Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

A food delivery worker rides an electric bike in downtown Vancouver, on Jan. 12, 2021.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Diana Palmerin-Velasco is senior director, future of work, with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

The past decade has been transformative, driven by the proliferation of smartphones and the digitalization of our society – and our economy. Most notably, app-based platforms have revolutionized the way services are provided and expanded the gig economy’s reach into various sectors such as ridesharing, food and grocery delivery, home repairs and more. Indeed, they have changed the way we live our lives.

These apps, such as Uber, DoorDash and Skip the Dishes, have also created new opportunities for people and businesses across Canada to participate in the economy, supplement traditional income streams, or reach new customers.

Despite these benefits, there are growing calls to dismantle or deplatform the gig economy, not to mention regulate it in such a way that would destroy everything it has to offer. These same calls ignore that what makes the gig economy so different from other parts of our economy is precisely what makes it so valuable to consumers, workers and businesses.

In the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, app-based services were a lifeline for many businesses, consumers and workers. People who were suddenly laid off had an opportunity to maintain a steady flow of income. Businesses that were suddenly grappling with closing mandates and forced to close their doors to customers could still engage with them through delivery. It was a crucial support system.

And today, app-based work in Canada is robust and invaluable. In 2023, close to half a million people worked through a digital platform or app, including an estimated 250,000 Canadians providing ride or delivery services. The vast majority of these Canadians do this kind of work on a supplemental basis, around other jobs or responsibilities. Many already work full-time jobs, many others are students, parents, or family caregivers who can work in between classes or other errands.

Thousands of Canadians continue to be drawn to this kind of work because it allows them to reach their financial goals in a way that is flexible, on their own terms, and without the constraints of traditional employment.

We know that, even with these benefits, there is a need to ensure standards are in place that reflect the evolving nature of gig work, while protecting the flexibility and economic opportunity that workers, businesses and consumers have come to rely on.

The answer to this is not dismantling the system. In adopting standards, we must be cognizant of the potential negative effects on individuals and businesses and find an answer that ensures fairness without compromising the value of gig work or the gig economy.

Reclassifying ride-hailing or food delivery workers as traditional employees is likely to have unintended consequences, such as reducing flexible earning opportunities and increasing costs for services. Which is why we need to strike a careful balance in regulating app-based ridesharing and delivery services to preserve their benefits while ensuring fair and safe practices.

Dismantling the gig economy – or even integrating it with traditional employment models – would be disastrous. It would hurt small and medium-sized businesses, cutting off what has become a critical stream of support and an alternative way for them to interact with customers, reducing revenue and potentially leading to layoffs or job cuts. It would drive up prices, resulting in consumers purchasing less.

For workers, it would mean less work and a loss of income, both for those who rely on app-based work as their primary employment, and for those who use app-based work with flexibility around their full-time employment.

The gig economy is essential to our current and future business environment – exactly because it is unique and disruptive in a way that drives innovation and creates new opportunity. It would be a failure to Canadians to forget this and advance blunt, wholesale regulation that fails to preserve everything the gig economy has to offer.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe