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Prince George airport hit hard
Glacier Media - Jan 15, 2021 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed

With travel concerns increasing due to COVID-19, it’s no surprise the Prince George Airport Authority suffered a major drop in 2020 passenger numbers.

The authority says passenger numbers dropped by 64% last year compared to 2019, with April, May and June being the hardest hit months.

All three months had declines of at least 91% compared to those same months in 2019.

“It was an unprecedented year for all as COVID-19 turned our world upside down,” PGAA president and CEO Gordon Duke said in a release.

“The aviation industry has been hit incredibly hard as travel restrictions and limitations were in place for the majority of the year.

“The number of flights cancelled and airlines who temporarily suspended operations out of YXS forced our management team to pivot and look at other revenue opportunities.”

Duke says there was an estimated 42% drop in operating revenues in 2020 compared to the previous year. There was also a 65% decline in airport improvement fees, a primary source of capital funding.

“We started off the year with so much hope as we prepared to welcome the world for the Women’s World Curling Championships,” spokesperson Lindsay Cotter added. “As teams were landing at YXS, they were learning the tournament had been cancelled due to COVID. Locally, that was one of the first indications at how serious this new virus was.

“By the end of March travel restrictions were in place and we were installing plexi-glass barriers and physical distancing decals throughout the terminal in an effort to keep those travelling for essential reasons, safe.”

As a result of the pandemic, the authority applied for the Federal Government Wage Subsidy Program and was approved, which helped keep employees working and mitigate operational losses in 2020.

Land matching program thrives
The Canadian Press - Jan 12, 2021 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed

VICTORIA — The B.C. government says its land matching program, linking farmers to landowners, has reached a milestone with more than 100 connections.

It says farmers in the province have used the program to grow crops and raise livestock on about 2,000 hectares over the past four years.

The government says 46 land matches were finalized last year, which will bring more local food options to communities.

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham says in a statement the program helps farmers access land, keeping it in production, while adding a next generation of agriculture leaders.

Ninety per cent of the matches are in regions with high real estate prices, including Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan.

The businesses farm a range of agricultural products such as sheep, flowers, berries, eggs, honey, mushrooms and more.

Vancouver home sales skyrocket
The Canadian Press - Jan 05, 2021 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

Vancouver’s real estate market ended 2020 with a bang, as a December home-buying spree helped the market rebound from a weak 2019, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Home sales jumped 53.4% in the final month of 2020 compared with December 2019, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver said on Tuesday. The board said 3,093 homes were sold in December, up from 2,016 in December 2019 and slightly more than the 3,064 homes sold in November.

The board said the composite home price in Vancouver ended the year at $1,047,400, up 5.4% from the same time last year.

Board chair Colette Gerber said the COVID-19 pandemic brought the housing market to a “near standstill” in March, but demand for housing returned through summer, fall and winter, intensified by low interest rates.

“Robust December sales outpaced long-term averages in what’s traditionally the quietest month of the year in real estate,” Gerber said in a statement. “This was part of an unusual seasonal pattern the market followed last year, which can be attributed in large part to the pandemic.”

Gerber also pointed to the pandemic’s affect on “shifting housing needs,” as more buyers have searched for standalone homes outside downtown amid more widespread stay-at-home and work-from-home mandates during the pandemic.

Sales of detached homes led the December gains, rising 71.3% from December 2019 to 1,026. Apartment sales were up 40% from last December, totalling 1,474. Real estate agents sold 593 attached homes, such as townhomes, in December, up 62.9% from December 2019.

Composite home prices were up 10.2% year-over-year to $1,554,600 for detached homes, 2.6% year-over-year to $676,500 for apartments, and 4.9% year-over-year to $813,900 for townhomes, the board said.

Across the metro area, Bowen Island, the Sunshine Coast, and Tsawwassen saw the biggest one-month jump in composite home prices in December.

Despite December home sales that were 57.7% above the 10-year average, 2020 as a whole was below Vancouver’s 10-year average, after starting the year in recovery from a slump.

Pure Gold pours first bar
The Canadian Press - Dec 30, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: Instagram

CALGARY — Vancouver-based Pure Gold Mining Inc. says it has poured the first gold bar from ore mined at its PureGold Mine in Western Ontario.

It says the first pour was accomplished on Tuesday, following the introduction of ore two weeks earlier to the processing mill at Red Lake, about 535 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay.

CEO Darin Labrenz says the pour represents the transition of the junior mining company to “producer” status.

He says the construction of the mine, expected to cost about $95 million when approved in 2019, was accomplished on budget and on schedule.

The company says the Pure Gold mine employs over 200 people and the related workforce is expected to average 350 during the 12-year phase one mine operation.

