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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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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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