B.C. announces $29 million in funding for women, minorities in the technology sector

$29M for women in tech

The B.C. government is teaming up with community partners, spending millions to get more women and minorities into the technology sector.

The government, Crown agency Innovate B.C., the Information and Communications Technology Council and Mitacs are spending a total of $29 million to create 3,000 jobs for those entering the technology sector this year.

The government asked for feedback from more than 20 organizations and reviewed hundreds of surveys from businesses and individuals who support equity-seeking initiatives to determine how best to distribute the funding.

The program is based on the Innovator Skills Initiative and would provide companies with up to $10,000 per employee for the first four months, but the grant amount has been increased and preference is given to employers hiring those who are a minority or part of the LGBTQ community.

Brenda Bailey, the parliamentary secretary for technology and innovation, says the goal now is to revamp the existing program to create a more inclusive and sustainable technology economy.

B.C. Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon says this is one way the government is working to reinvigorate the job market by providing employers the funding they need to create jobs for those most affected by the pandemic.

He says the pandemic has been disproportionately hard on women and Indigenous and Black communities for employment.

"We want to ensure everyone gets an opportunity to benefit from economic recovery."


Cineflix workers could share more than $1 million in class-action settlement: unions

Workers could share money

Two Canadian media and entertainment unions say a Toronto-based production company behind some popular reality shows has agreed to pay Factual TV company Cineflix workers at least $1 million to settle a class-action lawsuit.

CWA Canada and IATSE say the settlement agreement was submitted to an Ontario court Monday for approval following three years of negotiations.

The lawsuit was filed by law firm Cavalluzzo in 2018 on behalf of hundreds of current and former workers at Cineflix, which produces such TV shows as "Property Brothers" and "Mayday." It came after a five-year “Fairness in Factual” campaign by CWA Canada to bring fair working conditions to the industry. IATSE joined the campaign in 2019, with the formation of the Factual Television Joint Council.

The proposed settlement would be for all employment standards entitlements (overtime pay, vacation pay, holiday pay) for nearly everyone who worked for Cineflix as employees or independent contractors since October 2016.

The unions say Cineflix also has until March to decide whether to sign a collective agreement that has already been negotiated or pay an additional lump sum.

Cavalluzzo has also filed a class-action lawsuit against Insight Productions seeking damages for alleged employment standards violations. That is still before the courts. Insight Productions is best known for producing Canadian versions of shows such as "The Amazing Race," "Big Brother" and CBC’s "Battle of the Blades."

Ford to add 10,800 jobs making electric vehicles, batteries

Ford adds electric jobs

Ford and a partner company say they plan to build three major electric-vehicle battery factories and an auto assembly plant by 2025 — a dramatic investment in the future of EV technology that will create an estimated 10,800 jobs and shift the automaker's future manufacturing footprint toward the South.

The factories, to be built on sites in Kentucky and Tennessee, will make batteries for the next generation of Ford and Lincoln electric vehicles that will be produced in North America. Combined, they mark the single largest manufacturing investment the 118-year-old company has ever made and are among the largest factory outlays in the world.

Notably, the new factories will provide a vast new supply of jobs that will likely pay solid wages. Most of the new jobs will be full time, with a relatively small percentage having temporary status to fill in for vacations and absent workers.

Together with its battery partner, SK Innovation of South Korea, Ford says it will spend $5.6 billion in rural Stanton, Tennessee, where it will build a factory to produce electric F-Series pickups. A joint venture called BlueOvalSK will construct a battery factory on the same site near Memphis, plus twin battery plants in Glendale, Kentucky, near Louisville. Ford estimated the Kentucky investment at $5.8 billion and said its share of the total would be $7 billion.

With the new spending, Ford is making a significant bet on a future that envisions most drivers eventually making the shift to battery power from internal combustion engines, which have powered vehicles in the United States for more than a century. Should that transition run into disruptions or delays, the gamble could hit the company's bottom line. Ford predicts 40% to 50% of its U.S. sales will be electric by 2030. For now, only about 1% of vehicles on America's roads are powered by electricity.


Gas blowout near Los Angeles leads to up to $1.8B settlement

Gas blowout settlement

Thousands of families sickened and forced from their Los Angeles homes after the nation’s largest-known natural gas leak have reached a settlement of up to $1.8 billion with a utility, attorneys said Monday.

