‘big-reset’-called-for-debt-ridden-nl.-with-release-of-ground-shaking-economic-report

‘Big reset’ called for debt-ridden N.L. with release of ground-shaking economic report

A no-holds-barred report that lays out a five- to six-year plan to reimagine Newfoundland and Labrador in order to avoid a “perilous situation” and prepare for the future was revealed in St. John’s on Thursday.

A no-holds-barred report that lays out a five- to six-year plan to re-imagine Newfoundland and Labrador in order to avoid a “perilous situation” and prepare for the future was revealed in St. John’s on Thursday.

As expected, Moya Greene, chair of the premier’s economic recovery team, delivered a ground-shaking plan — proposing everything from tax increases and deep spending cuts to a streamlining of the public service and a focus on transitioning to a green economy — to reverse a course that threatens to send the province into insolvency.

She described the province’s debt and spending practices as a “fiscal crisis” and said “immediate changes are required.”

“What happens when we can no longer borrow? What if interest rates rise? What if we have to quickly and chaotically shut down services? What is the future like under these circumstances?”

Those sobering questions were posed by Greene as she described the contents of her report to the media.

Post-secondary cuts 

In order to rein in a soaring public debt and end the long pattern of deficit spending, Greene recommended a five per cent reduction in core government spending, and that operating grants for Memorial University and the College of the North Atlantic be slashed by 30 per cent, at a rate of five per cent annually.

She also proposed that operating grants to the province’s four regional health authorities be cut and that the province develop new ways of delivering “top quality health care.” 

In referencing the 180 health-care facilities throughout the province, Greene said the province “must reduce our footprint.”

Some of her sharpest points were directed at the health system, which accounts for 37 per cent of public spending.

She said the province spends 24 per cent more per capita on heath than the Canadian average, yet despite this, Newfoundland and Labrador’s health indicators are “among the worst in Canada.”

But she didn’t stop there.

Abolishing Nalcor

She also recommended the abolishment of Nalcor, the province’s energy corporation and the entity that oversees the controversial Muskrat Falls project.

“The current operations model for Nalcor is expensive and includes duplication in many areas,” she said. “The organization’s size and complexity does not reflect the small size of this province.”

Moya Greene delivers the long-awaited final report of Newfoundland and Labrador’s economic recovery team on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (Government of Newfoundland and Labrador)

And since the province has one of the largest public sectors in the country on a per capita basis, she recommended the province re-examine its relationship with unions.

“The compensation and benefits paid to many public sector employees are higher than those received by people doing the same jobs in the private sector workforce,” she said. 

Education shakeup

But Greene is not recommending spending cuts for the K-12 education system.

In fact, she said the system needs a shakeup so today’s generation can be better prepared for a new economy that is built on technology and low-carbon industries.

She said the province has the most teachers-per-student in the country, “but the structures appear unable to adapt” to the changing needs of students.

“Our children have to be prepared to contribute more that the previous generation,” she said in reference to a birth rate that is the lowest in the country.

On the revenue side, Greene recommended “modest” tax increases, including wealth and second home taxes.

She also called for the creation of a future fund, with perhaps 50 per cent of oil and gas revenues and carbon tax revenues being funnelled into the fund. She said the fund should be used exclusively for transitioning to a green economy, and paying down the province’s staggering debt.

Greene said her plan, named “The Big Reset,” is a gradual and deliberate strategy for a province that has the highest per capita revenues, expenditures, deficit and net debt of any province in Canada.

According to Green’s report, the province also has the oldest population, highest unemployment, highest per capita health-care spending and the poorest health outcomes in the country.

Cultural change needed

She said the current governance culture — one that views budgets as “notional” and deficits as something that “do not matter” — has to end.

She said the belief that the federal government will save the province is also misplaced.

“If the province requires outside assistance, we are fearful the feds will have to put measures in place and enforce changes; not the ones we would make, but would be forced on us by bond rating agencies,” she said.

When the province’s full range of liabilities and obligations are totalled, Greene said the overall debt sits at more than $47 billion, for a province of just over 500,000 residents.

When Nalcor’s costs are factored in, she said the debt servicing charges, what it costs to repay that debt, are now above $1.5 billion annually, which is twice the amount spent on K-12 education.

She said the province risks not being able to pay salaries, operate hospitals and other public services, or even pay pensions to retired public sector workers.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

facebook’s-oversight-board-upholds-trump-suspension,-but-says-company-must-revisit-decision

Facebook’s oversight board upholds Trump suspension, but says company must revisit decision

The Facebook Oversight Board has upheld the decision by the social media giant to suspend former U.S. president Donald Trump’s account, though it also had criticism for the company’s policies. 

Former U.S. president Donald Trump speaks to crowd at at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., on Jan. 20, 2021. Facebook’s oversight board on Wednesday upheld the social media network’s decision to suspend Trump’s account. (Luis M. Alvarez/The Associated Press)

The Facebook Oversight Board has upheld the decision by the social media giant to suspend former U.S. president Donald Trump’s account, though it also had criticism for the company’s policies. 

Since the day after the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Trump’s social media accounts have been silent — muzzled for being used as online megaphones to try to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power following the presidential election.

The board said in its decision that it agreed with Facebook that two of Trump’s Jan. 6 posts “severely violated” the content standards of both Facebook and Instagram. Those posts, it said, contravened the company’s policy by praising or supporting people engaged in violence.

While upholding the suspension, the board faulted Facebook for the way it made the decision.

The ongoing risk of serious violence justified Facebook’s suspension at the time, but it “was not appropriate for Facebook to impose an ‘indefinite’ suspension,” the board said.

“Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.”

The Board has upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7 to suspend then-President Trump from Facebook and Instagram. Trump’s posts during the Capitol riot severely violated Facebook’s rules and encouraged and legitimized violence. https://t.co/veRvWpeyCi

@OversightBoard

The board says Facebook has six months to reexamine the “arbitrary penalty” it imposed on Jan. 7 and decide on another penalty that reflects the “gravity of the violation and the prospect of future harm.”

It could decide to institute a permanent censure or restore Trump’s access at that time, board members said in a media briefing. But the new penalty must be “clear, necessary and proportionate” and consistent with Facebook’s rules for severe violations, the written decision says.

The board said if Facebook decides to restore Trump’s accounts, the company must be able to promptly address further violations.

On Tuesday, Trump unveiled a new blog on his personal website, From the Desk of Donald J. Trump. The page is little more than a display of Trump’s recent statements — available elsewhere on the website — that can be easily shared on Facebook and Twitter, the platforms that banished him after the riot.

