G7 agrees to end new govt support for coal power by end of 2021

The Group of Seven nations on Sunday pledged to rapidly scale up technologies and policies that accelerate the transition away from unabated coal capacity, including ending new government support for coal power by the end of this year. The countries, in a communique following their summit in Britain, confirmed pledges to increase climate finance contributions as part of efforts to reduce emissions that contribute to climate change and help a move toward cleaner energy, although climate groups said firm cash promises and other details were missing.

“Coal power generation is the single biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions,” the seven nations – the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – said, adding “continued global investment in unabated coal power generation is incompatible with keeping 1.5°C within reach.”

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“We stress that international investments in unabated coal must stop now and we commit now to an end to new direct government support for unabated international thermal coal power generation by the end of 2021,” they said.

US President Joe Biden, speaking after the summit, noted a commitment of up to $2 billion “to support developing countries as they transition away from unabated coal-fired power.”

The nations, in their statement, vowed to focus on other technologies, including carbon capture, to help speed up the transition away from coal.

“We will focus on accelerating progress on electrification and batteries, hydrogen, carbon capture, usage and storage, zero emission aviation and shipping, and for those countries that opt to use it, nuclear power,” the communique said. 


Stocks fall amid profit booking

The  stock market took a dip yesterday thanks to the profit booking tendency  among investors with the insurance sector leading the plunge.

The DSEX, the benchmark index of the Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE), dropped 30.58 points, or 0.50 per cent, to 6,036.

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The DSE’s turnover, an important indicator of the market, fell 22 per cent to Tk 2,062 crore.

Some  stocks fell as investors continue to take their profits but this  tendency is quite positive for the market, according to a stock broker.

“This is because when investors take profit, then the market needs time to rise, allowing others the space to buy,” he said.

“This  gives the market strength but the regulator should monitor whether  anyone interferes with the market for their own interest,” the broker  added.

Most insurance stocks fell today as they rose to a higher  extent in the last couple of weeks. The sector was traded the most with  around Tk 303 crore.

At the DSE, 159 companies’ stocks rose, 192 fell and 21 remained the same.

The  Bangladesh Industrial Finance Company topped the gainers’ list, rising  10 per cent, followed by Paper Processing & Packaging Company,  Bangladesh Monospool Paper Manufacturing and Shurwid Industries.

After  returning to the main market from the Over the Counter (OTC), Paper  Processing and Bangladesh Monospool Paper took place on the top gainers’  list.

Beximco traded the most with Tk 218 crore followed by Orion  Pharmaceuticals, Fortune Shoes, Green Delta Insurance, and LankaBangla  Finance.

Dhaka Insurance shed the most, dropping 11.49 per cent  followed by GBB Power, Global Insurance, Bangladesh General Insurance,  and National Feed Mills.

The Chittagong Stock Exchange (CSE) also  fell yesterday. The CASPI, the general index of the port city bourse,  dropped 56 points, or 0.32 per cent, to 17,528.

Among 322 traded stocks, 144 advanced, 156 dropped and 22 remained the same.


Merkel hopes for G7 infrastructure plans in 2022

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday said she hoped that a new Group of Seven task force can present first infrastructure projects in developing countries in 2022. 

The world’s seven most advanced economies signalled during the summit a desire to build a rival to China’s multitrillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative. US President Joe Biden and other G7 leaders hope their plan, known as the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative, will help narrow the $40 trillion needed by developing nations by 2035, the White House said.

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It was not immediately clear how exactly the plan would work or how much capital it would ultimately allocate. The G7 had recognised that they had to deliver support for the development of poorer countries, Merkel said at a news conference.

“For countries in need of development, only concrete projects count,” she said. “I hope that we will be able to present such projects already during the next G7 summit, which will be in Germany.” Germany will take over the G7 presidency from Britain next year.

On the issue of exiting the use of CO2-polluting coal, Merkel said that finding a concrete, joint date for ending its usage had not been possible. A draft of the summit’s final declaration, seen by Reuters, said there was an intention to get out of coal to most extents.

It also pledged support of $100 billion annually for developing countries to support them in their fight against climate change, for which Germany raised its contribution promises.

On the issue of forced labour, Merkel, referring to China as an example, said the G7 had clearly stated what it considered to be deficits.