The settlement with Southern California Gas Co. and its parent company, Sempra Energy, will compensate 35,000 plaintiffs from the 2015 blowout that took nearly four months to control.

The Aliso Canyon blowout led to the largest-known release of methane in U.S. history and was blamed for sickening thousands of residents who moved out of homes near the San Fernando Valley to escape a sulfurous stench and maladies including headaches, nausea and nose bleeds.

The plaintiffs alleged personal injury for their illnesses and property damage to their homes. SoCalGas spent more than $1 billion on the the blowout — with most going to temporarily relocate 8,000 families. The utility has faced more than 385 lawsuits on behalf of 48,000 people.

“Our goal has always been obtaining justice for the men, women and children who were failed by SoCalGas throughout every turn of this catastrophe," attorney Brian Panish said in a statement.

Plaintiffs alleged they suffered personal injury and property damage after a natural gas storage well failed and uncontrollably released nearly 100,000 tons of methane and other substances into the atmosphere over 118 days.

SoCalGas said it would record an after-tax charge of approximately $1.1 billion this month and expects total settlement payments of up to $1.85 billion. The agreement is subject to about 97% of plaintiffs accepting it and could be reduced if fewer agree.

“These agreements are an important milestone that will help the community and our company work toward putting this difficult chapter behind us,” said Scott Drury, CEO of SoCalGas.

Matt Pakucko, founder of Save Porter Ranch, issued a statement repeating his call for the permanent shutdown of the facility, where natural gas is stored beneath a mountain in vacant, old oil wells.

“You can’t put a price tag on human suffering," he said. "SoCalGas’ devastating blowout will never be behind us until the Aliso Canyon storage facility is shut down and the danger it poses to the community is permanently eliminated. We are nowhere near a resolution.”

State regulators found the gas company failed to investigate previous well failures at the storage site and didn’t adequately assess its aging wells for disaster potential before the Oct. 23, 2015, blowout.

SoCalGas previously reached a $120 million court settlement with the state attorney general and agreed to a $4 million settlement with Los Angeles County prosecutors after being convicted in Los Angeles Superior Court of failing to quickly report the leak to state authorities.

Aurora Cannabis says revenue from consumer sales down 45 per cent in fourth quarter

Consumer sales down big

Aurora Cannabis Inc. blamed COVID-19 lockdowns for a 45 per cent plunge in consumer sales that it experienced as it continued to restructure its operations in its fourth quarter.

The Edmonton-based cannabis company said the health crisis pushed its net revenue from consumer sales to $19.5 million for the three months ended June 30, down from $35.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2020.

But that didn't appear to have the company's executives worried.

"Canadian rec will come back and that timeline won't impede our strategic or financial progress," said Miguel Martin, Aurora's chief executive, on a Monday call with analysts that had been rescheduled from the week prior.

"We've shown an incredible agility over the last two years and the final leg of our transformation is well underway."

The transformation Martin was referring to has been ongoing for the last year and has already encompassed several sizable reductions of Aurora's workforce and the shutdown of many facilities.

Last week, Aurora announced about eight per cent of its global workforce will be impacted by the forthcoming closure of its Aurora Polaris property in Edmonton.

The transformation is meant to streamline its operations, align its product offerings with current and future demand levels and put the company on a path to profitability.

But analysts feel those tasks won't be easy.

Bill Kirk, an analyst and executive director with MKM Partners, said in a Sept. 17 note that Aurora has "limited prospects" to improve its position in the recreational cannabis market and is unlikely to beat profitability expectations.

He pointed out that in the 17 quarters Aurora has reported as a public company, it missed consensus EBITDA expectations 17 times and he felt the firm would barely generate $50 million in revenue.

Retail investors also questioned Aurora's track record on EBITDA on Monday's call, asking Martin why they should believe the company is headed for profitability now because they've heard those promises before.

"I can absolutely sympathize with the frustration around past milestones not being achieved, but there's a big difference between what we're saying now and what was said then," Martin told the investors.

"Those forecasts were based on assumptions of revenue growth and that's not what we're saying here now."

Martin said he had confidence in the renewed forecasts because they are based on "aggressive cost" saving measures and not dependent on a need to grow revenue and increase margins.

