The Future of Work and Learning Brief
Issue 44 | March 2024

It’s budget season. This monthly brief discusses Western Canada provincial 2024 budgets and workforce developments and also takes a look at AI and its adoption and impact on Canadian businesses.  If you know of something relevant and want to send for inclusion in the next brief, email .   

British Columbia and Alberta announce 2024 budgets

British Columbia and Alberta recently announced their 2024 budgets and both include funds for workforce skills training initiatives. 

The B.C. budget includes $228 million over three years to continue the StrongerBC: Future Ready Action Plan which was announced in 2023 and supports upskilling/reskilling to address labour gaps. It also announced $237 million to attract and retain nurses, including rural incentives, recruitment bonuses and mental health supports. Outside of healthcare, critics of the B.C. budget contend that the 2024 budget falls short in protecting employees and raised concerns about potential student aid cuts. 

The Alberta budget includes an increase of $102 million over the next three years to support 3,200 additional seats and curriculum updates to apprenticeship programs in Alberta. The province will also offer a $5,000 attraction bonus to help bring 2,000 workers to Alberta. Alberta’s Finance Minister Nate Horner highlighted the province’s need for specialized skilled labor to support major projects, such as Dow’s $8.9 billion investment in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland. 

Saskatchewan’s labour market strategy

The Saskatchewan government unveiled the province’s new labour market strategy this month. Premier Scott Moe describes the strategy as the province’s “roadmap to secure a labour force that keeps pace with growing demands and opportunities of our economy.” The strategy focuses on three pillars: preparing Saskatchewanians for jobs, recognizing skills within the province and international recruitment. It outlines measures to align training opportunities with industry needs, increase Indigenous engagement, support persons with disabilities to find employment, and streamline the process for newcomers to work in their trained fields.  Saskatchewan’s spring budget will be announced in the coming weeks and observers (like us!) will be watching to see how much funding goes into this strategy.  

Government of Manitoba focused on healthcare workforce

The Manitoba government has announced interim changes to create a streamlined pathway for former nurses to return to work in the province’s health-care system. These changes aim to address the shortage of nurses and ensure that experienced nurses can rejoin the workforce with ease. Interim measures include reducing “the number of recent practice hours required” for reinstatement and offering “more options to meet requirements for currency of practice.” Regulatory amendments expected in the spring would make these changes permanent. Retired nurses interested in returning to the public health-care system can also explore financial supports available through Manitoba Economic Development. We will also watch the spring budget release on April 2, to see what additional supports the government is including for both the healthcare and overall workforce.  

AI & U

Open and closed AI

The U.S. government is weighing the risks and benefits of open and closed AI systems. Axios summarizes the debate in a recent article:  “Open approaches could speed up innovation, as advocates believe, or magnify some risks, as critics fear — but the people and companies creating today’s most advanced AI models don’t even agree on what ‘open’ AI means.” Commercial interests are also at play. Large companies may revert to a more closed approach as smaller companies use their models to build free large language models. A leaked memo purportedly from a Google engineer says that this “third faction has been quietly eating our lunch.” 

 Just how open AI is depends on a variety of factors and Axios adds this ambiguity can lead to a “spectrum of openness” across companies and AI models. There is currently no clear, consistent threshold for when an AI project would be defined as open versus closed. It is also unclear if such a black and white definition could even be applied given the complexity of the factors to be considered, including ethics, commercial interests and security.  

Canadian businesses and AI

In an interview with The Toronto Star, Deb Pimentel with IBM Canada identified Canadians’ conservative views on AI as a challenge for Canadian businesses. Pimentel says businesses can “take a chance, start small, and see if it’s working, if it’s taking you where you need to be. What you want as a business is to have that agility to constantly pivot, because this world that we’re in is constantly changing.”  

