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Point of no return

Businesses need to step in if our cities are to stop rotting from their downtown cores.


Downtown Montreal has a lot going for it. In addition to being the economic engine of Quebec’s most important metropolitan area, it is set apart from other downtowns in North America by its seamless blend of functions, combining business, retail, culture, restaurants, entertainment, education, tourism and housing.

The pandemic, however, fundamentally altered the city’s trajectory. Across the world, migration flows, increasing housing costs, hybrid work arrangements, office vacancies and falling transit ridership function as both cause and effect of a pervasive downturn in urban activity. In Montreal, for example, rents have risen by 14 per cent since last year and are set to increase by 30 per cent by 2025; office vacancy rates in the central business district are expected to approach 25 per cent by 2025; and transit ridership remains stalled at 75 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels.

The profound effects of the pandemic have led several observers to predict an “urban doom loop.” They foresee a self-reinforcing cycle of collapse in which a decline in activity downtown results in business closures and tumbling municipal tax revenues. This, in turn, forces cities to cut services, thus speeding the flight of residents and businesses. In this scenario, the cycle repeats until city centres become abandoned to crime, poverty and homelessness. According to some observers, the precarious situation in which downtowns find themselves today is similar to that of “rust belt” cities such as Detroit and Pittsburgh in the 1970s, when waves of technological change eroded manufacturing activity and sent these urban centres into a protracted downward spiral.

Whether or not this turns out to be true, the effects of the confluence of trends we are seeing today are not only worrying for their impact on cities, but also for their impact on businesses and the economy as a whole. According to Statistics Canada, in the six largest metropolitan areas — Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal — downtowns cover only 0.1 per cent to 0.3 per cent of the land area, but account for 15 per cent to 24 per cent of jobs and 13 per cent to 24 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. Indeed, dense and complex city centres create a clustering of talent, ideas and knowledge that companies need in order to innovate and grow. The concentration of leading sector jobs attracts highly skilled workers, who then offer more opportunities for companies to develop specialized products and services. In Montreal, this has led to rich ecosystems of expertise in aerospace, artificial intelligence, software development, fintech and other sectors that have powered the economy.

As the long-term effects of the pandemic on our living and working habits gradually became apparent, governments at all levels have implemented programs and committed funds to revitalize downtowns. Although this is necessary, governments alone cannot realistically muster sufficient resources to kickstart a revival of downtown cores. Instead, revitalization requires a comprehensive solution involving all stakeholders. Therein lies an opportunity for businesses from all sectors to determine where public and private interests overlap, and to pressure governments into being part of the solution. The benefits that come from having dynamic downtowns, as demonstrated by Montreal, should be enough to persuade them.


From serene to extreme: a survey of Canada’s best escapes

Risk your life or kick up your feet? Canada offers both possibilities in abundance. Here we review the finest


Some differences we overweigh.

I claim to care about many of them.

I actually don’t.

If you prefer cats to dogs, that’s your prerogative (let’s be honest: a bad one). But then again, there are choices we don’t weigh enough. Like this one: free from work and worry, one decides how their hard-earned free time is spent; the difference between those who choose to risk their life and those who opt for a luxurious massage is unquestionably profound.

The American columnist Jonah Goldberg said that “conservatism is comfort with contradiction” — that multiple things can be true at the same time. I rarely vouch for the conservative view, but it’s about as wise a stance on this issue as you can take. In fact, I urge readers not to dwell on this contradiction. I did and it made me extremely uncomfortable for several days. Just let it be that for enjoyment, some people choose to teeter over the abyss, while others, including me, cannot even conceive of deriving a sense of enjoyment from such an activity, from taking that risk.

Fortunately, no matter your disposition, Canada offers both possibilities in high quantity and remarkable quality. Here I explore the best of the best — the most life threatening and the most tranquil.

Dancing with Gravity: Heli-skiing

Heli-skiing was moulded in the heart of Canada’s wilderness, specifically in the vast expanse of British Columbia’s Purcell Mountains and the snow-covered peaks around Revelstoke and Whistler. This high-octane sport, in which experienced skiers take helicopters to the most pristine backcountry slopes, has seen its popularity soar in recent years.