His remarks came as Aurora announced its medical cannabis net revenue was $35 million, up from $32 million in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Aurora reported a net loss of $135.1 million, compared with a net loss of $1.86 billion a year earlier.

On an adjusted basis, it lost $19.3 million, compared with a loss of $33.3 million in the same quarter the year before.

Included in the adjusted loss is $5.1 million in restructuring costs. Aurora says it has identified $60 to $80 million in annualized cash efficiencies as part of its restructurings.

Aurora expects to deliver $30 million to $40 million of annualized cash savings with the next year, and the remainder by the end of the second quarter of 2023.

Ritchie Bros. acquiring Euro Auctions for $1.3 billion

BC company gets bigger

The Burnaby-based auction giant revealed Monday it’s taking a 100% equity stake in SmartEquipment Inc. in a deal worth about US$175 million.

Ritchie Bros. is best known for facilitating sales of heavy equipment and trucks through live auctions and online bidding, while SmartEquipment specializes in helping enterprise consumers acquirement equipment parts, such as for large fleets, and managing equipment service.

The Connecticut-based does about US$1 billion annually in transactions for more than 600 brands.

The SmartEquipment deal marks the third major acquisition for Ritchie Bros. in the past 11 months, during which it paid US$275 million for U.S. data firm Rouse Services LLC and £775 million ($1.35 billion) for competitor Euro Auctions UK Ltd.

Ritchie Bros. has spent about $1.92 billion on acquisitions since last October.

"This acquisition furthers our goal of providing the best experience for our customers as we continue our transition from a traditional auctioneer to a marketplace for insights, services and transaction solutions for commercial assets," Ritchie Bros. CEO Ann Fandozzi said in a statement.

About 60 workers from SmartEquipment will join the new parent company, which has about 2,250 workers worldwide, including about 550 based in B.C.

Stats show BC's smaller mines have avoided wild swings of larger players

Largest mines hit hardest

British Columbia’s largest producing mines have had a rough few years with revenue dropping precipitously after peaking in 2018.

Average revenue for the largest mines hit a high point in 2018 at $704.1 million.

The average subsequently fell 26.2% to $519.5 million in 2020, wiping out at least three years of growth preceding 2018.

No. 3 Teck Resources Ltd.’s Fording River mine, near Elkford, is perhaps the most emblematic of the decline. In 2018, Fording River was No. 1 on the list with $2.22 billion in revenue, 34.6% higher than the second-largest mine. However, the mine’s revenue fell 55.4% to $991.6 million in 2020.

Meanwhile, the median revenue for B.C.’s top mines has remained relatively constant over the past four years, suggesting that smaller mines on the list did not have the same wild revenue swings as their larger counterparts did.

No. 8 Red Chris mine near Dease Lake boasted the largest one-year revenue growth: $400 million in 2020, up from $200.9 million in 2019. No. 15 Coeur Mining Inc.’s Silvertip mine had the steepest revenue decline: a 95.3% drop to $2.6 million in 2020 from $56.6 million in 2019.

Qatar Airways says losses reach $4.1 billion amid pandemic

Qatar Airways $4.1B in red

Qatar Airways announced on Monday that it suffered a more than $4 billion loss in revenues over the last year, as lockdowns triggered by the coronavirus pandemic slashed demand for long-haul travel.

The major loss, which the state-owned airline largely attributed to the grounding of its Airbus A380 and A330 wide-body jets, highlights the dramatic toll of the pandemic on the industry. Even so, the airline reported an increase in earnings to $1.6 billion before taxes and other costs compared to the previous year.

The long-haul carrier based in the energy-rich Gulf Arab state of Qatar nonetheless praised its resilience in the face of the fast-spreading virus variants still racing around the globe, noting that its operational loss of $288 million stood at 7% less than the year before. The airline acknowledged receiving a $3 billion lifeline from the Qatari government as it struggled with virus restrictions.

The other two biggest carriers in the region that depend on lucrative long-haul routes, Dubai-based Emirates and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, also posted significant losses over the past year.

CIBC hires former Liberal innovation minister Navdeep Bains

CIBC hires former minister

CIBC has hired former Liberal cabinet minister Navdeep Bains as vice-chair of global investment banking.

Bains stepped down as innovation minister in January and did not run in the recent federal election.

