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Issues in economic geography as it relates to Canada

10:30, Tuesday 9 May 2023 EDT (1 hour 30 minutes)

What regions are most at risk? A pilot study of the geography and potential employment impacts of automation in Canada

Sébastien Breau, McGill Geography and Yannick Marchand, McGill Geography

Recent advances in machine learning, mobile robotics and other artificial intelligence systems have generated much interest over how automation may impact labour markets. While such new technologies will lead to higher productivity and create more jobs in some sectors, concerns over the potential disruptive (or displacement) effects – where automation is seen as having negative impacts on jobs in other sectors – are also mounting. In Canada, there are now several studies estimating the risks faced by workers though these studies all focus on producing national-level estimates of the risks of automation. Consequently, we still know little about how such risks may vary spatially across the country which is surprising when considering the importance of differences in the occupational and industrial structures of regional labour markets. In this paper, we apply the occupation-based approach originally developed by Frey and Osbourne (2013, 2017) to the micro-data files from the 2016 Census and classify expected employment impacts as either low risk (occupations with less than a 30% probability of being automated), medium risk (30 to 70% risk of automation) or high risk (above the 70% threshold). Overall, we find that approximately 32% of employment in Canada is considered at high risk of automation. Using Census Divisions (n = 293) as our geographical unit of analysis, we find clusters of high risk regions mainly in the East, across the Maritime provinces and Quebec. Logistic regression models are also developed to explore some of the characteristics behind these high risk clusters as compared to other regions where the risk of automation is considered to be lower. 

Economic restructuring and plant closures in Ontario: Insights from media coverage

Jesse Sutton and Godwin Arku

Economic restructuring over the past several decades has had a profound effect on cities in advanced economies. One major challenge local economies are experiencing is plant closures. This issue has attracted extensive attention from scholars, policymakers, and media outlets. However, scholars have failed to examine media coverage of plant closures, which is surprising given that closures tend to be extensively covered by the media, providing important information. To fill this gap in the plant closure literature, this paper conducts a media analysis of 1,157 news articles on plant closures in Ontario, Canada over twenty-year period (2000 to 2019). The paper finds that the political economy theory of plant closures aptly captures the various internal and external factors and forces behind closures. It also finds that the impacts of plant closures are multi-scalar. The findings are highly relevant for other advanced economies experiencing industrial decline and economic restructuring.

Municipal composting in Montréal: A step towards a circular economy?

Georgina Morris and Nathan McClintock

An estimated one third of food produced globally is thrown away (Turner 2019: 773).  Growing anxieties surrounding food waste at individual and global scales are compounded by an emerging consciousness of humanity’s entangled future with and impact on the environment in the context of the Anthropocene, Capitalocene, and Plantationocene (Fredericks 2021; Hird 2016, 2021; Lorimer 2016; Resnick 2021; Turner 2019).  Governmental approaches at multiple scales present solutions to these phenomena, one of which is a move towards composting (Adhikari, Trémier and Barrington 2010; Ames and Cook 2020; Liboiron and Lepawksy 2022; Turner 2019).  In Canadian municipalities, organic waste governance is increasingly framed by popular “circular economy” discourses (DeLorenzo, Parizeau, and von Massow 2019), broadly defined (although its definition is contested) as “new business models aimed at increased efficiency of production and consumption and achieving a restorative and zero-waste economy by closing the loop” (Bassens and Lambert 2020: 893).

In the city of Montréal, a formalised organic waste collection and composting system was rolled out in 2015, responding to and adopting circular economy discourses (Calisto, Vermeulen, and Salomone 2020; DeLorenzo, Parizeau and von M.M. 2019; Lehtokunnas et al 2020).  In this research, we investigate such discourses in the governance of organic waste and their manifestations within the everyday governance relationships that citizens have with their food, asking the question: How does Montreal’s circular economy agenda for organic waste management resonate in the everyday governance relations that residents have with their food waste? 

Focus groups conducted with the residents of two Montreal neighbourhoods (Le Plateau and Notre-Dame-de-Grace) reveal several obstacles to the realization of the idealized “circular” composting system envisaged by the municipality and its institutions.  These barriers manifest in residents’ everyday relationships with their food waste and are structured by class, gender, animals, the vital materiality of compost, and its infrastructures.  Circular economy approaches to urban environmental governance must be examined critically, we will argue, by situating them socially, materially, and politically in everyday governance practices.  In concluding, we will consider what hope remains for the circular economy (Bassens, Keblowski, and Lambert 2020) in Montréal’s organic waste management.

Information asymmetry in rental markets: What landlords know but the rest of us don't

Mikael Brunila, Cloé St-Hilaire and David Wachsmuth

Rental markets are riddled by power and information asymmetries. On the one hand, landlords are leveraging new technologies to acquire and manage housing, screen and score tenants, and file evictions. On the other hand, tenants have to jump through city and corporate registry hoops to find ownership information, if any. While landlords have increasing access to databases about tenants, tenants themselves often do not know which other units a landlord owns, making collective organising challenging. The asymmetry in information access is not just an impediment to current housing markets, but actually their prerequisite; cementing the power of landlords, and threatening tenants’ right to housing.

In our paper, we scrape and combine datasets of property and business registries to show the concentration of power in rental markets in Montreal, a city known for its high percentage of renter households (63.6%). Peeling off the layers of ownership, we discover a market that is highly concentrated amongst small networks of corporate landlords. Using this data, we show what landlords know, but the rest of us do not, such as elaborate corporate networks and structuring strategies as well as the geography between corporate headquarters and rental unit ownership. We also include a feasibility analysis of our methodology by comparing data access in the 25 largest cities in North America, and 5 European cities.

Craft Brewing, Zoning and Adaptive Reuse in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Roger M. Picton (Ph. D)

Using the mid-sized Canadian city of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada as a case-study, this paper draws on zoning regulations, site visits, and semi-structured interviews to analyze how zoning regulations influence the structure and nature of the local craft beer scene.While a broad base of locational factors such walkability, neighbourhood caché, and place attachment are well-represented by the research on craft breweries, the impact of municipal zoning by-laws on the micro-geographies of craft brewing requires further attention. By examining in detail individual lot characteristics and building type preferences, this paper contributes to a larger debate on how adaptive reuse can contribute to more sustainable development practices.

Master of ceremonies
Western University
Trent University
Associate Professor
McGill University
Institut national de la recherche scientifique
Université de Waterloo
McGill University, Urban Planning and Governance Lab
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