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Flight cancellations scramble travel plans as hopes for a spike in demand fade

Hundreds of flights nixed

Canadian airlines are cancelling hundreds of flights as hopes for a spike in demand fall flat, snarling plans for the few passengers who remain.

Figures from flight data firm Cirium show Air Canada and WestJet have cancelled at least 439 flights so far this month.

John Gradek, who heads McGill University’s Global Aviation Leadership program, says the inordinately high number comes after airlines banked on a return of business travel and a continued uptick in leisure trips following months of profit loss.

Now, carriers are cancelling the half-booked flights and consolidating passengers on remaining ones to cut costs.

Twenty-six-year-old Rachel Farrell had booked a Transat flight out of Halifax for mid-February as part of her destination wedding in the Dominican Republic, but was informed this week the airline had cancelled the trip and would not make the journey until six days later.

Farrell’s wedding group of two dozen paid $37,000 for the package, but she says Transat is offering flight credit but no refund as the tour company struggles to bounce back from a 99 per cent year-over-year drop in revenue last quarter.



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BC's Ivanhoe Mines confirms third death from falling bucket in South African mine shaft

Third death at mine site

Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. is confirming a third death after an underground accident Monday at its Platreef mine development project in South Africa.

The Vancouver-based company says the workers were killed when a "kibble bucket,'' commonly used to haul water, ore or refuse to the surface, fell down a mine shaft, striking the side of a platform where four employees were conducting routine water-pumping activities.

Ivanhoe initially reported two workers were killed in the accident while another was injured and a fourth was missing.

The company says a rescue team who retrieved the bodies of the two dead miners on Friday also found the body of the missing fourth person, also deceased.

The injured employee who was taken to hospital in Johannesburg is now expected to make a full recovery.

Ivanhoe indirectly owns 64 per cent of the palladium-platinum-nickel-copper-rhodium-gold mine through its subsidiary, Ivanplats, and is directing all mine development work.

In July, it completed construction of the 996-metre-level station at the bottom of the shaft, positioning it to be equipped as Platreef’s initial production shaft if phased development to expedite production proceeds.

Ivanhoe says it has brought in specialist engineers to assist the investigation into causes of the accident and development activities at Platreef have been suspended until safety at the site can be assured.

"The safety and well-being of our employees is our topmost priority and we will work closely with the authorities to investigate this accident fully," Ivanhoe Mines president Marna Cloete said in a statement.



Not a scam: Canada Revenue Agency may call you this fall

CRA might really be calling

While fake calls claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency are common, don’t hang up the next call as they may be actual employees and not the scammers you're used to.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, CRA has suspended many collections and compliance activities, according to a media statement from the government agency.

However, the agency will be resuming these activities in phases by potentially calling residents starting this month.

Canadians who owe payments, need payment arrangements and options re-evaluated, and have tax obligations may be called. CRA will also be calling people for clarification on documents related to their tax and benefit return.

“The CRA aims to be completely transparent and proactive in identifying activities that are resuming,” the CRA said in a media statement.

The agency acknowledges there are many scammers pretending to be them and ask Canadians to be wary and question the callers.

“To protect yourself from scams, it’s important to know when and how the CRA might contact you,” said the agency in the statement.

“Legitimate CRA employees who contact Canadians will identify themselves as CRA agents and provide their name and a telephone number.”

Canadians who are unsure of calls from alleged CRA employees are told to take note of the caller’s name, phone number and office location. 

Residents can then contact and verify the information with the appropriate CRA departments such as the following:

  • 1-800-959-8281 for the individual income tax enquiries line
  • 1-800-959-5525 for the business enquiries line
  • 1-888-863-8657 for individual debts
  • 1-877-477-5068 for GST/HST debts
  • 1-877-548-6016 for payroll debts
  • 1-866-291-6346 for corporation debts
  • 1-866-864-5823 if the call you received was about a government program such as employment insurance or Canada Student Loan debts
  • Residents who believe they have received a potential scam call or are a potential victim of fraud are asked to report it at antifraudcentre.ca or by calling 1-888-495-8501.


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Statistics Canada says retail sales rose 0.6 per cent in July

Retail sales inch up

Statistics Canada says retail sales rose 0.6 per cent in July to $52.9 billion, helped by higher sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers and gasoline stations.

Economists had expected an increase of 1.0 per cent for the month, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

Statistics Canada says sales were up in six of 11 subsectors in July with the motor vehicle and parts dealers subsector contributing the most to the increase with a 3.3 per cent increase. Sales at gasoline stations rose 6.1 per cent.

However, the agency said core retail sales, which exclude those two subsectors, fell 1.2 per cent.

Sales at building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers fell 11.6 per cent, while sales at food and beverage stores dropped 2.1 per cent.

Retail sales in volume terms were up 0.4 per cent in July.

Meanwhile, wholesale sales rose 4.3 per cent in July to a record high of $65.0 billion, boosted by the motor vehicle and motor vehicle parts and accessories sub-sector.

Economists had expected an increase of 3.5 per cent in July, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

Statistics Canada say the gains in July, the third consecutive month of growth, put wholesale sales up 0.6 per cent from the pre-COVID-19 level in February.



One in four credit-card holders couldn't make payments in May and June

1 in 4 couldn't pay bills

A new survey by J.D. Power indicates that this spring, nearly one in four customers of the major credit-card companies were unable to make monthly payments.

J.D. Power’s May and June survey of more than 6,700 credit-card holders suggests that consumers whose income was dented during the pandemic were generally less satisfied with their credit-card companies.

The annual survey — which weighs factors such as benefits, credit-card terms, customer interaction and rewards — comes in the wake of COVID-19 accommodations that allowed some people to defer payments.

J.D. Power says that while overall credit-card satisfaction is flat compared with last year, people are less satisfied with credit-card companies’ online help and call centres.

The survey also indicated that wait times at credit-card companies' call centres hit 12 minutes during the pandemic, compared with less than eight minutes prior to the pandemic.

The polling industry's professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.



North Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards teams up for bid on icebreaker contract

Seaspan joins icebreaker bid

North Vancouver’s Seaspan Shipyards has joined forces with a third Canadian marine company in a bid to win the contract to build a massive polar icebreaker for the federal government.

Seaspan and Genoa Design announced Wednesday they have made an exclusive deal to work together on the icebreaker if Seaspan is awarded the contract.

If Seaspan is successful, Genoa Design International Ltd. – based in Newfoundland - will provide 3D modelling and design for the icebreaker.

Genoa has already worked with Seaspan on the design of other Coast Guard vessels.

The company is also working as a sub-contractor on the Polar Security Program in the United States, which is the U.S. equivalent of the Canadian icebreaker program.

Mark Lamarre, Seaspan’s CEO, said in a press statement that Seaspan has put together “the best team in Canada” to bid for the icebreaker.

Genoa joins Ontario-based Heddle Shipyards in teaming up with Seaspan on the icebreaker bid.

In June, the two companies announced if Seaspan is successful, Heddle will build some modules containing ship systems at its three Ontario shipyards, then ship them to North Vancouver for final assembly of the icebreaker at the West Coast shipyard.

The large icebreaker – being built to replace the aging CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent - was originally part of the non-combat package awarded to Seaspan in 2011. But last year, Ottawa took that off the company's order book - replacing it with a series of smaller multi-purpose vessels - and announced it was reopening bidding to include other shipyards, notably Davie Shipyard in Quebec.

Davie has already provided Ottawa with the interim naval supply ship - which it is leasing to the government - while the government waits for Seaspan to build the massive joint support ships.

The Quebec shipyard has also been awarded a $610-million contract to build three "interim icebreakers" for the Coast Guard.

Currently, the St-Laurent is the only Canadian ship capable of year-round operations in the Arctic.

The government has not said when it will award the contract for the icebreaker, while the cost of the ship - last estimated at $1.3 billion - is under review.

Seaspan Shipyards is currently working on a multibillion-dollar project to build two massive joint support ships for the Royal Canadian Navy.