“In many international locations, democracy cannot be lived in the way that we imagine and where there is human suffering,” she said.


Budget for building Digital Bangladesh

The proposed budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year acknowledges the Fourth Industrial Revolution and calls for strategies to create IT entrepreneurs and jobs for Bangladeshis abroad. It also suggests using the Bangladesh National Digital Architecture platform to enhance connectivity among government entities. This is a commendable approach towards Digital Bangladesh.

The inclusion of cloud service, system integration, e-learning platform, e-book publication, and mobile application development service in IT-enabled services (ITES) definition, as proposed by the Bangladesh Association of Software & Information Services (BASIS), is also a welcoming move.

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The finance minister deserves a big thank for his proposal of bringing the hardware devices produced in the country under tax exemption. In the interest of local computer manufacturers, the budget proposes increasing tariffs on the imports of feature-phone and encouraging mobile phone production locally. This will also encourage investors to produce digital devices in the country. I also hope that the use of smartphones instead of feature phones will increase.

The massive budget allocation of Tk 1,720 crore in the ICT sector is impressive. It is about 20 per cent more than the outgoing fiscal year’s original budget. However, the proposed budget does not have a clear breakdown of the allocated amount. It is not clear how much has been set aside to procure software and ITES and maintenance.

In most government projects, it is seen that the allocated budget is spent on buying hardware, and hardly any amount remains to purchase software, services, or maintenance.

There should be a clear plan of how local companies can be involved in the digitalisation process of ministries, departments, and directorates.

Although the software and ITES businesses have been exempted from the corporate tax until 2024, the sector has suffered a lot in the last 15 months due to the pandemic.

More local and foreign investments are needed in this sector. To draw investors, the tax exemption period should be extended to 2030 as proposed before the budget. The sooner this announcement comes, the more investors will be interested in investing in the sector. I request the government to consider the matter very seriously.

Internet is now one of the main ingredients for all kinds of business. All types of digital activities are going on through internet. To make it easily available and affordable, it is necessary to remove VAT on internet and recognise internet service as ITES. The government must look at the bigger picture and stop taxing the medium that can propagate many new online businesses, like digital commerce, telemedicine, video-streaming, OTT (over-the-top) services, etc. These new businesses can generate more tax revenue than the government now gets from internet services.

If broadband internet services can be expanded to remote areas at an affordable rate, the young people will be able to start their own ventures using internet and start contributing to the economy. Therefore, the corporate tax exemption on internet service providers, a key stakeholder of the Digital Bangladesh Vision, will lead to infrastructural development and increased employment and economic activities.

Bangladeshi IT companies now have the experience to execute big projects. These local companies have been successful in implementing big projects locally, such as driving licence, national identification card, vehicle registration plate, Hajj management, and data centre. It is possible to replicate these projects without much effort in other underdeveloped or developing countries.

If there is a government-to-government agreement between Bangladesh and other countries that Bangladesh will finance the implementation of these projects on the condition that the work has to be done by Bangladeshi companies, then our local companies will get international exposure and experience. As a bonus, the money will return to the local economy. This way, the image of Bangladesh in the world market will broaden, and Bangladesh will be rebranded and recognised as a country of skilled workforce.

The BASIS had proposed to set aside Tk 500 crore as a technical assistance project in the budget. I request the finance ministry to consider the matter.

During pre-budget discussions, the BASIS had also requested a special allocation of Tk 300 crore to increase the involvement of women in the ICT sector. Participation of women in the sector can be greatly accelerated if easy loans are arranged for women entrepreneurs at an interest rate of 2 per cent from this special fund.

The proposal to increase the corporate tax rate for mobile financial service (MFS) providers is quite confusing. Even though this will not affect the MFS providers immediately as none of them is making any profit, this will surely slow down the gradual decline of the commission rate of money transfer. When the government is envisioning a cashless society, and we are proposing VAT exemption and cash back incentives on digital transactions, the proposal to raise the tax rate is frustrating. I hope the finance ministry will reconsider the matter.

Currently, large scale infrastructure projects, such as Metrorail, Rooppur Nuclear Power plant, and a new airport terminal are being constructed. These projects will need software and services worth hundreds of crores of taka. The local industry must get this business and benefit from the government’s expenditure for these projects. Patronising local companies for supplying ICT products and services will help the industry grow. It will also generate employment opportunities.

