Estate tax not needed
Contributed - 9:30 am - Columnists

Image: Thinkstock

A long-dead and largely unlamented tax has recently been rediscovered and embraced by certain people: the death tax, or estate tax.

But inheritance taxes were abolished in Canada in 1971 by the Liberal government when a capital gains tax was introduced.

In Canada, estates are already taxed on the difference between the market value of the securities or other assets at the time of death and what they cost.

Fans of restoring the death tax ignore the existence of these capital gains taxes, and also the taxes that were already paid on the income that went to invest in or grow the assets (say a business or farm) initially.

There’s only one real justification for taxes: to finance government. All functions of government require funding of some sort.

So how do you provide that funding in a way that’s perceived to be fair and efficient, and not oppressive?

The current approach is to use a wide variety of taxes, some of which may not be fair, are likely oppressive, and are certainly inefficient. Often they’re intended to attain social goals, not merely revenue ones.

Sales taxes, value-added taxes and the increasingly notorious tax on carbon dioxide—the carbon tax—are the most efficient taxes. But they’re also considered the most regressive, as they are disproportionately punitive on lower-income households.

Excise or sin taxes target unessential goods such as tobacco, alcohol, cannabis now and sometimes sugar. They try to modify behaviour so consumers become healthier. However, evidence of the effectiveness of these taxes is meagre. Fuel excise taxes, for example, punish drivers to supposedly fund the roads they drive on.

Payroll taxes are meant to fund pension and unemployment insurance programs. But they have the unintended effect of discouraging hiring and the pursuit of employment since they increase the employment cost burden.

Property taxes and property transfer fees are supposed to fund schools and infrastructure. In reality, they go into a general revenue pot. In practice, property tax revenue is adjusted to meet budget needs, not the other way around.

A land tax, which some economists favour over property taxes, would likely reduce property speculation. But it wouldn’t necessarily reduce the artificial scarcity from restrictive zoning and permitting that reduces supply and raises prices.

Wealth taxes don’t exist in Canada and are rare elsewhere in the world.

Tariffs and duties, once the main source of income for national governments, are now a very small part of the pie. It’s a similar story for permit and registration fees, fines and other government charges.

That leaves income taxes, corporate and individual, as the main and least efficient sources of government revenue.

Individual income tax is much higher than corporate tax. According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, in 2014 the 8.4 per cent of taxpayers who earned $100,000 or more paid 51.8 per cent of all income tax. And 33 per cent of Canadians, generally earning well under $50,000, paid nothing.

There are some costs that lower-income households bear that are brought about by government policy via regulation. These can be alleviated by such measures as the Canada Child Benefit and other transfers, a negative income tax, or a credit to employers and employees to offset the first expensive chunk of payroll taxes.

Estate taxes discourage investment and punish people who accumulate capital that helps to grow the economy and generate jobs.

The quest to equalize outcomes is ultimately mean-spirited, punishing those who succeed. And it further exacerbates the productivity and growth problems nagging this country.

Ian Madsen is a senior policy analyst at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

Faces of #OKGNtech
Accelerate Okanagan - Sep 17 - Columnists

Image: Contributed

A strong community can promote new ideas and ensure accountability. It can also act as motivation, support and even provide a little friendly competition. The power of community is undeniable, and the Okanagan tech community is no exception.

Our community is strong and growing with record speed, and maintaining connections through a period of growth like this can be a challenge. Nobody panic. We’ve got a plan.

Introducing “The Faces of #OKGNtech,” a showcase of Okanagan tech entrepreneurs, partners, supporters and cheerleaders designed to fuel more connection, more growth and more excitement. Follow along on the blog and on Instagram at @OKGNtech to learn more about our growing community and what makes them awesome.

Meet Stephan. Stephan Grynwajc has a law firm in New York that focuses on supporting startups and entrepreneurs. What brings Stephan to the Okanagan? This travel-loving lawyer works very closely with the Kelowna law firm Kimmitt Wrzesniewski. We recently caught up with Stephan to learn more about his connection to the Kelowna law firm Kimmit Wrzesniewski and his love for OKGNtech.

[Editor’s Note: Stephan has lived in the UK, France and now the States]

What is it like to be a lawyer in four countries?

