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Confronting COVID-19

Elders host virtual knowledge-sharing sessions

In response to pandemic, campus community heads online to explore Indigenous ways of knowing.

Drum (by Bernard Clark)
Sessions are led by Elder-in-residence Wendy Phillips and Cultural Advisor Allen Doxtator. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

Over 100 members of the campus community joined Queen’s Elders-in-residence for the first of a series of Online Indigenous Ways of Knowing Sessions. Organized by the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, the virtual meetings continue efforts to further integrate Indigenous knowledge into the work being done across the university. The first in the series served as an opportunity for participants to meet the Elders and share topics of interest for future sessions.

“These sessions can be a wonderful way for us to create cultural awareness and build relationships, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Wendy Phillips, Elder in Residence with Queen’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives. “Among many Indigenous communities there is often skepticism about technology’s role in traditional knowledge-sharing, as the more spiritual aspects can feel excluded without physical presence of a group. That said, the interest in our first remote meeting was so strong, I’m encouraged that we will reach many more people with these important conversations.”

Phillips co-facilitated the session alongside Cultural Advisor Allen Doxtator. Together they outlined the office’s work and sought input from attendees about what areas of Indigenous knowledge could best advance the university’s 2017 Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force final report recommendations.

Participants expressed keen interest in how Elders and Knowledge Keepers are identified within Indigenous communities and the pathways to taking on these roles and inquired about tips to advance Indigenous inclusion on campus, especially when hiring faculty and staff.

“Though our virtual sessions were created out of necessity for physical distancing, I am very encouraged by the interest in this discussion format,” says Kanonhsyonne (Janice Hill), Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation). “Campus community members are driven to learn more about Indigenous ways of knowing and the online space we’ve created provides the safety and accessibility for people to explore these topics with us. For Indigenous allies it is a particularly helpful opportunity to hear new perspectives, network, and deepen understanding.”

The next Online Indigenous Ways of Knowing Session is set for Friday, May 8, 2020, from at 11 am to 12 pm ET. For more information and to register for the discussion, visit Eventbrite and use your Queen’s email to sign up.

A quick economic recovery is unlikely

As countries get ready to re-open their economies, history and current economic models suggest those looking for a quick rebound will be disappointed.

A man floolws the stock market with a phone and computer.
Economists are using models to try to determine what short- and long-term impacts the coronavirus pandemic will have on the global economy. (Unsplash / Jason Briscoe)

Predictions about the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the world’s economy arrive almost daily. How can we make sense of them in the midst of this economic storm? After all, research shows that economic forecasts made during events such as SARS are often wildly inaccurate.

To calibrate current forecasts — such as the International Monetary Fund’s prediction of a 6.2 per cent decline in Gross Domestic Product for Canada — I’ve looked at the history of similar worldwide economic shocks, studied macroeconomics models and reviewed nearly 75 studies to better understand what might happen in a post-pandemic world.

The economic effects of 1918-20 flu

The influenza outbreak of 1918-20 killed at least 40 million people, or approximately two per cent of the world’s population. In Canada alone, at least 50,000 deaths were attributed to the flu, approaching the number of Canadian deaths in the First World War. Solid data about GDP did not exist for that era, so economic historians have to recreate economic measurements based on the data that was collected.

The most thorough study focuses on how the influenza pandemic 100 years ago affected Sweden. The Swedish study took advantage of the fact that the country kept very detailed data on causes of death, as well as having a history of accurate economic record-keeping dating back to the 1800s.

Sweden was a neutral country in the First World War, so unlike other Western nations, the war had limited impact on the country’s economy. The fatality rate from the flu in Sweden was comparable to most Western nations and its economy was similar to other developed countries.

The study of Sweden’s flu experience a century ago suggests there could be permanent negative long-term economic effects from the current pandemic. There was a decline in income from capital sources such as interest, dividends and rents of five per cent that lasted at least until 1929. This was a permanent decline not recovered once the flu pandemic passed.

Swedish poor never recovered

There was also an increase in absolute poverty for those Swedes at the bottom of the economic pyramid: enrolment in government-run “poorhouses” in higher flu-incidence regions jumped 11 per cent and did not decline over the next decade. There was some good news: while employment income was reduced during the crisis, it quickly rebounded to predicted normal levels.

