Our way of life will change radically as a result of the ongoing global

pandemic and the likely recession (or worse) that will follow. In this essay,

a group of Stikeman Elliott partners have collected some of our early

thoughts on the challenges and opportunities that may emerge. We

recognize that, at times like this, it is even harder than usual to resist the

lazy reflex to seize the moment as an opportunity to show why what we

already thought has been proven to be true. Hopefully, our readers will

challenge us on this!

It’s impossible to predict the future. We hope that by sharing with clients

and friends some of our thoughts and musings/speculations, those of

you inclined to do so might respond in kind with your own. Over time, we

hope to “drill down” on some of these issues (and others). We would also

be happy to consider the implications of our predictions, and others, for

those interested in such discussions.

This Too Shall Pass –What Will Life be Like on the Other Side of COVID-19?

Milton Friedman famously commented that:

Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs the

actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic

function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and credible until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.

A Changing Social Contract

Through the course of this crisis, the vulnerability of

segments of our own society (and of individual and

global inequalities) will be thrown into even greater relief.

Think, for example, of the elderly who lack social care or

of the low paid and self-employed who have no financial

cushion to fall back on and upon whose work society

relies. Older workers who have lost much of their savings

will likely have to work longer (which, in turn, will impact

younger workers for some time to come). The pandemic

is placing a dangerous strain on pre-existing inequalities

— in personal and national wealth, labour forces, and

intergenerationally (as we borrow heavily from the future

to try to maintain current standards of living).

A stronger sense that we are members of a collective

whole could lead to increased public demands for more

interventionist measures to protect our disadvantaged —

a development that governments will find harder to resist

after their current readiness to override the primacy

of markets. Likewise, the massive public expenditures

being made could lead to a wholesale redesign of tax

mechanisms with an increased focus on issues such

as equity, taxing out of country suppliers, and reducing

global opportunities for tax avoidance.

In the world of business, companies will increasingly

be expected to play a different role than one of pure

value maximization. There will be increased demands

on companies to address the greater good and act

as leaders and in ways that serve a broad range of

stakeholders, often when governments are not up to

the task2. Those who understand and can effectively

respond to this insight, already reflected in the tendency

of our courts to respond and give meaning to such

expectations, are more likely to survive and prosper.

Changing Nature of Work, Education, Health Care and other Services

It is likely that many of the new forms of behaviour we

adopt through necessity during this crisis will prove to

be sticky. Most involve staying at (or closer to) home or

how and what we consume, and will likely have profound

impacts on how we work (remotely and with substantially

less need for commuting), how we are educated, and

how we receive health care. A slew of businesses that

have hesitated to embrace digital technologies are being

forced to do so in order to survive (and are unlikely

to revert to traditional operations). This will introduce

extraordinary opportunities to innovate and develop

more cost-effective business models, while potentially

allowing most businesses to be “global” simply by being

local. The importance of robust telecommunications,

financial and public service delivery infrastructure has

become paramount, and the monopolies of localized or

geographically concentrated service providers (think, for

example, of education) will be contested. The disruption

to certain sectors will be extreme while the opportunities

that will be afforded to others are virtually unlimited. These

macro changes will introduce other changes. Think again

here, for example, of shifts in energy usage patterns.

While innovation is continuous, the singular focus

on the pandemic and the responses to it is uniquely

engaging the medical and healthcare industry, which

is already facing a large population of “baby boomers”

with longevity expectations and the means to pursue

“healthfulness”. This focus should yield startling results

that transcend the current pandemic, potentially altering

society in significant ways.

Systems Thinking

One unique aspect of the current crisis is that virtually

all systems (including medical, economic, social,

governmental and geopolitical) are seeking to cope,

both in defining and responding to it. In that sense,

the crisis is likely to become a public laboratory for

systems thinking — the use of mechanisms such as

redundancy, homeostasis (i.e., information and feedback

loops that allow a system to adjust to disturbances in its

environment and stay within the parameters necessary

for its continued functioning), self-organization (i.e.,

the ability of a system to learn, diversify and evolve in

response to shifts in its environment that might otherwise

threaten its survival), and resilience. We are also learning

how tightly coupled and interdependent systems have

become — that the overall health of a system depends

on the continued health of each of its essential

subsystems, as well as of the larger systems in which it

is embedded. Of course, this has been exacerbated by

technology and globalization. This awareness is likely to

have profound impacts on public policy as we focus on

designing better, safer systems.

Epidemics are not the only systemic risk we have turned

a blind eye to. Think of the risks to our financial system

before the 2008 crisis, or the ongoing risks to our

environment. It is reasonable to expect that the pandemic

will change perceptions of risk for generations to come

(the equivalent to living through WWII) and that we will

pay more attention to these systemic risks in the future.


We believe it probable that supply chains will

become more “localized” (i.e. with fewer international

dependencies and a reduction of long “just-in-time”

delivery systems), resulting in a shift of manufacturing

(and potentially agriculture) and energy to domestic

or regional sources. This could very well lead, in turn,

to employment and wage gains (at least in the short

term), but also an increased focus on the deployment of

automation and artificial intelligence to maximize capital

and operational efficiencies, accelerating a trend towards

the displacement of employment and highlighting the

need for effective public policy in response. A related risk

is the entrenchment of exclusionary political narratives,

with calls for new borders overseen by leaders who have

the political will and legal and technological capacity to

enforce them. This may be juxtaposed with immigration

requirements as citizens age in certain economies.

Digital Infrastructure and Surveillance

A remarkable feature of the current crisis is the degree

to which governments throughout the world, including in

the democracies with a long liberal tradition of individual

rights, have enacted measures to restrict their citizens for

the common good, with little social resistance. With the

ubiquity of digital infrastructure and surveillance, the use

of these tools as a necessary public sector measure is

likely to become normalized and prevalent. Governments

may be reluctant to yield these types of measures,

once implemented, and the temptation to use them for

other public purposes may be too great to resist. Given

the ability to use these tools to collect and analyze

extreme amounts of personalized information, the related

privacy concerns will likely become a dominant focus for

regulation and an even greater source of innovation.

Environmental Sustainability

The current crisis will continue to dominate public policy

(and Main Street) as we deal with immediate challenges.

However, the attitudes embraced by society as the

pandemic shifts to the rear-view mirror should reinforce

and accelerate the currency of sustainability issues

generally. Political choices will have to be made between

competing demands.

Accelerating Qualitative Standard Setting

Another outcome of the current crisis is likely to be

increased sensitivity to and utilization of qualitative

standards and metrics to measure performance.4 Until

recently, the template has been climate change — with

growing acceptance of the need for more comprehensive

disclosure of climate financial risks, better climate risk

management and a focus on opportunities for firms and

investors in the transition. This logic is likely to extend

to other systemic issues and help drive the transition to

more sustainable economic frameworks.


Confucius is credited with saying, “The humane do not

worry; the wise are not perplexed; the courageous have

no fear.” In extraordinarily challenging times few aspire to

such a high bar, but it’s a good reminder that this type of

situation has happened many times in the past. We know

that life after the crisis will be very different than what

we have come to take for granted. But we also know that

the crisis will pass, and in its passing will present many

challenges and opportunities.

We are keen to hear from others thinking about the

challenges and opportunities that lie ahead and we

encourage you to reach out to any of your Stikeman Elliott

contacts to continue the dialogue. As noted above, a

number of Stikeman Elliott partners contributed to this

essay, which may not necessarily reflect the views of all

members of the firm.