The contract includes $2.4 billion to build the two Protecteur-class support ships - a figure that rises to $3.1 billion when manufacturing of additional spare components for both the joint support ship and other navy vessels is factored in.

The first ship is expected to be delivered in 2023 and the second ship is expected to be finished in 2025.

The total joint support ship budget - which includes design and engineering work already completed at Seaspan, project management and contingency costs - is now pegged at $4.1 billion.



From beef to hot tubs, cargo theft a growing concern in Canada

Cargo theft on the upswing

People may have found it odd when thieves made off with truckloads of hot tubs and beef within days of each other in rural Alberta, but the Insurance Bureau of Canada says it highlights a growing type of crime perpetrated by sophisticated culprits.

"It's obviously not a new problem. But from what we're seeing in the statistics, the problem seems to be getting worse," said Sid Kingma, who directs the bureau's investigative services arm in Western Canada.

Last year, $35 million in cargo theft losses were reported to the bureau, compared to $2.1 million five years earlier.

In 2014, when the bureau started compiling cargo theft statistics, $270,000 in stolen cargo was recovered. In 2019, that figure was $14 million.

Kingma cautioned that the bureau's numbers reflect only a small snapshot of the problem based on reports it receives.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance has put total losses from cargo theft at $5 billion a year.

RCMP have linked the same phoney Quebec trucking company — Transport Pascal Charland — to the Aug. 30 theft of $230,000 worth of beef from a Brooks, Alta., beef-packing plant and the Sept. 2 theft of seven hot tubs from a manufacturer in Thorsby, southwest of Edmonton.

"You can see that there was some work put into getting the proper documentation and having everything in place for that theft in order to be able to occur," said Kingma, a former Edmonton police officer.

"So there's some organization involved."

Household items, including food, are the most common type of stolen cargo, and most of it can't be traced with serial numbers, said Kingma. He said he's heard of trailers of toilet paper, nuts and tires being lifted.

A lot of the hot merchandise is the kind that can be easily and quickly sold in settings where there's little oversight, like small shops or swap meets.

"Obviously there's people out there that maybe don't have great scruples," Kingma said.

The back-to-back hot tub and beef heists weren't the only crimes of this kind in Canada recently.

Mounties in New Brunswick said in June that four tractor trailers filled with snow crab disappeared from two trucking terminals in Moncton.

The Guelph Mercury in southwestern Ontario reported last year that a transport truck filled with cold cuts was stolen from a local meat-processing plant and that police believed the alleged thieves showed fake documents before making off with the meat.



Cogeco directors spurn Rogers, Altice again in an exchange of accusatory letters

Cogeco spurns Rogers bid

Cogeco Communications Inc. and its parent company are accusing Rogers Communications Inc. and its American partner of using "bad faith tactics" in their attempt to buy the company without support from its controlling shareholder.

In a letter released two weeks after Rogers and Altice USA Inc. announced a $10.3 billion offer, Cogeco's lead director says they failed to disclose to the public that they'd already been flatly rejected the previous night by the Montreal-based Cogeco.

The Cogeco letter also alleges that the unsolicited offer was made public even though they knew any deal required the support of the founding Audet family, which controls a majority of the shareholder votes at Cogeco Communications.

"From the outset, you have engaged in bad faith tactics, some of which created confusion in the market," wrote James Cherry, lead independent director of both Cogeco Communications Inc. and its parent Cogeco Inc., which has a media business in Quebec but gets most of its revenue from its cable and internet subsidiary.

The letter to the Rogers and Altice chief executives says "you publicly announced your proposal in which you said that the support of the Audet family was necessary to complete a transaction, yet you failed to disclose that they had rejected your proposal the prior evening."

"We can only surmise that this was done with a view to misleading investors and increasing the stock price in an attempt to put pressure on the family to sell," Cherry writes.

Cogeco Communications publicly traded subordinated shares closed Wednesday at $114, up $1.15, at the Toronto Stock Exchange. They had been at $99.35 at the close on Sept. 1 and briefly traded between $129 and $130 the following day after Altice said it was prepared to offer $134.22 cash for them.