A recent study attempts to measure the effects of the influenza on 1918-21 GDP. Harvard economist Robert Barro and his colleagues painstakingly put together a set of economic data that attempts to recreate what GDP in 42 countries would have been.

They have found that the flu was responsible for an additional six per cent decline in global GDP. The study concludes that the effects were reversed by 1921. This estimate of the flu’s historical GDP effects is strikingly similar to the IMF’s current prediction of six per cent reduction in GDP for Western economies as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Modelling economic effects of a pandemic

Beyond economic history, we can look at macroeconomic models of the global, regional or national economies that run scenarios about pandemic economic shocks.

One scenario by British economists and health science academics is particularly apt in light of COVID-19.

Their scenario models virus incidence and fatality rates close to the current best estimates and includes strong and early social distancing measures such as school closures and work-from-home arrangements that we see today in many countries fighting the pandemic.

Their model estimates a 21 per cent decline in U.K. GDP in the first full quarter of the pandemic, with a 4.45 per cent decline in GDP for first year. The model also suggests the time frame to economic recovery is about two years. The current IMF projection for the U.K. is a 6.5 per cent decline in annual GDP.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 is a major shock to the global economy. Across all the studies I reviewed, the conclusion of a significant decline in GDP in the order of 4.5 to six per cent with full recovery within two years seems to be well justified.

The economic history of the influenza pandemic 100 years ago suggests early easing of social distancing measures and the inability to develop an effective vaccine contributed to second and third flu waves. These waves might have greater effects on the modern service-based economy of Western nations than they did on the more agrarian economy of 100 years ago.

Economic history serves as a potential warning that the economy could get much worse if these measures are ignored.

It’s important to remember that GDP is a marker of a nation’s overall economic health. On an individual level, the effects may be more far-reaching and painful. There are financial and professional losses that may never be recovered.

The 1918-20 flu offers an important history lesson for the world’s current economic outlook: there may be significant declines in the returns to capital in the next decade, as well as relative increases in poverty for the neediest in our society.The Conversation


Steven E. Salterio, Stephen JR Smith Chair of Accounting and Auditng, Professor of Business, Smith School of Business, Queen's University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Principal’s update on planning for Fall 2020

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane on how Queen’s is preparing for a variety of scenarios for the coming academic year.

Gran Hall seen from above

With the 2019-2020 academic year wrapping up, the Queen’s University community is giving its full attention to the coming year and to the question of how we will provide our students with the same outstanding experience that for 179 years has defined our institution. What impact the COVID-19 pandemic will still be having on life in our city and province this fall is impossible to predict with certainty, so we are having to make decisions to prepare for a variety of scenarios. This is of course a challenging and complex situation, with September more than four months away and so much unknown.

One thing we do know for certain is that Queen’s will welcome new and returning students this fall with the same eagerness and excitement as in any other year. We will be open, but how “normal” life at Queen’s will be will depend on the best advice available from public health authorities to ensure that students enjoy stable, safe and stimulating conditions for their studies. It is certainly our hope that students will be on campus, but we are also preparing for the possibility of remote delivery should physical distancing still be required and significant concentrations of people be prohibited.

Whether such restrictions will be less or more severe is impossible to say at present. As I announced just a few weeks ago, we have teams of staff, faculty and students hard at work reviewing all the possible ways we might operate in the fall. They are committed to ensuring that whatever limits may be placed on our physical presence, the vitality of the community experience and the excellence of a Queen’s education are not compromised. What has drawn generations of students to Queen’s, and what has nourished and stimulated them while they were here, will be available to students this fall, regardless of the ways in which we might be forced to adapt to COVID-19. 

In the weeks and months ahead we will learn more, and as we do so we will take care to provide timely and clear information on the various decisions that we know will have to be made. Because academic programs vary widely in their needs, and because the conditions of learning and research differ across faculties and other units, aspects of course delivery will inevitably diverge across the institution. For that reason, it is the faculties that will increasingly be sources of information and guidance as we gain clarity on the implications of COVID-19 for our fall operations. It is too early yet to make final decisions, but I can commit to you that our goal will always be the full return of our students, staff and faculty. But if we are to be realistic, this is likely to be achieved in stages as we see public health restrictions being lifted. 

