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BC economy faces slowdown
The Canadian Press - Dec 04, 2023 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press
BC Finance Minister Katrine Conroy

VICTORIA — Private-sector forecasters in B.C. say they agree with the government’s recent projection that economic growth will slow next year.

The Economic Forecast Council, an independent 13-member group, met Finance Minister Katrine Conroy on Monday and told her they foresee 0.5% growth in 2024, slightly below Conroy’s recent forecast of 0.7%.

B.C. finance ministers traditionally meet annually with the forecast council ahead of the introduction of the government’s budget, set for Feb. 22.

Conroy last week said slowing global economies and inflation in Canada were contributing to her downgraded economic growth prediction.

The Ministry of Finance says in a statement most forecast council members said the impact of past Bank of Canada interest rate hikes haven’t be fully felt and housing affordability and supply remain challenges.

Opposition BC United finance critic Peter Milobar, who attended the forecast council’s meetings, says he heard concerns about a lack of future development, now that major projects, including oil and gas pipelines, the Kitimat liquefied natural gas terminal and the Site C dam are nearing completion.

“Despite (increased) immigration masking a lot of structural problems with our economy and not making it look like a recession, in people’s households they are very much feeling like it’s a recession,” he said at a news conference.

Conroy last week said B.C.’s economy is projected to grow by about 1% this year, a dip from the forecast in September of 1.2% growth.

Coastal GasLink pipeline done
The Canadian Press - Nov 28, 2023 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — The Coastal GasLink pipeline that stretches across northern B.C. is mechanically complete ahead of the company’s year-end deadline.

A statement from TC Energy Corp. says history has been made by finishing Canada’s first pipeline to the West Coast in over 70 years.

The company announced in October that the installation of the pipe was finished, while mechanical completion means the end of construction, successful hydrotesting of the full 670-kilometre line and engineering reviews.

The statement says Coastal GasLink’s team is in the field getting ready to deliver gas to the LNG Canada processing and export facility in Kitimat, on B.C.’s northern coast.

It says that while construction crews have been packing up, reclamation work still needs to be finished and some of the workforce will return next spring.

Planning for the pipeline began a decade ago and the project has been delayed by protests, including train blockades by First Nations across the country.

The pipeline was originally estimated to cost $6.2 billion, but that climbed to $14.5 billion in the most recent price tag released by TC Energy earlier this year.

Solid deal for Vancouver cops
The Canadian Press - Nov 24, 2023 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — A new tentative agreement that would make Vancouver’s police officers the highest paid in Canada is a crucial tool for the city to recruit and retain talent in the face of a major labour crunch, the union representing the officers said.

Vancouver Police Union president Ralph Kaisers said the union was happy to see the tentative agreement reached with employers on Oct. 31 after months of negotiations.

He said it includes not only higher wages for officers, bringing a first-class constable’s pay to about $122,000 next year, but also better maternity and parental leave benefits.

Kaisers said he has talked to a number of female officers, and as many as 22 have considered leaving the Vancouver Police Department for another organization due to maternity benefits.

“I do know—not mentioning any names of any organizations—we did have recruiters from a different organization actually emailing all our young female members, pointing out to them that their maternity benefits were much better than ours and they should consider coming over to their organization,” Kaisers said.

Police forces across Canada have faced challenges hiring in a tight labour market, with organizations mounting recruitment drives, in some cases battling each other to attract new talent.

Kaisers said Vancouver’s situation is especially challenging because of the city’s high cost of living, which discourages officers looking to settle down.

That in turn affects the VPD’s mission to deliver on public safety, he said.

“Recruiting is not just a local issue,” Kaisers said. “Provincially and nationally, everyone is seeking people from basically the same pool of candidates. So it’s very competitive right now, and we need to draw as many good candidates as we can to Vancouver.

“One of those things to draw people into Vancouver is to properly compensate them.”

Vancouver’s unionized officers have been working without a collective agreement since the last deal expired on Dec. 31, 2022, and the new agreement includes retroactive wage increases for this year.

A first-class constable’s annual pay will rise from just under $112,000 last year to a retroactively applied $117,000 this year, followed by another jump to roughly $122,000 starting in 2024.

Spec tax hits more in valley
The Canadian Press - Nov 22, 2023 - BC Biz

Photo: City of Vernon

VICTORIA — One of B.C.’s first measures to combat the housing crisis is being expanded to include 13 more communities.

Finance Minister Katrine Conroy says the New Democrat government’s speculation and vacancy tax will now apply to 59 B.C. cities and towns.

Vernon, Penticton, Courtenay and Kamloops are among the 13 communities that have been added, and starting in 2025 residential property owners will have to declare how they used the home in 2024.