He officially joins the bank Oct. 4.

CIBC says Bains will focus on developing and fostering senior level client relationships and business development globally as part of its capital markets team.

Bains joins former Conservative cabinet minister Lisa Raitt who was hired by CIBC in January 2020 as vice-chair, global investment banking.

CIBC says together with Raitt that the bank's senior advisory team will offer unparalleled insights into public and industrial policy issues.

Instagram pausing Instagram Kids, eyes changes

Instagram Kids on pause

Instagram is putting a hold on the development of Instagram kids, geared towards children under 13, so it can address concerns about access and content.

Adam Mosseri, the head of Instagram, wrote in a blog post Monday that a delay will give the company time to “work with parents, experts, policymakers and regulators, to listen to their concerns, and to demonstrate the value and importance of this project for younger teens online today."

The announcement follows a withering series by the Wall Street Journal, which reported that Facebook was aware that the use of Instagram by some teenage girls led to mental health issues and anxiety.

Yet the development of Instagram for a younger audience was met with broader push back almost immediately.

Facebook announced the development of Instagram for kids in March, saying at the time that it was “exploring a parent-controlled experience.” The push back was almost immediate and in May, a bipartisan group of 44 attorneys general wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, urging him to abandon the project, citing the well being of children.

They cited increased cyberbullying, possible vulnerability to online predators, and what they called Facebook’s “checkered record” in protecting children on its platforms. Facebook faced similar criticism in 2017 when it launched the Messenger Kids app, touted as a way for children to chat with family members and friends approved by parents.

While concerns about Instagram for kids is ongoing, Mosseri said that Instagram believes it's better for children under 13 to have a specific platform for age-appropriate content, and that other companies like TikTok and YouTube have app versions for that age group.

“We firmly believe that it’s better for parents to have the option to give their children access to a version of Instagram that is designed for them — where parents can supervise and control their experience — than relying on an app’s ability to verify the age of kids who are too young to have an ID," he wrote.

Mosseri said that Instagram for kids is meant for those between the ages of 10 and 12, not younger. It will require parental permission to join, be ad free, and will include age-appropriate content and features. Parents will be able to supervise the time their children spend on the app, oversee who can message them, who can follow them and who they can follow.

While work is being paused on Instagram Kids, the company will be expanding opt-in parental supervision tools to teen accounts of those 13 and older. More details on these tools will be disclosed in the coming months, Mosseri said.

Cannabis industry laments lack of progress toward allowing consumption spaces

A place to smoke weed?

At Behind the Bend café, diners sitting by a fire pit nibble on charcuterie and enjoy vanilla bean ice cream served in pineapple boats, but the menu isn't the reason many flock to the Lambton Shores, Ont., spot.

Customers visit because the café about an hour's drive from London allows them to consume cannabis as long as they are 19 or older and they bring their own legal pot and its receipt.

No province nor territory allows cannabis consumption lounges or cafés yet, but the Bend's owner bounded ahead with her business because customers were being chided when they used pot in public.

"I've just been trying to support my clients and provide them with a space that is safe, so they're not going to feel like they're going to get in trouble or get hassled," said Laura Bradley, who also owns a neighbouring cannabis store.

Her patio — and similar ventures that have sprang up in recent months — are a sign of a frustrated cannabis industry that has long awaited regulations allowing consumption spaces, but has instead seen little progress and a health crisis extinguish hopes that such laws are nearing.

Ontario looked like it would be the first to allow cannabis consumption spaces, when it solicited feedback from the public before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The deadline for that feedback passed more than a year ago, but a press secretary for attorney general Doug Downey said in an email this month that, "No changes to the cannabis framework are expected at this time nor is there a current time frame for any additional changes."

The outlook is similar in other corners of the country. Most provinces and territories told The Canadian Press public consumption spaces are prohibited and many added they are not even under consideration.

"With the pandemic, we're now in a situation where everyone — restaurants, bars, hospitality in general — is trying to just recover and they haven't turned their attention to consumption lounges at all," said Will Stewart, a senior vice-president at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, who has worked for Tokyo Smoke, Harvest One Cannabis and CannaGlobal.

"It is really going to take political will, and I'm not sure that we have that coming after a pandemic."