I am sure everyone understands how difficult it is to make these decisions in a context that is extremely changeable. The best I can do is promise to keep everyone — students returning, students arriving, staff and faculty — properly informed of the situation in which Queen’s will continue to pursue its distinguished mission.

Patrick Deane

Philanthropists back ventilator project led by Queen's Nobel Laureate

Canadian donors are supporting Professor Emeritus Art McDonald as he leads the development of a ventilator that could help people affected by COVID-19.

The team's ventilator design.
The team's ventilator unit design. (Photo by Mechanical Ventilator Milano)

Philanthropists from across the country are rallying to support a team of Canadian physicists and engineers who are part of an international initiative to create an easy-to-build ventilator that can help treat COVID-19 patients.

These efforts, led in Canada by Arthur B. McDonald, an emeritus professor at Queen’s University and the co-recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics, are harnessing the talents of physicists who would normally be spending their time trying to solve the mysteries of dark matter. Since both tasks depend on the precise regulation of gas flow, Dr. McDonald and the project founder, Dr. Cristiano Galbiati in Italy, felt their fellow astroparticle physicists were perfectly positioned to help build up the world’s ventilator supply. In Canada, Dr. McDonald got instant and continuing participation from the lab directors and teams at TRIUMF Laboratory, Canadian Nuclear Laboratories at Chalk River, SNOLAB, and the McDonald Institute.

The collaboration, now called the MVM Ventilator project, has gained national attention — including a strong statement of support from Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and from federal innovation, supply, and regulatory agencies.

This work at such a difficult time for the world has captured the imagination of a dozen Canadian philanthropists who have stepped forward to support the project financially with donations through Queen’s University to the Dr. Art McDonald Ventilator Research Fund.

Pictou, Nova Scotia-based Donald Sobey, a Queen’s alumnus and the chair emeritus of Empire Company Limited, was one of the first philanthropists to support the initiative, making his donation less than 24 hours after receiving an early Easter morning call from fellow Nova Scotian Dr. McDonald.

“Dr. McDonald’s leadership and brilliance in developing a Canadian solution to the global ventilator shortage during the COVID-19 pandemic is inspiring,” says Sobey. “He is one of the leading scientific minds in the world, and a source of pride for all Canadians. But when we spoke on Easter morning about the urgent issues facing his project, I was compelled by the voice of a true humanitarian.”

Other Canadian philanthropists share Sobey’s enthusiasm for the project. Supporters of now include the Lazaridis Family Foundation, The Garrett Family Foundation, Josh Felker, Dan Robichaud, Patricia Saputo, Peter Nicholson, Salvatore Guerrera, and Nicola Tedeschi, as well as four anonymous donors.

Dr. McDonald extends his thanks for this valuable support.

“The very generous donations by Donald Sobey and the other philanthropists have been crucial for us to maintain our research at a very critical time in the project," he says. "I have been amazed and extremely grateful for their very timely support, as it has enabled our team to push past obstacles towards our goal of producing large numbers of cost-effective ventilators with strong capability for saving lives.”

The MVM Ventilator project is proceeding well toward its goal through successful testing of the ventilator in Italy, Canada, and the US for certification, guided by medical experts. The collaboration team is working with manufacturers who are capable of production at rates up to 1000 per week in the near future. In Canada, the production companies will be Vexos in Markham, Ontario and JMP Solutions in London, Ontario. The development work is published openly and is being carried out with an open source licensing concept, enabling companies around the world to manufacture this design to help with shortages in other countries.

“We are thrilled that so many Canadian philanthropists have been inspired to contribute to the ventilator project,” says Karen Bertrand, Queen’s Vice-Principal (Advancement). “Their generosity is ensuring that more ventilators get in the hands of health-care professionals, and more people receive the treatment they need. This is a graphic illustration of the impact that both research and philanthropy can have on our world.”

For more information, visit the Queen’s research website.

Taking exams from anywhere

Queen’s found innovative ways to deliver over 400 exams remotely to finish the term.

Photo of a person working on a laptop
Instructors experimented with a variety of platforms to deliver exams remotely.

With the move to remote instruction in March, instructors across Queen’s worked quickly to find innovative ways to complete their courses without being able to gather in classrooms. Then after the final day of classes, faculty and staff had to move on to another challenge: holding over 400 exams remotely. To offer exams during this unprecedented situation, instructors at Queen’s utilized several digital platforms and worked hard to address student needs.