Cogeco issued the letter Wednesday afternoon in response to a joint letter from Rogers CEO Joe Natale and Altice CEO Dexter Goei to Louis Audet, chairman of Cogeco's board and former chief executive of the company.

The CEOs of Rogers and Altice say the independent directors of the two Cogeco boards had failed to fulfil their duty to consider the proposal fully on behalf of all shareholders, not just the Audets.

"In simple terms, the boards and their independent directors failed to fulfil their most basic duties in representing the shareholders they are duty bound to represent and protect," they wrote, according to a copy of the letter posted by Cogeco.

Cherry says in his reply that all the proper steps were taken by Audet and the directors and they won't engage in a "futile exercise" that diverts attention from running the internet and cable business.

He said the independent members of both boards met promptly on Sept. 2 to discuss the proposal..

"Prior to those discussions, Mr. Audet met with the independent directors as a representative of the Audet family, provided absolute clarity regarding the intentions of the family, indicated that their shares were not for sale and confirmed that their position was not a negotiating tactic."

Cherry also said Natale and Goei should know the Audet family's support is necessary because they each run a family controlled company.

Under the Altice proposal, it would buy Cogeco Communications to obtain its cable, internet and phone operations in the United States and sell its Canadian operations to Rogers for $4.9 billion.

Natale told an industry conference on Tuesday that he'd been asked why Rogers would pursue Cogeco without the Audet's support.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the value of good internet connections, which industry experts say will increasingly be delivered through a combination of fifth-generation wireless and land-based fibre optics networks.

Natale said Rogers is looking at its medium- and long-term investments in every province, including Quebec — where Rogers has a presence in the wireless but not in residential internet or cable.

"We're asking a very fundamental question. Do our plans include Cogeco territory or not?'' Natale said at a virtual conference hosted by BMO Capital Markets.

"`I'd hate to miss this technology and investment cycle, and not to have answered the question. ... . It's a question that's been 20 years in the making.''



Fed sees rates near zero through 2023, perhaps longer

Rates near zero till 2023

With the economy still struggling to recover from the pandemic recession, Federal Reserve policymakers signalled Wednesday that their benchmark short-term interest rate will likely remain at zero at least through 2023 and probably even longer.

Fed chair Jerome Powell said at a press conference that while the economy has rebounded more quickly than expected, the job market is still hurting and the outlook is uncertain. The unemployment rate has fallen steadily since the spring but is still 8.4%.

"Although we welcome this progress we will not lose sight of the millions of Americans that remain out of work," Powell said.

The Fed left its interest rate, which influences borrowing costs for homebuyers, credit card users, and businesses, unchanged at nearly zero, where it has been pegged since the virus pandemic intensified in March. Fed policymakers hope an extended period of low interest rates will encourage more borrowing and spending, though their policy also carries the risk of inflating a bubble in stocks or other financial assets.

Fed officials said, in a set of quarterly economic projections, that they expect to keep rates at zero through 2023. And in a statement released after its two-day meeting, Fed policymakers said they wouldn't raise borrowing costs until inflation has reached 2% and is “on track to moderately exceed” that level “for some time.”

The Fed's projections show that they don't expect inflation to hit that target until the end of 2023, suggesting a rate hike isn't in the cards until 2024 or later.

“The Fed is now more dovish, by a long shot, than it has ever been,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont. Dovish generally refers to Fed officials that seek to keep borrowing costs low to support more hiring, while hawks typically support higher interest rates to ensure inflation remains under control.

On Wall Street, stocks initially got a short boost from the Fed’s actions before turning lower. The S&P 500 fell 0.5%. Still, some market analysts liked what they heard from the Fed.

“A better economy and a dovish Fed, that is a nice combo,” said Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist for LPL Financial.

But many analysts were disappointed the Fed was not more specific about how long it wanted inflation to stay above 2%, one likely reason that the stock market ultimately fell.

