Category Archives: COVID-19

Designing Awesome Online Conferences

As an online conference organizer you have an awesome opportunity to create something far better than what we are accustomed to in the physical world.

The sudden rush to digital due to COVID-19 has made video meetings an anywhere, anytime reality for many in the arts and culture sector, and beyond. From online staff meetings to live performances delivered digitally, one-to-one and one-to-many video conferencing has proven its ability to keep us connected, keep us working together and keep moving forward.

Early in the pandemic response in March 2020 we saw quick pivots toward digital events and conferences. They made clear: event organizers, hosts and speakers – many relative newcomers to these digital spaces – needed to make the leap toward digital engagement, learning and interaction.

The bottom line is: your digital conference or online event has real costs, requires different skills to produce and host well, and you have to figure out how to raise the revenue you need to make it sustainable.

Through Future Perfect, we have been researching and evolving a strong framework for a new breed of digital conferences which are more engaging, more accessible, more affordable, and minimize the digital divide that impedes communities with less access to high-speed internet from participating fully online.

PDF SERIES for download: How to design and deliver awesome digital experiences

  1. Fundamentals of Great Online Conferences: A Practitioner’s Perspective on Design and Technology
  2. Online Conferences Thrive on Attendees’ Participation: From ‘Attendee’ to ‘Participant’ in 7 steps
  3. Accessibility and Inclusion: Creating Better Online Conference Experiences for More People More Often
  4. Financial Considerations of Online Conferences: Cost Drivers and Revenue Streams
  5. Online Conferences: Essential Tips for Speakers Or How to Achieve True Participation and Learning Online

Webpages with this same content

The BC Museums Association and Heritage BC have embarked together on Future Perfect, an initiative funded by the Canada Council for the Arts’ Digital Strategy Fund. Led by Inga Petri, Strategic Moves with invaluable support from Lynn Feasey, Points North Consulting, and Jason Guille, Stream Of Consciousness and Felicity Buckell.

Interview about Digital Innovation in the age of COVID-19

As part of Yukon Innovation Week, Kari Johnston interviewed Inga Petri about her work in arts & culture in the digital world. I discuss my mission to help artists and arts & culture organizations use digital technologies in profound and new ways and build successful digital business models. It’s not about merely building a website, but about leveraging the latest web technologies and ways in which web 3.0 works to secure viable spaces for artistic and cultural expression and experiences.

Part of Yukon Entrepreneur Podcast Series

Yukon Innovation Week 2020

Friday, Nov 20, 2020 from 3 pm to 4:30 on Zoom. Register now.

Imagine: Yukon’s awesome, global digital presence

This session is designed as a bold conversation where current limitations are cast aside and we imagine a world of our own making.

Imagine

People around the world are flocking to the Yukon: for fun, entertainment, cultural experiences, our multi-facetted histories, outdoor experiences, guided tours, culinary extravaganzas, unique Northern products. And they are doing that online right now.

Let’s talk

How can we build a true Yukon digital platform to put our collective foot forward to the vast online population?

What would Yukoners and Yukon businesses have to build together to achieve such an awesome, global online presence? What kinds of content would we need to have? What kinds of digital technologies would we use to create awesome digital experiences? And what kind of visionary web presence would we create to be a global online force?

How do we develop a business model that returns the revenue generated to Yukoners and Yukon businesses, while maintaining the technology backbone of this made-in-Yukon solution?

This conversation is inspired by a readiness to embrace the persistent new digital age that might follow the life-altering effects of COVID-19. It also connects to several other conversations in recent years about creating a digital window or storefront for the Yukon.

Who this is for: YOU!

  • web developers, extended reality media makers, technology builders and innovators and so on
  • tourism businesses, wilderness guides, cultural centres, heritage and museums and so on
  • visual and performing artists, musicians, makers of wearable art and cultural expressions and so on
  • people from all four levels of government, anyone with access to innovation funding

Register in advance for this open conversation here. 

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Presented by Strategic Moves as part of Yukon Innovation Week 2020

A perspective on Universal Tax Debt Relief

COVID-19 Government Aid

Canadian governments at all levels responded to COVID-19 by telling people to stay home and shuttering large parts of the economy resulting in massive job losses along with creating massive liabilities for business owners and threatening the survival of businesses ranging from theatres, to restaurants and airlines.

Federal COVID-19 relief as of April 24, 2020 was $145.6 billion according to news media.  In the first month COVID-19 emergency funding was already 3.5 times of Canadians’ old tax debt and it has continued to rise rapidly. As of May 26, 2020 news media reported that the $2,000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit had paid $40 billion dollars to 8 million Canadians. 8 million people represents a staggering 42% of Canada’s workforce, including sole proprietors, and self-employed Canadians.

The Government of Canada also immediately extended tax filing and payment deadlines from April 30 to September 1, 2020, ostensibly to reduce Canadians’ stress and anxiety of being unable to pay their outstanding 2019 taxes due to COVID-19 decimating their financial capacity to pay their regular bills for shelter, food and communications, let alone any outstanding taxes.