Paving the way for Canadian excellence in the sport is Greg Hill, a celebrated Canadian ski mountaineer and heli-skier hailing from Revelstoke, B.C. In 2010, Hill set an astonishing record by skiing two million feet in a year, maintaining an average of 5,500 feet daily while conquering 71 mountains and 1,039 runs. (Not bad. But I’ll have my readers know I once made it down a “double black diamond” run with all my limbs intact. Candidly, though, I quickly retired to the chalet to call my mom and let her know I loved her.) Hill’s accomplishments in heliskiing have attracted advanced skiers and snowboarders from across the globe to Canada’s backcountry slopes, establishing them as premier destinations for those seeking the ultimate downhill thrill.

Rainforest Retreat: Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort

If you’re not keen on your heart beating out of your chest but still want to appreciate the natural majesty of British Columbia, then the Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort is the place for you.

From its origins as a quaint fishing lodge in the 1980s, Nimmo Bay has expanded into a world-renowned wilderness resort. Its nine private chalets offer guests extraordinary access to the beauty of the Great Bear Rainforest. If you feel like venturing away from the floating cedar sauna or the hot tub after enjoying a fresh-caught lunch, you can enjoy whale watching, heli-hiking, fine coastal dining, beachcombing, kayaking, paddleboarding, mindful hiking, glacier trekking, wildlife viewing and much more.

No Ropes, No Limits: Free Soloing

Ever get a feeling of unease just watching someone else do something dangerous? Me too. But what makes these viewing experiences bearable, even conscionable, is the awareness that there’s some form of safety measure in place — a net to catch the trapeze artist, a backup parachute for the skydiver, a nearby lifeguard for the big wave surfer.

Take that feeling and intensify it by an order of magnitude when it comes to the death-defying art of free soloing. The most hazardous style of rock climbing, free soloing beckons daring thrill-seekers to achieve what seems unimaginable: scaling steep, imposing rock formations and mountains devoid of any lifesaving security — no ropes, no harnesses, just the climber and the wall. While Canada boasts legendary landscapes for free soloing, there is no such thing as a perfect climb or environment: unpredictable variables can influence every inch of an individual’s ascent.

Some of the most extreme climbs in the world happen right on our doorstep. In Alberta, climber Geoff Powter undertook what the bouldering community believes to be one of the “boldest free solos in Rockies history,” on Mountain Yamnuska.

Another standout destination is The Stawamus Chief Mountain, fondly known as The Chief, situated in Squamish, B.C. This mountain boasts a towering granite monolith with a range of bouldering routes suitable for climbers of all skill levels. The Chief, along with much of the West Coast, is renowned as a must-visit destination for avid boulderers from around the world.

The next time you’re feeling the itch to take your life into your own hands, know that you don’t need to travel far abroad. The thrill, the majesty, the madness is all just a flight to Western Canada, several bus rides, a light 30-kilometre hike up to base camp and one hell of a gruelling ascent away!

Reviving the Spirit: Relaxing in Kananaskis Country

If, instead of attempting to climb mountains, you prefer simply to look at them, then the Kananaskis Mountain Lodge is the perfect place. Located just a one-hour drive from Calgary, this is an accessible alpine paradise.

Spend your day enjoying the nearby Kananaskis Nordic spa encompassing 50,000 square feet that features a relaxation lodge, five outdoor pools, five steam and sauna cabins, an exfoliation cabin, fireside lounges and massage treatments. Spend your night in a room with stunning mountain views and wake up to the beauty of the rolling Kananaskis Valley.

Whether you choose to soak in the outdoor hot pools while gazing at the northern lights or unwind in the tranquil relaxation areas, the Kananaskis range offers a sanctuary for those seeking a peaceful escape in the heart of the Rockies.

Exploring the Unknown: Caving

Canada not only offers beauty at high altitudes, but also at subterranean depths, and the select few brave enough to practise the extreme sport of caving can access it.