After Wednesday’s ruling, Trump disparaged Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as a “total disgrace and an embarrassment to our Country” in a statement, which did not specifically address any of the oversight board’s findings.

The social media companies, the 45th president said, “must pay a political price.”

Politicians, free speech experts and activists around the world were watching the decision closely. It has implications not only for Trump but for tech companies, world leaders and people across the political spectrum — many of whom have wildly conflicting views of the proper role for technology companies when it comes to regulating online speech and protecting people from abuse and misinformation.

Reaction from Republican House minority leader:

Facebook is more interested in acting like a Democrat Super PAC than a platform for free speech and open debate.

If they can ban President Trump, all conservative voices could be next.

A House Republican majority will rein in big tech power over our speech.

@GOPLeader

After years of handling Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric with a light touch, Facebook and Instagram took the drastic step of silencing his accounts in January. In announcing the unprecedented move, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the risk of allowing Trump to continue using the platform was too great.

“The shocking events of the last 24 hours clearly demonstrate that President Donald Trump intends to use his remaining time in office to undermine the peaceful and lawful transition of power to his elected successor, Joe Biden,” Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page on Jan. 7.

Board co-chair clarifies role

Facebook created the oversight panel in 2018 to rule on thorny content on its platforms following widespread criticism of its difficulty responding swiftly and effectively to misinformation, hate speech and nefarious influence campaigns.

The board’s 20 members were named two years later. They include legal and technology experts from around the world as well human rights activists and journalists.

In a media briefing after Wednesday’s decision was released, co-chair Michael McConnell, a Stanford law professor, said the board’s sole duty was to assess Facebook’s performance with respect to its policies.

“We are not cops ranging over social media and solving the world’s ills,” he said.

Facebook Oversight Board member Helle Thorning-Schmidt, seen in Geneva, Switzerland, on Dec. 1, 2017, said the decision on Wednesday was one of ‘enormous complexity.’ (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

The board’s decisions so far — all nine of them — have tended to favour free expression over the restriction of content. In its first rulings, the panel overturned four out of five decisions by the social network to take down questionable material. It ordered Facebook to restore posts by users that the company said broke standards on adult nudity, hate speech, or dangerous individuals.

Board co-chair Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former prime minister of Denmark, said the Trump ruling was one of “enormous complexity” and that Facebook can make improvements in its transparency and create more rigorous guidelines to prevent arbitrary decisions.

Facebook will have 30 days to formally respond to the board’s ruling.

Reaction from Democratic chair of House energy and commerce committee:

Every day, Facebook is amplifying and promoting disinformation and misinformation, and the structure and rules governing its oversight board generally seem to ignore this disturbing reality. It’s clear that real accountability will only come with legislative action.

@FrankPallone

Critics of Facebook, however, worry that the oversight board is a mere distraction from the company’s deeper problems — ones that can’t be addressed in a handful of high-profile cases by a semi-independent body of experts.

“To some degree, Facebook is trying to create an accountability mechanism that I think undermines efforts to have government regulation and legislation,” said Gautam Hans, a technology law and free speech expert and professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

“If any other company decided, well, we’re just going to outsource our decision-making to some quasi-independent body, that would be thought of as ridiculous.”

Other platforms also censuring Trump

YouTube’s CEO Susan Wojcicki has said the platform will lift its suspension on Trump’s channel when it determines the risk of real-world violence has decreased.

She said YouTube would determine the risk of violence by looking at signals such as government statements and warnings, increased law enforcement around the country and violent rhetoric on the platform itself.

Twitter has said it does not foresee restoring Trump’s account. The social media company in 2020 began affixing warnings on tweets that contained misinformation and did so with Trump messages on several topics, including on mail-in voting and the result of the 2020 presidential election.

In the wake of protests following the police killing of George Floyd, Twitter pulled down a post last year in which Trump said: “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, seen testifying remotely to Congress in 2020, has generally expressed more reluctance in regulating speech on the company’s platform than has Twitter. (U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee/Reuters)

Twitter said it believed the post glorified violence against protesters, but Zuckerberg said in a lengthy post that while he had a “visceral negative reaction to this kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric,” the post would remain on Facebook pages as it contained a needed warning that the government could be deploying force in response to the protests.

Facebook has long granted greater leeway than it allows ordinary users because, it argued, even their rule-breaking statements were important for citizens to hear. Zuckerberg has said the company was not interested in regulating “political speech,” although the divisive 2020 U.S. election saw it provide context on some posts with respect to rules around voting.

The defenders of Trump having a presence on Facebook have pointed to several world leaders, including some autocrats who have stifled free speech, maintaining a presence on the platform. Facebook has also been criticized for helping accelerate campaigns against oppressed minority groups, including the Rohingya in Myanmar.

when-will-the-canada-us.-border-reopen?

When will the Canada-U.S. border reopen?

Day trips to the U.S. are a thing of the past. Canada-U.S. relations experts cautiously estimate the border could reopen in the fall, but it might be more complicated than it seems.

It’s been more than a year since Canada and the U.S. barred people from non-essential travel between the two countries. With vaccinations ramping up in both countries, experts weigh in on when the border could reopen. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Travel across the Canada-U.S. border could resume by late summer or fall, according to the cautious estimates of some experts, but they say the process will be complicated. 

The border has been closed to non-essential travel like tourism and recreation since March 2020, and the closure agreement between Ottawa and Washington is expected to be renewed on May 21

The agreement makes exceptions, for example, on compassionate grounds like attending a funeral, or to apply for refugee status, and enforcement has been less than absolute.

But the question on most people’s minds, says foreign policy expert Aaron Ettinger, is probably “When can I do my day trips over the border once again?

“And my answer to that is, that it’s going to be a long, long time.” 

Ettinger, an associate professor at Carleton University who specializes in Canadian and U.S. foreign policy, says he believes the borders will remain largely shut for at least a few more months.

It’s been more than a year since Canada and the U.S. barred people from non-essential travel between the two countries. With vaccinations ramping up in both countries, experts weigh in on when the border could reopen. (Rob Gurdebeke/The Canadian Press)

“My gut tells me it’s going to be [closed] at least well into the fall of 2021,” he said, “because things are literally ten times worse now than they were this time last year with infection rates, with ICU admissions.”

He says once both countries sort out the public health concerns, they will have to work through the politics.

“Politically, the United States and Canada would have to get on the same page … and that would take an enormous amount of diplomatic cross-border interaction,” he said. 

Given how complicated their relationship is already, Ettinger says he believes the border situation won’t be resolved quickly. He noted that the U.S. has vaccinated a far greater percentage of its residents than Canada.