“Across the university, faculties, programs, and instructors all experimented with various digital platforms and methods to proctor their exams. Staff and faculty have been doing everything that they can to make sure that students can finish their courses and programs successfully. While the majority of remote exams went smoothly, we very much appreciate the patience our students showed as we worked through this unique situation,” says John Pierce, Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning).

Remote exam platforms

Instructors experimented with several platforms for remote exams. One of the more common ones turned to was Examity, which several faculties have used successfully for years. While most remote exams occurred without incident, there were a few instances in which problems occurred. In those cases, instructors worked with the students effected to provide an alternative to allow for a fair evaluation and grade assessment.

“The university continues to review the use of technologies such as Examity for their use now and in the future. Queen’s is dedicated to increasing the support for these essential tools, especially in light of the unprecedented need to enable remote instruction and learning,” says Pierce.

Mitigating student stress

Recognizing the unique stresses that the pandemic has placed on students, Queen’s has moved to mitigate student stress where possible. To this end, the university put in place options to drop courses without penalty before final marks are submitted and also to choose a Pass rather than a letter grade for a final mark, even after students have seen what their grade would be.

“We know these are unique and challenging times, and the university is committed to doing all it can to support our students and their academic success,” says Pierce.

For students who are experiencing high levels of stress, Student Wellness Services (SWS) offers different support options. To stay up to date with all services, visit the SWS website.

The SWS website also includes links to other phone and online mental health services available to students – such as the text support offered by Good2Talk, Therapy Assistance Online (TAO), self-directed help, and 24/7 crisis support options.

Searching for a job during the pandemic

Career Services launches new resource to help students during COVID-19.

Photo of Gordon Hall
Career Services has created a new online hub to connect students with resources that will help them search for a job or work remotely.

Queen’s students and new graduates are among those who may be facing disruption to their current jobs or employment plans due to the global Coronavirus pandemic.

Career Services in the Division of Student Affairs is responding to help students and grads navigate the new job market landscape with the creation of a new online hub that includes advice, resources, and opportunities.

“Students wear many hats,” says Cathy Keates, Director of Career Services and Experiential Learning. “In addition to being students, many are also staff, some here at Queen’s or with other employers. And many who are not currently employed are looking for new opportunities for this summer. We want to make it easy for students and new graduates to find support for their career and job search situations.”

Online career resources

In the new hub, student can access information about:

  • remote job search strategies
  • making big career decisions
  • summer professional development opportunities, including courses at Queen’s and tips for working remotely
  • financial supports

The site also connects students to remote drop-in career counselling via Skype, and remote career development workshops.

“Even though the economic situation is changing rapidly, and some types of work are negatively impacted, there are still opportunities,” says Kyllie Jansen, Events and Employer Development Coordinator. “There are employers posting new positions to our job board every day.”

Workshops on job search strategies

New workshops now being offered include career development and job search strategy during a global pandemic.

“I attended a Career Services workshop on how to navigate the job market during COVID-19.” says John Deidous, PhD Candidate of Sociocultural Studies of Sport, Health & the Body in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies. “This has greatly helped me in how I organize my resume and how I apply for jobs. I was able to narrow my focus, be more efficient, and less stressed in my job search.”

Visit Career Services new web resource Student and New Graduate Employment during COVID 19 for more information.

Hungry to help healthcare workers

A conversation between two Queen's alumni inspires Grocery Hero, an online platform that is helping to feed healthcare workers across Canada.

Matthew Lombardi
Matthew Lombardi (Artsci’10) worked with a team to develop Grocery Hero, volunteer online food-delivery program.

What started out as a conversation between two Queen’s alumni is turning into a volunteer food-delivery program that is helping frontline healthcare workers across the country.

Matthew Lombardi (Artsci’10), a management consultant in Toronto, learned from his friend and emergency room doctor Jon Gravel (Artsci’09), that it has been difficult for many health-care workers to get groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are working long hours, food delivery services are swamped, and many healthcare professionals are avoiding going inside grocery stores because they don’t want to risk exposing the public to the virus.

