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Asking the innovators: corporate Canada’s role in economic reconciliation

In May 2021, the discovery of unmarked graves at Kamloops Indian Residential School affirmed what Indigenous researchers and intergenerational survivors have long reported. The stories of missing children who never returned home, the painful reactions from survivors, and the increased pressure on political leaders to address the legacy of residential schools all contributed to an overdue conversation on Canada’s colonial history.  

It’s a conversation that has reached Canadian businesses. Today, corporate commemoration of the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is commonplace, land recognitions are more frequent, and many organizations have diversity, equity and inclusion policies. Collectively, there is more discussion about reconciliation, but discussion is a starting point, not an end.  

Corporate Canada has both a responsibility and an opportunity to contribute to a better, more equitable future by actively working with Indigenous partners towards economic reconciliation. We know that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls for the corporate sector to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and to apply its principles, norms and standards to core operational activities. We also know that stories have the ability to challenge long-standing beliefs and inspire meaningful action.    

That’s why we looked to individual stories to educate us on the journey of economic reconciliation, speaking to Indigenous leaders — one investor, one labour representative and one entrepreneur — to understand what economic reconciliation means to them.   



Jeff Cyr, Managing Partner, 
Raven Indigenous Capital Partners  

This past June, the National Indigenous Economic Strategy was released, outlining 107 calls to economic prosperity. The report, underpinned by the contributions of more than 25 Indigenous organizations across Canada, calls on Canadian businesses, investors and government bodies to facilitate economic reconciliation.  

The report found that access to capital remains a challenge for Indigenous entrepreneurs. Jeff Cyr and Raven Capital are confronting this challenge head-on. An Indigenous-owned investment management firm, Raven Capital is also referred to as a financial intermediary that raises capital from private investors and invests it into Indigenous-owned-and-led enterprises with the explicit intent of positively impacting Indigenous people and communities.   

Cyr, who is of mixed Métis and European heritage, believes that when it comes to economic reconciliation, corporate Canada needs to confront the biases and perceived risks that inform far too many approaches to investment in Indigenous business and entrepreneurs.   

“Investing in Indigenous businesses and hiring Indigenous people represent a huge business opportunity,” he said. “Indigenous people are the fastest growing and youngest population in Canada. At Raven, we’ve seen a massive explosion of innovation coming out of Indigenous communities. While the market is doing all kinds of topsy-turvy things, the businesses we’ve invested in are on very steady growth and operating curves, and have been relatively resilient to the market.”    

Cyr outlines a need for corporate Canada to recognize that the wealth of this country was generated from colonialism, and that companies can learn from Indigenous people’s relationship with the land and all beings that live upon it. “Reconciliation is not on the backs of Indigenous people. It’s actually on the backs of the rest of Canada, although it ends up being Indigenous people who do a lot of the lifting. Recognizing that is really important.” 



Deb Tveit, Executive Assistant to the National President, Unifor    

Whether it’s bargaining for time off work, helping dig wells or building housing, unions have advocated not only for the rights of Indigenous workers, but for employers to play a role in shaping and uplifting Indigenous communities.    

Tveit is responsible for the education, hospitality, food and beverage manufacturing, general service, mining, minerals and fisheries sectors at Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union. When asked about how unions can contribute to economic reconciliation, she resists a one-size-fits-all solution.   

“Every union is unique,” she explained. “Each has its own structure, leadership, membership and combination of personalities and political views. Indigenous groups, reserves and band councils will have many different positions on many different things, like the rest of the population. Everyone has their own ideas about how they want things to work. The union’s responsibility is to reach out to those groups and figure out what they can do.”   

To contribute to economic reconciliation, Tveit says corporate Canada must first follow through on existing promises. “With the casinos being built on Indigenous reserves, the government mandated that a certain percentage of employees must be Indigenous people. The problem with that is that the casinos didn’t maintain that percentage. So, as people left, they weren’t replaced with other Indigenous people even though these casinos are on reserves that were built there to offer employment opportunities to Indigenous people.”  

