In an upcoming report for PPF’s Brave New Work project, Peter Loewen and Benjamin Allen Stevens find a correlation between Canadians’ fear of job losses from automation and populist and nativist views—but also that they favour traditional government policy approaches to job disruption, such as retraining, more than radical measures such as reducing immigration.

The next report in our Key Issues series on the future of work, called Automation, AI and Anxiety: Policy Preferred, Populism Possible, will be released this summer. To be notified of its release as soon as its available, please sign up for PPF’s Brave New Work newsletter. You’ll also get our latest findings and reports, event listings and related information on this three-year project.

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Automation, AI and Anxiety: Main Findings

  • Most Canadian don’t think they will be personally affected by job losses from automation and AI in the near term.
  • Canadians are not accurate in their assessments of their own likelihood to lose their jobs, or significant tasks within their jobs, due to automation and AI. Dislocation therefore will come as a shock to them.
  • The anxieties of those who worry most about job losses are not necessarily correlated to their own exposure.
  • Beyond jobs, Canadians are also very concerned that automation and AI will result in less economic mobility and greater social inequality. Those most concerned with job losses exhibit stronger concerns about such impacts.
  • There is a definite correlation in Canada between fear of job losses from automation and populist and nativist views. Those who anticipate greater job losses from automation are more likely to mistrust elites and political parties and favour a strong leader. They are also more likely to hold negative views on immigrants and support restrictions on immigration.
  • This ‘fear of job loss’ factor is a greater explainer of differences in attitudes on populism than any demographic variables, current income or employment variables.
  • Our finding that fear of job loss is greater than exposure to job loss suggests a greater potential for mobilization towards populism and nativism, as the potential pool is not limited to those who are actually losing their jobs.
  • While there is a direct correlation with populist responses, Canadians—especially those with the highest levels of anxiety—also desire a broad array of traditional government policy approaches to automation and AI.
  • Their most favoured policy actions are initiatives such as incentives for companies to retrain workers, more spending on STEM education and retraining for older workers.
  • More radical responses around reduced immigration are less favoured.
  • Politicians have substantial room to act and manoeuvre in addressing the apprehensions individuals have about automation and AI. Certainly, no politician or policymaker is constrained to choose from populist or nativist responses.
  • Politicians should pursue policy solutions that recognize not only the short-term disruptions brought on by automation and AI, but also the potentially longer-term effects on social and economic dynamism. It is entirely possible for politicians to recognize the transformative economic potential of automation and AI while arguing that the gains from these technologies should be widely and reasonably shared.
  • Finally, we note that no political party presently has an advantage among those who fear greater job loss via automation and AI. It is important to note that despite our findings linking fear of job loss to populism and nativism, we do not yet find a direct and clear relationship between citizens’ fear of job loss and their exposure to automation to their vote choice in the upcoming federal election. As the full report will show in detail, voters who are more concerned about job losses do not differ significantly in their vote preferences from those who are not concerned. Likewise, we do not find that fear of job loss is linked to citizens’ evaluations of which party is best at managing technological change.

Watch: Peter Loewen presents the findings a the Brave New Work Conference:


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Carl Neustaedter
Director of Communications

See other reports in the Brave New Work Key Issues series:

Skills, Training and Lifelong Learning

Facilitating the Future of Work Through a Modernized EI System