And some economists saw the Fed's statement that it would keep rates at near zero until inflation was “on track” to top 2% as less dovish than they expected. They had hoped the Fed would say clearly that it would keep rates low until inflation was sustainably above 2%.

Still, Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust, said the Fed will likely keep rates at nearly zero for at least five years. The Fed held its rate that low for seven years during and after the 2008-2009 recession. But there was one key difference: As early as 2012, financial markets began to forecast increases, likely undercutting the effectiveness of the Fed's policy. For now, few investors expect a hike for years.

The Fed ultimately first hiked rates in December 2015, when the unemployment rate was 5%. On Wednesday, the Fed projected that it will keep rates at zero in 2023 even as it forecasts unemployment will fall to 4%.

Powell said the Fed's benchmark rate will stay low “until the expansion is well along, really very close to our goals and even after."

The Fed has significantly altered its inflation goal, from simply reaching to 2% to pushing inflation above that level so that it averages 2% over time. That is intended to offset long periods of inflation below that level.

The change reflects a growing concern at the Fed that in recessions, inflation often falls far below its target, but it doesn’t necessarily reach 2% when the economy is expanding. Over time, that means inflation on average falls further from the target. As businesses and consumers come to expect increasingly lower inflation, they act in ways that entrench slower price gains.

While most Americans prefer lower prices, the Fed seeks some inflation because interest rates partly reflect expected price increases. Low inflation, as a result, pushes interest rates lower. That's a major reason the Fed increasingly finds itself cutting its benchmark rate to zero. Higher inflation would lift interest rates a bit and give the Fed more room to raise or cut borrowing costs.

Powell reiterated his support for more spending by Congress to help the economy recover. Congress is deadlocked on more financial relief because of disagreements on the size of the package between Democrats and Republicans. Some earlier measures aimed at helping consumers, such as an extra $600 in unemployment benefits, have expired.

“My sense is that more fiscal support is likely to be needed,” Powell said.

The Fed also said Wednesday that it will continue purchasing about $120 billion in Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities a month, in an effort to keep longer-term interest rates low. Since March, the Fed has flooded financial markets with cash by making such purchases and its balance sheet has ballooned by about $3 trillion.

On Wednesday, the latest economic report seemed to support Powell's view of an economy on the mend but not fully healthy. The Commerce Department said retail sales rose 0.6% in August, the fourth straight gain but the slowest since sales started growing again in May. The figure suggests that the end of the extra $600 in unemployment benefits weighed on spending.



Ag Growth's shares slide after grain bin collapse at West Coast terminal

Shares slide after collapse

Shares in Ag Growth International Inc. continue to fall on the Toronto Stock Exchange Wednesday after a newly developed commercial grain storage bin it manufactured collapsed while being filled at North Vancouver's Fibreco Export Inc. terminal.

The Winnipeg company says the cause and responsibility for the incident last Friday afternoon is not known and therefore it is unable to determine if any financial damage will result.

Ag Growth's shares were down as much as $4.07 or 12.9 per cent at $27.55 on Wednesday after falling 9.1 per cent on Tuesday after the company posted a statement about the i.

Fibreco said in a statement posted on its website on Saturday the bin collapsed due to a "structural failure " during loading. It says no one was injured.

The terminal company, owned by a consortium of forestry firms, announced in 2018 it would add bins and other equipment as part of a plan to replace the shipping of wood chips with agricultural products while continuing to export wood pellets.

Ag Growth said the bin that collapsed is part of a new product line it developed for two commercial projects, adding 15 of the bins are located at Fibreco and an additional 20 have been manufactured for another customer but have not yet been commissioned.

It says it plans to investigate all bins in the product line.

"We have not updated our estimates at this point, given that it is difficult to estimate what (if any) the financial impact could be as the cause and any responsibility for the incident are not yet known. But clearly this issue is an overhang for AFN’s share price," said CIBC analyst Jacob Bout in a note to investors.

He pointed out Ag Growth previously spent about $20 million on project rework at the same site due to a design flaw, although that's not believed to be related to the collapse.