Tveit believes there are several ways for Canadian businesses to better support reconciliation, but none is more immediate than the need to hire more Indigenous workers. “I don’t think there’s ever been a strong attempt to hire Indigenous people. It’s not that Indigenous youth don’t want good jobs, they do. The fact is lots of times they don’t even know about those jobs, because nobody goes to the reserve and advertises or does a job fair or reaches out. These are all things that can be done quite simply.”  


Curtis Avery, Owner, Kana Leaf  

Curtis Avery is a prime example of what can happen when expertise and entrepreneurship collide. A former fisheries biologist of eight years who calls Nipissing First Nation home, Avery established Kana Leaf, the first legal cannabis dispensary on a First Nation, along with his uncle, mother and grandfather.    

This was no easy feat. The governments of Canada and the provinces have been heavily criticized for not adequately consulting with First Nations during the cannabis legalization process. Lack of consultation posed several hurdles for Indigenous entrepreneurs to break into the legal cannabis market, including navigating a multi-jurisdictional hierarchy. “There were huge missed opportunities by not consulting with First Nations,” he said. “We were permitted by Ontario regulations to do certain things our own First Nation prevented us from doing. There was all sorts of confusion, fears and lack of information. Had consultations occurred, maybe many First Nations would have been better informed about why the regulations look the way they do.”  

It was important for Avery to establish a cannabis store on a First Nation to demonstrate that a legal cannabis market could help combat the illegal market and improve safety within the community, while creating economic opportunities for Indigenous people.    

“I hope that Kana Leaf shows to other First Nations that there is an opportunity here to participate in this market. Although it’s now reactive because First Nations weren’t consulted on the legislation, that doesn’t mean that there’s not still economic benefits to participating in this market.”  

What can corporations do to facilitate economic reconciliation? For Avery, it starts with infrastructure. “Not having proper infrastructure really prevents industry or entrepreneurship from developing. Our telecommunications and our internet services are not at parity with our surrounding municipalities, even though fiber-optic cables run through our territory. We also don’t have proper water and sewage systems. If businesses and industry really want to help, they would support our infrastructure.”  



These stories represent the eclectic mix of approaches that our participants bring to the job site every day. Those who choose to ignore the ingenuity, entrepreneurship and advocacy of Indigenous leaders do so to their own disadvantage.  

As our demographics show us, economic reconciliation is not only a moral imperative but a business imperative. According to new census data, the Indigenous population in Canada has grown at a rate of 9.4 per cent since 2016, twice as fast as the rate for non-Indigenous Canadians. Canada’s dependency ratio, which measures the portion of individuals too young or too old to contribute to our workforce, is projected to grow as high as 59 per cent by 2028, with at least five million Canadians set to retire by the end of the decade. Put simply, we need more workforce participation. What better place to look?  

Economic reconciliation, like all forms of reconciliation, requires Canadians to listen with humility and openness to change. If improved Indigenous engagement results in newer, more innovative approaches to doing business, then corporate Canada has all the more reason to invest the time and effort into this journey. We can’t shy away from the fact that this requires meaningful commitments: people, money and infrastructure, to name a few. It also requires acknowledgment of our past and present shortcomings. Those who are most successful will not see these commitments as obligations, but opportunities for a new chapter of smarter, kinder and more deeply rooted operations. 

Help Wanted

The housing crisis is about to hit home. For you. Not just for people renting or contemplating their first home purchase. No matter what your employment sector, if you work for or own a business, the real crisis underpinning our nationwide housing shortage is about to have serious implications for you. 

Governments and partisans of all stripes at the federal, provincial and municipal levels are desperate to increase the number of housing starts. Yet any discussion about construction planning needs to be rooted in an acknowledgment of where Canada’s most critical scarcity lies: labour.  

Everything from housing to pipelines to subways to hospitals requires skilled trades to get built. But when it comes to construction workers, Canada has a supply chain problem, and the solution is a work in progress. This slow pace could cost us all.  

A report released by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. over the summer indicates that the pool of construction workers available for work on a per unit basis is about half what it used to be a decade ago. In Ontario there are 3.8 workers on the job per unit of housing.  