One of the densest concentrations of caves for adventurers to explore is in Vancouver Island’s Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park. This park offers a range of caving experiences from beginner-friendly excursions to more challenging spelunking adventures.

Take it from Christian Stenner, one of Canada’s most prominent cave explorers and a participant in some of the country’s most daring expeditions. Stenner is renowned for his discovery of new passages within Canada’s longest cave, the 21-kilometre Castleguard Cave in Jasper National Park, Alta., and the Bisaro Anima cave near Fernie, B.C., which descends 683 metres along its 5.2-kilometre route. Meanwhile, I’m still trying to find my way out of my local grocery store’s parking lot. Over his ongoing 17-year tenure as a caver, one thing has consistently fuelled Stenner’s passion: “To know that you are the first human to ever be in a place is an amazing experience.” That is the allure of caving here in Canada.

A Coastal Gem: Fogo Island

While caving showcases some of the best Mother Nature has to offer, the Fogo Island Inn offers the best in human architectural ingenuity and design. Perched on the rugged shores of Fogo Island off the coast of Newfoundland, this remarkable inn showcases a breathtaking fusion of contemporary design and traditional craftsmanship, blending effortlessly into its natural surroundings.

The inn’s striking geometric structure, designed by renowned architect Todd Saunders, pays homage to the island’s rich heritage while embracing modern luxury. Its floor-to-ceiling windows offer panoramic views of the North Atlantic Ocean, providing an ever-changing tableau of sea and sky.

Inside, the inn exudes warmth and hospitality, with each of its 29 guest rooms uniquely decorated and adorned with handcrafted furnishings created by local artisans. Guests are greeted with a cozy ambiance that perfectly complements the untamed beauty of the island. The culinary experience is equally exceptional, featuring a menu that celebrates the island’s bounty of fresh seafood and locally sourced ingredients. Guests can also explore the island’s dramatic coastline, hike its pristine trails or simply unwind in the inn’s rooftop hot tubs, all while being enveloped in the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Fogo Island.

When Proust met Bonnie Devine

French author Marcel Proust is known for his gentle remembrance of things past and his love of madeleine cookies. But he is perhaps best known for his eponymous character-revealing questionnaire. In this edition of Perspectives, we put Proust’s famous survey to installation artist, curator, writer and educator Bonnie Devine


In a 2014 interview with the CBC, Indigenous artist and professor Bonnie Devine stated, “I think that art has always had a role in pointing a finger at social injustices, and I think that right now, as a people and as a collective as Canadians, we are examining the history we’ve been presented with and are searching it for truths and untruths.” Nearly a decade later, her words have proved more than prescient. As Canada continues to struggle with its colonial past and present, it is vital that the voices and works of Indigenous peoples be elevated.

Bonnie Devine has dedicated her career to doing just that. As a member of the Serpent River First Nation of Northern Ontario (Anishinaabe/Ojibwa) and the founding chair of OCAD U’s Indigenous Visual Culture program, she is dedicated to supporting Indigenous students and ensuring that their voices are heard within the academy. Outside the academy, Devine’s own works have inspired artists both in Canada and across the globe. Her exhibit the Odjig retrospective, which toured North America from 2007-2010, was the first solo event by a female Aboriginal artist hosted at the National Gallery, and a short video of hers, A Grim Fairy Tale, was screened at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival.

What talent would you most like to have?

There are so many. I’d love to play a musical instrument. I’d love to speak a second language, especially Anishinaabemowin, but French or Spanish would also do. I’d love to know how to tap dance.

What is your most treasured possession?

My fountain pen, notebook and collection of inks.

What is your favourite journey?

Driving north on Highway 69, turning west on Highway 17, tracing the southern rim of the Canadian Shield to Serpent River First Nation.

When and where were you the happiest?

I’m happiest every time I open my paint box.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Those who stand for justice. I admire anyone who takes action to right a wrong.

Who is your favourite hero of fiction?

