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Who will rebuild after a climate disaster as workers retire and weather worsens?

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When flood waters recede and hurricane-force winds die down, Canadians can expect it will take longer for their homes to be rebuilt or their power to be restored if the country’s labour market doesn’t soon catch up to the realities of climate change. 

More powerful and destructive storms are driving up demand for construction workers, power line technicians and even insurance adjusters. 

“We simply don’t have enough tradespeople to rebuild after an event,” said Craig Stewart, vice-president of federal affairs with the Insurance Bureau of Canada. 

“Presently we are three months out from the tornados hitting Ottawa and there are whole apartment units that haven’t been touched and are filled with snow now because there hasn’t been anybody available to work on them.” 

Damage from a tornado is seen in Dunrobin, Ont., west of Ottawa on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. The storm tore roofs off of homes, overturned cars and felled power lines in the Ottawa community of Dunrobin and in Gatineau, Que. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Many workers are tied up with large commercial, industrial and residential projects in Ontario and British Columbia, according to BuildForce Canada, an organization that studies the construction industry and puts together long-term labour forecasts.

The demand for people who can build homes, pave streets, wire a building or practise any kind of skilled trade connected to construction is expected to increase in the coming years.  

About 42,000 new construction workers will be needed to help fill the void left by retirements, according to BuildForce. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

Bill Ferreira, Buildforce’s executive director, said a quarter of the construction workforce across the country is expected to retire between now and 2027. Some 42,000 new workers will need to be hired in the next 10 years. 

But none of BuildForce’s labour projections even consider climate change in their workforce calculations. 

“We are all familiar with what happened in Alberta a few years ago as well as in Toronto with that severe rainstorm, most recently here in Ottawa with the tornado,” said Ferreira. 

“Again these are incidents, isolated incidents, [it’s] very difficult to build any sort of overall trend that we could take a look at or point to that would be driving construction demand.”

Bill Ferreira, executive director of BuildForce Canada, says one quarter of people currently in the construction industry are set to retire in the next 10 years. (BuildForce Canada)

The insurance bureau sees a trend, though. And it’s a costly one. 

In the 1990s, severe weather and wildfires caused about $100 million worth of damage a year. From 2008 on, that amount has surpassed $1 billion every year except for one.   

This year alone there have been more than $1.8 billion in insured losses across the country.       

Emergency crews come to the rescue of a vehicle stranded in high waters on a Sydney, N.S., road during flooding in October 2016. The Insurance Bureau of Canada says powerful storms like this one are becoming more common. (CBC)

“What we have seen right now is that it can take months or even a year for people to get back into a steady living environment after a disaster,” said Stewart. 

“We now know these events are happening with increased frequency, no area of the country is immune, it is going to happen.” 

Power utilities across the country are feeling that first-hand, as high winds snap power lines or wildfires turn power poles to ash, leaving thousands without electricity. 

Utilities are already relying more and more on power crews from outside their regions to help cope with severe storms. (Olivier Plante/CBC)

More power line technicians are going to be needed to fix that damage and more engineers will be needed to help design power grids that are better able to handle bad weather, said Sergio Marchi, the president and CEO of the Canadian Electricity Association.       

“We will be needing a lot more tradespeople and certainly in our sector the kind of dedicated, experienced line workers who we call our modern day heroes.”

Much like the construction industry, many power workers are nearing retirement age and will need to be replaced. That, combined with climate change, will further increase demand for workers. 

“The silver lining is that it’s not going to remove jobs because we’re going to need more crews, more people to battle more storms that are now becoming more damage-creating because they’re becoming extreme,” said Marchi. “So we’re going to need all hands on deck as they say.”      

Sergio Marchi is president and CEO of the Canadian Electricity Association. (Canadian Electricity Association)

Marchi said power utilities across the country have already been relying on more help from work crews from outside their provinces, because they don’t have enough workers to repair severe storm damage in a timely manner.  

Even the insurance industry, which has spent years warning people about the dangers of climate change, found itself unprepared for the demands severe weather would place on its own employees.

There’s a chronic shortage of insurance adjusters across the country to determine the cost of repairing or replacing a damaged home, said Stewart.

Without the adjuster to do the assessment, people are left waiting to get their insurance money. 

“A, we need more trained adjusters in the country,” said Stewart. “B, we need better labour mobility laws so that when there’s a spike, we’re sharing adjusters across North America … so we can bring in adjusters as needed on a surge basis after an event occurs.”  

But the International Institute for Sustainable Development, an independent think tank, said there is a better way to deal with the repercussions of climate change.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada is already seeing an increase in the number of severe storms across the country. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

It said Canada and every other country needs to toughen up its infrastructure to better withstand the changing climate. Roads, homes, power grids, even sewage systems may need to be improved. 

Only that will help communities weather the storm and not suffer catastrophic damage, said Phillip Gass, a senior policy analyst with the institute. 

“It’s not just about the environment — it’s about people’s livelihood and jobs and that’s what bothers me the most, to be honest, is some of the changes that we’re going to be seeing and how it will affect families and communities.”