In 1996 that number stood at 6.6. This isn’t a productivity gain; there just aren’t enough workers. 

It’s no surprise to anyone that we have an aging workforce, but two additional factors are driving the labour shortage. While everyone agrees we need more young people swinging a hammer or operating a crane, three out of four students say they would never pursue a job in construction. Add to that the prediction that almost a million workers now on building sites will retire by the end of the decade and it’s clear it will soon be difficult to find a hard hat on the job. 

The second factor is immigration. Canada’s points system discredits skilled trades from coming to our country. While immigrants make up 20 per cent of our workforce, only 8.7 per cent of apprentices currently enrolled in upgrading their skills are drawn from this pool. In other words, we aren’t attracting tradespeople fast enough to replace the workforce that’s aging out of the professions. 

Effectively, you need to be a post-secondary STEM graduate to enter Canada and people trained in STEM tend to become engineers and doctors, not carpenters. If you want someone who can wire a new building then the immigration points system needs to prioritize electricians, not electrical engineers.  

Even with an aggressive immigration policy, the failing of our current system is that it doesn’t target forecasted labour shortages. Instead, it’s driven by labour market failures. Canada is not proactively addressing its labour needs. Instead, it’s reacting to failure — and slowly at that.  

The current system is also making it harder to land new workers and train them to Canadian employment standards. Even when that happens, workers still need to upgrade their language skills. As stated, we have a supply chain problem.  

But there is a solution. It lies across the border. There has been a long-drawn-out culture war in the U.S. over immigration. The battle is often centred on a population of labourers known as undocumented workers. One side calls them illegal, while the other side calls them non-citizens.  

Ironically, when Donald Trump says “build the wall,” everyone chuckles because the reality is that the workers needed to construct the wall are more often than not the very people it is intended to keep out. Statistics show that one in 10 undocumented workers is employed in construction. If the U.S. doesn’t want them, Canada should recruit them.   

The provision of citizenship, union wages and security for their families — not to mention health care and a welcoming government — would make a good offer. These workers come with skills already integrated into modern construction technology, language capacity that’s better developed than most newcomers and a desire to work the second they clear customs.   

There are more than 10 million undocumented workers in the U.S. already on the journey toward a better tomorrow. Why not lead them north? It might just work. 

62% of Canadians agree the Canadian government should increase the number of skilled workers permitted to immigrate to Canada. 

Meet the new blue coalition

Love him or hate him, Pierre Poilievre’s rise as the new federal Conservative leader speaks to the massive realignment in Canadian politics. Poilievre rode to a landslide victory with a platform characterized by a resurgent emphasis on individual freedoms, resistance to political correctness, and a strong desire for concrete action to make life more affordable.

Poilievre is not just betting on the support of the traditional male blue-collar worker, but the broad-based support of the Canadian working class, many of whom were far from insulated from the impacts of the pandemic. Unlike his Liberal rival, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Poilievre will seek to find and use the unifying sense of anger and helplessness many Canadians still feel in the face of forces beyond their control, whether they are inflation, viruses or hurricanes. From across the country, here is what you need to know about the movement that delivered Poilievre his victory and what it says about the Canadian opinion landscape.


British Columbia

By Alex Shiff

Associate Principal

Metro Vancouver and the Lower Mainland are key to the Conservatives’ victory in British Columbia. Poilievre and his team know this and spent significant time in those areas during the campaign. Poilievre managed to attract large crowds of supporters drawn to his distinctive brand.

Poilievre’s message is uniquely well-suited to win back suburban ridings in B.C. His focus on housing and affordability speaks to B.C.’s millennials, who have seen their standard of living decline as costs climb under Trudeau. Poilievre’s personal story and emphasis on entrepreneurship, freedom of expression and religion has also ingratiated him with immigrant communities that have significant presences in suburban B.C.

British Columbians can expect Poilievre to spend much of his time as leader campaigning in Metro Vancouver and fine-tuning his message to the suburban voters who are key to his path to 24 Sussex.