The first novel I was given to read was by Anna Sewell. Black Beauty was and remains my hero.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Actually, exactly and absolutely.

What is your greatest extravagance?

I buy way too many art supplies.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

I take things personally and am too easily offended.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?


On what occasions do you lie?

When I’m ashamed.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

A cat, I hope.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

If I could be two or three inches taller and twenty years younger, that would be nice. No really, I’d like to be stronger.

What is your current state of mind?

I’m grateful and amazed that my path has seemingly continuously connected me to a group of very dear, very brilliant people. I’m also cautiously curious about what lies ahead.

‘Green hush’ at your peril

Corporate Canada is stepping up to cut emissions. While various ideological movements have made reporting progress a greater challenge, “green hushing” is not the answer


With extreme weather becoming more frequent and intense, and the consequences of wildfires now top of mind for Canadians, addressing climate change is no longer an abstract concept; it’s right before our eyes. This reality puts businesses on the spot.

Much of the attention on the climate change issue rightly falls to governments, but make no mistake: Canadians believe corporations have an important role to play. In fact, a recent study from Navigator’s research arm shows that nearly two thirds of Canadians believe companies should be addressing environmental initiatives, even if doing so reduces their short-term profitability.

There’s no question more businesses are taking this call seriously. The United Nations reported a sharp rise in companies setting science-based targets for emission reductions in 2022, with 87 per cent more businesses having their targets validated by the UN framework.

You might think such developments would have companies reaching for a megaphone, eager to broadcast their good news. Instead, two distinct movements in the opinion environment have meant the opposite.

The first is the charge of “greenwashing.” This label is used to refer to companies whose actions appear sluggish compared to their outwardly declared ambitions. Activist organizations, such as Greenpeace, have been vigorously litigious and outspoken in their attack on “greenwashed” initiatives, presenting formidable legal and reputational hurdles for major industry players that opt to promote or disclose their sustainability initiatives.

On the other side of the spectrum, critics have suggested that corporate sustainability and ESG investing go too far as an “ideological joyride” designed to punish oil and gas producers. Anti-ESG laws have been enacted in 15 U.S. states, with more than a dozen others planning similar moves. In other words, businesses with ESG plans are being attacked for doing too much and for doing too little. You can see why many firms are taking a quieter, more reserved approach called “green hushing.”

Green hushing isn’t just an anecdote. Businesses have become much shier about reporting on ESG initiatives, with The Globe and Mail reporting a 64 per cent drop over the past two years. The trend is understandable but misguided. Presumably, businesses that do green hush do so believing that concealing or downplaying their environmental efforts is the safer, lower-risk approach that will ultimately be better for business. This is simply not true. Businesses that can see past the noise are finding tremendous value.

A case in point. This June, Deloitte Canada released a report on sustainable products that showed that 60 per cent of respondents said they would be willing to pay a premium of 20 per cent or more for green products when companies could prove their authenticity.

While there can be gaps between reported purchasing preferences and revealed purchasing preferences, at minimum this tells us there’s a receptive market for green initiatives. If a company is spending the time and resources to be greener, it might as well tell the story.

In addition to creating value, corporate sustainability can also be the basis for partnerships. Industry leaders and Indigenous communities can mutually benefit from major projects in generating revenue, jobs and a higher quality of life in the communities where projects are developed. But Indigenous communities typically want assurance that companies are putting a high emphasis on sustainability, reducing emissions and reclaiming land. These are key criteria during project consultations and community members shouldn’t be learning about a company’s initiatives at their first meeting.

One particular industry that should not be green hushing is Canada’s huge oil and natural gas industry. Canada is the fourth largest exporter of crude oil and the fifth largest exporter of natural gas in the world. With the industry sometimes serving as a political football, its support from governments, stakeholders and partners alike is dependent on social responsibility.

We are seeing commensurate action. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers recently launched a campaign called Energy in Action, showcasing some of the largest oil and gas companies’ greenhouse gas-reducing initiatives and technologies, including those from Canadian Natural Resources, Shell and Crescent Point. It’s the right approach, one that responds to public demand for more information about our producers’ work to support good jobs, Indigenous-owned businesses, and lower carbon emissions.