The damage from bad weather has increased drastically in the last few years, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada. Almost every year in the last decade severe weather has caused $1 billion worth of damage. (George Mortimer/CBC)

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Canadian Tech Calling: Moon and Mars and Mobile Phones

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Canadian technological know-how is helping develop reliable mobile communications for next-generation space missions, including manned missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

With many eyes here on Earth now focused on Mars, following the successful journey of ‘Percy’, the roving space exploration vehicle more formally known as Perseverance that is now cruising the Martian landscape, the continued role of Canadian researchers and technologists in space exploration has also drawn more attention.

A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University is working to make LTE/4G and Wi-Fi communications systems on the Moon a reality, along with others in the U.S. and Canada, under the umbrella of the Artemis Program at NASA.

That project will see the return of human beings to the Moon by 2024, and then to the surface of Mars after that.

As part of those efforts, NASA selected Nokia Bell Labs to build a test network and communications infrastructure to build interoperability standards among future cellular and Wi-Fi networks, so that all types of devices can be connected and support Artemis.

The network must provide critical communication capabilities for many different data transmission applications, including command and control functions; real-time navigation and remote control of surface rovers; as well as the streaming of high definition video, applications that are all vital to long-term human presence on a lunar or planetary surface.

“It sounds like far-out stuff, building networks on the Moon, Mars and even further out in our solar system,” says Stephen Braham, the director of the PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking at SFU. “But we’re actually testing Nokia’s technology right now.”

SFU’s PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking is doing some of that work at its Exploration Wireless Communications testbed at Vancouver’s Harbour Centre, in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

“(This is) what will allow us to build the ladder of technology standards needed to get cellular networks off Earth and into the solar system,” Braham said in a statement.

NASA and the CSA handed that critical testing to Braham and the scientists at PolyLAB, the Canadian component of what’s called the Exploration Wireless Communications (ExWC).

“Before space agencies can adopt these technologies, we need to prove we can operate between multiple vendors and different agencies, which is why NASA and CSA supports the ExWC testbed,” he continued.

The ExWC testbed launched back in 2018, testing high-speed wireless communications systems for space use, including 5G-forward LTE solutions and advanced Wi-Fi.

The SFU radio transmission systems, in the lab and on masts in the mountains in B.C. and the Yukon, are tested with various vendors and leading telecom providers, such including Vancouver-based Star Solutions and Sierra Wireless, another local company, as well as international telecommunications firms like Nokia.

Braham and associate professor Peter Anderson, who directs the SFU Telematics Research Laboratory that includes PolyLAB, both have extensive track records working on communication systems for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

It includes extensive research on very early cellular and Wi-Fi networks in the Canadian High Arctic, where advanced field communications systems were set up to support the SETI Institute and Mars Institute-lead NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) up on Devon Island. 

That’s where Braham and his team tested the technology (developed in Canada) that became a big part of modern Wi-Fi, LTE, and now 5G technology, in order to meet up-front needs on human lunar missions if not all manned space flights.

From those early beginnings, the SFU team has now worked with other collaborators for the ongoing design and development of Canada’s prototype lunar/Mars surface communication networking systems, specifically the ExoMars rover, including Canadian space technology company MDA and the Canadian Communications Research Centre.

Braham is also an Associate Member on the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), supporting CSA during discussions and development of international standards for computing, networking, and communications in space. He also worked for many years as a member of the CSA’s nine-member Space Exploration Advisory Committee (SEAC), providing community leadership and representation in aspects of human space exploration in Canada.

But, when space agency officials announced recently that a Canadian will be aboard when NASA returns to the Moon in 2023, well, Braham was not named as that astronaut.

Nevertheless, with his and his team’s help, that astronaut will make Canada the second country in history to have someone travel into deep space and fly around the Moon.

And maybe use a mobile phone to call us and tell us all about it.

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Canadian Consumer Coalition Calls for Affordable Internet on National Day of Action

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Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 16, a national day of action will be staged by Canadian consumer advocates, social justice groups, telecom policy experts, digital activists, and independent ISPs, or Internet Service Providers.

In a series of scheduled virtual events, there will be calls for the federal government and telecom regulators to take action and ensure affordable Internet and wireless services are available to all Canadians.

The free online event is open to the public, and planners and scheduled participants in the Day of Action for Affordable Internet hope consumers themselves will them in urging a range of actions be taken by the federal government, the CRTC and the country’s Competition Bureau.

Advocating for a more affordable Internet will be: ACORN Canada; Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship; activist and author Cory Doctorow; Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law Michael Geist; The Internet Society Canada Chapter; OpenMedia; Public Interest Advocacy Centre; Ryerson Leadership Lab; Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic; and TekSavvy Solutions.

And while a lack of competition has long been cited as a reason for high prices in Canada, the fact that a majority of subscribers stick with the ‘Big Three’ is also a stumbling block to leveling the playing field, at  least price-wise.

Canada’s Competitive Network Operators, a trade organization made up of Internet and telecommunications service providers that own/operate telecommunications networks across the country, is also fighting for a fair Internet pricing and accessibility structure.