“I am a lawyer in four countries; France, the UK, the U.S. and in Canada. This provides me with the ability to navigate across all four markets and really understand them. I also like that I am able to bring perspective and advice to companies that are outside of these markets.”

How did you meet Kelowna lawyer, Joanna Wrzesniewski?

 “Joanna Wrzesniewski and I met very out of the blue. Both she and I had been asked to represent at a Canadian Bar association event, in Newfoundland in 2014. When I found out that she was focused on small businesses we started talking about how we could find a way to work together to support entrepreneurs in both countries. This chance meeting resulted in us in each of us getting qualified in respective countries. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work together and advise on both systems of law.”

When were you first introduced to OKGNtech?

“I attended NYKO 2018, and it was great. I really liked that it allowed me to meet a lot of the players here in OKGNtech. At the time, I was just discovering the startup community, and it was neat to see so much going on in the ecosystem.”

What do you love about OKGNtech?

“I am in a market here in New York that is very busy and has a lot of players, and because of that there is a lot of competition. When I visit the Okanagan Valley, I feel like there is a more relaxed approach to enterprise generally. Everyone in the OKGNtech community is so collaborative and motivated in terms of growth.”

Why did you choose to focus on technology? 

“I don’t know if I chose to focus on the tech sector as much as it chose me. When I first started my career, it was at a time where the World Wide Web didn’t exist yet. I actually started in big law, and then back in ’97, I moved in-house and started to do corporate law in the technology sector. For 15 years of my career, I was working in technology companies, and it got me really kind of in tune with the technology industry.”

Do you have a piece of advice you can share? 

“One thing that I have learned from being in the U.S. is that failing is OK. In Europe when you fail, you end up feeling terrible. But in the U.S. and in Canada failing is viewed as a quality, because failing causes you to learn from your mistakes and teaches you how to get better.” #fail #learn #repeat

 “It doesn’t matter where you have come from as much as where you go. I always say that people come with different baggage and it is OK as long as you are doing something with that baggage that takes you to the next stage of your life. In the end, if someone has succeeded in everything, it is very boring and not that inspiring. When you see somebody sharing what they’ve learned from their failures and experiences, it makes them more human. That is my best lesson that life has taught me.”

What word would you use to describe yourself and why? 

“There is a stigma that lawyers being very conservative people. I have learned over the years to be a lot less conservative, so I would probably describe myself as very curious and a risk taker … in a good sense. I am still very calculated in my decisions.”

Connect with Stephan. Learn more about Transatlantic Law Services. Hungry for more? Meet Sara.

BC union density dipping
Kirk Penton - Sep 06 - Columnists

Photo: Trevor Nichols file

By Jock Finlayson

The arrival of another Labour Day provided an opportunity to reflect on the place of trade unions in our economy.

The unionization rate, sometimes called union density, measures the share of employees in the workforce who belong to a union.

In B.C., the rate has dropped significantly in recent decades. The trend has persisted through multiple business cycles and provincial governments of different political stripes. Today about 30 per cent of workers in the province are union members, down from more than 40 per cent in the early 1980s.

Unionization is most common in the public sector. Approximately 77 per cent of public sector employees in British Columbia are covered by collective agreements.

The picture is different in the private sector: union coverage there sits at 17 per cent, down from 24 per cent 20 years ago.

In most industries, union coverage in B.C. is now similar to the national rate. There are a few exceptions: coverage rates in B.C. are higher in the forestry, mining and oil and gas industries, as well as in the transportation and warehousing sector. On the other hand, union density in B.C.’s construction industry is lower than the Canadian average. That partly reflects the sustained growth and large size of the residential construction industry; unions have a smaller market share in residential construction than in other parts of the sector.

Labour leaders often claim that government policy is the key factor influencing union density. But that seems unlikely. The steady growth of employment in service industries and in the high-technology sector goes a long way toward explaining the gradual downward trend in private sector union density.

The fact that small businesses—defined as those with fewer than 50 employees—now account for more than half of private-sector jobs in B.C. also contributes to lower unionization.

Nor should we overlook shifting preferences and attitudes among workers, with many younger ones seemingly less interested in joining a union.