In the case of foreign contracts, local value-addition has to be ensured so that knowledge and technology transfer takes place. This will prove cost-effective for future maintenance and support and create a skilled human resources pool. 

The proposed budget has recommended a 10-year tax exemption on training in about 25 subjects. But surprisingly, this does not include IT training.

The government plans to increase the number of IT professionals in the ICT sector to 20 lakh by 2025 from 10 lakh now. This trained workforce is essential for the successful and speedy implementation of the Digital Bangladesh Vision. Therefore, to encourage ICT training, it is necessary to announce tax exemption for it.

For the desired development of the information and communication technology sector and building coveted Digital Bangladesh, I earnestly hope that the policymakers will consider the above issues during the ongoing budget session of the parliament.

The author is president of the Bangladesh Association of Software & Information Services.


FBCCI wants 1% tariff, unconditional import of capital machinery

The Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) has demanded the government to allow the unconditional import of capital machinery and spare parts on payment of only 1 per cent import tariff for the next fiscal year 2021-22.

In a letter to the National Board of Revenue (NBR) today, the apex trade urged the revenue authority to fix import duty on basic raw materials and fully import-based intermediate raw materials and input at three slabs – 1 per cent, 3 per cent and 5 per cent – to increase industrialisation in the country.

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It also wanted the NBR to eliminate the various rate of Tax Deducted at Source (TDS) for supply and local letters of credit and proposed fixing the TDS rate at 2 per cent for simplification.

In order to encourage banks to finance small and medium enterprises, the trade body suggested reduction of corporate tax for banks, insurance and non-bank financial institution to 35 per cent from the present 37.5 per cent—a suggestion came after Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal tabled the proposal to reduce corporate tax by 2.5 percentage points for listed and non-listed companies in the stock exchanges on June 3 in the parliament.

In its proposal, the FBCCI also urged the revenue administration for withdrawal of Advance Tax (AT), a type of Value Added Tax (VAT), on import to reduce pressure on the working capital of manufacturers.

Contacted, FBCCI President Md Jashim Uddin said they prepared the recommendations based on feedback from various chambers and associations.


When international travel resumes, Canada’s borders and airports will be very different

Just as the 9/11 attacks did 20 years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic will transform the way people travel internationally — with hundreds of millions of dollars in new government spending planned for modernizing border security and updating public health measures at airports.

Once international travel resumes, self-serve check in terminals like these at Ottawa International Airport will become part of a more hands-free travel experience. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)

Just as the 9/11 attacks did 20 years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic will transform the way people travel internationally — with hundreds of millions of dollars in new government spending planned for modernizing border security and updating public health measures at airports.

In the recent federal budget, the federal government announced $82.5 million to fund COVID-19 testing infrastructure at Canadian airports and another $6.7 million to buy sanitization equipment for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

Ottawa also has earmarked $656.1 million over five years to modernize Canada’s border security.

Daniel Gooch, president of the Canadian Airports Council, said the country’s flight hubs still have no clear idea of what is expected of them. 

“We’ve been hoping to have meaningful discussions with government about how to do that for quite some time but, unfortunately, at this point we have no insight into what the different phases of restoration of air travel will look like,” Gooch told CBC News.

Gooch said that the four Canadian airports that are still accepting international flights are operating at about five per cent of their pre-COVID levels — but with the current COVID-19 public health measures in place, they are at capacity.

“Part of the problem is the insistence on the two-metre physical distance,” he said. “You very quickly hit capacity when you make that requirement. So we can’t grow the numbers and keep everything the way it is right now. It’s not physically possible.”

Canada isn’t permitting non-essential international travel yet — although Canadians returning home and travellers with exemptions, such as essential workers, are allowed to enter Canada providing they follow certain protocols. 

On Feb. 22, the federal government implemented new quarantine measures at airports requiring that all air travellers returning from non-essential trips abroad take polymerase chain reaction tests — commonly known as PCR tests — 72 hours before they fly.

That test result has to be provided to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) upon arrival. Travellers then need to take a second test and isolate in federally mandated facilities for up to 72 hours while they await the results. 

Ultimately, it could be very good. It could be a much improved experience if we do it right and implement this all down the road.– Daniel Gooch

Gooch said that while the funding for testing infrastructure at airports is welcome, testing cannot continue to take place in airports once pre-COVID levels of air travel return.