The company says it will now focus on optimizing operations at the mine while continuing an exploration drilling program. It plans to provide guidance for the year after the first quarter.

“With our first gold pour, we have transitioned to producer, and delivered on our promise to build Canada’s newest gold mine in the heart of Red Lake, Ont., on budget and on schedule,” Labrenz said.

“To build a mine at any time requires a complete team effort comprised of dedicated, driven, and focused individuals. To do so under the unique challenges of 2020 speaks to the quality and dedication of the entire team.”

Pure Gold says its owners include investor Eric Sprott, with over 10% of the stock, South African gold producer AngloGold Ashanti Ltd., with about 16%, and American gold producer Newmont Corp.

Surrey set to ban plastics
The Canadian Press - Dec 22, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

SURREY — Plastic shopping bags, foam cups and takeout containers should soon be banned in Surrey.

Councillors have adopted a bylaw that would seek provincial permission to ban single-use plastic items.

The B.C. government confirmed in September that it would approve all such municipal bylaws and has already signed off on bag bans for Victoria, Saanich, Richmond, Ucluelet and Tofino.

Vancouver operates under different legislation and did not need provincial certification to ban bags effective Jan. 1, 2022, while its prohibition on foam containers and other single-use items has been in effect for almost a year.

Surrey’s bylaw mirrors those already approved in other municipalities requiring merchants to charge fees for paper or reusable bags, in order to encourage consumers to use their own.

Surrey council has also more than doubled penalties for illegal cutting of trees, raising fines to as much as $5,000, depending on the type of tree, while also hiking the penalty to $20,000 for damaging or cutting any of the city’s “significant trees.”

The Surrey Board of Trade says in a statement that it approves of council’s move to ban single-use plastics and although the bylaw “does not align completely” with the board’s request for a phase-out of the items, “it is a step in the right direction.”

Board CEO Anita Huberman has called on the city to consult with business owners to prepare for the ban, and says her organization is ready to ensure a “smooth and cost-effective transition.”

“There are innovative industry opportunities that are available now, or that can be developed, that will lead to new employment opportunities,” Huberman says.

BC market to remain strong
The Canadian Press - Dec 21, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — A company that supports hundreds of credit unions across Canada predicts B.C.’s housing market will remain healthy through 2021 as the province moves out of its COVID-19 slump.

A report from Central 1, the organization that handles financial services, digital banking and other resources for more than 250 credit unions, says B.C. has seen a “spectacular” rebound in housing demand since pandemic-induced lows in the spring.

The report says affordability remains a focus, as median home prices are up 9% this year to $585,000 and are forecast to climb a further 6% to $618,000 in 2021.

It says the number of homes sold in B.C. leaped 20% this year, overcoming the pandemic downturn, and up to 95,000 properties could change hands next year, nudging market highs set in 2017.

It credits the surge to “unique characteristics” of pandemic economics, ongoing low interest rates and higher-paid workers remaining relatively unscathed from the worst of the COVID-19 contractions.

The report also forecasts a firmer rental market through 2022 as economic conditions normalize, border restrictions ease and post-secondary institutions reopen.

But it says rents shouldn’t budge much over the coming year, while a provincially imposed rent freeze is in effect.

Brian Yu, Central 1 deputy chief economist, authored the report and calls B.C.’s ongoing pandemic recovery a “mix of short-term challenges and future optimism.”

“Economic growth is forecast to pick up steam in the second quarter of 2021 onwards as the vaccine drives higher investment spending and consumer spending is unleashed when social and travel restrictions are eased,” Yu writes.

Some job loss will continue in B.C.’s “fragile sectors,” Yu says.

Even though employment remains 1.5% lower than it did in February, he says the province is outperforming most others and sectors such as retail spending, manufacturing, and exports are “largely recovered.”

Condo insurance not going down
The Canadian Press - Dec 18, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed

VANCOUVER — A Crown corporation that regulates B.C.’s private-sector insurance companies says an average 40% increase in condo insurance premiums resulted from various factors including risks that insurers face from earthquakes and flooding.

The BC Financial Services Authority says risks related to catastrophic events, some involving climate change, have put additional pressure on insurance companies’ profitability, impacting premiums and deductibles in parts of Canada and globally.

However, it says in a final report that the issues involved are complex and there are no simple solutions, so consumers should not expect short- or medium-term relief from further price increases.

Frank Chong, the corporation’s vice-president of regulations, says Alberta’s condo insurance market has also been heavily affected, and claims costs must be lowered.

The report does not contain recommendations on how the B.C. government should address issues that are impacting housing affordability through higher monthly strata fees and deductibles.