“The U.S. may not be all that keen on letting Canadian travellers over the border … But I would imagine that any Canadian government would want the same treatment that Canada affords American travellers.” 

WATCH | A year of border closure:

One year after the Canada-U.S. land border was closed to non-essential travel, we take a look at the toll it’s taken on a young family enduring the separation. 7:52

Complex relationship

Melissa Haussman, a political science professor at Carleton University, says both populations would have to achieve a certain threshold of vaccinations, and be satisfied with each other’s levels before engaging in discussions.

“I think that’s probably a few months off,” she said. 

Further complicating matters is that Canada can’t currently make its own vaccine doses. She said Canada’s dependence on the U.S., among others, for vaccine supply adds a layer of economics to the already-complex political relationship.

“I would say my speculative guess is probably [reopening in] late summer, earliest, and I don’t even know if that’ll happen,” she said.

What about quarantine rules?

The rules requiring travellers to quarantine after crossing the border will also likely change, Ettinger says, as more people are vaccinated and cases decline. 

He noted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted at a possible vaccine passport system last week.

“Though he didn’t commit to anything, it’s a signal that he sees a co-ordinated system in the not-so-distant future,” Ettinger said.

“The U.S. and Canada could develop a North American vaccine passport to replace and simplify the ramshackle quarantine rules currently in place.” 

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said last month it was too soon to talk about reopening the border due to the pandemic’s uncertain path in the coming months. 

“For the moment, there’s no active discussion [about] adjusting those measures,” he said at the time.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said in an email that the federal government is “continually evaluating the impacts of border measures.”

“Decisions and considerations about lifting those measures will be based on reliable scientific evidence,” said the agency.


What questions are on your mind as vaccination campaigns pick up across Canada? CBC Ottawa is answering one a day this week. 

Monday: When can we start travelling overseas again?

Tuesday: When can we stop wearing masks?

more-than-500-air-passengers-fined-for-defying-hotel-quarantine-rules-after-landing-in-vancouver-and-toronto

More than 500 air passengers fined for defying hotel quarantine rules after landing in Vancouver and Toronto

The federal government has doled out more than 500 fines to air passengers who refused to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival in Canada. But there appears to be no evidence of any fines being issued to passengers who landed in Calgary and Montreal, two of four cities where international flights are currently allowed to land. 

Police and workers wait for arrivals at the COVID-19 testing centre at Pearson airport in Toronto on Feb. 3. The Public Health Agency of Canada says it’s ‘aware’ of 513 tickets being issued to air passengers between Feb. 22 and April 25 who landed in Toronto or Vancouver and refused quarantine in a hotel. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The federal government has doled out hundreds of fines since Feb. 22 — typically for $3,000 each — to air passengers who refused to quarantine in a designated hotel upon arrival in Canada.

Even so, the government couldn’t provide CBC News with a total number of people who’ve violated its rule that passengers entering Canada be tested for COVID-19, then quarantine in a hotel while waiting for their results.  

And when CBC tried to track down the total number of hotel quarantine violators, it found no evidence of fines being issued to passengers who landed in Calgary or Montreal — two of the four cities, along with Vancouver and Toronto, where international flights are allowed to land during the pandemic.

500+ tickets to people who landed in Toronto and Vancouver 

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) told CBC News last week it was “aware” of 513 tickets being issued to air passengers who arrived in Toronto or Vancouver between Feb. 22 and April 25 and refused to go to a quarantine hotel. The agency said that in those cities, both PHAC officers and police can issue tickets. 

PHAC said the rules are different in Calgary and Montreal, so to check with local authorities for statistics on tickets. CBC did and found no indication that any had been issued. 

But that doesn’t mean all travellers arriving in those two cities obeyed the rules. CBC News interviewed several passengers who said they recently landed in Montreal or Calgary, refused to quarantine in a hotel and have yet to be hit with a fine.

“I’m sure the [police] have better things to do,” said snowbird Allan Prout of Yorkton, Sask., who flew to Calgary from Puerto Vallarta on April 26. “I mean there’s real criminals out there. I’m not a criminal.”

Snowbird Allan Prout, of Yorkton, Sask., said he refused to quarantine in a hotel after returning to Canada from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. After his flight landed in Calgary, Prout said he felt he had a safe place to quarantine at home. (submitted by Allan Prout)

Prout said he refused to check into a quarantine hotel because of the price — up to $2,000 — and because he wanted to do his full 14-day quarantine at his house. 

“I think I’m just as safe to get my ass home and sit here for two weeks,” he said.

Prout said he was informed by a government official at the airport his name would be passed on to the RCMP, but that no one has issued him a fine, so far. 

“No visit, no phone call, no nothing.”

‘It’s my right’

The federal government’s hotel quarantine requirement went into effect on Feb. 22 to help stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Passengers can leave the hotel and finish their 14-day quarantine at home when and if their COVID-19 test results come back negative. Those with positive results are relocated to another quarantine hotel. 

Between Feb. 22 and April 23, 1.9 per cent of the 168,887 air passengers who took COVID-19 tests after entering Canada tested positive, said PHAC. 

Synthia Vignola flew from Colombia to Montreal on March 21. This is a scene from a video she shot at the Montreal airport where she refused to quarantine in a hotel. (submitted by Synthia Vignola)

Synthia Vignola flew to Montreal from Colombia on March 21. Vignola said she refused to go to a quarantine hotel because she felt safer quarantining at her home in Sainte-Marthe, Que.

“I don’t have any reason to go in the hotel with other people when I live in the country[side], alone,” she said.

In a video Vignola shot at the Montreal airport, a man — whom she identified as a PHAC officer — told her in French that she’d receive a fine by mail for refusing to quarantine in a hotel. 

Six weeks later, Vignola said her fine has yet to arrive. 

“I’m not surprised,” she said. “It’s my right to go back in my country without any restriction.” 

Meanwhile, several passengers who landed in Vancouver and Toronto have reported they were immediately ticketed at the airport for refusing to quarantine in a hotel. 

On April 2, Kent Saunders — a dual Canada-U.S. citizen living in Las Vegas — flew to Vancouver and said he informed a PHAC officer at the airport he was heading directly to a friend’s place to quarantine. 

The officer issued him a ticket for $3,450 ($3,000 plus added fees) at the airport. 

“[The PHAC officer said] ‘I think we’ll write you a ticket,'” said Saunders. “Another 15 minutes she came back with a ticket and off I went.”

PHAC responds

Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an infectious diseases specialist in Vancouver, said the best way to enforce public health measures is to keep the rules simple and consistent. 