The levy aims to get more people into empty homes and has collected $313 million since it was first introduced in 2018.

Conroy said independent data found the speculation tax helped increase the available rental stock in Metro Vancouver in 2020 by 20,000 units.

Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon says the government’s recent legislation restricting short-term rental accommodations in B.C. is already showing increases in long-term rental listings in Kelowna and Victoria despite the law not taking effect until May 2024.

Other communities being brought under the speculation umbrella are Coldstream, Summerland, Lake Country, Peachland, Comox, Cumberland, Parksville, Qualicum Beach and Salmon Arm.

Good news for BC gig workers
The Canadian Press - Nov 16, 2023 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

NEW WESTMINSTER — The B.C. government is introducing new protections for ride-hailing and food delivery app workers, including a minimum wage, compensation for expenses and other standards.

A minimum hourly wage of $20.10, which is $3.35 more than the current general minimum wage, would apply for a gig worker’s “engaged time,” beginning when they accept an assignment to the time of completion.

Labour Minister Harry Bains said Thursday the new rules will also require ride-hail and food deliver platform companies to “clarify” the amounts drivers will earn on each assignment they accept.

Bains said the “pay transparency” measure will allow drivers to know how much they’ll earn for each trip before deciding whether to accept an assignment.

The new pay standard, which doesn’t include tips, puts a 20% premium on top of the general minimum wage to account for the time gig workers spend waiting for assignments.

Bains said the new regulations will giver drivers coverage under WorkSafeBC, prohibit platform companies from withholding tips, and establish compensation standards for costs such as using a personal vehicle.

The new rules, which will require new legislation to implement, are the result of consultation with app-based workers, platform companies, labour groups and business associations.

Bains said gig workers value flexibility, but deserve to be treated fairly, and the new regulations “balance the needs of workers while supporting the continuation of these services that so many of us have (become) accustomed to rely on.”

He said legislation on the standards will be introduced in the coming days, and he expects the regulations to be finalized early next year.

Veronique Sioufi, a researcher with the Canadian Centre of Policy Alternatives, said in an interview that the new rules are a “step in the right direction,” but don’t go far enough.

“The Ministry of Labour calling these workers employees, that’s pretty groundbreaking for Canada,” she said.

Sioufi said the new rules in B.C. carve out an “exception” for app-based delivery drivers, which is neither fair nor equal “by definition.”

“These companies lobby really hard against any protections for workers, against having to be held responsible as employers,” she said. “What’s not clear about this is whether workers are covered by workers’ compensation in that time in between assignments. That’s still risky time.”

Teck sells its coal business
The Canadian Press - Nov 14, 2023 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

The CEO of Teck Resources Ltd. said its decision to sell a majority stake in its steelmaking coal business to Swiss commodities giant Glencore represents the best possible outcome after nearly a year of battling over the future of the Vancouver-based miner.

Jonathan Price said in an interview he “couldn’t be happier” about the deal his company announced Tuesday, in which Glencore has agreed to pay US$6.9 billion for a 77% stake in the coal business, known as Elk Valley Resources.

In addition, Japanese company Nippon Steel Corp. will acquire a 20% stake in exchange for its interest in one of Teck’s coal operations and US$1.7 billion in cash, while South Korean steelmaker Posco will swap its interest in a pair of Teck’s coal operations for a 3% stake in the overall steelmaking coal operations.

In total, the deals value Teck’s steelmaking coal operations at US$9 billion, and represent the culmination of months of negotiations with multiple interested buyers following an unsuccessful $25-billion hostile takeover bid by Glencore for all of Teck earlier this year.

Teck’s board rejected Glencore’s original offer, but the company continued its pursuit of the coal business.

“Throughout this process, we’ve been very focused on getting the best outcome for our shareholders and the best outcome for all stakeholders,” Price said. “And I firmly believe the transaction we’ve announced today achieves that. It’s great for Teck, but it’s also very good for our shareholders and it’s very good for all of our stakeholders, particularly those in Canada.”

Teck has been weighing the future of its steelmaking coal business since it became apparent its plan to spin off the operations into a separate company did not have the required shareholder support.

Tuesday’s deal will mean Teck no longer has any exposure to coal, freeing the company up to focus instead on expanding its copper and zinc production to meet growing global demand for these metals, both of which are used in the production of electric vehicles and are considered to be key resources for the coming energy transition.

Non-profits to receive $60M
The Canadian Press - Oct 30, 2023 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

VICTORIA — Certain non-profit organizations in B.C. are getting $60 million from the government in grant funding to help them do their work.

