become a Canadian citizen. I had invested time and hard work: the long hours on my feet as a cashier, following the news on TV every night to understand the politics. Should I put all that in the past and leave? 

I’m a Filipino Canadian, I said. I have the genes of resilience. I’ll tough this out. 

In a move of blind faith, I decided to move to Vancouver in May 2016. I didn’t have any employment connections, I had no family in the city, and my church community became my support system.         

I was grateful for the employment insurance that I lived on for a few months and I received the insurance money with pride. I had contributed premiums and I knew I was entitled to it.       

Looking for a new job in Vancouver was not easy. British Columbia is rich in forestry and my job experience in the oil industry was not in demand. I decided to accept any job offer, even if I had to start at the bottom. 

I took a contract job where the pay wasn’t much but it brought me to the door of a Crown corporation. Five months into the job — when my savings from Alberta were almost gone — I was hired by that corporation. Sometimes God’s perfect timing leaves you in awe.

I worked as a records administrator for a $1-billion project. Then I moved on to a $10-billion project. When I’m retired, I can look back with pride in my heart for being a part of two big infrastructure projects in British Columbia. 

Silver linings

A Filipino woman in winter clothing stands with two clocks behind her.
Tan smiles for a photograph on a typical morning in Edmonton. One of the clocks behind her shows Edmonton time, the other is set to the time in the Philippines. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

In hindsight, I see my job layoff in Alberta was an advantage. It forced me to leave my comfort zone. I saw more of Canada, I gained new friends and grew in my career. My horizon got bigger. Thank you, Edmonton, for preparing me. 

I joke to friends in the Philippines that I am the definition of a middle-class Canadian: poor in money but rich in benefits. I couldn’t be more appreciative.   

Sometimes I ask myself, do I regret staying in Canada when I hit rock bottom? Do I regret not working in other countries? The answer is no. I believe if God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window. But it’s up to me to find it. 

A Filipino family gathers for portrait at Christmas.
Tan, third from right, celebrates Christmas with family members at her house in the Philippines. It’s their family tradition to gather for dinner and photos every time she visits. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Speaking of doors and windows, my house in the Philippines is now much more than just a vacation property. The concrete house, located in the heart of a commercial district and within walking distance to malls and supermarkets, has become a refuge for family members from the typhoons that regularly visit the Philippines. 

I’m even more proud that it has become the place that my mother can call home.

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Is Canada too 'smug' about abortion? These doulas say access is worse than you think –



A pair of abortion doulas in southwestern Ontario say Canadians shouldn’t take access to safe, legal abortions for granted because there are still barriers to care that are difficult to overcome, including time off work, a lack of financial resources and the distance from urban-centred clinics. 

Christal Malone of London and Jennifer Surerus of St. Thomas help make access to safe abortions as seamless and easy as possible for people across the country.

Unlike doctors or nurses, their roles stop short of medical care. Instead, they provide physical and emotional support that runs the gamut from picking someone up from the airport to holding a thermometer in their mouth, even just giving someone a shoulder to cry on. 

“We are trying to support people to make the choices they need, and we are not trying to persuade people to do anything,” said Surerus. “Often people don’t have [support] from family and friends.” 

Abortion is legal, but access a problem 

Unlike the United States, where the legal landscape of abortion is undergoing a radical shift following the landmark Supreme Court ruling that struck down a constitutional right to abortion for the first time in 50 years, Canada has no laws restricting access to the procedure. 

Malone, left and Surerus attend an anti-abortion counter-demonstration outside the London Health Sciences Centre in southwestern Ontario. They’re shown with Surerus’s sister Tiffany, middle. (Supplied by Christal Malone)

In this country, abortion is legal, regardless of the reason. The procedure is also publicly paid for through a combination of the federal and provincial health systems, but just because it’s not illegal in Canada doesn’t mean Canadians should take it for granted, Surerus said. 

“I think we’re a little too smug here. Transportation, child care, being able to get time off work — that all plays into the access equation.”

It’s a problem all over the country, but perhaps the most acutely felt in Canada’s Atlantic region, where restrictions to abortions are the highest, and the federal government has withheld health-care funding to provinces that didn’t provide adequate access.

In Ontario, 21,428 abortions were performed in 2020, according to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. More than 15,000 of them were done at private clinics, while just over 5,000 were at the province’s hospitals.

Urban and rural divide

Despite the number of procedures, disparities exist between urban and rural areas in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where abortion services are only in urban settings, despite 35 to 40 per cent of the population living in rural or remote communities.

The charity says more than half of its callers need help with costs of flights, accommodations and other travel expenses, citing the place where they live as the biggest barrier to accessing safe care. 

“It’s pretty dire,” said Malone. “It is very hard to access an abortion if you live in a rural area, and it is very time-consuming and expensive to access certain types of abortions.”

Even in Malone’s hometown of London, a city of more than 400,000, there is only one clinic. It serves a huge catchment in southwestern Ontario as well as people as far away as Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — provinces where access to abortion is the most restricted. 

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When a patient does get to the London clinic, the person must attend a minimum of three appointments before health-care workers will agree to perform the procedure. 

“It can be really challenging to get the time off work, or to get transportation, and a lot of them start early in the morning. So if the person is not local, they have to come the day before to access the service,” Malone said. 

Pro-choice charities such as Action Canada step in to help fill the financial gap and help connect people seeking an abortion with doulas like Surerus and Malone.

In Ontario, there are nearly double the number of crisis pregnancy centres. at 77, compared to 38 hospitals and clinics that provide abortion access, according to Action Canada. 

“The anti-choice is strong here, and there is a political component to it,” Surerus said.

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