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Samuel Duncan: Families should be the focus of post-COVID growth


In its last budget, the Ontario government quietly signalled that it will develop an long-term economic growth strategy as it looks towards rebounding from the short- and long-term impacts of COVID-19.

To date, the public policy focus has been on the underlying economic and social challenges that existed before the pandemic. It will be crucial in a post-pandemic world to think of economic policy not exclusively through the lens of the individual, but also through the most important social and economic institution that we have: the family.

The pandemic has forced Ontarians to re-examine the role of the family in our economic and social lives. The provincial government fought the minimize spread of COVID-19 by mandating that people to stay home through public health lockdowns and economic shutdowns. This has put families front and centre as the key institution that has sustained many of us. Parents took on additional roles as schools were shut down, workplaces closed, activities cancelled, and social visits banned. Siblings became best friends; grandparents and other family members have contributed childcare as schools and daycares were shuttered.

Broadly speaking, the family has been the only source of community and in-person social interaction for many of us over the past year.

Family is important at all ages and phases of life. A disproportionate number of those who lost jobs during the pandemic were younger workers, many of whom moved back with their parents to help them weather the economic storm or escape the isolation of small apartments or condos. Not to mention seniors who live with family — or alone with the support of family — who were fortunate not to be in long-term care facilities in the early days of the pandemic. The crisis exposed the often-neglected and fundamental place that family holds in our society.

Of course, family doesn’t come without its challenges.

Multi-generational homes risk transmitting COVID-19 to vulnerable members, such as seniors and those with comorbidities. The increased family time has placed stress on people in many households who (if fortunate enough to still have a job) had to juggle work, additional family responsibilities and a lot of time cooped up with significant others. Often it is mothers who bear the brunt of additional family responsibilities, which is why many have point out the significant economic impact COVID-19 is having on women.

But notwithstanding the challenges, stresses, and impacts on the family, for many who are disconnected from or do not have family, the isolation of the pandemic has been even harder.

“… families are part of the common good and society should want more
of them.”

Single mothers and fathers had to make the decision to go to work or look after their children while schools and daycares were closed, and unattached individuals dealt with isolation and alienation as they coped with lockdowns. The pandemic demonstrated the importance of the family’s role in social formation, but more importantly, showcased its resiliency in the way it sustained many of us through these lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.

Ontario policymakers should take a lesson from the increased role that the family has played in our lives and realize that a post-pandemic growth strategy cannot exclusively focus on maximizing individual economic gains, but must also emphasize ways to grow, strengthen and sustain families as economic and social units.

So how do we do this? The short answer is by encouraging more families and more children.

Raising a family is a hard thing to do: it requires sacrifice, perseverance, and a lot of patience. We need to recognize these challenges and look to make it a little bit easier to pursue these goals through better programming, incentives and a cultural recognition that supports and promotes the choice to get married and start a family.

A healthy and growing society should strive for higher marriage rates, higher birth rates and more people to help grow the economy. If we could begin increasing the birth rate it could eventually help us fill the growing labour and skills gaps and create new jobs and opportunities here in Ontario.

How might we reorient public policy towards these goals? We need to shift policymaking from exclusively relying on the individual as the basis of analysis and instead, where appropriate, look at how economic policy impacts the family unit.

The Ontario government could create a “family lens” that necessitates the government to look at how a specific policy proposal impacts the family. This would follow similar approaches that governments already use, such as a small-business lens or a gender-based analysis lens, which are common frames used by government officials in analyzing public policies and their differentiated impacts on different parts of the economy or society.

A family lens could be applied as a foundation of Ontario’s economic growth strategy with a target of increasing the formation of families and increasing the birth rate in the province. Broadly defined, this lens would examine the systemic ways that current public policy help or hinder family formation and support or deter higher birth rates, and ultimately correct for how policy analysis carried out through an individual lens can overlook important externalities.

It’s important to note that such an approach should not focus on one universal idea of the family, but rather recognize that families are part of the common good and society should want more of them – including the different forms they may take. Recognizing that families form the foundation of our economic and social lives in the policy-development process could help to ensure that economic growth and strong families become mutually reinforcing objectives.

Take housing affordability as an example.