Provincial legislation introduced earlier this year will end a practice called best terms pricing as of Jan. 1, where several insurers would bid on policies and instead of picking the average cost, the highest price bid would be set as the premium.

Tilray, Aphria join forces
The Canadian Press - Dec 16, 2020 - BC Biz

In the latest sign of the cannabis industry’s efforts to streamline its operations and take advantage of what they hope will be a promising U.S. market, two of Canada’s most prominent pot companies said Wednesday that they plan to merge.

Leamington, Ont.-based Aphria Inc. and Nanaimo-based Tilray Inc. announced they will unite under the Tilray name—a move they say will help them slash costs, control the biggest slice of the Canadian retail market and dominate the burgeoning U.S. cannabis industry.

“This transaction brings together two leading cannabis companies, creating a clear global leader, strengthening our global footprint and positioning the new Tilray for further growth,” Tilray chief executive Brendan Kennedy said on a Wednesday call with analysts.

The merger comes during a devastating year for cannabis companies. Many have embarked on dramatic restructurings designed to get spending under control and forge a path to profitability.

The overhauls have seen thousands of Canadian cannabis workers lose their jobs as their employers shut down growing facilities and take multi-billion-dollar writedowns.

Meanwhile, demand for cannabis was high at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Canadians stocked up on pot as many provinces entered lockdowns and stores operated solely through curbside pickup and delivery.

The number of pot stores has been steadily climbing and cannabis companies are eager to own as much of it as they can.

Tilray and Aphria’s deal will result in the biggest Canadian cannabis company by revenue because together they will have a pro forma revenue of $874 million.

They will control more than 17% of the retail cannabis market—the largest share held by any Canadian licensed producer.

“My objective … is to get us at least a 30-plus share in Canada, which will get us to become a low cost producer, and will give us a lot of abilities elsewhere around the world,” Aphria chief executive Irwin D. Simon said on the analyst call.

He and Kennedy also have their sights on the U.S.

Earlier this year, Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, Mississippi and Montana voted in favour of legalizing recreational or medical cannabis through U.S. election ballot questions, which could pave their way for a more national legalization movement.

Under the agreement, Simon will lead the combined company, while Tilray’s Kennedy will sit on the new company’s nine-person board, alongside seven others from Aphria and one more person from Tilray.

The new Tilray will trade on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol TLRY and will maintain offices in New York and Seattle, in addition to Toronto, Leamington, Vancouver Island, Portugal and Germany.

The Josie voted Canada’s best
Okanagan Edge Staff - Nov 24, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed

The Josie Hotel in Rossland has been hauling in the awards lately.

The World Ski Awards named it Canada’s best ski boutique hotel for the second year in a row, and it also cracked the top three among best ski hotels in USA Today’s annual Readers’ Choice Travel Awards.

“It’s such an honour to be named among the best in the world and receive the prestigious award of Canada’s best ski boutique hotel for the second year running,” general manager Jesse Crockett said in a press release. “We were in categories with some of the best ski hotels in the world, and we feel these awards really showcase our commitment to our guests and creating one of the best guest experiences in the industry.”

The Josie is set to open on Dec. 10, with RED Mountain Resort expected to follow suit two days later.

Health app comes to BC
The Canadian Press - Nov 23, 2020 - BC Biz

File photo: The Canadian Press

BRAMPTON, Ont. — Loblaw Companies Ltd. is expanding the launch of its mobile health and wellness app, a free digital tool the company says will help Canadians navigate the health-care system.

The grocery and pharmacy retailer said Monday it’s making the PC Health app available to download in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta after an initial rollout in Atlantic Canada last month.

The app comes amid an expansion of digital health technologies and increasing efforts by retailers to extend customer experience—and loyalty—beyond the traditional brick-and-mortar store.

Jeff Leger, president of Shoppers Drug Mart, said the expanding role of pharmacists in health care makes the company well suited to offer “a digital front door for health care.”

“Our view is that pharmacies over the next couple of years are going to play a greater role in the delivery of primary care in the community,” he said, noting that pharmacists are increasingly turned to for vaccinations, minor ailments and support with chronic illness.

Leger said the PC Health app leverages its in-house expertise in health, nutrition and wellness to help connect users with information, support and different health professionals.

The app provides access to registered nurses and dietitians as well as custom digital health programs that reward users with the company’s PC Optimum points.

“We know that changing behaviour is not easy, especially in health care,” Leger said. “We think that adding some incentives with PC Optimum can help make small nudges towards healthier behaviour.”

He said the company’s goal is for the app to be at the centre of an “omnichannel health care experience.”

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