He said that offering passengers take-home tests, or directing arrivals to off-site testing centres close to the airport, would free up space in terminals and allow  more passengers to be processed.

“We were quite pleased to see in the federal budget the Canada Border Services Agency getting some significant funds for border modernization, which will include things like touchless technology and less contact in terms of interactions with border services,” he said.

At the heart of the move to touchless travel is a trial the federal government is undertaking with the World Economic Forum and The Netherlands called the “Known Traveller Digital Identity” project, or KTDI.

The project began with the publication of a white paper back in 2018 and was seen as a way to modernize air travel by moving passengers through airports faster. That white paper said that a new, touchless system was needed as the number of international air arrivals was expected to increase 50 per cent from 2016 to 2030.

With international travel almost at a standstill now, the technology is seen as a way to facilitate a return to pre-COVID levels of air traffic.

The touchless travel experience

Under the KTDI plan, a digital form of identification is created that contains the traveller’s identity, boarding passes, vaccination history and information on whether they’ve recovered from COVID-19. Travellers with KTDI documentation would still have to face a customs officer, but all other points of contact in an airport could become touchless. 

“We’re still talking about a world where you’ll need to carry your passport because it is an international border,” said a senior CBSA official, speaking on background.

“We’re not talking about replacing your passport. But the number of times you have to take out that document, or your boarding pass, to substantiate who you are and where you need to be, gets reduced.”

Passengers wear face masks as they wait to go through security at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The official said the KTDI program is still in its early stages and technological issues are still being worked out. He said that privacy protections would have to be in place before any such system could be launched.

“It’s not like the Government of Canada holds that information in a central place, or airlines hold it in a central place, or border agencies hold it in a central place,” the official said. “It’s the traveller themselves that holds their own information.”

Vaccinated vs. unvaccinated travellers

A CBSA spokesperson told CBC News that the $656.1 million federal investment in border security modernization over five years will fund other “digital self-service tools” that will “reduce touchpoints” and create more “automated interactions” at Canadian airports 

The CBSA said more information on those measures will be released to the public “in the coming weeks.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is attending the G7 summit in the United Kingdom this weekend, where leaders are expected to discuss international vaccination certification — a so-called “vaccine passport”.

The federal government has signaled already that Canadians who have been fully vaccinated will be allowed to re-enter the country without having to stay in a government authorized quarantine hotel. Confirming the validity of those travellers’ vaccination status will require some kind of vaccine passport like the KTDI program. Canada’s airports like that idea. 

Watch: Fully vaccinated Canadians can soon skip hotel quarantine: 

The federal government says it will soon ease restrictions for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents returning from international travel. 2:14

“We’re really leaning on vaccinated vs. unvaccinated. That’s a place where you can have some differentiation of the travel experience to make it a little smoother, a little bit more pleasant for those who have been vaccinated. But we don’t know yet what the government’s plans are for that,” Gooch said.

Once a traveller’s vaccination can be verified, Gooch said, they can be treated differently — perhaps by giving them a single test upon arrival or before they depart, rather than the multiple tests required now. 

While the exact changes to international travel are still being worked out, Gooch said the travel experience going forward will be very different from the past.

“Maybe you don’t see an individual at all as you walk through the customs hall,” he said. “Your verification is done through your facial ID, which is connected to your Known Traveller Digital Identification, which is connected to your digital health information and your digital travel documentation.

“Ultimately, it could be very good. It could be a much improved experience if we do it right and implement this all down the road.”


Is a summer hiring spree coming as COVID restrictions ease? Depends on who you ask

As pandemic restrictions ease, businesses hope customers will flood back, spurring a surge in summer hiring. But while there’s optimism better days are ahead, not everyone is certain a wave of employment is about to wash over the economy.

People wear face masks as they walk through a shopping mall in Montreal last summer. Businesses hope that consumers will flood back this summer, too, as COVID-19-related restrictions ease. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

When Betty Lou’s Library was shuttered during pandemic restrictions last year, it wasn’t just the hit to the cash register that hurt the trendy Calgary speakeasy.

The business also lost two of its senior floor servers and one of its senior bartenders.

“One of them moved away and two of them didn’t want to be in the industry anymore,” said bar owner Blaine Armstrong. 

