With seventeen (17’) feet of snow reported thus far, winter 2015 is already record-breaking and unforgettable.
Winter 2015 has witnessed some dramatic economic conditions. This time last year oil prices were approximately $1.09 per litre, while this year they are $0.85/ liter, a 23 per cent decrease in energy input costs. This is, perhaps, the only compelling economic differentiator from last years equally challenging winter.
Last year, the cost of snow removal was unanticipated and severally compromised both governments and private business budgeting. The strain on finances was only one impact; the stress on equipment is another cost where sinking funds for equipment fatigue and maintenance would not have been properly considered.
So here we are at the closing of winter 2015. We can expect the tree line of fields to remind us of our snow accumulation until late May and flooding to be a more current souvenir. Have we learned our lesson from last year’s snowfall or did government and business improperly forecast for snow removal investment? The strains of harsh winters are greater than financial; they permeate into the emotional. Absenteeism, increased health costs, lost productivity, depression, anxiety are all direct but unrecorded affects of winters 2014 and 2015.
Looking at productivity and societal impacts, we must also consider the impacts of school closures. The obvious impact is to the detriment of students. Thirteen days of missed schooling in an inflexible curriculum calendar is unrecoverable. Even students are tired of the absence of school and routine. Teachers are stressed about achieving the mandated outcomes with two and a half weeks of lost teaching time (so far). What is the cumulative impact on the futures of the next generation of our citizens?
What of our collective productivity? Parents are left to scramble to find short-notice childcare solutions. This is an unexpected financial impact to strained family budgets. Are children being placed in safe environments or are reactionary solutions found to accommodate? What are the emotional and developmental affects of these rapidly forced placements? To the credit of the school board they have started to provide greater than one-hour notification to parents; critical for effective planning.
What happens to business when staff is unable to make it to work? Input costs of rent, energy, wages, etc. all remain static even though there is no ability to generate revenue. These costs are profound to our struggling local small businesses, particularly at a time of year when most businesses actually project losing money. For companies fortunate enough to focus on markets outside our region, their markets are not experiencing weather impacts and are not forgiving for missed deliverables. Have our companies lost relationships, contracts or “face” due to localized storm delays?
With thirteen days of lost production on top of many school weeks of only four days productive duration due to professional development, field trips, absenteeism and parent teacher interviews do we need to look and fundamental changes to our methods of educational delivery?
Businesses and government need to proactively look at how they will function over the coming decades with a predictably declining workforce. Immigration is becoming a less flexible solution and we are undeniably witnessing a decreasing labour market as baby boomers enter retirement.
Is a four-day productivity schedule now a reality? I think this approach deserves consideration. Radical in ideology but not without precedent, a flexible four-day education calendar, government and private sector rolling four-day work weeks and increased family time to improve the loss of community fabric and nutriment may well be upon us.
A consideration for our political masters on the eve of an election, and consideration for strategic planning.