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VANCOUVER — The B.C. Teachers Federation is asking the Labour Relations Board to address its concerns about health and safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Documents filed with the board say the federation has heard from many of its members about “inconsistent and inadequate” health and safety precautions in schools.
The complaint says the protections do not meet what was promised by the provincial government over the summer about reopening schools.
The teachers have filed the submission under a section of the Labour Relations Code that allows the board to make settlement recommendations if disputes arise while a collective agreement is in force.
The federation urges the labour board to act on an “expedited basis” to resolve concerns that may cause teachers to “refuse to perform unsafe work” or file a “tsunami of grievances” about how school districts have implemented Ministry of Education policies.
The ministry did not immediately respond with a comment.
The B.C. government announced in July that most students would go back to school full-time in September. The ministry said Thursday that 85% of kindergarten to Grade 12 students have returned.
VANCOUVER – Construction delays related to a COVID-19 shutdown of its Quebrada Blanca Phase 2 copper mining project in Chile will add between US$260 million and US$290 million in costs and delay startup by five to six months, mining company Teck Resources Ltd. says.
About 7,500 workers were at the construction site for the US$5.2-billion project when the pandemic erupted in March and all but a small care and maintenance crew were sent home, Teck CEO Don Lindsay said during an online industry conference Thursday.
“We’re close to 6,000 people on site (now) with a target to get to full strength of 8,000 by the end of October … This is a very crucial couple of months as we ramp up,” he said.
Work that was able to move forward during the shutdown included permitting, offsite equipment manufacturing, transporting of goods to the site and road construction.
“We’ve actually made a small amount of progress, so we’re actually at roughly 30 per cent completion. Our target is to get to 40 per cent by year-end,” he said, adding the mine is to begin production in the third quarter of 2022.
Teck is the operator and owns a 60% stake in the project.
Retail analysts are cautioning that more Canadian stores could follow Mountain Equipment Co-op’s path toward restructuring in the coming months as the pandemic pushes an increasingly fractured retail market to the brink.
The Vancouver-based sports and outdoor recreation retailer announced Monday it had obtained creditor protection and would be sold to a U.S. private investment firm.
MEC is the latest in a line of struggling retailers to obtain court protection from creditors in recent months as COVID-19 accelerates a marketplace shift to online shopping.
Retailers have been battling increasing competition for years as more foreign brands open brick and mortar stores in Canada and the fight for e-commerce dollars intensifies.
Experts say the shutdown in the spring was the final straw for many companies.
Lisa Hutcheson, managing partner at consulting firm J.C. Williams Group, said the first retailers to seek creditor protection following the COVID-19 shutdown were “low-hanging fruit,” but this latest case suggests others will follow.
“MEC is a little bit more surprising,” she said. “The environment right now is tough.”
VICTORIA — The B.C. government is adding 22 primary care networks in 13 regions where teams of health professionals will provide services for patients without a family doctor.
The networks connect care providers including doctors and nurse practitioners in a particular area with an aim to provide faster service.
Health Minister Adrian Dix says the new networks in regions such as Central Okanagan and the East Kootenays will be added over the next three years to 17 that already exist.
He says about 470 health-care professionals will be hired and existing networks include pharmacists and counsellors providing mental health services for substance users.
Dix says the goal is to provide faster and more convenient care, including at 19 primary and urgent care centres that are open on weekends and evenings in some cases.
He says there will be challenges in hiring nurses, for example, but the province has increased training spots in anticipation of filling some openings.
VANCOUVER — Mountain Equipment Co-op says its board of directors has unanimously approved a deal in which a Los Angeles-based private investment firm will acquire MEC’s assets, including the majority of its retail stores.
Vancouver-based MEC says the transition from a co-operative structure to a subsidiary of Kingswood Capital Management is needed to ensure a stable future for the business.
Kelowna’s MEC location, which is in the Orchard Plaza Shopping Centre, opened in 2016.
The retailer says it has been granted court protection under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA), allowing it to continue operating e-commerce and retail stores while the transaction and other elements of the plan are completed.