Canadians’ Tax Debts

In 2018, Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) reported that uncollected taxes had risen to $44 billion and “…unpaid tax owed is set to hit more than $47 billion by 2020. The steady increase in the tax debt — up by about $2 billion annually [since 2015] — comes despite a major investment in the 2016 federal budget to wrestle down fast-rising levels of uncollected tax debt.”

Importantly, “close to half of the unpaid tax debt is owed by individual Canadians. Corporations and businesses account for the remainder, which includes unpaid GST and payroll deductions not turned over to Ottawa.”

Source: https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tax-debt-liberal-budget-collections-1.4715967

To be clear, tax debt includes neither tax revenue lost to the underground economy (the black market) nor tax evasion, for instance through offshore tax havens. Tax debt means tax owed by Canadians who actually have filed their individual and business tax returns, i.e. people who rather than cheating are dealing with capacity to pay issues.

Universal Tax Debt Relief

Universal Tax Debt Relief is an efficient way to give affected Canadians a chance at recovery and rebuilding their lives, or at least some peace-of-mind. Meaningful tax debt amnesty has to extend to 2019 and perhaps include COVID-19 Year 1, ie the current year.

It would give affected Canadians a chance to wind down their businesses responsibly, perhaps even avoid personal and business bankruptcies, and stop having the millstone of CRA debt around their necks, potentially until the end of their lives. An utterly hopeless situation.

Eliminating their CRA debt would give affected Canadians a chance to begin the long but hopeful process of rebuilding their lives, their credit and start with a fresh slate in terms of their relationship with CRA. They could work to avoid poverty becoming a burden to Canada’s social safety system.

Unprecendented? Not really.

CRA has not collected from tax evaders despite having access to the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers, for instance.

CRA has hired more tax collectors since 2015 to deal with the tax debt backlog, and they have assigned a few staff to tax evasion as well. But CRA simply does not have sufficient enforcement capacity and uncollected tax debt keeps growing – and no one seems to track what the other group, tax evaders, are doing overseas to avoid or evade taxes in Canada..

In 2012, the federal government simply wiped out about 280,000 skilled immigrant applications because they were backlogged and doing so gave the government a clean slate rather than have a years-old millstone around its ability to act in the present time.

https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-s-skilled-immigrants-backlog-to-be-eliminated-soon-1.1290847

But what about fairness?

COVID-19 isn’t fair. Falling into debt because of following ones passion
isn’t fair. Missing a single tax payment and learning the hard way how big a stick the government carries isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair.

My proposals isn’t suggesting anyone should not be paying their taxes – I pay mine and I expect all tax payers to pay theirs. This is simply a
recognition that there are groups of people who have ended up in dire financial situations, while they have been building businesses, communities and making all manner of contributions. With COVID-19 all bets are off. The fall out will include business and individual failures. This is a chance to give back hope for a better day.

COVID-19 relief has been fast and effective at saving the lives of millions of Canadians. It is time to save the lives of those Canadians who have been living under the unyielding choke-hold of tax debt and CRA tax collections.

Some added notes

Tax Debt and CRA’s punitive penalty and compound interest regime

CRA uses a punitive daily compound interest regime coupled with severe penalties for late filing or not being able to pay all taxes by the due date. This is applied in the harshest ways related to payroll taxes. GST debt and income tax is treated with somewhat less punishment in comparison. The penalties and compound interest exceed the average profit margin of many businesses by a wide margin, making catching up exceedingly difficult, if not impossible.

“The penalty for late filing payroll remittances is:

  • 3% if the amount is one to three days late
  • 5% if it is four or five days late
  • 7% if it is six or seven days late
  • 10% if it is more than seven days late, or if no amount is remitted
  • 20% if this is the second or subsequent time you are assessed this penalty in a calendar year, if the failures were made knowingly or under circumstances of gross negligence”

Amongst other penalties there is a “penalty for failure to file information returns over the Internet.” And for some tax remitting organizations, “payments made on the due date but not at a financial institution can be charged a penalty of 3% of the amount due.”

https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/businesses/topics/payroll/penalties-interest-other-consequences/payroll-penalties-interest.html

Importantly, any monies owned to CRA including penalties and interest CANNOT be used as a tax write off. Normally, interest on a loan is a tax write off, but interest on CRA debt has to be paid out of after-tax income, making paying old debts dauntingly difficult.

Getting a loan to pay off CRA debt?

Banks will not make loans to people carrying CRA debt. Loan sharks on the other hand charge more than 30% on loans they give – again, most businesses do not achieve such high profit margins. This spiral of despair is a set up for failure.

Does bankruptcy wipe out CRA debt?

Important to understand is that debt to CRA is unlike any other debt – even in bankruptcy CRA debt is not automatically wiped out and can persist to the end of a person’s life. In effect CRA can keep a bankrupt person from ever emerging from bankruptcy. CRA can and does claw back Canada Pension Plan payments, which average around $650 a month, leaving seniors with tax debt in a despairing situation.