Job creation in the B.C. private sector has been strongly driven by self-employment, smaller businesses and service industries that traditionally are hard for unions to organize.

The professional, scientific and technical services industry, for example, has a unionization rate of just five per cent, yet the total number of employees in this fast-growing sector has jumped by 90 per cent since 1997. Similarly, the number of employees in the business, building and support services industry has risen by 73 per cent since 1997; this sector, too, has a comparatively low unionization rate (around 16 per cent).

Other service industries characterized by below-average union density include retail and wholesale trade (14.5 per cent), financial services (11 per cent) and accommodation and food services (six per cent). These industries have proven to be difficult terrain for unions.

The process of industrial change has also impacted unionization.

Manufacturing provides the starkest example: total manufacturing employment in B.C. has dwindled by 20,000 since 1997, amid the spread of automation and the substitution of capital equipment for labour by manufacturing firms. While overall manufacturing employment decreased by 11 per cent in the last two decades, the number of manufacturing employees who belong to a union slumped by nearly half.

The unionized manufacturing workforce has contracted more quickly than total employment in the sector because jobs have been disappearing in large processing facilities that have invested heavily in capital equipment and automation. At the same time, the number of people employed in smaller non-resource manufacturing businesses has expanded. This segment of the manufacturing sector is harder for unions to organize.

Add it all up and the evidence suggests that structural forces—the process of industrial change, technological innovation, and the increased role of self-employment and small businesses in the labour market—largely account for declining union density in the province’s private sector.

Jock Finlayson is the Business Council of British Columbia’s executive vice-president

Canada needs job data
Special to Okanagan Edge - Sep 05 - Columnists

Image: The Canadian Press

By Daniel Komesch

When the federal Liberals took power in 2015, they made evidence a key priority in policy-making. Michael Barber, known for his groundbreaking work in “Deliverology,” the science of getting results, was brought in to advise key government decision-makers, and results and delivery units were created within federal departments. Across almost every ministry, there was a renewed focus on data.

Yet three years on we still don’t have the data that will enable the development of a future-forward workforce in Canada. We have data that focuses largely on traditional occupations. But the changing nature of jobs and, in particular, the need for whole new skill sets, requires we broaden our thinking.

Canada is sitting at an economic inflection point. Intelligent automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and other emerging technologies are set to reshape the Canadian job market. It isn’t necessarily job loss we should be worried about, but job shift and whether Canada is ready. We need the data to guide us.

We need to understand the specific skills and competencies required for future jobs so that we can better match the supply and demand sides of the labour market. The federal government’s focus on evidence-based policy is essential now more than ever.

Many regions have figured this out already, including the European Union and Australia, and it’s time for Canada to catch up. In the United States, the O*NET digital database breaks down occupations into the skills, knowledge, competencies and credentials that are required for a particular career path. The database goes so far as to assess industry outlook and growth potential to give users an idea of where jobs might exist in the future.

Tomorrow’s jobs—the ones where farmers, framers and financial analysts will all be working with digital technology—will each require vastly different skill sets. For Canada to compete globally, we need to ensure that all sectors of the economy are working to deploy individuals with the necessary future-forward skills.

Adding further complexity to our workforce development challenges are looming retirements and global trade relationships. Each of these pressures will also require us to rethink our delivery of skills.

With an entire generation of baby boomers sitting on the edge of retirement, it’s critical to know what skills will be most important to retain so that knowledge transfer and mentorship programs can be most appropriately and efficiently designed. In times of change, we can’t afford to let these repositories of knowledge slip away untapped.

There has also never been a greater need for Canada’s businesses to penetrate new global markets. And the demand for the human skills that allow us to build out inter-cultural relationships is sure to rise. Skills like language, adaptability and cultural awareness will enable the necessary growth of our export markets.

For Canada to pivot, and shift our thinking on data for workforce development, one idea worth exploring is to poll employers, particularly those in high-growth sectors, to build data on the skills that are most in-demand. The time to do so is ripe for a number of reasons.

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada has recently convened industry leaders and executives across six of Canada’s highest growth sectors in what they are calling the Economic Strategy Tables, with the goal of identifying sectoral growth opportunities. The ministry is also putting up approximately $1 billion to fund the transformation of five regional innovation ecosystems. There are hints from the federal government that more sectoral strategies may be on the horizon.

