MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (January, 2021)

Another busy news week and a historic political week ahead make it a great time to be on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Elmer Kim and John Northcott.

Here’s an overview of the topics we discussed:

  • Airline job and service cuts.  As the days of COVID19 march on, Canada’s airlines continue to struggle, with unprecedented declines in demand.  What do the latest service and job cuts mean for the airline industry and when might recovery begin?
  • Office space vacancies reach record highs.  The pandemic has changed how many companies operate, leaving their office space needs in question.  What can we expect to happen in the days ahead, in terms of office vacancies?
  • Biden stimulus plan announced As Inauguration Day will take place in the week ahead, what could the Biden stimulus plan mean for those in the US, as well as Canadians?

In the early days of the pandemic, Canadian airlines saw demand for their services decline in excess of 95%, and the ongoing strategies to combat COVID19 have meant little improvement for the travel industry.  We have seen numerous stories about staff cuts and flight decreases over the past several months, with the latest impacting more small centres.  Given that Canada is a geographically large country, air travel is essential, while at the same time, businesses must make decisions that are in the best interest of the sustainability of the company.  We haven’t seen as much collaboration between government support initiatives and the airlines as would be ideal, recognizing that both parties have to “give a little” in order to get to a solution.  Top of mind for many Canadians is the ongoing challenge of receiving refunds for flights that were cancelled due to the pandemic, as well as the relative fairness of potential funders wanting to understand how support would be used, in advance of providing it.  With a traditional high traffic travel season upon us, it will be interesting to see how this situation unfolds.

The expectation of increased office vacancy rates is another topic that we have followed on the Business Panel over the past year.  COVID19 has changed the manner in which many Canadians work, with a significant increase in remote arrangements.  As businesses consider their need for office space going forward, the outcome will have a lot to do with the type of company at hand and the competitive landscape within the sector in which it operates.  Remember that office space represents “overhead” and can be costly, creating a situation where some businesses might not be as competitively priced as those who have decided to continue their operations on primarily a remote basis.  Landlords are on the other side of the equation, and could face an abundance of empty office space with a low potential to find new tenants.  Of interest, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo raised this issue in his State of the State address, with the objective of introducing legislation to convert office and commercial space into housing.  As urban centres may be poised for their next evolution, governments should take notice and act proactively.

As Inauguration Day nears, President Elect Joe Biden announced his administration’s first stimulus plan, covering a wide range of areas in need of support, including financial assistance, protection from eviction, food security, childcare, tax relief, small businesses, healthcare, COVID19 vaccination and testing, and a $15 per hour minimum wage.  It is a tall order to provide help where little has been received for months, while COVID19 rates have been devastating across the US.  Some might say that this $2 trillion stimulus plan is too costly, however, the past number of months and concerning events of January 6, 2021 make it clear that the US has a choice to make.  In an economy that has left many behind, arising from a complex mix of technology, education, and business evolution factors, as well as a significant wealth gap, something has to change.  It will be interesting to see what 2021 will bring, in terms of much needed recovery and hope.

And finally, here’s a look at the first time I “met” Joe Biden.  Here he is, walking with his family on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009; Vice President Biden.  This photo is from a series that I captured from my vantage point on the Parade Route, witnessing history pass right in front of me.  The Bidens were excited, animated, as they walked, and I remember this day very well (including conducting a live interview with CBC Radio and, later, a video segment for TV from the National Press Club).  It’s hard not to recognize the sheer privilege of witnessing history first-hand, something that might just be one of the most important things that we can do in life: actively observe what we see, learn, remember, and pass our knowledge to those that follow.  We can all play a role in documenting our time here.

Thanks for watching, and see you again soon, CBC!

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Jenifer Bartman
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