But others say there are perks to considering the spaces now. Hospitality businesses and restaurants need a pick-me-up after months of closures and with vaccination widespread, people are anxious for communal experiences again.

"If restaurants are open, then consumption spaces can be a conversation," said Andrea Dobbs, the co-founder of Vancouver pot shop Village Bloomery.

Some provinces and territories appear to agree. The Yukon Liquor Corporation said in an email to The Canadian Press that cannabis consumption lounges are "continuously under review."

The Union of B.C. Municipalities added in late August that the province's cannabis secretariat also plans to engage with stakeholders around consumption spaces in 2022.

However, Stewart suspects moving from discussions to policies will be "difficult" because an Ontario election is looming and companies got their hopes up when feedback was collected before but were ultimately let down.

"Cannabis companies in general are trying to figure out a way to increase their revenue and decrease their costs, so if there's a company exclusively in the consumption space they're probably having a very, very difficult time," Stewart said.

Many shelved consumption space plans or pivoted their companies.

CannaGlobal, for example, which Stewart previously worked for, was building a cannabis consumption business under the ByMinistry name before the pandemic.

It hired Ted Corrado, formercorporate executive chef for Drake Properties,to launch a cooking school, run a secret dining club and craft menus for spaces and events, but Stewart said it has since shifted the company's focus to psychedelics and renamed itself Good Cap Wellness Inc.

"Three years is a really long time to be in a holding pattern, so a lot of people have had to adjust, adapt, move on, move forward in a different path," said Jaclynn Pehota, executive director of the Association of Canadian Cannabis Retailers (ACCRES).

But demand for consumption spaces hasn't let up, despite attention being diverted.

Pehota recently asked ACCRES members to rank the importance of 10 issues facing the industry and found consumption spaces came second to advocating for a B.C. program that would allow small scale cultivators to sell products directly to private retailers.

She's also seen high traffic coming from the consumption space at B.C.'s New Amsterdam Café and watched Dobbs open a coffee shop at her cannabis store.

It sold smoothies and baked goods but no cannabis-infused products before it was quickly shut down.

Meanwhile, Alchemy Canna Co. owner Richard Browne plunked down two picnic tables beside his north Toronto cannabis shop. He plans to add umbrellas, barriers and if demand materializes, more places to sit.

He insists it's legal because the tables are covered by the store's security cameras and far enough from its entrance to obey Health Canada regulations.

Bradley has taken similar steps and requires staff to have Smart Serve training, check on the well-being of customers and co-operate with authorities who visit to inspect the premise.

"I go above and beyond, so we don't raise any eyebrows in any direction," she said.

"None of the governing bodies that have been here has said, 'we are going to write it up that you have permission to operate,' but they've all said, 'you're not giving us a reason to shut you down.'"

Though winter will put a damper on outdoor consumption spaces, Pehota believes such ventures will become common as operators get "super creative" in the absence of legislation.

"But I think it would be nice for that not to be necessary," Pehota said.

"It would be a lot more beneficial to the sector and a lot easier on the public and our regulators, if we just created a structure as opposed to leaving people to their own devices."

Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week

This week in business

Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week:

ESG roundtable:

The Canadian Securities Administrators will hold a virtual roundtable on environmental, social and governance related regulatory issues in asset management today. ESG investing has attracted growing interest from individual investors as well as larger institutional money managers.

Aurora results:

Aurora Cannabis Inc. will release its fourth-quarter and full year results after the close of markets today. The cannabis company said last week that it would close its Aurora Polaris property in Edmonton as part of a plan to streamline its operations.

SNC-Lavalin investor day:

SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. will hold a virtual investor day on Tuesday when it will present an review of its strategy and financial outlook. The company was in the headlines last week when SNC-Lavalin Inc. and SNC-Lavalin international Inc. were charged along with two former executives in connection with bribes allegedly paid to obtain a Montreal bridge repair contract.

TransAlta investor day:

TransAlta Corp. and its subsidiary TransAlta Renewables Inc. will hold a virtual investor day on Tuesday. The company, which owns power generation assets in Canada, the United States and Australia, will provide a review of its strategic plan and priorities.

Economic report card:

Statistics Canada will release gross domestic product figures for July on Friday. The agency's initial estimate for the first month of the third quarter pointed to a contraction for the month of 0.4 per cent.

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