By Lauren Armstrong

Senior Consultant

Albertans see a housing and inflationary crisis looming and are anxious to protect the livability of our major cities. For an incoming leader of the federal Conservative Party, Alberta will always be the heartland, the home base, the source of hundreds of thousands of votes and tens of millions of dollars. But to keep momentum and the funds flowing from Alberta donors, Poilievre, a Calgary native, will need to avoid landmine social issues and extract tangible wins, particularly on pocketbook issues.

At the same time, he’ll need to find a balance between opposing Trudeau’s policies, particularly those that are perceived to hurt the working class, without jeopardizing the areas where business and both the provincial and federal governments co-operate, like on carbon capture and storage. This is the same challenge posed to Alberta’s premiers for decades — talk tough in public and negotiate shrewdly behind closed doors.



By Jim Billington

Associate Principal

Saskatchewan lays claim to the title of most conservative province in Canada, with all 14 electoral districts currently represented by Conservative MPs. Poilievre is all but certain to continue the party’s electoral dominance of the province, which is summarily driven by outright disdain for Trudeau and his governing Liberals.

Where previous Conservative leaders saw success railing against key pieces of the Trudeau environmental agenda, Poilievre too will see success. The broader question he faces will be whether he can deliver on the priorities of his many supporters in the “Land of the Living Skies,” a task his two immediate predecessors were unable to achieve.

Political disdain for the Trudeau government has prompted serious discussions around increasing provincial autonomy, preoccupying Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe’s focus of late. Like Québec, Saskatchewan can expect to have an ally in Poilievre in the journey for increased provincial autonomy, leaving the new Conservative leader to balance the demands of his western base with the priorities of voters in other parts of Canada who may have little appetite for entertaining Prairie grievances.



Par Philippe Gervais

Directeur principal

Quebec is living through a political realignment not seen for generations. Four years ago, François Legault’s new Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) won the province. In the process, he pushed aside two heavyweight parties sharing power since the late 1960s. This was reinforced on Oct. 3, when the CAQ won a landslide re-election with a Montreal-shaped hole in it. Who and what are the forces behind this realignment?

Without question, a growing number of Quebec electors are discontent and feel powerless before traditional political options. Poilievre benefitted from the province’s dissatisfaction with the status quo, helping him beat Jean Charest for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party of Canada. In the eyes of many long-time Quebec conservatives, Charest had been “the one.”

Provincially, Legault’s “protect our own” messaging demonstrates a fragmentation of the electorate, in which voters are increasingly motivated by their regional identities and by their rejection of federal overreach. Poilievre has a natural opportunity to ramp up criticism of Ottawa’s interventionist management style while maintaining connection with the guiding principles of the CPC.

National and international businesses have the challenge of responding to this realignment with strategic engagement that respects the unique identity and culture of Quebeckers. Those who fail to do so may see themselves cast away, along with the old guard of Quebec politics.



By Clare Michaels

Associate Principal

Poilievre would do well to learn from the successes of populist Doug Ford. For businesses, that means a Poilievre-led party may be less concerned about what big employers think about party policies and more interested in what their workers think.

The Ford government has recognized the need to put fiscal conservatism on the back burner to address major systemic issues, especially those hurting working-class Ontarians. That ever-lengthening list includes inflation, hallway health care, and building out transit and highway networks to fight gridlock.

Ford’s victories in 2018 and 2022 were largely due to a concerted effort to woo those hit hardest by such issues, including the traditional enemies of conservatives — unionized workers. While Ford accumulated an impressive list of union endorsements, he also showed an uncanny ability to go around union leaders and reach members directly with pragmatic ideas on and off the jobsite.

Ford has exposed a major realignment in union politics where existing orthodoxies and ways of thinking are no longer safe. Canadian business leaders have a timely opportunity to make similar gains, finding common ground around policies and initiatives that create development opportunities and the skilled jobs that accompany them.