The lesson learned from this politically polarizing discussion should not be for corporate Canada to cease communicating, but to be honest about the challenges that accompany their goals. At the end of the day, green hushing is an overcorrection to companies initially pushing their ESG efforts too forcefully, exaggerating achievements and misleading the public. As businesses glean hard-earned lessons and shift towards transparent yet proactive ESG communication, the trend of green hushing will fade away. That will happen for one simple reason: it’s bad for business.

In a landscape rife with misinformation, building and maintaining credibility remains the paramount approach, yielding benefits that far surpass any associated risks. As long as the impacts of climate change continue to be at the forefront of Canadian minds, reporting on green initiatives, centred on the fundamental principles of accurately and responsibly informing the public, will generate substantial advantages for businesses.

Fire and rain – change(d)

Insurance markets are rapidly transforming in the era of climate change and, for business, rethinking coverage is a new imperative

As Canada grapples with the growing threat of climate change, one thing is certain: with wildfires come big floods. As flames race through our forests, the capacity for nature to hold water after heavy rain disintegrates. This also creates more dry tinder for the next potential fire, affecting our large urban areas more and more.

Forest fires don’t just destroy trees; they bake the ground and kill the soil’s capacity to absorb water. It’s why floods reliably followed fires in Fort McMurray and, most recently, Atlantic Canada earlier this year. This pattern of destruction is deeply unsettling, and its profound consequences touch every facet of our society. Business is no exception. But today, climate change is posing increasingly complicated questions for business leaders in one vital, specific arena: insurance coverage and risk planning.

Because loss after loss, disaster after disaster, and dollar by dollar, the way we assess, prevent, insure and react to capital loss is now changing as fast as the climate. A climate where risk compounds.

With premiums rising and policies shrinking, what gets insured is changing; what isn’t covered is now a calculated risk. No doubt, these sorts of calculations lead to moral hazards, but they also may create scenarios where capital Insurance markets are rapidly transforming in the era of climate change and, for business, rethinking coverage is a new imperative is insured, but due to costs, human error is not. These are scenarios where the capital assets of a company are insured at great cost, while other forms of insurance get reduced or dropped altogether through budget cutting.

Hawaii, which recently faced the most devastating natural disaster in its history, is home to one of the largest outdoor public safety warning systems in the world. It’s a system the state has taken pride in, a system that symbolized Hawaii’s apparent readiness to cope with disaster. Despite this, as wildfires raged through Maui this year, the island failed to activate any of its 80 warning sirens for residents and tourists. This was a human error, an error that has exacted a significant human, social and economic cost.

Some organizations have leaned into preventive practices to minimize risk. Others, feeling perhaps overconfident, have instead put everything at risk. Whatever the approach, what’s clear now is that the actuarial tables have turned. The risks are not only deeper and of a different complexion, but the losses are increasingly real.

In this environment, assessing risk proactively means more than just watching the weather. Corporate bodies should not only begin now to plan for disaster but also to plan for predictable, substantial swings in the insurance market.

Today, Canadians can obtain different forms of insurance to cover the cost of wildfires, but that may not be the case for long. In California, a state experiencing its own fast and furious cycle of fires and floods, home insurance that covers the costs of these natural disasters has become elusive. We know with certainty that insurance premiums will rise in Canada, too, putting insurance further out of reach for those who find themselves at risk.

Volatile and frequent cycles of extreme weather are making it more expensive and less likely that physical assets can be totally insured. Over the past year, some real estate transactions in Western Canada have collapsed because policy writers refused to bind offers if wildfires were raging nearby.

In this ever-shifting landscape, proactive risk assessment is paramount. As the insurance industry braces for literal and metaphorical storms ahead, one thing becomes clear: the premium on prevention has never been higher. The future belongs to those who can adapt, mitigate and safeguard their assets in a world where risk is evolving faster than the climate itself.