“If you don’t enforce it for everybody, then it becomes kind of a pointless program,” Murthy said.

CBC News asked PHAC why its officers aren’t ticketing hotel quarantine violators at the airports in Montreal and Calgary.

The agency responded that in Quebec and Alberta, quarantine-related fines fall under provincial jurisdiction, and told CBC News to check with provincial and municipal authorities for the number of fines issued.

WATCH | Public health does not track all travellers who skip hotel quarantine:

Some travellers flying into Canada are refusing to stay in quarantine hotels and public health officials may not be tracking them for COVID-19 followup or for legal consequences. 2:04

In Alberta, RCMP and Calgary police each said they have issued no fines in connection with the hotel quarantine requirement. 

Calgary police spokesperson Emma Poole said that because Alberta never adopted the federal Contraventions Act — which allows police to ticket people for federal offences — Calgary police can only investigate someone who refused to quarantine in a hotel if a PHAC officer launches a complaint. 

“If someone is agreeable with PHAC and pleasantly leaves the airport without checking into their hotel and PHAC does not make a complaint, we are unable to act upon it,” said Poole in an email.

In Quebec, fines are issued by provincial prosecutors, said PHAC. 

However, Quebec’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions said it hasn’t issued any fines related to the hotel quarantine requirement. 

And Quebec’s Ministry of Health told CBC News that the federal government, not the province, is responsible for enforcing Canada’s travel rules. 

When asked about the apparent lack of fines issued at the Montreal and Calgary airports, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded at a news conference on Tuesday that he hoped that data to the contrary does exist. 

“We certainly hope that there will be greater access to data that can reassure people that those fines are, indeed, being applied and enforced everywhere across the country.”

wealthsimple-valued-at-$5b-after-fresh-round-of-investor-cash,-including-from-canadian-celebs

Wealthsimple valued at $5B after fresh round of investor cash, including from Canadian celebs

Millennial focused money managing firm Wealthsimple has raised another $750 million, bringing its total value to $5 billion.

Michael Katchen is CEO and co-founder of Wealthsimple, a Toronto based money managing firm that focuses on people 40 and under who are more comfortable with its primarily online and self-directed business model. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Wealthsimple says a new financing deal involving plenty of star power and venture capital investors has pushed the company’s valuation to $5 billion.

The Toronto-based financial services business announced Monday that it has raised $750 million from more than 15 venture capital investment firms including Meritech, Greylock, Dragoneer and iNovia and six celebrities.

The star-stunned list of investors includes rapper Drake, actors Ryan Reynolds and Michael J. Fox, NBA players Kelly Olynyk and Dwight Powell and NHL athlete Patrick Marleau.

“The financial services industry is in the midst of a massive transformation, and our continued growth, and the interest from some of the world’s leading investors, proves that Wealthsimple is poised at the leading edge of that transformation in Canada,” Wealthsimple co-founder and CEO Mike Katchen said in a release.

He plans to use the new cash to expand Wealthsimple’s market position, build out its offering of products and grow its team.

Wealthsimple, which began as an online investment manger, has grown to add Wealthsimple Trade, a commission-free stock trading platform, and Wealthsimple Crypto, which allows users to buy, sell and hold cryptocurrency assets.

It also launched Wealthsimple Cash, a peer-to-peer money transfers app, earlier this year and offers automated investing, saving and tax filing products.

Wealthsimple raised $114 million from TCV, Greylock and Meritech at a $1.5 billion post-money valuation last October.

The funding announced Monday was led by Meritech and Greylock, but also backed by DST Global, Sagard, Iconiq, Dragoneer, TCV, iNovia, Allianz X, Base 10, Redpoint, STEADFAST, Alkeon, TSV, Plus Capital.

The last time Meritech and Greylock co-led a funding round was the Facebook Series B in 2006, Wealthsimple said.

“We invest in companies with the potential to revolutionize industries and become enduring market leaders,” said Meritech’s general partner Max Motschwiller, in a release.

“Wealthsimple has been able to capture a generation of financial consumers in Canada with financial products that are markedly different than anything offered by the incumbents — simpler, more human, and built with the kind of technology that delivers an experience consumers want.”

Meritech has also invested in Salesforce, Nextdoor, Zulily and Lime, while Greylock has backed Airbnb, LinkedIn, Coinbase and Discord.

“Wealthsimple has created a compelling lineup of financial products that delight users, resulting in rapid client growth and highly satisfied customers,” said David Thacker, a Greylock partner, in a release.

“We are thrilled to double down on our investment and be part of their journey.”

how-offering-employees-paid-sick-leave-can-pay-off-for-businesses

How offering employees paid sick leave can pay off for businesses

Amid a growing push for paid sick days from doctors and nurses, public health officials, mayors, unions and others, some companies that already offer sick leave to their essential workers say the practice can be good for business.

Riverside Natural Foods is one of several companies that say it pays off to offer employees paid sick leave. Based in the Toronto area, the company increased its paid sick leave at the start of the pandemic paid let workers stay home for 14 days if needed. (Evan Mitsui/CBC News)

With pleas to provide paid sick leave for essential workers growing louder in several parts of the country, some companies that already do so say it’s not just good for protecting health — it’s good for the books. 

“So the outcome is that it has actually paid off for us,” said Nima Fotovat, the president of Ontario-based Riverside Natural Foods, which makes healthy snack foods, including the brand MadeGood.  

The company, located in Vaughan just north of Toronto, has remained open throughout the pandemic, despite having some COVID-19 cases. It provides up to 14 days paid sick leave for its staff of 500, most of whom work in production, packaging and shipping for an hourly wage.      

Doctors and nurses, public health officials, mayors, unions, economists and business organizations have all expressed support for paid sick leave to make sure workers stay home if they are sick, and to help reduce workplace transmission of COVID-19.  

Yukon created a paid sick leave program to battle the pandemic more than a year ago, and the idea is under consideration in B.C.

This week — under pressure to control workplace transmission in COVID-19 hotspots in and around Toronto — Ontario announced it would fund a temporary paid leave program to cover three sick days.

The province also offered to double Ottawa’s Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) from $500 to $1000 per week.  

The CRSB covers those without paid sick benefits from work, but has been criticized as hard to access and insufficient.  

A 2020 study by the University of British Columbia found that 58 per cent of Canadian workers reported not having sick leave from their employer. 

Nearly 75 per cent of workers making less than $25,000 don’t have paid sick leave.    

Progressive policy expanded for pandemic  

Riverside Natural Foods already had a paid sick leave program offering workers four days off per year prior to the pandemic.  