Atlantic Canada

By Jason Hatcher

Managing Principal

Atlantic Canada is often forgotten in the federal political calculus given the region holds a fraction of the seats other provinces do. In 2015, Trudeau swept the region, winning all 32 seats. Since then, the Conservative Party of Canada has attempted to rebuild support in the area, but only recaptured eight seats in the last election.

In terms of social attitudes, the archetype of the anti-lockdown, pro-freedom (and consequently pro-Poilievre) new conservative mould holds little weight here. Atlantic Canadians have a unique cultural landscape and, without harsh lockdowns in the “Atlantic Bubble,” the electorate has emerged from the pandemic far less divided than other parts of the country.

On the economic front, energy is a burning issue for most Atlantic Canadians. To win Atlantic Canada, Poilievre must present a more inclusive energy policy that finds synergies and alliances between the east and the west akin to what we saw in the early 1980s. To regain what was lost in 2015, Poilievre will need a strategy that goes beyond renouncing economic barriers to articulate concrete opportunities for people who often feel overlooked by the federal government.

Through the cycle: a case for long-term human capital planning

In late October 2022, the Bank of Canada announced the worst drop in business outlook since the start of the pandemic. Recent studies have found that most businesses and consumers believe Canada will soon fall into a perilous recession, with inflation continuing to plague our economy for years to come.

The Bank of Canada’s main tool to fight this outcome, namely its ability to raise interest rates, must be recognized for what it is: a Band-Aid on a broken leg. Our economy is facing systemic deficiencies: shortages of energy, commodities and, most importantly, people. In a recent interview with BNN Bloomberg, Mark Wiseman, chair of the Alberta Investment Management Corp. (AIMCo), put it trenchantly when he said rate increases don’t create more human beings ready to contribute to our workforce.

Businesses are facing two existential challenges. The first is the ongoing crisis of inflation and the corresponding threat of a major recession that will continue to drive up the cost of living for workers, increase dissatisfaction and devalue wages.

The second is the severe labour shortage that is expected to intensify rapidly. How should leaders prepare? And, crucially, what can leaders do to fortify their organizations during these challenging times?

It is prudent to examine what not to do.

As storm clouds gather, emerging data suggests many companies, both global and domestic, are contemplating or are already making layoffs to reduce costs and shore up their elasticity in a weakening business environment. Earlier this year, Shopify sent shockwaves across the sector by cutting 10 per cent of its workforce, following in the footsteps of other major technology companies like Netflix and Coinbase, which also announced significant layoffs in 2022. The day Shopify publicized this action in late July, the Canadian company’s shares closed down 14 per cent. That was partly a reflection of CEO Tobi Lutke’s admission, in a memo to staff that was made public, that the company had overestimated the degree to which e-commerce would grow. With a deepening human capital crisis and competition for skilled work escalating, one must wonder whether Shopify will come to regret this decision.

Beyond their individual defects, these examples from the technology sector reveal the cyclical nature of market trends. They make clear that the questions posed and solutions offered today cannot be designed solely to address the obstacles of this quarter or next. Widening the window means not only understanding the pace at which events are unfolding, but also promoting a clear picture of your long-term objectives and holding fast to the investments required to get there. This is particularly true for investments in human capital.

Historically, during economic downturns, businesses cut funding for employee compensation and training. As those same businesses contend with skills deficits, peers that have invested in high-growth areas emerge more competitive and prepared. While certain budget constraints are inevitable, businesses that can articulate long-term priorities are better positioned to secure investor and stakeholder support for workforce expansion. When measuring workforce demands versus budgetary constraints, it’s imperative to remember that turnover has a cost, estimated to be as high as 150 per cent of an employee’s salary. Building strong and committed teams isn’t cheap, but neither is the alternative.

A recession is likely to lead to a decrease in job creation, with some sectors experiencing a hairpin turn: today’s worker shortage will become tomorrow’s job shortage. However, well-resourced businesses should look beyond their immediate needs as they build and scale their workforce. With Canada’s technology sector facing widespread layoffs, banks, financial institutions and other traditional industries are scooping up available talent to build their artificial intelligence capabilities. These businesses can expect to reap the benefits as Canada requires an additional 250,000 technology jobs by 2025.