The discussion sparked an idea, so Lombardi got together with four friends and Grocery Hero was born. The online platform matches volunteers who will go to the store and pick up groceries for overworked healthcare workers in their neighbourhood. The medical workers pay for the food, and the volunteers provide their time.

Successful launch

Grocery Hero, which launched at the end of March, saw 500 people sign up on the first day. Grocery Hero was originally intended to only serve the Toronto area, but Lombardi and his co-founders immediately received email requests from people across Canada. Within 24 hours, the site was retooled to go national. After only two weeks, Grocery Hero has more than 3,800 volunteers across nine provinces. It has matched 850 health-care professionals with nearby volunteer shoppers, with more than 70 per cent of the matches between people who live less than one kilometre apart.

Grocery Hero was built by a team of non-engineers using free online tools and only cost a total of $50.

Lombardi says the reaction has been incredible. He’s heard from medical workers who are grateful they can focus on fighting COVID-19 and from volunteers who are happy to have a way to help.

“We stumbled upon an incredibly simple solution,” says Lombardi. “We are solving a problem for medical workers, and simultaneously providing people a meaningful way to help. It has really resonated with people. Why not pick up some extra groceries for your neighbour, who might be a nurse or a paramedic, the next time you are out shopping?”

Visit the Grocery Hero website to learn more.

This article was first published on the Queen's Alumni website.

Time to work on your company’s reset strategy

With the reopening of the economy on the horizon, companies must be ready to emerge from the crisis and seize their opportunities.

Reset button
Even though there is no solid timeline on reopening the economy, companies should plan ahead.

Some provinces and states have announced preliminary plans to ease restrictions and reopen their economies. While we may not all agree on when this should happen, at least from a business perspective it is good news. Regardless of when “reset” gets pressed in your organization, now is the time to determine what your next steps will look like. Don’t wait for permission before you start planning.

Politicians are using terms like “gradual”, “measured” and “safe” to describe their approach to removing coronavirus restrictions. Such language, we can anticipate, will have a number of operational implications. Conditions could include: 

  • Gatherings and groups larger than 30 (or pick a number) will remain prohibited, including crowds at sporting events, concerts and festivals.
  • Restaurants, salons and barbers may open to half of normal capacity, keeping in mind the above restriction on crowd sizes.
  • Stores will open, but with restrictions on the number of people permitted entry at one time.
  • Airlines, trains, buses and other transit may require passengers to wear masks (such restrictions already exist in some cases), while operating half-full or at partial capacity.

The sudden swell in activity may also lead to shortages as supply chains restart. Anticipate continued limits to masks and cleaning supplies, some food products and other materials. That retailers and others have done as well as they have managing inventories over the past two months without significant shortages is remarkable. It is a testament to preparation and crisis-management planning.

In the meantime, remember my colleague John Moore’s favourite line, that “cash is king”. Can you renegotiate your lease or find a less expensive or smaller footprint? Do you have inventory you can clear out? Consider a shoe retailer that has been deeply discounting its existing inventory by 50 per cent or more. This may result in some customers “buying ahead” and therefore not needing shoes later. The upside for the shoe retailer, however, is that it’s freeing up cash. Plus, people are buying shoes from this store now, rather than from another retailer later on.

All phasers on reset

With all that in mind, what might Reset Phase One look like for your organization? Think about what your processes will look like with a limited work crew. After all, you may not be able to afford to bring everyone back. Or the crowd-size restrictions noted above may limit your number of employees. If you are limited in the number of customers you can permit entry, can you speed processes up without significantly diminishing service, and thus optimize sales? I don’t think people will want to linger in the near term regardless, so they may appreciate the faster service.  

Consider the breadth of your offering as well. McDonald’s and Tim Hortons have shrunk their menus for takeout purposes during the pandemic (long overdue, people have heard me argue). What would your menu or service offering look like if you cut it in half? Look at your historical data showing what people buy most of and most often. Ask yourself, will we continue to have access to the materials and supplies necessary for that refined menu?

Retailers may also open by department, rather than the whole store. A home improvement store might start with the garden centre, patio furniture and outdoor building supplies. Other goods will remain available through a quickly improving online order and pickup system.