Over 60% of Canadians would prefer to continue working remotely

Would rather work at home

Are you dreading heading back to the office? Or, have you gone a little stir-crazy at home and are itching to go back?

While the majority of Canadians worked from an external workplace prior to the pandemic, many of them have been working from home during these unprecedented times. 

Now, many employers are asking their staff to make a return to the workplace. However, not all employees are ready to make the transition.

According to a new study released by Pwc Canada, 82% of Canadians worked primarily from an external workplace prior to the pandemic. Today, that number is down to 27% – with 59% now working remotely. 

What's more, the study finds that, "while most employers (78%) expect at least a partial return to the office in the next three months, only one in five employees says they want to go back to their workplace full time."

Canada-wide, employees say they want the flexibility to choose between working from home or the office. That said, there are some regional disparities: "Workers in Alberta and Atlantic Canada are the most comfortable returning to their workplace in the next three months (47% and 45%, respectively), while Ontarians are the least (30%)."

In total, the study found that 27% of employees are ready to return to the workplace, while a staggering 59% say they'd like to work solely at home; 14% say they'd prefer a mix of the two. 

Employees report that their top three challenges are dealing with work-life balance (especially for households with kids), maintaining productivity and communicating with co-workers without traditional in-person interactions.

Despite naming maintaining productivity as a top challenge, some Canadian workers say their productivity has actually increased since the pandemic. In fact, employees are largely split around whether productivity has increased, decreased or stayed the same. The financial services industry experienced a significant boost in output, with almost half (46%) of employees reporting increased productivity during the pandemic (the highest among sectors measured).



Celebs join Instagram 'freeze' to protest Facebook inaction on hateful content

Celebs' Instagram 'freeze'

Kim Kardashian West, Katy Perry, Leonardo DiCaprio and other celebrities are taking part in a 24-hour Instagram “freeze” on Wednesday to protest against what they say is parent company Facebook's failure to tackle violent and hateful content and election misinformation.

Hollywood stars and influencers are lending their backing to the “#StopHateforProfit” movement's latest campaign. The movement asks people to put up a message highlighting what they called the damage Facebook does but otherwise refrain from posting on Instagram for a day.

“I can’t sit by and stay silent while these platforms continue to allow the spreading of hate, propaganda and misinformation – created by groups to sow division and split America apart – only to take steps after people are killed,” Kardashian West posted on her Instagram account on Tuesday.

Facebook declined to comment but pointed to recent announcements about what it's doing to limit the reach on its platform of groups that support violence and its efforts to protect the U.S. election in November.

With 188 million followers, Kardashian West is one of the most influential people on Instagram and support from her and other big names for the boycott saw Facebook shares slide in aftermarket trading late Tuesday. They were down 1.7% ahead of the market open on Wednesday.

The organizers behind “#StopHateforProfit," including civil rights groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP and Color Of Change, had previously led a campaign that got hundreds of brands and nonprofits to join a Facebook advertising boycott in July.

Ashton Kutcher, Mark Ruffalo, Kerry Washington, Rosario Dawson, Jamie Foxx and Sacha Baron Cohen were among about two dozen Hollywood stars and celebrity influencers supporting the campaign, the organizers said.

DiCaprio said he was standing with the civil rights groups to call “on all users of Instagram and Facebook to protest the amplification of hate, racism, and the undermining of democracy on those platforms.”

Facebook, which earned nearly $70 billion in advertising revenue last year, is facing a reckoning over what critics call indefensible excuses for amplifying divisions, hate and misinformation on their platforms.

“We are quickly approaching one of the most consequential elections in American history," organizers said. “Facebook’s unchecked and vague ‘changes’ are falling dangerously short of what is necessary to protect our democracy.”

The movement also singled out for criticism Facebook's handling of online material ahead of the shootings in Kenosha, Wisconsin last month. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said the company made a mistake in not removing sooner a page belonging to a militia group that called for armed civilians to enter the town. It only took the page down after an armed teenager killed two people after violent protests sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, who is Black.



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