Premier David Eby said the help of non-profits is crucial and they benefit the people of B.C. with community supports, arts and cultural services and assistance to find affordable housing.

Four types of non-profits will be supported by the funding, including large, multi-service organizations, small operations affected by the pandemic and groups that support Indigenous and people of colour.

The Vancouver Foundation will dispense the grants to those groups that are eligible.

B.C.’s Social Development and Poverty Reduction Ministry says the province’s 31,000 non-profit organizations employ about 335,000 people.

The ministry said non-profits contribute $28 billion to B.C.’s economy.

Teck waiting for right offer
The Canadian Press - Oct 24, 2023 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

The head of Teck Resources Ltd. says he will accept a bid for the company’s steelmaking coal business only if he feels confident Canadian regulators will approve the transaction.

Jonathan Price, CEO of Canada’s largest diversified mining company, made the comments on Tuesday as part of an update on Teck’s ongoing efforts to separate its base metals business from its steelmaking coal unit.

Price said the Vancouver-based company continues to evaluate offers put forward by prospective buyers of its coal business with the hope of making a decision before the end of the year.

While he said he is pleased with the level of outside competition the process has generated, Price said regulatory clearance will be a crucial factor.

“An important consideration will be the certainty of achieving separation, including receipt of the required regulatory approval,” Price told analysts on a conference call to discuss the company’s third-quarter results.

“We have to consider the certainty of execution and the risks associated with any transaction … And ultimately, we will do what we believe is in the best interest of our shareholders having regard for those regulatory and approval requirements.”

Coming energy transition

Teck has been working to hive off its coal assets in the hope of expanding its copper and zinc production to meet growing global demand for these metals, both of which are used in the production of electric vehicles and are considered to be key resources for the coming energy transition.

But a wrinkle was thrown into that plan earlier this year when Swiss commodities giant Glencore launched a $25-billion hostile takeover bid for Teck.

Teck’s board rejected Glencore’s original offer, but Glencore notched a victory of its own when Teck called off a shareholder vote on its plan to spin off its steelmaking coal operations into a separate company. It had become apparent Teck did not have the required support for its proposal, which Glencore lobbied against.

Glencore has since presented a new offer to Teck’s board, proposing to acquire the steelmaking portion of the company’s business for an undisclosed amount of cash and has also said it remains willing to pursue its offer for all of Teck.

A number of other international companies are also believed to be interested.

But Glencore’s initial pursuit earlier this year ignited sentiments of economic nationalism, with B.C. Premier David Eby speaking out against the proposed deal and federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre urging the government to block any acquisition of Teck by Glencore.

The federal government itself said at the time it was watching the situation closely and that any takeover bid for Teck would go through a rigorous approvals process.

There is precedent for the federal government to intervene in a foreign takeover of a major Canadian mining company. In 2010, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government blocked the takeover of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan by global giant BHP, on the grounds that the transaction would not provide a “net benefit” for Canada.

Teck said it earned a profit attributable to shareholders of C$276 million, or 52 cents per diluted share, for the quarter end Sept. 30 compared with a loss of C$195 million, or 37 cents per share, a year earlier.

Pipeline route change riles
The Canadian Press - Sep 26, 2023 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — The federal Crown corporation constructing the expansion to the Trans Mountain pipeline says it remains committed to “meaningful engagement” with Indigenous communities after being given the green light to move the pipeline route over the objection of a First Nation.

The Canada Energy Regulator approved the route change Monday a week after Trans Mountain Corporation said the original route was going to take an extra nine months and cost $86 million more.

The pipeline crosses the traditional territory of the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation, and it opposes the change.

It has not yet offered a reaction to the decision.

Greenpeace Canada is condemning the route change approval as a sign Canada is only committed to reconciliation when it is convenient.

Federal ministers refused to weigh in Tuesday, with Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland directing reporters to the regulator and the company and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree refusing to answer a question about it at all.

Fortis natural gas gets cheaper
The Canadian Press - Sep 18, 2023 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

SURREY — B.C. natural gas users can expect to see their monthly bills decrease starting in October.

FortisBC says in a statement that it has been given approval by the B.C. Utilities Commission to drop its gas rates for customers by more than 90 cents a gigajoule starting Oct. 1.

The utility says it will amount to about $7 a month in savings for residential customers, depending on a customer’s consumption.

Joe Mazza, vice-president of energy supply at Fortis, says the decrease will provide customers with some financial relief as they head into the colder fall and winter months.

He says Fortis understands energy costs are an important part of household budgets and they work hard to deliver gas at the lowest reasonable cost.

Fortis buys natural gas at market prices and factors such as supply and demand affect the price of natural gas, and the statement says those costs flow through to customers.

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