University semesters are essentially wrapped up at this point, with the spring/summer semester starting in May, and continuing a distance education model through the summer. Public schools, however, may consider bringing students back in alternating half-sized groups for the final month of classes. This would certainly be complicated. But it would give educators the opportunity to focus on some of their most important content for a short period, provide parents a break at home, and offer a huge morale boost for students getting to wrap up the year in person.

Some questions and thought starters as you map out Phase One of your comeback: 

  • Who will our first customers be? Will we focus on our historical “best” customers or members-only in certain operations? Or do we allow pent-up demand and marketing efforts to draw the general public?
  • Would a “welcome back” event be meaningful for people who have supported us in the past, and allow us to warm up through a soft opening?
  • Which employees will we call back first, given the customers or product line we want to focus on first?
  • Do we have inventory or access to the right supplies for that initial market?
  • Are our processes designed to support the Phase One opening?

Opportunity knocks

Individually, a crisis often provides opportunities to press “reset” in our careers as well. The pandemic may have emphasized the need to accelerate a plan we have had already, or highlighted a problem we didn’t know we had.

Challenges and needs have emerged in all operations, and organization may not have the expertise or resources to fill those needs. A friend and former teammate, John McDougall, used to say to me, ‘Give me your biggest problem!’  I often did, and he delivered, even when it was outside his role. Speak up and step up — there are some huge opportunities out there right now.

Crises create gaps and voids within organizations and the market as a whole. Those who fill those gaps will position themselves for growth and perhaps redefine that space. 

This article was first published by Smith Business Insight.


Barry Cross is an assistant professor and Distinguished Faculty Fellow of Operations Strategy at Smith School of Business and bestselling author of Simple: Killing Complexity for a Lean and Agile Organization.

Emergency funding for students

Queen’s University has provided $2.18 million and counting in bursaries in response to COVID-19.

Looking south on University Avenue from Union Street
During the period of March 16-April 27 Queen’s University has provided $2.18 million in emergency bursary funding to undergraduate and graduate students as part of its response to COVID-19. (University Communications)

As part of its ongoing response to COVID-19, Queen’s University has provided $2.18 million in emergency bursary funding to undergraduate and graduate students from March 16, 2020 to April 27, 2020. The assistance is designed to help with some of the financial challenges posed by the pandemic.

“The strength of the Queen’s student experience is rooted in our sense of community and the support it can provide,” says Ann Tierney, Vice-Provost and Dean of Student Affairs. “As the world continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19, we recognize that many students have short-term, unexpected financial needs, and through this effort we hope to help ease some of their financial pressures.”

Though not intended to cover long-term expenses for students, this supplemental bursary assistance offers some relief for those encountering extenuating and unplanned financial burdens because of the outbreak, such as the loss of employment income or unexpected medical expenses not covered by students’ health plans. 

Alumni, friends of Queen’s, faculty, staff and students have been demonstrating their generosity and making contributions towards the COVID-19 Emergency Student Fund. These gifts have made a real difference in students’ lives.

Students who are eligible for the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) have also qualified for Queen’s bursary assistance. On April 22, the federal government announced several new measures to support postsecondary students, such as the Canada Emergency Student Benefit that will provide support to students and new graduates who are not eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

As we prepare for the 2020-21 academic year and move into the summer and fall terms, the university will continue to explore tailored solutions to help those who continue to feel the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

Aid for international graduate students

International students a number of obstacles to overcome as a result of COVID-19, including travel barriers and barriers to employment. In response, all international graduate students who previously applied for a Queen’s General Bursary and demonstrated unmet need have received a $1,500 emergency bursary.

“Our international graduate students face particular challenges, and we are committed to helping them through this uncertain period,” says Tierney.

International graduate students are also encouraged to contact their embassies, as their home countries may have established assistance programs as well.

For information and to apply for COVID-19 emergency bursary assistance, visit the Queen’s Financial Aid website. In addition to financial assistance, students can access other supports, including the Queen’s University International Centre, Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre, Student Academic Success Services, the Office of the Vice-Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies, and their department and faculty offices. To learn more about these services and to reach out, visit the Student Affairs COVID-19 information website.

Will coronavirus help or hinder women’s candidacies?

The Conversation: COVID-19 has the potential to shock the system, upending or reinforcing existing gender imbalances in political power.