“It takes a lot of time to learn to execute the cocktails and execute the service. So it’s just a lot of money into training, a lot of money into interviewing potential candidates.”

With Alberta hoping to further lift public health restrictions in the next few weeks, Armstrong is looking to add six staff to his 10-person team as he readies for a full opening and once again hosting live music. The province entered Stage 2 of a three-stage reopening plan on Thursday, with a goal of lifting nearly all restrictions by the end of June or early July. 

“That is a neck-snapping change in terms of the requirements and the customer experience,” Armstrong said. “We’re trying to wrap our minds around that.”

Blaine Armstrong, owner of the Calgary speakeasy Betty Lou’s Library, is looking to add six staff to his 10-person team as he prepares for Alberta to lift its restrictions. (Betty Lou’s Library)

As COVID-related restrictions ease across the country — Ontario’s patios have reopened, for example, under the first step of its reopening plan — businesses are hoping customers will flood back, spurring a surge in summer hiring and employment. 

And while there’s optimism that better days aren’t so far away, not everyone is certain a wave of employment is poised to quickly wash over the Canadian economy.

Concern about future restrictions and the direction of the pandemic still lingers, leaving some feeling more cautious about where hiring is headed over the next couple months.

“I believe we are going to see a boomerang in spending,” said Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Financial Group. “But I’m skeptical whether we’re going to see that boomerang in employment.”

Speaking to CBC News last week after the release of the May employment numbers, Porter said there are a couple factors to explain why he’s cautious.

One is that many areas of Canada are still seeing lingering restrictions, which has him thinking there won’t be a quick rebound in employment over the summer.

“We’re already at the stage where, in normal summers, a lot of university students would already be hired and on the job,” he said.

Reasons cited for the U.S. labour shortages include people’s reluctance to return to work over health concerns, enhanced unemployment payments and child-care concerns. (Darron Cummings/The Canadian Press)

Looking south to the United States, Porter also noted that even with the American economy being quite open, employers are struggling to find workers. “I think that is going to be a bit of an issue in Canada as well,” he said.

In the U.S., people have been reluctant to return to work over health concerns; the government has also rolled out enhanced unemployment payments and many Americans have child-care concerns.

“On balance, I think we will see some of the same issues that the U.S. is going through right now, but probably not as intense,” Porter said.

He believes the Canadian economy will grow by six per cent this year, largely reversing last year’s damage. “But a lot of that strength is going to be in the second half [of the year].”

Like with much of the last year, businesses find themselves in uncharted territory and opinions vary on how things will play out.

Some have a more optimistic view of where things are headed.

‘Our team is busy planning for multiple scenarios right now,’ said Ian Rosen, an executive vice-president at menswear retailer Harry Rosen. (Harry Rosen)

“As restrictions gradually ease in June, with vaccination objectives far ahead of expectations, the floodgates could open with students and furloughed workers rushing back to work,” National Bank of Canada economists Kyle Dahms and Alexandra Ducharme wrote earlier this month.

“We expect sectors most impacted by the pandemic to rebound strongly in the summer months. Thus, the recent soft patch should turn out to be transitory and the reopening of the economy ought to support hiring in the months ahead.”

The commentary followed news that Canada’s labour market actually shed 68,000 jobs last month as tighter public health restrictions continued or were introduced in many regions of the country to slow a third wave.

Across the country, businesses are trying to make plans for when things open up — all while keeping an eye on the pandemic’s path. 

Many non-essential retailers who managed to navigate the economic fallout of COVID-19 did so with the help of online sales. Now, they face the challenge of ramping back up at their brick-and-mortar locations.

“Our team is busy planning for multiple scenarios right now,” said Ian Rosen, executive vice-president of digital and strategy at luxury menswear retailer Harry Rosen.

“The shape of the demand curve is going to be so different from province to province, based on how lockdown restrictions are lifted, and capacity limits are restricted and vaccination uptake.”

Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets, expects to see Canada’s job vacancy rate rise, especially for low-paying jobs, until pandemic-related assistance programs start to wrap up.  (CIBC )

Rosen said the company has continued operating all of its stores, with core staff, by offering curbside pickup and remote sales. The company employs 800 full- and part-time staff across 19 storefronts and its central office. Employee retention has been nearly 90 per cent during pandemic. 

