The recent negotiation in the federal public sector would have resulted in an agreement concerning telework which allows three days of remote work and now imposes on managers the duty to evaluate on a case-by-case basis additional requests for telework.
Radio-Canada reported on May 1 the remarks of the executive vice-president of the Canadian Labor Congress who specified that this agreement must allow employees to have recourse if a superior demands their return to work, when they believe be able to carry out their work as effectively remotely as in person.
In short, by favoring a preponderance of remote work and opening the door to an assessment of additional demands for work from home, the federal government will have neglected to consider the effects of remote work on the urban environment and on the public finances of cities where its offices are located. In addition, this agreement will contribute to urban sprawl, one of the causes of the climate crisis that he says he wants to fight.
According to the president of the Union of Public and Parapublic Service of Quebec (SFPQ), Christian Daigle, it will not be easy. He said the day after the federal regulations that despite interesting advances for teleworking, he wanted to go much further with Quebec.
First of all, it should be noted that due to teleworking, office vacancy rates have increased. Reducing leased square footage, subletting excess space, and selling government properties will further weaken the land value of office buildings and result in lower property taxes paid by this real estate sector into municipal coffers.
Then, with a loss of traffic from office workers, nearby businesses are already experiencing a decline. As with offices, the commercial property tax burden will decrease. In addition, there will be a deterioration in the supply of commercial services, which will weaken the economic attractiveness of the major centres.
In order to compensate for the drop in income resulting from the decrease in the values of buildings housing offices and businesses in central areas, municipal decision-makers will be forced to seek an increased land contribution in the residential sector. People residing away from the centers and who consider that they are not concerned by the outcome of the current negotiations could suffer the repercussions of the phenomenon of telework. The burden will be all the heavier since these buildings bear a much heavier tax burden than does the residential sector.
And that’s without taking into account the impetus of urban sprawl that accompanies teleworking. From now on, a completely different financial pressure will be exerted for the construction of new public infrastructures linked, among other things, to transport, water and schools, for the benefit of those who have adopted teleworking outside major urban centers or in low-income areas. density.
The cities of Gatineau and Quebec are the ones that will be most affected by federal and possibly provincial decisions. According to an analysis by Altus Group on behalf of the Urban Development Institute of Quebec, 90% of office buildings in downtown Gatineau are government owned. In downtown Quebec, this proportion is 34% and in Sainte-Foy, 14%. To these figures should be added the areas leased by governments.
That said, if the capitals are the first targets, other urban areas will also be affected. For example, in downtown Montreal, already affected by a high vacancy rate, 5% of office space is government property. In a context of labor shortage, government choices will influence the expectations and demands of workers in the private sector. We can fear a snowball effect weakening important employment areas even where the government footprint is small.
First, let’s hope that the federal government and its employees use the individual recourse to the right to telework sparingly. Already, the dominance of remote work is problematic. Then, let’s hope that the provincial government will not ignore the fiscal, social and environmental impacts of overly broad recognition of telework during the upcoming negotiations.
Work in hybrid mode is well rooted and it must be admitted that when “office predominance” is respected, its consequences are less dramatic than if a right to generalized teleworking is granted. But still, this does not mean that we should suffer the negative effects without trying to reduce their scope.
We believe that governments should be concerned about the financial situation of capital cities and urban centers. Several means can be used for this purpose. For example, public decision-makers should first affirm the economic character of city centers. Moreover, they could promote their densification, in particular by reducing royalties and various fees as well as by various support measures for the requalification or transformation of central sectors with potential for the development of residential complexes. Many other tools can be imagined, because what is now essential for our leaders is to act to ensure the economic vitality of the centers, maximize the use of infrastructures already paid for and avoid reinforcing the wave of sprawl urban.
Telework is exercised individually, but its collective impacts should not be ignored.