One of the persistent challenges in Ontario has been housing affordability, specifically single-detached homes being out of reach for many middle-class Ontarians and a lack of supply of affordable family-sized apartment and condominiums. Before the government enacts a housing policy change, a zoning law adjustment or approves a development project, it should ask how this policy or development approval might influence family formation decisions including if it will lead to housing units that families would want to live in. Embedding the family at the centre of housing policy would force policymakers to better reflect the demand that exists for affordable family-friendly housing options.

Tackling the persistent and growing inequality in Ontario is another issue that would benefit from a family-centric approach.

There is evidence that the best way to avoid ending up in poverty is to follow what American researchers Wendy Wang and Brad Wilcox and have called the “success sequence.” This is the idea that there is an important sequence of life-shaping events that can alleviate poverty. First is to finish high school, second is to get a full-time job when you finish school and the third is to get married before you have children. Research by the Fraser Institute has demonstrated similar results with Canadian data.

If we could agree that the goal is family formation, we could orient our skills training and education programming accordingly. We could look to measure where high school graduation rates are weak and invest in strategies to improve these rates. We could provide real economic opportunities for those with only a high school education by increasing hands-on learning opportunities in secondary schools and investing more in our community college system. We might even try to boost marriage rates by introducing a tax credit that would allow for a portion of wedding expenses to be tax deductible.

We need new and innovative ideas if we are to grow our way out the fallout of COVID-19, and tackling economic growth by focusing on the family may generate new ideas and thinking that are needed at this moment.

We must not to forget the role family has played in our lives during COVID-19. We need to put it front and centre in Ontario’s post-pandemic policy agenda.

Geoff Costeloe: The future of finance is decentralized. Will Canada keep up?


For better or worse, few subjects have captured the attention of the financial world like Bitcoin.

With each wild price swing, those that believe in the digital currency and those that call it a bubble spar on financial networks like CNBC. The recent massive selloff will be no exception (Bitcoin is up more than 250% since this time last year even after factoring in recent declines). Despite its increasing acceptance by traditional markets as a novel asset class, Bitcoin is remains seen as a “party trick” asset: part speculative investment, part inflationary hedge.

But those headlines have continued to miss out on the seismic changes that blockchain technology is ushering into the financial space, challenging the hegemony of traditional brick and mortar banks. This revolution isn’t just on its way — it’s here. Regulators and tax authorities in Canada and around the world need to begin to educate themselves on the rapid development and reinvention occurring on blockchains other than Bitcoin.

The media’s endless fixation on the wild swings in price are missing the forest for the trees.

The Bitcoin network and it’s blockchain are largely restricted to the ability to do little more than securely send, receive and hold bitcoin. This is intentional as the development of the Bitcoin network has been an emphasis on security and decentralization.

The second largest digital asset, Ethereum, operates in a more dynamic way. Users can launch and utilize digital contracts on the network, allowing hundreds of people to bind themselves into financial and commercial contracts, enforceable without relying on lawyers, banks, regulators or central banks. Like many cryptocurrency projects, the first generation of these decentralized applications (DApps) was as silly as they were impactful.

Bitcoin remains seen by traditional finance as a novelty asset that will fade away and by government as only a tool for money launders.

Launching in 2017 from Vancouver based Dapper Labs, CryptoKitties was a collectable game where players could buy, sell, breed and trade unique digital cats. All of these transactions occurred on the Ethereum blockchain, meaning that once launched no individual, group, or corporation was truly in control of it. Ridiculous on its face, the DApp showed the potential to create global, scalable markets out of thin air and to have them operate 24/7 with little or no outside interference.

Since 2017, the scope of DApps has expanded and matured tremendously. Today, the largest DApps are primarily focused on financial products and the size of them is enough to rival mainstream, traditional financial institutions.

One of the largest examples is Aave. Founded in 2017 out of Switzerland, Aave allows users to deposit various digital assets into smart contract as collateral for U.S. dollar pegged “stablecoin” loans. The smart contract dictates the loan/value ratio and interest owing on a per second basis. To have the original collateral released, the user must return to the smart contract the borrowed U.S. dollar stablecoin, plus (variable) interest.