The company is a Certified B Corporation, which means it’s been audited by a nonprofit organization that has determined it cares for its workers, customers, community and environment. 

The company extended its sick leave during COVID-19 to make sure workers would not be afraid to speak up if they had symptoms or were exposed to someone infected by the virus, said Fotovat.   

“We don’t want the thought of losing pay to be a deterrent in communicating to us any relevant information around COVID,” he said.

Amid a growing push for paid sick days across Canada, some businesses are stepping out on their own and finding paying sick workers to stay home in a pandemic can be good for business. 2:05

Even though some workers contracted the virus in the community, an outbreak on the production line was prevented by a combination of rapid tests, safety measures and the sick leave that let them stay home, he said.      

Fotovat says not only has the policy helped protect his workers, it helped protect revenue by avoiding any expensive shutdowns.  

“We haven’t missed customer orders,” he said. “We’ve been able to stay operational throughout the whole pandemic.”

Paid sick leave can create loyalty  

About a 30-minute drive east from Riverside, at Neal Brothers Foods in Richmond Hill, Ont., shipping specialist and forklift operator Alberto Tamayo is back at work after taking two weeks off because of a positive COVID-19 test result.  

Alberto Tamayo is a forklift operator at Neal Brothers Foods in Richmond Hill, Ont. He recently returned to work after getting paid leave for two weeks to self isolate after a positive COVID-19 test. (Evan Mitsui/CBC News)

Just two days after receiving his first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Tamayo learned he had been exposed to the virus by a friend.   

Though he felt fine, Tamayo went for a test, then called his manager at Neal Brothers, a specialty chips and salsa company.

He said the Neal Brothers paid sick leave policy made him feel safe to do that, and to think about his co-workers’ safety. 

“They are affected also, because of me, so I need to isolate myself,” he said. 

Co-founder Chris Neal says the company changed its paid sick leave policy to five days off from two at the start of the pandemic. 

But he says Neal Brothers’s practice goes beyond their policy. 

Citing past examples where they have provided extended sick leave for workers after serious surgery, cancer treatment and other ailments, Neal said they’ll cover whatever is required for any of their 60 employees to self isolate or recover from COVID-19.    

Chris Neal of Neal Brothers Foods says that providing paid sick leave is the right thing to do, but also practical because the costs of the program are partly offset by reducing turnover and spending less on training for new hires. (Evan Mitsui/CBC News)

“The guys that pick our orders every day are as important as the people out there selling or as important as the people collecting the money” said Neal.  

While he believes providing paid sick leave is the right thing to do, Neal said it’s also practical. 

The costs of sick leave are partly offset by spending less on training for new hires.

“We have very little turnover here and there’s a savings to that,” he said.

Tamayo wants to stay at Neal Brothers, in part because he believes his bosses have his back.

“I trust them and they trust us,” he said.

Pandemic sick leave new at Indigo too        

It’s not an essential workplace but Indigo Books & Music Inc., has created a paid sick leave policy for the pandemic.

Though not an essential workplace Indigo is giving all employees who test positive for the coronavirus paid leave to isolate for 14 days. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

 

The publicly traded company — which owns more than 180 stores across Canada and employs 6,000 people — says it provides paid leave for any employee, including seasonal and part-time workers, awaiting COVID-19 test results, or self-isolating due to potential exposure for up to 14 days. 

It also says it will give paid leave to workers sick with the virus.

Madeleine Löwenborg-Frick, Indigo’s Director of Corporate Communications, said in an email response to CBC questions that the move to paid sick leave “was driven from listening to our teams.”  

Löwenborg-Frick said the company did not want to put anyone in the position of coming to work if they felt sick, and that last year it created a permanent paid sick leave program for part-time workers, a benefit previously only given to full-time staff.           

So far, the company has not had any cases of COVID-19 transmission at its distribution centres, retail locations or head office.

Rick Robertson, Professor Emeritus in managerial accounting and lecturer at the Ivey Business School of Western University, said while sick leave programs can be abused, in the long run they’re good for companies. 

He also says in a pandemic the financial case for sick leave is especially strong.    

“The sooner we can reduce the negative impact of COVID, I won’t say every company benefits, but the vast majority of companies will, in fact, benefit.”

Making paid sick leave the law  

Iglika Ivanova, Senior Economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives studies issues like poverty and precarious work.

She’s been following the issue of paid sick leave closely and is happy to see companies provide it, especially for low wage workers in essential sectors.  

Iglika Ivanova is a Senior Economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). She says employment standard laws should be used to make companies provide paid sick leave, just like they must pay a minimum wage and provide vacation. (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

However, Ivanova says not enough companies do so.  

She thinks every province and territory should use employment standard laws to make companies provide paid sick leave “the same way we make minimum wage and we make vacation required.”   

Though she says Ottawa’s CRSB program is not effective at getting money to workers of the job because of COVID-19, Ivanova says the government has an obligation to help fund paid sick leave for companies that can’t afford it.    

She says it’s not fair to ask low wage workers, many of whom are women and from racialized groups, to stay home without pay in order to help stop the coronavirus from spreading.

“We’re talking about an equity issue here,” she said “I just think it’s not right.” 

With files from Dianne Buckner and Marc Baby.

Frontline Ontario health-care workers rallied for paid sick days and better protections for essential workers as intensive care units hit record highs. This comes amid calls to send more vaccines to hot-spots where some pop-up clinics are met with shortages. 2:03

epic-games-and-apple-are-heading-to-court.-experts-say-the-case-could-mean-big-changes-for-consumers

Epic Games and Apple are heading to court. Experts say the case could mean big changes for consumers

As a lawsuit between the gaming powerhouse behind Fortnite and Apple heads to court, its outcome could mean big changes for how consumers buy content on their devices, according to experts.

A lawsuit between Epic Games, which makes the hugely popular Fortnite game, and Apple will head to court on Monday. (Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters)

Day 68:39Epic Games and Apple are heading to court. Expert says the case could mean big changes for consumers

As a lawsuit between Epic Games, which makes Fortnite, and Apple heads to court, its outcome could mean industry-wide changes for how consumers buy apps and make in-app purchases on their devices, according to experts.

At the heart of the dispute is a 30 per cent fee Apple charges app developers on purchases made directly inside apps and games. Epic alleges that Apple is using control over its operating system and services to hold back competition.

Epic kicked off the fight last August when Apple booted its hit multiplayer game Fortnite from the App Store for implementing a workaround to Apple’s payment system that offered customers lower prices on in-game content. Apple requires most developers to use its payment system.

