Workshop 1: Defining the sharing economy and its main social and ethical challenges

On the 10th November 2016, FSI hosted three panelists to present different aspects of the sharing economy.

Our first speaker, Guillaume Lavoie, City Councillor for the district of Marie-Victorin in the borough of Rosemont – La Petite-Patrie started the discussion with a broad stroke definition of what the sharing economy is to different players. Guillaume went on to talk about the social challenges that the sharing economy can bring. For a politician, the challenge is in devising the right strategy and set of regulations to encourage the positive aspects of the sharing economy, such as resource efficiency related to car or equipment sharing, while avoiding the negative impacts, such as less job security in the workforce (think taxi drivers) or diminished tax receipts to support social services. Guillaume presented an excellent overview of the issues and illustrated his points with examples of companies operating in these spaces. Guillaume also discussed the challenge of developing regimes flexible enough to frame future services, yet able to prevent situations where services become popular and entrenched before a suitable framework is in place.

Patrick Turmel, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Laval then discussed how the sharing economy is transforming relations between employees, owners, shareholders and the public authorities. While the term “sharing economy” invokes ideas of sharing cooperatives, many of today’s business models in the sharing economy do not embrace the sharing of profits. On the contrary, it is often only the increased risk for workers that is shared, such as job security and the cost of maintaining and insuring the tools/equipment for the work to be done. While the apps bring improved convenience to users, the loose associations behind them rarely build social cohesion.

Our third speaker, Nancy Neamtan, President and Managing Director of the Chantier de l’Économie sociale, further underlined some major differences between companies in the sharing economy operating for the profit of their founders with very little overhead and those run as cooperatives or profit-sharing organisations.

In question time, moderated by François Boutin-Dufresne of Pavilion Global Markets, the discussion moved back to the regulatory landscape – what frameworks should be in place to prevent the by-passing of our social contract while encouraging innovation and new thinking to promote resource efficiency. Mobile technology has already changed the way a new generation of consumers interact with service providers (e.g. music, transport, food). E-commerce is changing the face of our high streets and transactions are either not covered by existing rules or our agencies are not in position to apply the current regime. With more and more examples of the sharing economy springing up, sometimes in spite of regulation, action appears urgent.