Parliament Hill with a blue sky
Only 29 per cent of Canada's Members of Parliament are women. (Unsplash / Erik McLean)

Women’s leadership has drawn a lot of praise during the COVID-19 crisis, including for politicians like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and chief medical officers Theresa Tam and Bonnie Henry.

The Conversation logoThere has also been quick acceptance that women’s perspectives must shape the crisis response. Attention to issues like domestic violence, which is increasing during the pandemic, is a good example. Longer term, however, what effect will the crisis have on women’s political power? Will the pool of women candidates and leaders swell or contract in coming years?

Women make up only 25 per cent of legislators worldwide, and only 29 per cent in Canada’s House of Commons. The chief obstacle for women attaining political office is recruitment and nomination, not general election. Women are less likely than men to seek candidacy, and parties are less likely to recruit and nominate women than men, including to winnable districts.

Political recruitment requires time, money and professional networks. Economic status and social hierarchy affect the decision to run for office.

Women have fewer resources

Women run less often because they have fewer of these resources, and early data on COVID-19’s effects suggest those inequities will widen. Statistics Canada’s March jobs report, for example, shows that Canadian women suffered greater job losses than men since the pandemic started, and not only in the service industry, but also in the hard-hit insurance, real estate and finance sectors.

Among core workers aged 25 to 54 years, women account for 70 per cent of job losses. Government income supports will help compensate, but concern about women’s economic well-being and future career trajectories is warranted.

For women who have retained employment, they too face pandemic pressures. With schools and day-care centres closed, many parents now find themselves engaged heavily in child care and home-schooling, and also care responsibilities for relatives, friends and neighbours. Women shoulder a disproportionate share of all these tasks.

In Canada, the 2015 General Social Survey (GSS) shows that women spent 47 per cent more time per day on housework than men did (2.8 hours versus men’s 1.9 hours), 64 per cent more time on routine child-care tasks (2.3 versus 1.4 hours), and 70 per cent more time per day on caring for other adults (1.7 versus 1 hour).

A women holds several cleaning products in her arms
Women still spend a lot more time on housework than men. (Unsplash / Kelly Sikkema)

Detailed time-use data was not collected in the 2018 General Social Survey, but it is unlikely that these patterns changed dramatically in three years, and certainly not enough to close care gaps.

As the care demands increase during COVID-19, therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that women are the essential front line in many households.

Career paths interrupted

Care for home and children can be a rewarding part of life for many men and women. But the danger now is that inequitable care patterns established long before the crisis are likely to have dramatic consequences. These include substantial interruptions in women’s career achievement and diminished time and energy for political engagement. This consequently will contribute to even greater gaps in the supply of qualified and eager women candidates post-pandemic.

On the other hand, maybe things will be better for women candidates after the pandemic. Perhaps flexible work arrangements will persist, allowing more women to combine care-taking and career ambitions, including political careers.

Legislatures could become more flexible workplaces, allowing remote sittings and voting, for example, as recommended by the Good Parliament Report, a blueprint for a more representative British parliament by gender and politics professor Sarah Childs.

While complex, such reforms might make politics more attractive to women, especially in large countries like Canada, where many MPs must travel thousands of kilometres between their constituencies and Parliament Hill. Greater workplace flexibility would also allow women MPs to breastfeed longer if they choose, and recover more fully post-birth, while still serving their constituents and fulfilling parliamentary duties.

In the home, the COVID-19 crisis may have put some men into primary caretaker roles if they’ve been laid off and their partners have not, which may accelerate the erosion of gendered norms about the household division of labour.

More involved fathers post-pandemic?

Studies of the effects of paternity/parental leave on fathers suggest that caretaking norms and behaviours can shift rapidly. Men who take parental leave are more likely to be involved with the care of their children further down the road.

The effect is found in countries around the world, and is not simply a product of pre-birth childcaring commitment, socioeconomic status and other drivers of involvement — it appears to be an independent effect of men taking parental leave.

Households where men have experienced primary or equitably shared care for a child end up being more equitable environments with greater continued sharing of care later too. The same outcome may prevail as a result of COVID-19 child care and home schooling.

Whatever the eventual impact on women’s candidacies post-pandemic, COVID-19 has the potential to shock the system, upending or reinforcing existing gender imbalances in political power.The Conversation


Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, Associate Professor, Political Studies; Director, Canadian Opinion Research Archive, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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