“Basically what Apple has is gate-keeping power. It has a choke point between millions of businesses and consumers,” said Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project. 

“They use that choke point to preference themselves through extracting very high fees, through developing competing apps and then preferencing those apps because they can see the whole kind of universe of the app ecosystem.”

Experts say that a ruling in favour of Epic could mean lower prices for consumers.

Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite, is suing tech giants Apple and Google for removing the globally popular video game from their app stores, over a direct-payment dispute. 2:10

What does Apple say?

Apple says it needs to keep a tight hold on the apps it distributes in order to protect the security and privacy of its devices and users.

That tight hold prevents users from installing apps downloaded or purchased from other sources, a method called sideloading, which is allowed on Apple’s laptop and desktop computers.

Google also provides the option on its Android operating system, though Miller says that the option is rarely used due to the complexity.

She argues that Apple is using the safety argument as a veneer to keep consumers and developers locked into its payment system.

“I think in this case … Apple is using privacy and security essentially as an excuse to maintain control over this particular gate between businesses and consumers,” she said.

Apple removed Epic Games’ popular multiplayer battle game Fortnite from its App Store in August 2020 after it violated the company’s terms and conditions. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

What could be the outcome?

Some have likened the Epic and Apple case to U.S. v. Microsoft Corp. in 2001, which focused on whether Microsoft engaged in anti-competitive behaviour by favouring its Internet Explorer web browser over others, like Netscape Navigator, on Windows.

“They were using an operating system to disadvantage competitors in the browser market that needed to be distributed through the operating system,” explained Sally Hubbard, author of Monopolies Suck and a director at the Open Markets Institute.

She compares that case to Apple’s control over what apps can be installed on its devices. “So it is quite analogous to the current situation with Apple,” she said.

A judge ultimately found that Microsoft worked to stifle threats from their competitors.

Apple has reduced its App Store fees for some developers following criticism of its 30 per cent cut. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

In response to criticism over its fees, Apple last year reduced its cut of sales to 15 per cent for small developers making less than $1 million US per year. Miller says that fee is still too high.

“If you compare that [15 to 30 per cent cut] to what a credit card company takes, they tend to take two to three per cent. So we’re talking about multiple of what is typically kind of expected to facilitate a transaction,” she explained.

And while experts say Epic’s battle won’t be resolved any time soon, Hubbard welcomes what she calls a reckoning for tech companies — and she expects to see some changes.

“Regardless of what happens in this particular case, I think the end is coming for this 30 per cent fee.

Is Epic alone in their fight?

The California court case is not the only legal challenge Apple is facing. 

Regulators in the European Union accused Apple on Friday of anti-competitive practices in the music streaming market, siding with Spotify. That case could lead to hefty fines against Apple.

“This significant market power cannot go unchecked as the conditions of access to the Apple App Store are key for the success of app developers,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a news conference.

Spotify welcomed the investigation, while Apple rebuffed the charges. They argue that Spotify has become the largest music streaming service in the world, in part thanks to the App Store.

Margrethe Vestager speaks during an online news conference on Apple antitrust case at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. (Francisco Seco/Pool/Reuters)

U.S. senators also took Apple, along with Google, to task last month over the fees they charge to developers. Representatives for Spotify and dating services company Match Group testified against the companies.

Hubbard says that for too long, smaller companies have resisted taking action against California’s big tech giants — but that’s changing.

“The reason why we haven’t seen action from private parties is it’s really hard to have the resources to sue a monopolist,” she said. “And there’s incredible fear of retaliation when you actually go against a company that controls your ability to get to market.”

Epic Games derives most of their revenue through gaming consoles, Hubbard notes, which puts them in a unique position to take on the tech giant on.


Written by Jason Vermes with files from Reuters. Interview with Sarah Miller produced by Sameer Chhabra.

buyers-fed-up-with-blind-bidding,-other-shenanigans-in-red-hot-real-estate-market

Buyers fed up with blind bidding, other shenanigans in red-hot real estate market

From low rates, to demand for more space, there are many reasons why Canada’s housing market has been red hot during the pandemic. Buyers and realtors say doing away with blind bidding and other dubious practices would be a step in the right direction for affordability and fairness.

Real estate has become a hot property during the pandemic. But many potential home buyers are finding themselves frustrated, after repeatedly being outbid. Some are lodging official complaints, accusing some realtors of acting unethically. 2:00

Jenny Kim has just about had enough of what’s happening in Canada’s real estate market right now

The mother of three has been living with her in-laws west of downtown Toronto for help with child care. But now she and her husband need some more space so they’re on the hunt for a house of their own.

They’ve viewed dozens of properties over the past few months, and submitted a number of competitive bids, but came up empty handed again and again.

Complaints about high prices may be nothing new for anyone trying to buy into one of Canada’s hottest markets, where average prices have risen by more than 21 per cent in the past year, to just over $1 million.

But Kim said a big part of her frustration is that the system is making things even worse, as opaque rules and nebulous enforcement let realtors bend the rules to benefit themselves.

“The market is already a challenge for regular working Canadians in terms of where the prices keep going,” she told CBC News in an interview. “Then you add this layer of unethical behaviour in the real estate world and it just makes a bad problem even worse.”

Kim is one of hundreds of Canadians who have complained to her provincial real estate broker regulator, RECO, in the past year about the type of funny business she’s witnessed while trying to buy. 

A major source of her consternation is the so called “blind bidding” process of making an offer on a home, where buyers aren’t officially allowed to know the details of other competing offers. But some selling agents seem willing to ignore that restriction and tell buyers whatever they need to hear to open their wallets more and push up prices and selling commissions.

She recalls one instance of a home listed at $899,000. She and her husband were considering an offer, and would have gone as high as $960,000, but “before we put in the offer, the listing realtor disclosed that there were several other offers and they were all over a million,” she said.

“In order for them to accept any preemptive offers I think what they exactly said was ‘it would have to be something out of this world to consider, otherwise we’ll just wait,'” she said.

Rising complaints

They decided there was no point to try and put in a so-called “bully offer” and the home ended up selling for $1.06 million. That’s more than Kim and her husband would have paid, but the incident left her with a bad taste in her mouth, so she complained to the regulator — one of 711 people in the province who did so last year, according to RECO, or an average of nearly two complaints per day. Most provinces have seen similar surges.

Complaints range from things like not following COVID protocols, to conflicts of interest and other breaches of fiduciary duty. Ontario’s code of ethics for realtors says they’re not allowed to “disclose the substance of the competing offers” but that’s not the case across the country. In B.C., a realtor can share information about the number of bids, and how much they are for — but only if their client, the seller, agrees.