“They haven’t gone to sleep or haven’t stepped away from their clients,” Rosen said.

The ability to hold on to key staff during the pandemic could be vital for many businesses, especially if recruitment becomes difficult.

For signs of what could happen here, Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets, looks to countries that opened up some time ago, like New Zealand and Australia.

“What we see is a situation in which, yes, clearly hiring is going to happen,” Tal said. “But at the same time, we see a significant increase in job vacancies. Basically, employers cannot find people. We definitely see it … in the U.S. where they are opening up and the companies, employers simply cannot find people.”

Patio dining in Ontario is permitted as of Friday, with a maximum of four people per table. Ontario has just entered Phase 1 of the three-step reopening plan. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

Tal expects to see Canada’s job vacancy rate rise, especially for low-paying jobs, until pandemic-related assistance programs begin to wrap up. There’s already some upward pressure on wages as employers try to entice workers back, he said. 

But there’s optimism this summer will be one where the restaurant industry moves from “survival to revival,” said Mark von Schellwitz, vice-president for Western Canada with industry group Restaurants Canada.

In bigger centres, he expects restaurants will be able to attract a lot of their food service employees back, especially once businesses can offer more certainty around staying open. But there could be challenges elsewhere.

“I’ve certainly heard from some members in smaller communities, in particular, where there’s actually going to be some labour shortage issues coming up, where they don’t have a lot of young people,” he said.

National figures in May show the unemployment rate for students returning to classes in the fall stood at 23.1 per cent.

That’s markedly better than the 40 per cent unemployment recorded in the same month last year for returning students, but still higher than the 13.7 per cent recorded in May 2019.

Karl Littler, of the Retail Council of Canada, said while there’s been “significant progress” made since last year around those student rates, it’s not yet coming back to pre-pandemic levels.

“For those who have a limited window, like the summer, it’s certainly not going to get back to pre-pandemic levels,” he said. “But the gap is narrowing.


Cruise lines say no change in sailing plans after new COVID-19 cases

Royal Caribbean Group and Carnival Corporation will push ahead with a return to cruises this summer despite two guests onboard Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Millennium ship testing positive for COVID-19.

More than a year after several cruise ships were host to major coronavirus outbreaks, the industry is anxious to get business going again. (Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images)

Royal Caribbean Group and Carnival Corporation will push ahead with a return to cruises this summer despite two guests onboard Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity Millennium ship testing positive for COVID-19.

More than a year after several cruise ships were host to major coronavirus outbreaks and with large numbers of Americans now vaccinated, cruise lines have been striving to get business going.

Although some ships are already sailing again, those carrying more than 100 people are banned from coming to Canada until February 2022.  That decision was announced by Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra earlier this year, although the ban can be revoked early if the Canadian government decides it is safe to resume cruising. 

Shares in Royal Caribbean, Carnival Corporation and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., which booked massive losses last year as restrictions brought cruising to a standstill, fell between one and two per cent in response to the report of positive COVID tests.

Asked by Reuters on Friday, Royal Caribbean declined to give more details on the guests who had tested positive or the circumstances of their infections, saying only that it was not changing its plans for the summer.

A source close to Carnival who declined to be named also said the company was pressing ahead as planned.

Preventative measures put to the test

Travel agencies and cruise companies, like this Ottawa outlet pictured in July 2020, are just some of the businesses hoping pent-up demand for their services pays off as COVID-19 fears ease. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Celebrity Millennium, one of the first ships in North America to restart sailing, said on Thursday the individuals were asymptomatic, in isolation and being monitored by medics. The company was also conducting contact tracing and expediting testing for all close contacts.

All guests on Celebrity Millennium were reportedly required to show proof of vaccination as well as a negative COVID-19 test before sailing from St. Maarten this past Saturday.

“I don’t believe it is that much of an issue and actually is an opportunity for Royal to show how it handles what is the biggest post-pandemic fear,” said Ivan Feinseth, chief investment officer at Tigress Financial Partners. 

Cruise lines are in discussions with Florida, from where some trips will sail, as the state’s governor pushed against people having to show proof of vaccine. Trips are scheduled to start in June and early July, sailing to the Caribbean, Mexican Riviera and Alaska.