With the leaders of our high-growth sectors and innovation superclusters all sitting at the same table, we would be remiss to pass on the opportunity to begin building more robust data on our future skills needs.

Not only do we have the players lined up, but there’s never been a better opportunity to execute. Statistics Canada is flush with new funding, the Labour Market Information Council is ramping up to full power, and the Future Skills Centre will be launched in late 2018. Each institution would be more than capable of collecting such data.

This government has shown a strong commitment to data. But for Canada to optimize our workforce development potential and global competitiveness, an essential step forward needs to be better data related to skills.

As the world of work is being disrupted, we need to disrupt our thinking about data, too.

Daniel Komesch is a senior policy analyst at Polytechnics Canada.

Faces of #OKGNtech
Accelerate Okanagan - Sep 04 - Columnists

Photo: Contributed

A strong community can promote new ideas and ensure accountability. It can also act as motivation, support and even provide a little friendly competition. The power of community is undeniable, and the Okanagan tech community is no exception.

Our community is strong and growing with record speed, and maintaining connections through a period of growth like this can be a challenge. Nobody panic. We’ve got a plan.

Introducing “The Faces of #OKGNtech,” a showcase of Okanagan tech entrepreneurs, partners, supporters and cheerleaders designed to fuel more connection, more growth and more excitement. Follow along on the blog and on Instagram at @OKGNtech to learn more about our growing community and what makes them awesome.

Meet Sara. Sara Scott is a project coordinator at Accelerate Okanagan. When Sara isn’t working on all things OKGNtech, you’ll find her hunting down the city’s best croissant, buying her toothbrush online from a specialty store in New York or home with her cat. We recently caught up with Sara to learn more about what she loves about OKGNtech.

What do you like most about working at Accelerate Okanagan?

“What I love most about working at Accelerate Okanagan and being part of the tech industry is how social it is. There is something to do almost every night of the week if you want to.”

[Editor’s note: Want to plug into OKGNtech? Check our Accelerate Okanagan’s events calendar]

What do you love about OKGNtech?

“I like that the OKGNtech community is defining its own identity. We are not trying to be the Silicon Valley North. We are creating our own vision here.” #Itsallherenow #weareOKGNtech

“I feel like almost everyone involved in OKGNtech did a stint at Disney. It’s really neat to see so many of my old co-workers now starting their own companies. The volume of startups has grown significantly during my 10 years in the industry. There are so many people starting their own projects here, which I think is one of the coolest things to see.”

When were you first introduced to the tech industry here in the Okanagan?

“I started at Disney in 2008, but it wasn’t until I started with Accelerate Okanagan in 2014 that I really felt like I got in touch with the community as a whole. It was like this huge bubble that burst. I hadn’t realized how big the tech community was here.” #pop

How long have you lived in the Okanagan?

“I was born and raised in the Okanagan. My family has been here since the 1930s, so I actually grew up on the property that my great-grandfather had originally purchased back in the day.”

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

“I feel like not a lot of people know that I used to have dreadlocks” #Bringbackthedreads

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

 “Something that has resonated with me recently is Chris Heivly’s statement: ‘Vote with your feet.’ It’s something that’s very tangible for people to pick up. How you spend your time is so valuable and people are often strapped for cash so they feel like they can’t always contribute, but it’s important to know that you can always show up.”

[Editor’s note: Chris Heivly is an entrepreneur-in-residence with Techstars, a worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed]

Who inspires you?

“My boyfriend Jesse inspires me because he’s constantly trying new things and learning about how things work. I really admire how much he is able to slow down, learn something and learn it well. He is constantly picking up new skills and hobbies. He is a woodworker by trade, so he makes beautiful hardwood furniture. He also really enjoys cooking and can make bread really well. He’s even made his own bow and arrow!” #doingthings

Getting real on exports
Special to Okanagan Edge - Aug 24 - Columnists

Image: BCBC.

Canada is a relatively small economy that depends heavily on international trade to underpin its prosperity.

An examination of what Canada sells to other countries sheds light on the industry sectors in which we possess competitive strengths.