Kim said she’s seen Ontario’s rule broken by more than one realtor.

In one instance, the Kims put in an offer on a home and were rejected, “but the realtor called us and said she had a number of other offers higher than ours but because we are young family she really liked us but wanted us to do better.” They declined to go any higher and withdrew their bid, but when the home ended up selling they were shocked to see it went for less than what they had offered in the first place.

“That was definitely wrong,” she said.

House prices have been on a tear across Canada during the pandemic, driven by low interest rates and a desire for more space. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

Russell Hutchings agrees. A realtor with more than 30 years experience, he’s currently focused on the market in and around Collingwood, Ont., about 100 kilometres northwest of Toronto. Hutchings said he’s become so concerned with what he’s seeing in his local market that he himself has complained to RECO, banking regulator OSFI, and even the office of Canada’s Finance Minister about doing away with blind bidding, where would be buyers don’t even know who or what they’re bidding against.

“The blind system does not allow transparency as to what the other offers are,” he said in an interview. He said the smallest number of bidders he’s seen for a property this year was three, a situation that easily “snowballs” out of control. In that instance, the winning bidder ended up offering a price that was “extraordinarily higher” than the second-best offer — and the system as it is currently set up encourages that to happen.

“There’s pressure on the buyers … who may have already lost out on X number of homes that they’ve bid on to just throw a ridiculous number out there, the most that they can possibly afford and maybe even beyond that to not lose the home this time.”

Ontario kicked the tires on changing the rules back in 2018, but nothing came of it. So blind bidding continues to be the way the vast majority of houses are sold in Canada’s most populous province. 

A better way?

Not everyone sells real estate that way. In Australia, home sales happen via an open auction process. While their system hasn’t solved the problem of high prices either, Hutchings said at least the process is more open. “The highest bid is never $150,000 or $200,000 greater than than the next lowest bid, so it creates, I think, a more equal and fair offering system,” Hutchings said.

Another tactic that raised Kim’s ire is the practice of listing a property below its market value to then try to drum up a bidding war. It may work, but if it doesn’t, some properties are delisted and then relisted at slightly different prices in quick succession.

“The amount of terminating suspending and relisting that realtors do, it’s just endless,” she said. “The listing price often feels misleading to buyers.”

That’s also not the norm elsewhere. In many U.S. states, for example, if a bidder offers the asking price, the seller isn’t legally obligated to sell but they may be on the hook to pay their realtor a commission regardless, for setting up the listing in good faith. That’s an incentive to price a home at the level where the seller will actually sell it — not artificially below what they would actually accept in order to drum up interest.

“We go to the table blind, we don’t know who’s offering what,” Kim said. “There has to be more protection.”

Push for transparency

Vancouver realtor Steve Saretsky is in favour of any system that makes the process more transparent because as it stands, it can be as unpleasant for the selling agent as it is for the buyers.

“When I’m on the listing side of it, it’s no fun either because you’ve got to go back to five of the realtors and tell them they didn’t get it. And you’ve got five buyers that are pissed off and you’ve got five realtors that are pissed off,” he said. “It’s sold quick and you made a quick commission, but … it’s a stressful process.”

WATCH | Steve Saretsky explains why reporting bad behaviour isn’t always easy:

Vancouver realtor Steve Saretsky says he’s seen other realtors mislead buyers in multiple bidding situations, but because of the rules it’s overly simplistic to think that the best course of action is to simply report them to the authorities. 0:52

While buying blind doesn’t help, cheap lending rates and a seemingly inexhaustible demand for more space from pandemic-weary Canadians are clearly the biggest factors driving overall prices higher right now. 

Back in Toronto, Jenny Kim wants to make sure that more is being done to enforce the rules to weed out bad actors making the affordability problem even worse.

“I really hope that people who have the power to change and improve things will listen to protect buyers,” she said. 

“It shouldn’t be happening [but] the way the system is designed leaves a lot of room for these behaviours.”

$716k-is-the-average-house-price-in-canada.-here’s-what-you-can-get-for-that

$716K is the average house price in Canada. Here’s what you can get for that

Canada’s red-hot housing market continues to defy expectations, with the national average price sitting at $716,828. But what you get for that amount varies greatly from city to city.

House hunters at a real-estate showing prepare to see how far their dollars can go. Buyers across the country seem unfazed by skyrocketing prices. Sales were up in March 70 per cent compared to a year ago. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

The pandemic has pummelled many industries in Canada. Real estate isn’t one of them.

House prices are soaring, with the average national price now standing at $716,828, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association’s MLS system. That’s up 31.6 per cent in a year, the biggest annual gain on record. The prices haven’t curbed demand either; sales were up in March by 70 per cent compared to a year ago.

According to Leo Otto, a real-estate appraiser, price hikes are not limited to the hot zones like Toronto. He says the pandemic has unleashed buyers from Toronto and its commuter suburbs and pushed the real-estate frenzy into smaller cities like London, Ont., and Windsor.

“You get the lifestyle, you get larger lots, you get more bang for your buck in housing,” he said.

So what do you get for nearly three-quarters of a million dollars in Canada? CBC looked through listings on April 26 and 27 and found homes across the country whose prices sit around the national average. Some city centres had no homes for sale around $716,000. In that case, lower-priced homes were chosen.

Vancouver 

For $716,000, buyers will have a hard time finding anything other than a one-bedroom condominium like this one, which was listed for $719,000. Still, the hot market has prompted the province’s real-estate watchdog and regulator to warn buyers to do their research and be aware of risks before making an offer.

(Colin Lo/Personal Real Estate Corp./Oakwyn Realty/Realtor.ca)

(Colin Lo/Personal Real Estate Corp./Oakwyn Realty/Realtor.ca)

(Colin Lo/Personal Real Estate Corp./Oakwyn Realty/Realtor.ca)

Calgary

The benchmark price — the typical price of a home — in Calgary rose to $441,900 in March. This townhouse, on the market for $719,900, includes four bedrooms and three bathrooms, far more than what could be purchased in Vancouver for a similar price.

(Lawrence Tian/Skyrock/Realtor.ca)

(Lawrence Tian/Skyrock/Realtor.ca)

(Lawrence Tian/Skyrock/Realtor.ca)

Regina

With an asking price of $719,000, this property boasts enough space for a workout area, a selling point for many people in the pandemic. Saskatchewan’s market has exploded due to people looking for larger homes during the pandemic. “This past February was the busiest February ever in the history of all Saskatchewan MLS,” said Tanya LaRose, of Royal LePage Varsity.