Cruise expert Stewart Chiron, who is on board the Celebrity Millennium ship, told Reuters that life onboard on Thursday night had gone on as planned, with dinners, shows, and evening entertainment. He said no one onboard was wearing masks.


‘Unacceptable environmental effects’: New federal policy restricts thermal coal

The new policy erects another roadblock for Coalspur Mines and its Vista mine expansion near Hinton, Alta., the only such mine in Canada currently before regulators.

The existing Vista mine near Hinton is owned by the U.S. coal giant Cline Group and began shipping coal for export in May 2019. (Bighorn Mining)

The federal government is making it more difficult to develop thermal coal in Canada with a new policy that says all such mines create “unacceptable environmental effects.”

The move erects another roadblock for Coalspur Mines and its Vista mine expansion in Alberta, the only such mine in Canada currently before regulators.

Federal Environment Minister Jonathon Wilkinson said the move was made because of the need to stop burning coal for power— the single greatest source of greenhouse gases in the world.

“Phasing out thermal coal is the most critical climate change issue right now,” he said.

The policy, released Friday, does not rule out such development.

But approvals will be tough to get.

“The government of Canada considers that any new thermal coal mining projects, or expansions of existing thermal coal mines in Canada, are likely to cause unacceptable environmental effects,” it says. “This position will inform federal decision-making on thermal coal projects.”

It says the federal cabinet must consider sustainability and climate change in weighing any new projects, regardless of size.

“What we’re saying is this is something that does not fit from a public policy perspective,” Wilkinson said. “A proponent can continue on through the process, but that’s a pretty high bar to surmount.”

Coalspur’s Vista mine expansion project near Hinton, Alta., which would be the largest thermal coal mine in North America, has filed an application to the provincial regulator. Wilkinson has ruled the project should face a federal environmental assessment, although Coalspur is challenging that decision in court.

The company has been informed the new policy will apply to it, Wilkinson said. He added the policy gives more certainty to other companies considering similar projects.

Wilkinson said he believes the new policy lies within federal power despite its impact on natural resources, a provincial jurisdiction.

“We’re comfortable this is something within our purview to do,” he said. “The vast, vast, vast majority of Canadians would think that this is something that’s a no-brainer.”

Canada is a founding member of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a group of countries trying to reduce the use of thermal coal around the globe. Wilkinson said permitting new mines would harm Canada’s efforts in that forum.

“We’ve been the leader in the international community telling other countries that they should be phasing out thermal coal — and then we approve new thermal coal mines? People would say that doesn’t make any sense.”

Policy doesn’t affect metallurgical coal

The new policy does not affect metallurgical coal, the type of coal found in most of the controversial new coal exploration projects in the Alberta foothills.

The federal government has been asked to step in on many of those projects. Wilkinson has until July 1 to decide if he will request a federal assessment for Montem Resource’s Tent Mountain mine.

Wilkinson called emissions from steelmaking a different issue.

“[Thermal coal] is a short-term issue,” he said.

“Our commitment with other countries is to help them phase out [coal] nine years from now. That’s not much time.”

Canada has promised to phase out the burning of coal for power by 2030.


Electronic logging devices becoming mandatory in semi trucks in Canada to combat driver fatigue

A new era in highway safety regulation begins in Canada on Saturday as electronic logging devices that track a driver’s hours behind the wheel become mandatory in semi trucks travelling between provinces.

Veteran Manitoba truck driver Jesse Scobie has been using an electronic logging device (ELD) for years. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

A new era in highway safety regulation begins in Canada on Saturday as electronic logging devices that track a driver’s hours behind the wheel become mandatory in semi trucks travelling between provinces.

The electronic logging devices (ELDs) replace the use of paper log books and effective June 12 are a requirement under a federal regulation aimed at preventing fatigue in commercial drivers.

The regulation covers commercial trucks and buses that cross provincial and territorial boundaries. Industry advocates welcome the change. 

“It’s going to force [non-compliant trucking companies] to get into the game and be compliant and be safe or face the consequences,” Canadian Trucking Alliance president Stephen Laskowski said.

The requirement for certified ELDs will target what he estimates is about 15 to 25 per cent of the trucking industry that routinely cuts corners on regulatory issues — in “an underbelly of our industry, a small but growing underbelly,” said Laskowski.