Not all businesses will be equally fortunate, and many sectors remain handcuffed by our current worker shortage. Corporate Canada cannot solve this issue alone. Urgent government action is needed on immigration, advanced education and infrastructure. But great leaders learn to never let a crisis go to waste. Businesses that respond to the talent war with strategic commitments to employee culture, long-term workforce investments and growth opportunities are best positioned to weather future labour shortages.

What good are sports without their soul?

Nothing intersects culture, politics and business quite like sports. At their best, sports organizations serve as bastions of the community and espouse a purpose beyond victory at any price. At their worst, they function as vehicles for oppression and exploitation.

Regrettably, recent events demonstrate that professional sports are drifting toward a preoccupation with profit and power at the expense of social value. This was forcefully demonstrated last year when several elite soccer clubs banded together proposing to ring-fence competition at the highest level with a European Super League. The plan faltered after vicious backlash from fans who, with their unwavering loyalty, had built the clubs into powerhouses. Many people thought this saga might spark an industry-wide reckoning, a warning to franchise owners and league executives to curb greed and reward allegiance, but the trend toward enhancing profit at all costs seems only to be growing stronger.

Lately, professional sporting broadcasts have seen a dramatic increase in advertisements for gambling services. The deluge, brought on by developments in the United States and Canada making single-event betting legal, has exposed North American fans to the cutthroat and compulsive world of easily accessible wagering. The United Kingdom, one of the first countries to embrace the sports betting industry, is now contending with a gambling epidemic. In response, the government has banned the use of credit cards for wagering, commissioned studies into its long-term implications, and is expected to ban betting companies from sponsoring soccer jerseys. Conversely, in the U.S., with sports betting legalization steadily expanding state by state, some colleges are actively promoting gambling services to their own students, receiving compensation for every person they help sign up.

Whatever your opinion of gambling, the proliferation of ads selling services where users can place infinite bets with just a few clicks puts fans and vulnerable communities at risk. Sports organizations must do better at regulating and diversifying corporate partnerships. In Canada, government statistics show that disadvantaged people are more susceptible to gambling problems, and that the number of gambling activities available increases the risk of addiction and related issues.

Even more problematic than the rise of gambling seduction is the renaissance of an age-old phenomenon: sportswashing. Adolf Hitler did it in 1936; the Athenians perhaps created it when they splurged on chariots in the 416 BC Olympics to impress the ancient Greek world. Today, sports remain a vessel through which the powerful try to shape external perceptions.

Following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, Formula One decisively exited Russia. Ostensibly a principled decision, the same reasoning did not apply to the recently launched Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia, which continues despite the kingdom’s abhorrent human rights record.

The tacit support of the kingdom reached self-parody at this year’s Montreal Grand Prix when a driver donned a shirt protesting Canadian oilsands while simultaneously wearing a helmet adorned with sponsor Saudi Aramco’s logo, the world’s largest oil producer and most profitable company. Not only does sportswashing obfuscate the crimes of regimes like Saudi Arabia, it also puts meaningful activism at direct odds with corporate interests.

A recent poll by Discover, Navigator’s research arm, found that 64 per cent of respondents agreed that Canadian sports organizations and stakeholders could do much more to raise awareness of known human rights abuses by governments that host major sporting events. Canadian media, therefore, should approach this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar with revitalized scrutiny. The tournament will be set against the backdrop of thousands of dead migrant workers who built the stadiums under conditions akin to slave labour. As co-host of the next World Cup, Canada is well-positioned to take a stand.

As the Roman poet Juvenal famously said: “Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.” Modern sports have become circuses, tools for despots and a means for the rich to get richer at the expense of the community. Their soulless nature saddens fans who want the teams they love to stand, more than mere machines of profit, as tangible representations of communal identity and spirit. Maybe this year’s World Cup is the perfect venue for a long overdue revolt.

agree that Canadian sports organizations and stakeholders could do a lot more to raise awareness of known human rights abuses by governments that host major sporting events.