Simultaneously, Aave allows users to deposit their digital assets to a separate contract and earn per second interest on those deposits. With no lock-up periods, the user can remove their deposited funds, plus interest on demand. The borrowing and lending interest rates for assets are correlated in such a way to ensure that interest paid on deposits is always equal to or less than the interest received by the lending.

All the above is done without any agents, sales, margins, or overhead 24 hours a day, seven days a week with no downtime. Crucially, the whole process is agnostic to the size of borrowed or lent amounts. There is no difference in user experience, interest, or fees if you are borrowing $100 or $10 million. The only cost to the user is a “gas fee” required by the network to access and operate the smart contract.

As of writing, Aave currently has $7.89 billion U.S. dollars worth of digital assets locked as collateral in its smart contracts. Aave is one of dozens of new financial players completely reinventing financial markets and collateralized loans.

Another major player is Uniswap. Uniswap is a fully decentralized exchange (DEX), allowing users to exchange one digital asset for another. Unlike a traditional exchange that uses an orderbook to match buyers and sellers of a specific security, Uniswap is an automated liquidity protocol. Any user can create a market by depositing a pair of assets (in equal USD amounts) into a liquidity pool. When other users want to exchange that pair of digital tokens, they complete that exchange using the pair of tokens in the liquidity pool. Users who are providing liquidity are paid a 0.3 percent fee for each exchange, which is divided proportionally amongst the liquidity providers. If the balance of a pair of assets deviates from the original 1:1 proportion, arbitrageurs are incentivized to profit from bringing the pool back to 1:1.

Just like Aave, this provides an invaluable service to digital asset traders. Those who have assets they are not using can be paid to provide liquidity to a paired pool (and withdraw whenever the want) and market gains increased efficiency between different tokens, eliminating barrier to access.

For the week ending April 20, 2021, Uniswap exchanged $10 billion USD that week. As with Aave, this market is available worldwide, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The growth of the DeFi market can tracked live on DeFi Pulse, which currently shows a total locked value across all markets of $27.2 billion.

A man uses an Ethereum ATM next to a Bitcoin ATM in Hong Kong. Kin Cheung/AP Photo.

The Ethereum network is similarly decentralized to the Bitcoin network (but in some technically different ways) and with a network upgrade projected to land at the end of 2021, the Ethereum network will eliminate the use of hardware mining to reduce its environmental impact by approximately 95%.

The promise of these new Decentralized Finance (DeFi) players is a truly global, liquid, and efficient financial system, with low fees, no overhead and no barrier to access. The World Bank estimates that 1.7 billion people worldwide remain unbanked, forced to store their wealth in cash or other physical assets, making them vulnerable to theft or government confiscation.

Digital assets offer not just a way to store their wealth securely, but equal access to a global financial system including access to capital markets they can use to start businesses and grow their quality of life. Individuals living in nations like Denmark with negative interest rates can take advantage of that and instantaneously lend their ‘free’ money to farmers in India or Pakistan with no secure access to financing.

Ethereum is laying down the internet of finance, allowing anyone globally to access markets and capital. An entrepreneurial developer can build new and more efficient ways for people to come together and see their financial needs met.

So, with all this growth and promise, where are our regulators and tax authorities? Nowhere to be seen. Does any government, provincial or federal, have a serious plan to face this financial upheaval? Can we encourage our own entrepreneurs, businesses and non-profits to find ways to become leaders in this emerging ecosystem?

It would seem the answer is no. Bitcoin and cryptocurrency remains seen by traditional finance as a novelty asset that will fade away and by government as only a tool for money launders. The implications of these new technologies are either not understood by our politicians and regulators or are being ignored in the hopes that they will simply disappear.

In a way, this isn’t surprising. Traditional institutions are loath to recognize upstart challengers to their hegemony. Decentralized finance offers lower cost, more efficient, more liquid access to global markets at a speed that traditional institutions cannot match. If they don’t start to adapt to this new world, taxpayers will be left on the hook for the inevitable bailout.

We’ve seen exactly this before. In 1995, Clifford Stoll declared in Newsweek that “no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.”

Newsweek ran its last independent print issue on December 31, 2012.