Pandemic Pressures

Affordable Internet activists point out that, throughout the current COVID-19 crisis, reliable and affordable connectivity became even more essential. So did many things, in fact: many we had never deemed as so important, relevant or even as noteworthy as high speed Internet.

“The affordability and accessibility of the [I]nternet has never been more critical,” says Franca Palazzo, one of the event participants and the executive director of the Internet Society, Canada Chapter. “More than ever, we are being asked to work, learn and connect online.”

While it is true that many of our fellow Canadians are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic, and they struggle, the coalition says, to pay some of the highest telecom bills in the world (while others can’t even get high-quality reliable connections), it is also true that many of us are using our high-speed connections more than ever with no increase in cost or decrease in service as a result of our pandemic-related stay-at-home, work-at-home or school-at-home activities.

The big three providers in Canada – Bell, Rogers and Telus – are among those companies that lifted data caps on cable and fibre-based residential Internet services; it’s a corporate goodwill gesture made as a result of pandemic and public pressures. The caps have been lifted until the end of June, where and when possible. (The Liberal government has directed the country’s largest telecom providers to cut specific cellphone prices in general.)

Not everyone is eligible for the pandemic discounts, however: some folks still using cellular (where, for example, high speed networking is not available) for their Internet connections are unable to get discounts because, the telecoms say, bandwidth and capacity would be threatened if caps were removed from cellular service.

“The digital divide in Canada is sometimes portrayed as exclusively a rural-urban divide,” says Sam Andrey, the director of policy and research at Ryerson Leadership Lab, where research and analysis into Internet usage is conducted. “But even in Canada’s largest cities, there are persistent gaps in access to digital services, devices and affordable [I]nternet at sufficient speeds that map onto other socioeconomic inequities, including income, age, race and ability,” he adds.

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Brim Financial Raises $25M Series B to transform the way people bank and shop

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TORONTO, March 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ – Brim Financial (Brim), a Canadian next-generation Fintech company and certified credit card issuer, today announced the close of a $25M Series B, co-led by Desjardins Group and US-based EPIC Ventures with strong participation from Canadian and US based investors including goeasy Ltd., White Owl and Impression Ventures.

Brim’s state-of-the-art technology stack and credit cards infrastructure leverages the company’s ability to directly access the payment rails as an issuer, enabling Brim to deliver a fundamentally transformative ecosystem of financial products for consumers and businesses.

The Series B financing will bolster Brim’s Platform as a Service (PaaS). Brim’s B2B2C strategy enables any bank, credit union, fintech or large commercial partner to seamlessly roll out Brim’s financial products platform, credit cards and integrated buy-now pay-later solutions, mobile and digital banking, and behavior-driven customer engagement, all embedded with a best-in-class globally open loyalty and rewards ecosystem available in real-time at all merchants worldwide. With Brim’s Platform as a Service, partners have the ability to customize every element of the platform and leverage Brim’s end-to-end services, on a modular and turnkey basis.

Our technology stack powers banking, loyalty and integrated e-commerce on a single platform, with the customer experience at the center of it all” said Rasha Katabi, CEO and Founder of Brim Financial. “Today’s digital environment has brought a new sense of urgency for institutions to assess how they will interact with their customers. We are well positioned to be at the forefront of this transformation that’s shaping the way we live, connect and engage for decades to come, and we’re excited to be working with investors who share the same vision.”

Brim has expanded beyond the direct-to-consumer space enabling large partners to leverage their digital first platform, suite of credit cards and financial products, and a globally open rewards and e-commerce ecosystem. Brim seamlessly integrates buy-now pay-later capabilities in all of its revolving consumer and business credit card products, providing ultimate flexibility for customers with a uniquely and strongly differentiated ecosystem.

“We’re thrilled to be part of Brim’s next chapter. There is tremendous potential in the industry, both in Canada and in the US, and Brim is uniquely positioned to deliver a significant and much needed transformation.” said Ryan Hemingway, Managing Director at EPIC Ventures. “Brim is combining banking and commerce like we haven’t seen in North America.”

Merged with its scalable technology platform, Brim has the largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem as Brim’s technology stack directly leverages the global payment network. Brim’s Loyalty and Rewards are live at all points of sale globally, both in physical stores and online.  Any merchant can be live and part of the ecosystem in less than 3 minutes.

“Brim’s platform delivers industry-leading payments technology to their customers at an astonishing pace,” Martin Brunelle, Vice-President, Growth, Acquisitions and Development at Desjardins Group.  “Desjardins has earmarked $100 M to invest in technology companies and investment funds who can support our different business units in their digital transformation needs.  We’re very excited to be partnering with Brim.”

With its platform built entirely from the ground up and directly on the global payment network, Brim is positioned to transform the future of the credit card industry and digital banking products with the world’s largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem. Brim has notably on-boarded hundreds of merchants to its rewards ecosystem since its launch, and rapid expansion will continue to be a key focus for the company going forward.

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