Under federal hours of service rules, drivers are not allowed to drive more than 13 hours in a day, and they must have at least 10 hours off-duty time each day, of which at least eight hours must be consecutive.

When the ELD regulation was being developed, Transport Canada noted provincial and territorial governments recorded an annual average of 9,400 hours of service violations by drivers between 2010 and 2015.  

About one quarter of those were for exceeding the maximum hours for drivers. Another 11 per cent were convictions for operating two daily logs at the same time, or for falsifying the information in a daily log. 

Nearly half of the hours of service convictions — about 48 per cent — were for failing to maintain, or failing to produce, a daily log.

“For the industry itself, it’s going to be a great day,” Laskowski said of the new regulation.

“It’s going to make Canadian roads safer and it’s going to make it a better industry to work in.”

He says about 70 per cent of the trucks in Canada already have ELDs, in part because the United States in 2017 began phasing in their use.

The difference between the Canadian and U.S. systems, he says, is that ELDs used in Canada will have to be subject to a third-party certification process designed to make them less susceptible to tampering or data-hacking.

Veteran driver not convinced ELDs will propel safety

“They’re a blessing and a curse,” said veteran truck driver Jesse Scobie, at a truck stop in Headingley, just west of Winnipeg, before a trip to California. 

“You don’t have to write a paper log — that’s one good point. But they keep you under the gun with the electronic log,” said Scobie, a truck driver for 25 years.

He says the ELDs are “just another distraction,” and he’s not convinced the devices will actually improve highway safety.

“There are times that it gets you preoccupied with it,” he said. “It gives you a little red light, some annoying voice warnings.”

He says he’s been using an ELD for years, since the devices became mandatory in the U.S.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates about 70 percent of trucks in Canada already have ELDs. The new regulation requires the devices to undergo third-party certification to make them less susceptible to tampering. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Even though ELDs become mandatory in Canada on Saturday, Transport Canada says operators won’t be penalized for any trucks that don’t have an approved device until June 2022. 

Instead, enforcement measures will start with education and raising awareness, Transport Canada spokesperson Cybelle Morin said in an email to CBC.

“This period, which will be developed with the support of the provinces and territories and in consultation with industry, will give sufficient time for industry to obtain and install certified electronic logging devices without penalty,” she said.

“Transport Canada learned from the U.S. experience in introducing electronic logging devices, including challenges with ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the devices,” said Morin.

“To address these challenges, the department included a requirement for a third-party certification process to ensure that the devices will be tamper-resistant,” she said.

Trucks that don’t cross borders into other provinces are subject to provincial regulations, and Manitoba’s requirement for ELDs doesn’t take effect until December 2021.

Laskowski says the trucking alliance wanted full enforcement of the new requirement to start Saturday as well but added that won’t happen because the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the third-party certification process.

Companies now have a year to get certified logging devices in all their trucks. Transport Canada says a company called FPInnovations of Pointe Claire, Que., is the first one accredited to test ELDs for certification. Once a device has been certified, it will be listed on Transport Canada’s website.

“These devices will have to be certified for anti-tampering, meaning at the end of the next 12 months, every truck on the road will be within the Hours of Service,” Laskowski said. “And that is a big step for public safety and it’s a big step for the compliant industry that play by the rules, which is good for public safety and good for business.”

Potential for ‘malicious activity’ exists: FBI

In 2020, the FBI in the U.S. put out a warning to the transport industry that cyber criminals could “exploit vulnerabilities” in electronic logging devices.

“Researchers demonstrated the potential for malicious activity to remotely compromise the ELDs and send instructions to vehicle components to cause the vehicle to behave in unexpected and unwanted ways,” the FBI cyber division wrote.

The ELDs track things like date, time, location information, engine hours, and vehicle identification data, the FBI noted.

Transport Canada says it is aware of the FBI report and has not received any reports of ELD hacking in Canada.

The issue of log books came up when Winnipeg truck driver Sarbjit Matharu was convicted in a Toronto court April 30 in connection with a horrific crash on Highway 400 that killed four people in 2016. 

The judge’s written decision says Matharu admittedly made a false entry in his log book to make it appear he’d had enough sleep, in case he was stopped and inspected.

A sentencing hearing for Matharu’s conviction on five counts of criminal negligence causing death and bodily harm starts June 21 in Toronto.