(Christen Johnson/Realty Executives Diversified/Realtor.ca)

(Christen Johnson/Realty Executives Diversified/Realtor.ca)

(Christen Johnson/Realty Executives Diversified/Realtor.ca)

Winnipeg

Winnipeg’s average selling price last month was $318,074, according to the Manitoba Real Estate Association. So for $699,900, a potential buyer could own a large five-bedroom home. The association says that fewer properties are coming on the market, pushing prices upward.

(Cory Werenich/Purple Bricks/Realtor.ca)

(Cory Werenich/Purple Bricks/Realtor.ca)

(Cory Werenich/Purple Bricks/Realtor.ca)

Toronto

In other parts of the country, $720,000 could get you a large lot. Not so in Toronto, where you are more likely to find a condo like this one, which has a small outdoor balcony. Sales in the area reached a record 15,652 in January, up 97 per cent from 7,945 during the same time last year.

(Jonathan Pierre David/PG Direct Realty/Realtor.ca)

(Jonathan Pierre David/PG Direct Realty/Realtor.ca)

(Jonathan Pierre David/PG Direct Realty/Realtor.ca)

Windsor 

This property is on the market for $699,000. Windsor prices have risen due to the influx of buyers from hot spots like Toronto. Leo Otto, the real estate appraiser, predicts there could be a softening of the market this winter but no major correction.

(Sanja Bojovic/Manor Windsor Realty/Realtor.ca)

(Sanja Bojovic/Manor Windsor Realty/Realtor.ca)

(Sanja Bojovic/Manor Windsor Realty/Realtor.ca)

Montreal

At 967 square feet, this condo is considerably larger than the ones located in Toronto and Vancouver. It also has a more spacious patio with a view. Still, buyers in Montreal will likely only find duplexes and condos selling for the national average price. This one is listed for $715,000.

(Emmanuel Samedy/REMAX/Realtor.ca)

(Emmanuel Samedy/REMAX/Realtor.ca)

(Emmanuel Samedy/REMAX/Realtor.ca)

Moncton

Newcomers, who are driving the real estate boom in New Brunswick, will find their dollars go far. For this property, listed at $699,000, the buyer even gets a wine cellar. The province’s real-estate market is so hot that previously ignored vacant land, half-built developments and empty building lots are suddenly being swept up.

(Maxime LaRochelle/Exit Realty Associates/Realtor.ca)

(Maxime LaRochelle/Exit Realty Associates/Realtor.ca)

(Maxime LaRochelle/Exit Realty Associates/Realtor.ca)

Halifax 

This three-bedroom townhouse, on the market for $695,000, is just a short walk to downtown. The Nova Scotia Association of Realtors says that 1,577 units were sold across the province last month, a new sales record for the month of March and an increase of more than 65 per cent from March 2020.

(Jim MacDonald/Press Realty/Realtor.ca)

(Jim MacDonald/Press Realty/Realtor.ca)

(Jim MacDonald/Press Realty/Realtor.ca)

Charlottetown 

According to data released by the Prince Edward Island Real Estate Association, the average cost of a home jumped 21.9 per cent from last year, frustrating islanders looking to buy their first home. This property has a river view and is listed at $695,000.

(Michael Poczynek/Century 21 Northumberland Realty/Realtor.ca)

(Michael Poczynek/Century 21 Northumberland Realty/Realtor.ca)

(Michael Poczynek/Century 21 Northumberland Realty/Realtor.ca)

St. John’s

This house, built in 1895, was recently renovated with high-end details and millwork, which can be seen in the living and dining room. It’s on the market for $699,999. The province’s hot housing market persists despite the negative economic outlook. Realtors believe some of this is being driven by Newfoundlanders looking to return from other provinces.

(Amanda Ryan/eXp Realty/Realtor.ca)

(Amanda Ryan/eXp Realty/Realtor.ca)

(Amanda Ryan/eXp Realty/Realtor.ca)

transat-deal-for-$700m-government-bailout-includes-cash-for-customer-refunds

Transat deal for $700M government bailout includes cash for customer refunds

Travel company Transat AT Inc. says it has reached a deal with Ottawa to borrow up to $700 million, and the plan will see much of that cash go to customers who want a refund for flights booked that never took off because of COVID-19.

Air Transat check-in kiosks are seen at Montreal-Trudeau International Airport in Montreal last July. The travel company has reached a deal with the federal government for financial aid. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Travel company Transat AT Inc. says reimbursement for customers who have paid for flights that were scheduled to leave on or after Feb. 1, 2020, will begin immediately, following the announcement of a $700-million loan from the federal government.

Nearly half of the funding — $310 million —  will be used to provide reimbursements to travellers, the airline said. The rest will go to maintaining the business operations while COVID-19 travel restrictions continue.

In exchange for the bailout cash, the travel company has also agreed to temporarily stop buying back its shares or pay dividends to its investors. Executive pay will be capped, and Transat is promising to keep job numbers where they are. And Ottawa will have the right to buy up to 13 million shares in the company. 

But the main thing consumers will care about in the deal is the status of refunds for flights booked prior or during the pandemic that never took off. The travel company gave out a lot of credits for future travel, but so far no actual refunds, which left many in the lurch.

Here’s a look at how to get your money back, if you want it.

Who is eligible to request a refund?

Transat says eligible customers include those who have a travel credit; departure scheduled for Feb. 1, 2020, or later; booking made before April 29, 2021; did not transfer their travel credit or receive transferred travel credit; did not submit a claim to an insurance company; and whose booking is not subject to an active chargeback claim or has not already been refunded by a credit card provider.

How can I request a refund?

Refund requests can be submitted using Transat’s online form as soon as possible. The form is available on Transat’s website.

How soon will I get my money back?

Transat says processing times may take up to three months due to the high volume of requests. It says requests will be treated in the order in which they are received.

Is there a deadline to submit?

Refund requests must be submitted using Transat’s online form by Aug. 26, 2021. Transat says customers who don’t submit their request by this time will not get a refund. It says their travel credit will remain on file and will be available when making a new booking.

What if I booked through a travel agency or other third party website?

Transat says if you originally booked with a travel agency or third party, contact them so they can submit a request on your behalf. If you can’t reach your travel agency or they’re closed, fill out a refund analysis form and submit it by Aug. 26, 2021.

What if I don’t want a refund — can I keep my travel credit?

Transat says if you want to keep your travel credit, no action is required. The credit will remain on your file with the same conditions and will be available when making a new booking. You cannot request a partial refund because travel credit cannot be split up.