It stands to reason that the industries that supply the bulk of our exports are also the ones in which Canada enjoys some degree of global comparative advantage.

Unfortunately, many of our politicians don’t appear to think this way.

Rather than asking what the country is actually good at producing and exporting, they dream about a future economy with a different industrial structure – typically, a structure in which ‘green’ and ‘high-tech’ goods and services predominate.

There’s no doubt that tomorrow’s economy will be greener and more technologically sophisticated than the one we have now.

But industrial transitions don’t happen overnight – they unfold over multiple generations.

Nor do politicians generally have a decisive role in determining the details of the evolving industrial structure.

The chart on the left shows the composition of Canada’s international merchandise exports as of 2017, by broad product category. Canada sold $502 billion worth of goods to other countries last year, along with $113 billion of services. Here we focus on goods only, as they constitute more than four-fifths of Canada’s total exports.

A few things stand out from the chart.

The first is the crucial place of natural resources in the export mix. In 2017, natural resource products accounted for 55 per cent of Canada’s merchandise exports (for the four western provinces combined, the share was higher, closer to 80 per cent).

Energy alone represented more than one-fifth of the country’s goods exports last year, with oil by far the largest contributor.

By any measure, natural resources carry enormous weight in our economy and remain foundational to Canada’s exports.

A second striking feature of the chart is the outsized contribution of the automobile sector – both vehicle assembly and parts – to the Canadian export economy: about 17 per cent of merchandise export receipts in 2017, with most of this based on shipments to the United States.

This underscores the importance of preserving the integrated North American automobile manufacturing sector at a time when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is being renegotiated at the behest of a protectionist-minded American administration.

A third point is the very modest role of what Export Development Canada classifies as “advanced technology products” within Canada’s overall export basket.

All advanced technology products together provide less than four per cent of the country’s merchandise exports. And the ‘clean tech’ products that garner so much attention from many contemporary politicians make up perhaps one per cent of Canada’s exports – a sliver, albeit one that’s expected to grow in coming years.

At a time when Canada is seeing investment dollars and production activity migrate to the U.S. and other jurisdictions across the entire array of natural resource industries, as well as in many segments of manufacturing, our policy-makers should be working harder to bolster the competitive position of the industries that pay the bills today.

Instead, they’re ruminating about a hoped-for economic future whose shape is largely beyond their control.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice-president of the Business Council of British Columbia. This column appears courtesy Troy Media.

Faces of #OKGNtech
Accelerate Okanagan - Aug 17 - Columnists

Photo: Contributed

A strong community can promote new ideas and ensure accountability. It can also act as motivation, support and even provide a little friendly competition. The power of community is undeniable, and the Okanagan tech community is no exception.

Our community is strong and growing with record speed, and maintaining connections through a period of growth like this can be a challenge. Nobody panic. We’ve got a plan.

Introducing “The Faces of #OKGNtech,” a showcase of Okanagan tech entrepreneurs, partners, supporters and cheerleaders designed to fuel more connection, more growth and more excitement. Follow along on the blog and on Instagram at @OKGNtech to learn more about our growing community and what makes them awesome.

Meet Thuy (pronounced Twee). Thuy Tran is the programs manager at Accelerate Okanagan. When Thuy isn’t helping to accelerate company growth, you will most likely find her hanging out with her six-year-old son or working on her photography business. We recently caught up with Thuy to learn more about what she loves about the Okanagan and who inspires her.

Who inspires you?

“My six-year-old inspires me every day. He doesn’t understand sarcasm or figure of speech, so he is very literal and hilariously honest. I think as adults we lose those simple things that kids still posses like curiosity and speaking your mind. I try to make sure that I learn from him and enjoy simple things in life.”

What do you enjoy about your role as programs manager?

“When I got out of school if you would have told me that one day I would be supporting entrepreneurs and working on accelerator programs I wouldn’t have believed you. When I first saw the job posting for my position, it didn’t even really resonate with me because I had never done anything like it before. But that’s the neat thing about working at Accelerate Okanagan: The roles are so versatile, and they allow you to develop a wide array of skills.”

“I have always liked working in supporting positions. As a photographer, I like to be behind the lens, and in my position as program manager at AO I like that I get to support entrepreneurs behind the scenes.”

