Feature Writer
John Lorinc is a Toronto-based journalist and author specializing in urban issues, business, and culture. He has written for various publications including The Walrus, The Globe and Mail and Spacing. John has won numerous National Magazine Awards.

Off to work

Making the commute easier for employees

When Québec’s financial services giant Desjardins decided to adopt a sustainability plan earlier in this decade, company officials began looking at a range of strategies, including programs to encourage the firm’s far-flung employees to get to work by means other than a private automobile with a single passenger.

It was an ambitious undertaking as Desjardins has hundreds of branches, head offices in both Montréal and Levis, outside Québec City, as well as satellites in Toronto and Mississauga, Ontario. Some locations are way off the transit grid while others are easily accessible. In a firm with 45,000 employees, the task demanded multiple solutions.

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Breaking the gas habit

Why a transition away from natural gas for home heating is both onerous and necessary

According to federal government data, fully two-thirds of all the energy Canadians use to heat their homes is supplied by natural gas and propane. For climate activists and building owners who want to decarbonize Canada’s building stock, that figure is, well, chilling. While natural gas is one of the cleanest burning fossil fuels, this statistic alone offers a bracing reminder that Canada remains a long way from the day when our housing stock is no longer responsible for a formidable share of the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.

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The e-bus revolution has arrived

The working horse of municipal transportation is on the cusp of rapid electrification across Canada.

Early in the fall of 2017, a dozen municipalities from around the world resoundingly signalled that the long-awaited electric bus revolution had finally pulled out of the station. The cities, whose ranks include London, Paris and Vancouver, released a declaration during a C40 Cities summit that after 2025, they’d only purchase zero-emission vehicles, including city buses.

Los Angeles County, one of the signatories, ordered 95 e-buses in the summer of 2017 for Metro, the region’s transit authority, while other cities will also move sooner, says Caroline Watson, the low-emission vehicle network manager for C40 Cities.

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Pricing property

The promise and peril of land value taxes

The craziness of Vancouver’s real estate market, now the subject of frantic political attention, has revealed a rare kind of metric in dense urban environments.

With offshore speculators buying residential properties specifically to knock down the existing home and replace it with something huge, the market – for all its distortions – has essentially disclosed the going market value of residential property. After all, when so many dwellings are considered to be knock-downs, the buyers are in effect zero-rating the buildings they’ve acquired.

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Intensification nation

Canadian cities, big and small, are working to densify themselves. It’s far from a straightforward path.

Vancouver these days has become a city fixated by the curbside view of its gold-plated residential real estate. As the city obsesses over stratospheric house prices, media accounts of shacks selling for seven figures and real estate industry scandals, British Columbia’s mega-city seems to have become a place beyond reach.

The view from the city’s hundreds of kilometres of rear laneways, however, is far less gloomy, and indeed offers an economically affordable and environmentally sustainable alternative. Ever since Vancouver council, in 2009, approved a policy encouraging the development of laneway housing, the city has seen the construction of about 3,000 of these cozy homes, most developed at the rear of the city’s standard 5,000 sq.ft. residential lots. They range in size from 600 to 1,000 sq.ft., and are either leased out by the owner or become second suites for older or younger family members. Some are all about style and energy efficiency, while others have the look and feel of traditional cottages.

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The tragedy of the horizon

How Mark Carney got his climate stripes

“I’m going to give you a speech without a joke, I’m afraid.” Wearing a crisp black tuxedo, Mark Carney, the 50-year-old former governor of the Bank of Canada, looked out at the black-tie crowd arrayed before him in the cavernous underwriting hall of Lloyds’ sleek head office and embarked on a speech that would reverberate like a rifle shot through the world’s financial capitals.

It was last September, and Carney, presently the head of the Bank of England, had signalled to British parliamentarians that his institution, and the international Financial Stability Board, which he chairs, had just begun an in-depth examination of the systemic risks posed not just by climate change, but by the “unburnable carbon” thesis advanced by the Carbon Tracker Initiative several years prior.

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Has social media marketing gone too far?

By John Lorinc
Youth identified as social media "influencers" are increasingly being recruited as the new marketing mules for major brands.

Last year, a University of Toronto student emailed the editors of The Varsity with a story idea about a local food service company. The student hadn’t written previously for the newspaper, which is geared at the university’s 60,000 undergraduates, but he still got the assignment. After the piece ran, editorial staff discovered the author was actually a social media “brand ambassador” for the company, and the newspaper decided to pull the article from its website.

Editor-in-chief Danielle Klein says she is deluged with online solicitations from students who have struck promotional deals with the marketers of products, local clubs or other advertisers. Using their personal social media accounts, they tweet or post on various social media platforms for the brands, but they also come forward with offers to help news organizations like The Varsity write articles promoting certain products or services, typically without disclosing their connection. “I find that quite dishonest, because you’re representing that ad as content,” says Klein.

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Why “safe” jobs are becoming more dangerous

By John Lorinc
This is the first article in a multi-story series. Please see our Workplace Safety landing page in our Reports section.

Just after New Year’s Day, 2011, 17-year-old Patrick Desjardins reported for work at the Walmart store in Grand Falls, New Brunswick. An only child, he had a part-time job to save for college. His task that night was to polish the garage floor. At about 8:30 p.m., Desjardins plugged an electric polisher, purchased by another employee at a yard sale, into a wall plug.

The floor was wet. He was immediately electrocuted.

The next day, inspectors with WorkSafe New Brunswick began probing the tragedy. In December 2011, they released their assessment of what went so wrong that winter evening. Walmart Canada, the agency concluded, had failed in numerous ways to protect the young employee.

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