Businesses in Quebec (26 per cent), Alberta (23 per cent) and B.C. (22 per cent) lead generative AI adoption according to KPMG’s report Generative AI Adoption Index: How generative AI is transforming Canadian workplaces. Top uses for AI are research and idea generation, with 62 per cent of Boomers saying they always check for accuracy of facts and information generated compared to 49 per cent of Gen Zs. Overall, 55 per cent of those surveyed said that they always check, 43 per cent sometimes and 2 per cent never. Not seeing the benefit and not wanting to use a machine’s help were the top two reasons for why a business had not adopted the technology. 

Trust and adoption

The latest Edelman Trust Barometer report sheds light on Canadians’ overall lack of trust of AI and of institutions to adopt innovations into society in a way that is safe and beneficial. Of respondents, 49 per cent said that they trusted businesses and government with innovation implementation, compared to 48 per cent for non-government organizations and 46 per cent for media. While 65 per cent of respondents said that they trusted the tech sector, only 31 per cent of Canadians said that they trusted artificial intelligence compared to 76 and 50 per cent of global respondents.  

Canadians are also concerned over the use of AI to commit fraud according to an RBC poll. Eighty-one percent of respondents said that they “believe that AI will make fraud attempts by phone harder to detect” and the same amount were concerned about “voice cloning and impersonation scams.” Sixty-four per cent felt “confident” that they would still be able to recognize a scam. 

Liability and chatbots

B.C.’s Civil Resolution Tribunal has found Air Canada “liable for a negligent misrepresentation made to a customer by one of its chatbots.” Air Canada had argued that the company was not liable because “the chatbot was a separate legal entity responsible for its own actions” and the customer should have checked the information.  

In an update from the previous brief, B.C. Justice David Masuhara has also ordered lawyer Chong Ke, who used hallucinated court cases (cases that are AI-generated and contain made-up information), to pay the court costs even though there was “no intent to deceive.” The judge wrote in his decision that “citing fake cases in court filings and other materials handed up to the court is an abuse of process and is tantamount to making a false statement to the court.” The Law Society of B.C. also announced an investigation.  

AI uses in Western Canada
  • Leduc, Alberta is extending its Organics AI education program to the end of the year after the program saw contamination of organics bins go from about 20 per cent to less than 10 per cent. The AI examines photos of the bin contents and information is sent to households when contaminants are found along with information about what can and cannot be composted. 
  • The University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering are using AI to scan abattoir carcasses and assess animal health and handling practices before the animal was slaughtered. It is hoped that the efforts will help assist in monitoring and improving animal welfare. 
  • As farmers employ more smart technologies, the amount of data can be overwhelming. Manitoba-based EMILI has launched a free, online course for farmers to understand farm data collection and use and cybersecurity. 
  • A clinical trial of the Artificial Intelligence-Driven Adaptive Prostate Stereotactic Radiation Therapy (ADAPT-25) system in Victoria, B.C. aims to cut the number of radiation treatments for those undergoing prostate cancer treatment. If successful, patients would receive two rather than five radiation treatments which would reduce impacts on patients and the healthcare system. 
  • The Alberta budget includes an additional $151 million over three years to increase the number of wildfire personnel and expand the use of drones and artificial intelligence in both wildfire mitigation and response. 

Other News

  • The federal government announced two new immigration streams to northern and rural communities as the Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot ends in the summer. The Rural Community Immigration Pilot will see the RNIP continue while the Francophone Community Immigration Pilot aims to attract Francophone immigrants to rural and northern regions outside Quebec. 
  • Western provinces and territories in partnership with the federal government have announced funds which continue the expansion of broadband access to rural, northern and Indigenous communities. $1.9 million in the Northwest Territories will connect 152 homes in Whatì.  
  • The Yukon First Nation Education Directorate will receive $50,000 of the territorial government’s $500,000 allotted to school nutrition programs. The directorate will use the funds “for school feasts and other food-related programming.” 
  • The federal government announced the 15 recipients of federal funding under the 2022 Women in the Skilled Trades Initiative call for proposals.

    The Future of Work & Learning Brief is compiled by Stephany Laverty, Janet Lane and Lin Akkad. If you like what you see, subscribe to our mailing list and share with a friend. If you have any interesting stories for future editions, please send them to .