What do you love about the Okanagan? 

 “The Okanagan is so incredible. Who doesn’t want to live here, right? If you’re moving here for the lifestyle and there isn’t a job here for you, you are going to have to create a job for yourself, so it makes sense that there are lots of entrepreneurs. It’s not even just tech founders; there are entrepreneurs in every industry.” #innovationiseverywhere

What do you love about OKGNtech?

“Before working at Accelerate Okanagan, I was an AO groupie. I used to go to all of the tech events. There are probably pictures of me at the very first New Year’s Kickoff party like six years ago. I’ve always enjoyed being around the tech community and just seeing where it has come from 10 years ago to now … it’s amazing.” #itsallherenow

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? 

“I try to be less interesting and more interested. Up until a few years ago, when I was meeting people I would try to impress others and end up talking about myself. Since then, I have learnt that there is so much more value being genuinely interested and engaged in the other person.”

What do you do outside of work? 

 “Outside of work I have my own photography business, and I always said, ‘I support entrepreneurs by day, and I try to be an entrepreneur by night,’ and the latter is definitely a lot harder.”

 “I always joke that I am jill of all trades, master of none. I dabble in a lot of different interests, like my photography, train running, triathlons and two-stepping. I did jiu-jitsu for a couple years and got my motorbike license. As silly as it sounds one day I want to be that grandma who has lots of stories to share with her grandchildren. I want to be able to say ‘I tried in this, I failed in this, I succeeded in this’.” #grandmagoals

(Editor’s note: Thuy has been training for the Apple Triathlon here in Kelowna!)

Fourth industrial revolution near
Contributed - Aug 16 - Columnists

Image: Contributed

The work world is being transformed by rapidly evolving digital technologies as we march into what many are calling the “fourth industrial revolution.”

With disruptive technologies pushing the frontiers of automation, some of the comparative advantages humans traditionally have enjoyed relative to technology are eroding. Computers and learning-based algorithms have progressed beyond replacing repetitive, manual tasks with mechanical execution.

Now, recognizing patterns, providing diagnoses and communicating complex information—three activities once seen as within the purview of people—are increasingly performed by computers. Doctors, lawyers, accountants and other skilled professionals may eventually join the ranks of those whose jobs have been displaced or fundamentally altered by automation.

What does all of this portend for the future of employment?

In the job market, advances in technology are expected to have the greatest impact on tasks that are routine in nature. Such tasks aren’t necessarily mundane, but they’re labelled routine because they could be fully automated in the foreseeable future.

Routine tasks are found in most occupations and constitute part of many kinds of work activity. Examples include mathematical calculations involved in accounting and financial analysis; organizing and disseminating information; the physical execution of repetitive work, such as driving; and some types of repeated research, such as that performed when filing a patent.

In thinking about how technology shapes the labour market, a key insight is that automation is both a substitute for and a complement to human capital and intelligence. The challenge for workers is to figure out where they can add value and/or perform tasks that can’t be automated.

The quick displacement of vast numbers of jobs is unlikely in the near term. A recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that between three and 14 per cent of the global workforce will need to switch occupational categories by 2030. This points to gradual change.

Even today, when some worry that millions of truck drivers and bus operators are poised to lose their jobs, trucking companies across North America desperately struggle to hire new drivers. Self-driving cars are coming, but more slowly than many tech enthusiasts believe. Robots already play a significant role in the manufacturing and logistics industries and will continue to make inroads elsewhere.

The good news is that increased automation should boost economy-wide productivity. But it may also translate into reduced full-time employment and downward pressure on wages and benefits for some workers. The net result is likely to be a widening divide between those whose work and skills complement technology versus those who end up at a disadvantage in the digital age. A legitimate concern for policy-makers is that more individuals will be trapped in a downward cycle of low-skilled, low-paying employment, with diminished opportunities to find or transition into careers that offer a decent income.

Historically, technological innovations have often disrupted existing industries, business models and jobs but without dampening the aggregate demand for labour. Instead, new industries and occupations have developed to replace those that have shrunk in the face of technological advances. Today, however, some analysts fear the expanding digital economy could lead to a sharp contraction in overall employment, as machines and software increasingly replace human labour.