Restaurants at the Brink – COVID-19 Response

A sector analysis series #1

Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA (i.e. use in any way you want with attribution of source: “Inga Petri, Strategic Moves, May 17, 2020”)

Public health officials in Canada ordered dine-in restaurants closed everywhere during March 2020. Now in mid-May, they are musing about reopening restaurants with new obligations, centred on 2 metre distancing, disinfecting surfaces and perhaps more.

That potential “permission” to “open” cannot result in thinking restaurants and their owners wouldn’t require continued financial support.

The reality check

2018 financial data from Statistics Canada available at http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/pp-pp.nsf/eng/home shows that for the 35,514 full-service restaurants with sales between $30,000 to $5 million (data for those earning above $5 million is suppressed):

  • 35% did not generate any profit at all, i.e. they were operating at a loss.  
  • The other 65% turned a profit of 7.6% on average, representing $24,400 for the year.

That means a profitable restaurant in Canada makes money only 4 weeks out of 52 on average. It also means a restaurant owner’s average annual profit is less than minimum wage. And no, many sole proprietors do not pay themselves a regular wage; instead keeping everything working in their business.  Anyone can see the high risk restaurateurs take and how tenuous their existence is.

In the Yukon, where I live, the numbers are a little better: only 22% do not report any profit and of the 78% that do, the average profit is 9.3% representing $66,000 on average in 2018. Nonetheless these figures show how little slack there is and how all the money for the years comes from the now cancelled summer tourist season.

This data makes clear:  the average restaurant, closed down already for two months due to the public health orders, is already bankrupt. Re-opening obligations are shaping up to be costly and won’t result in lower staffing complements despite serving far fewer customers due to new labour intensive cleaning regimes. There is simply no economic case to reopen for the great majority of dine-in restaurants.

Significant direct contributions to Canadians

Through the risk borne by them, restaurateurs have been contributing far-reaching benefits to Canada’s economy: according to Government of Canada data, the average dine-in restaurant had $765,600 in sales. Of that $250,300 went to labour costs and wages.  Purchases and materials that are part of the cost of goods sold totalled $273,900. Rent accounted for $65,300 and so on.

And there are many more indirect, restaurant owners have been building communities, contributed to quality of life, played a large part in attracting and retaining a skilled workforce, growing tourism through the culinary arts and memorable dining experiences, supporting charities, paying staff, helping put young people through school, feeding people, all while breaking their backs and bank accounts.

In short, the direct and related economic activity generated by the restaurant sector is worth billions to Canadians and the Canadian economy.

A broken model – Restaurateurs need help

COVID-19 is showing for the world to see what has been true for some time: The business model independent full-service restaurants have been forced into, largely by price competition from other food sector players, is broken and the owners are broke.

The numbers also make clear why restaurants can fall into GST and Payroll remittance tax debt, when basic break-even is so difficult to achieve. Non-remittance incurs extraordinary penalties and interest charges that can take up any monthly surplus and more. And then they are exposed to the CRA’s relentless collections and being treated as less than valuable community builders and hard-working, creative, innovative business leaders.

They need a chance at a life beyond COVID-19 and beyond a broken business model.

How can Canada help restaurants and their owners now?

A few ideas that could pull restaurants and restaurateurs back from the brink:

  1. Consumers have to learn to pay much more for the pleasures of eating out, especially when they don’t wish to tip 20% for servers and rather see living wages for restaurant workers, rather than below minimum wage as is the case in some jurisdictions. In the Yukon where I live it appears as though most, if not all, workers in the restaurant industry earn well above minimum wage plus tips.
  2. Landlords should permanently slash rents to restaurant tenants to enable restaurant owners earning a living wage and being able to invest in innovations in their business or business model.
  3. In addition to short-term COVID-19 Transition Grants to pay for additional public health mandated expenses and staff training, Government has to consider providing meaningful tax debt relief to allow a fresh start or at least some peace for owners.
  4. Sole proprietors must be considered as a special group requiring assistance. If sole proprietors are considered as “making a profit” when they barely break even before paying themselves anything, their work translates into not being able to cover their personal expenses and falling into debt.
  5. Local governments should revisit their zoning requirements to enable new, innovative ways of providing food services to the public. They can range from quickly enabling sidewalk patios and taking over unused parking spaces (no tourists means ample parking spaces are unused); a new breed of home-based businesses offering nano-scale/single-table/prepared-food eating experiences without the massively expensive requirements for home-based commercial kitchens; significantly reducing restaurant and liquor licensing costs.
  6. Canada’s provincial and territorial government-owned and run Liquor Control Boards should look at offering higher discounts or find a way to return most of their profits to their customers, i.e. bars and restaurants that must purchase alcohol at government controlled prices; allowing off-sales within every restaurant liquor license during the COVID shutdown period and 3 months beyond.

COVID-19 relief has been fast and effective at saving the financial lives of millions of Canadians. It is time to save the lives of those Canadians who have been living under the unyielding pressures of low price competition while the market demands quality food and high quality, unique dining experiences.