Podcast: Ottawa missing out on venture capital, employers wrestle with mandatory vaccine policies

Editor's Note

Behind the Headlines is sponsored by Nelligan Law.

Ottawa’s plummeting VC fortunes and the private sector’s push to make vaccines mandatory for employees are spotlighted in the latest episode of Behind the Headlines.

To hear the full podcast with OBJ publisher Michael Curran and editor David Sali, please watch the video above. Prefer an audio version of this podcast? Listen to it on SoundCloud or Spotify.

MC: Our first story is admittedly a very geeky one: it involves the level of venture capital invested into tech companies in Canada. The news hook here is that Ottawa wasn’t in the top 10 (cities in terms of attracting VC funding in the first half of 2021). We were behind places like Quebec City. Dave, what the heck is going on?

DS: This is the continuation of a bit of a downward trend we’ve seen over the last few quarters for Ottawa. Back in Ottawa’s heyday, it was getting hundreds of millions of dollars in VC capital every year. But lately, you might say the pipeline has dried up considerably. I’ve talked to a lot of people in the startup community in the city, and they’ll tell you that these things are kind of cyclical. Some years, we’ve had a Shopify or an Assent Compliance (landing big rounds). We haven’t had that lately. Right now, we’re at a bit of a low point. The hope is that we’ve got this new generation of startups emerging and at least a couple of them are (hopefully) going to rise to the top and land some bigger deals. But when exactly that’s going to happen is anybody’s guess.

MC: Dave, now we’re going to talk about mandatory vaccine policies. Federal government employees will soon need to be vaccinated as will people in federally regulated industries like banks, airlines and transportation companies. You checked in with private-sector companies in Ottawa. What are they telling you?

DS: We’re seeing the momentum clearly turn in favour of mandatory vaccine policies. It just took a couple of dominoes to fall, and not surprisingly one of the first was Shopify. CEO Tobi Lütke tweeted a couple of weeks ago that they would be requiring everybody who wants to meet up in the office to prove they have both doses of the vaccine. A lot of other companies I’ve been talking to over the last week or so are following Shopify’s lead. They have a legal duty to provide a safe workplace for their employees, and most of them feel like the best way to do that is to require everybody who wants to come to the office in person to be fully immunized. 

Allan Wille, the CEO of Klipfolio, summed it up in a pretty straightforward way. He said it’s a “doing the right thing” issue. I talked to some lawyers in town who said it’s a fairy cut-and-dried issue from a legal perspective. There are really only two reasons why a worker can refuse to get vaccinated: either you subscribe to a religion that forbids vaccinations or you have a proven disability or medical condition that prevents you from getting immunized. Otherwise, an employer has every right to compel their employees to get vaccinated if they want to actually be in the office. I think you are going to see these types of policies become the rule rather than the exception.