In truth, economists and tech analysts don’t know how or exactly in what time frame the fourth industrial revolution will unfold. However, a flexible, well-educated and suitably trained workforce will be critical to meeting the demands of the labour market, regardless of the pace at which technology advances.

For government and industry, it makes sense to develop policies and programs to strengthen in-demand skills and enhance workers’ ability to acquire new skills and knowledge. A greater focus on technical training generally also makes sense, as people will be needed to operate and maintain the machines and digital platforms that are expected to proliferate.

Digitized, computer-generated knowledge, products and services promise gains in productivity and the standard of living. But we must be alert to the risk that these trends will leave behind those unwilling or unable to adapt.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice-president of the Business Council of British Columbia.

Kristine St.-Laurent is a senior policy analyst at the BCBC.

Start Fresh flourishing
Amanda Loewen - Aug 14 - Columnists

Photo: Contributed

It started with a simple idea of hosting monthly cooking classes at the Canadian Mental Health Association and grew from a side step into a full-on journey. The classes were instantly popular. A farm was donated. The classes turned into the Culinary Arts and Farming Education (CAFE) Program, a free program that inspires folks about food while preparing them to rejoin the workforce by gaining educations in cooking and farming skill sets. It also includes creating access to long-term, meaningful employment to help them thrive.

The Start Fresh Kitchen was created to help support the non-profit partner society, the Start Fresh Project, which created a unique for-profit/non-profit social enterprise. Michael Buffett and Sarah Martin, co-founders and life partners, began their version of the classic entrepreneurial story.

Signed life away to get a loan. Close friend and advisor invested in project. Partnership created to secure stable, long-term customers. Worked 80-100 hours per week. Paid themselves last, or not at all. Laughed. Cried. Loved. Employed 22 people within 12 months.

An overnight success story, right?

About the Start Fresh Kitchen

Start Fresh (kitchen and project) exist collaboratively to create free, unimpeded education and employment opportunities for those who have been excluded. Food is the vehicle to remove barriers to the social and economic ladder.

Start Fresh Project runs the CAFE program and manages the farm. This program provides a structured, nine-month program for participants to learn farming and cooking skills. Ten participants received about 50 hours per week of education during the program last year. This year the program is currently underway and the new cohort is enjoying finishing up the first semester.

Start Fresh Kitchen hosts cooking classes, which are regularly sold out, every Thursday, featuring local chefs from the community. They also provide catering services, private parties, long-table dinners and a weekday diner. The Kitchen buys produce from the farm, opens its facility for use by the CAFE program and provides an excellent communications platform to share the message of the Project.

The Kitchen currently hires about 25% of its employees straight out of the CAFE program run by the Project. Four of the participants last year now work in the kitchen. Employees are paid fair wages, receive benefits, and there is a big focus on the value of work-life balance.

It’s Not As Easy As the Instagram Photos

The picture-perfect story comes with some hard lessons from the founders; lessons not uncommon for many social entrepreneurs.

Bookkeeping matters. The fast-growing company focused on great products, services and community impact hit a cash crunch when an unanticipated tax bill arrived in the mail. “It took us from excited to terrified,” Buffett said. “We had to lean on some trusted suppliers to give us a bit of extra time to pay our invoices.” While the crunch didn’t sink the company, the founders course-corrected and have a renewed focus on financial management and forecasting. It was a tight couple of months.

Shiny, dangly syndrome is real. As the company started to grow the opportunities seemed endless. Decision after decision about day-to-day operations while also trying to plan for future growth was exhausting. The quick lesson was that the opportunities all required money and time to evaluate. “I can’t do everything,” Buffett admitted in an even tone that only comes with the experience of trying to do everything all at once. “We can make this revenue line work, but we aren’t there yet.” Time turns out to be the most important resource.

Failing is okay. Building a social enterprise is a lesson in iteration and humility. Every moment, every day the founders and teams experiment with little and big changes to the menu, process, program, partners, revenue, pricing, value, marketing, etc. Many of the changes and experiments fail. A few of them work well and contribute to the constantly evolving social and economic impact of the enterprise.

Sunny Days Ahead

Looking forward, changes are being implemented that come with experience and support. Refining menus, pricing and operational process are underway. Setting strategic objectives and being accountable to key results to achieve them have been initiated. The Kitchen and the Project are also refining their collaboration to improve and extend the social and community impact.

If you spend time with Martin and Buffett you can hear the exhaustion of startup entrepreneurs and the honesty of not knowing the whole road ahead. But you can also feel the unbridled optimism that comes with seeing some hard-earned success. And you can see the pride that comes with seeing and feeling the social and community impacts starting to grow.

Start Fresh is a collaborative community kitchen to watch.

Faces of #OKGNtech
Accelerate Okanagan - Aug 10 - Columnists

Photo: Contributed

A strong community can promote new ideas and ensure accountability. It can also act as motivation, support and even provide a little friendly competition. The power of community is undeniable, and the Okanagan tech community is no exception.

Our community is strong and growing with record speed, and maintaining connections through a period of growth like this can be a challenge. Nobody panic. We’ve got a plan.

Introducing “The Faces of #OKGNtech,” a showcase of Okanagan tech entrepreneurs, partners, supporters and cheerleaders designed to fuel more connection, more growth and more excitement. Follow along on the blog and on Instagram at @OKGNtech to learn more about our growing community and what makes them awesome.

Meet Paris. Paris Gaudet is no stranger to working with technology and innovation. For more than 10 years Paris ran a tech accelerator in Nanaimo, and she is now supporting Canada’s Digital Super Technology Cluster initiative. When Paris isn’t working on building the future of technology and innovation, you can find her trail running with her husband, buying fresh vegetables at the farmers’ market or hanging out with her 16-year-old daughter. We recently caught up with Paris to learn more about Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster and what she loves about OKGNtech.

What is Canada’s Technology Supercluster?

“I get that question a lot! There are two components to Canada’s Technology Supercluster. One half is technology leadership, so R&D projects, founding members and ultimately creating innovation that is disruptive on a global scale. The second part is capacity building, which is supporting regional British Columbia and Canada with jobs and skills training for the jobs of tomorrow.”

“The crazy thing is, the future of work is changing so fast. We don’t even know what half of the jobs are going to be like by 2030. As a parent and as a community member,  I often wonder how to make sure that everyone—every citizen in BC: women, Indigenous, everyone—has the skills they need to participate.”

What do you love about OKGNtech? 

“I remember the days when the Okanagan wasn’t on the radar. I have been in the sector regionally for almost 11 years, so even when you go back to 2008 people weren’t connected. Seeing where it is now, knowing that it was a bunch of people getting around a table saying, ‘We gotta come together. This is what we envision for our community. No longer do we have to be focused on the space things. To move our communities forward we need innovation and tech,’ that’s what I love!” #OKGNtech

What’re you passionate about?

“I just love learning about what is going on in communities and helping people get to a place where they know what their best self is and what their unique opportunity is. Let’s be bold and brave!” #goforit

What is the best piece of advice you can share with us?

“There is nothing you can’t come back from. No matter how ugly things get and no matter how challenging things are. Of course, it’s painful. We’ve all gone through it for sure, but it definitely builds character.

“When I was young my grandma told me to think of my life as a child’s mobile. So imagine there are all these pieces hanging down: family, sports, spirituality, work and all the things that make you who you are. And just like a child’s mobile, if there is one corner—or piece of your life—that is turned up everything else gets out of balance. I think that as entrepreneurs and innovators we are always focusing on one thing, and that doesn’t serve anyone. It’s important to make sure that our mobiles are balanced.”

Who inspires you? 

 “My daughter inspires me every day to be the best person I can be. When you’re a teenager, all you can see is in front of yourself right? We lose that as adults, and we forget that it’s OK to be selfish. So I try not to sweat the small stuff, and I try to take the time during the day to go for a run or to read a book.”

What’s one word you would use to describe yourself and why? 

“One word I would use to describe myself is integrity. It can be hard to do the right thing when it’s not the popular choice, right? There have been times where I have followed my heart and wondered, am I doing the right thing? Was this the right decision? But when you choose to live with integrity you can always walk away knowing that it was for all the right reasons.”

All Columnists Stories