Kingswood managing partner Alex Wolf says in a statement he is “honoured” to work with his new Canadian operating partners, adding his company is committed to continue to “inspire and equip” Canadians who enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle.
Long-standing MEC member and Canadian Eric Claus will lead Kingswood’s newly formed Canadian affiliate as chair and CEO.
MEC chair Judi Richardson says the “difficult decision” to sell MEC follows an extensive examination of options after the company was unable to overcome years of persistent financial challenges made worse by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Today’s announcement, including the transition from a co-operative structure, is creating a positive path forward for MEC,” she said.
“Kingswood’s commitment to honouring the MEC ethos and the solid financial footing that this transaction will provide gives us tremendous confidence in the future.”
No financial details were provided.
Alvarez & Marsal Canada Inc. has been appointed by the court as the monitor under the CCAA proceedings.
The transaction remains subject to regulatory approvals and is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2020.
The Site C workforce continued its approach back to 5,000 in July as construction nears pre-pandemic levels and record-high employment set earlier this year.
BC Hydro reported 4,645 workers for July, which it said reflected the decision to restart construction at the dam site in May. As of Sept. 9, there were 1,553 workers reported at the camp outside Fort St. John, including one in self-isolation.
Of the July workforce, around 18.5% was local, with 863 Peace region residents employed as construction and non-construction contractors, up 255 month-over-month.
Locals made up 22% of the construction and non-construction workforce total of 3,908 workers, which includes work at the dam site, on transmission corridors, reservoir clearing, public roadworks and camp accommodations.
There were 3,398 B.C. workers, or 73%, working for construction and non-construction contractors, and in engineering and project team jobs.
BC Hydro reported 172 apprentices for the month, up 25 from June, as well as 349 indigenous workers (+44), and 483 women workers (+57) on the project.
There were two temporary foreign workers employed in specialized positions (-1), and another 49 managers and other professionals working under the federal international mobility program (no change).
The dam workforce peaked at 4,896 in March before a significant portion of construction was suspended due to the pandemic. The workforce dropped by nearly 2,000 in April as work stopped primarily on the powerhouse and spillways.
VANCOUVER — The B.C. government says temporary pandemic pay that was promised to essential workers in mid-May should be coming in October.
The stipend was promised to about 250,000 frontline workers for work done between March and July, and some workers say they’re frustrated it still hasn’t arrived.
The premier’s office said Thursday ministries and funding agencies are implementing an invoicing and payment system for all employers so that they can receive and distribute the pay to their employees.
“The province recognizes the urgent need for these funds as well as the length of time it has taken to construct a payment system to distribute these funds,” the premier’s office said in a statement Thursday.
“We are confident that the funding will begin flowing through employers to employees in October.”
In announcing the pay as the pandemic took hold, Finance Minister Carole James said the stipend, which is cost-shared with the federal government, would recognize what workers were doing to help keep people healthy and communities running.
Front-line workers in health, social services and corrections are eligible for the $4-an-hour lump-sum payment for straight-hours worked between March 15 and July 4.
On Wednesday, the B.C. Government Employees’ Union said workers had been waiting long enough to receive it.
“Delays send the wrong message,” union president Stephanie Smith said in a statement.
While workers in every province have experienced some delay in getting the money, B.C. workers appear to be the only ones still waiting, Smith said.
Karen Dalton, a receptionist and former care aide at an assisted living facility in Nanaimo, said it was scary when the pandemic hit.
Staff feared for the residents and their families, and they were tired from working overtime, she said.
“We worked really, really hard to keep our residents safe. So, when we heard the pandemic pay was coming, it was a wonderful thing to be acknowledged for your hard work,” she said in an interview on Thursday.
Some workers had their pay slashed because new rules meant they could no longer take jobs at multiple sites, only one. So, the announcement of an additional $2,000 or so each was welcome.
“It was just a little relief that, oh my god I’m going to pay my MasterCard bill off, I’m going to be able to pay my rent,” Dalton said.
Dalton said staff has been questioning whether it will ever come.
CALGARY — Record high prices for lumber and construction panelling are creating a resource revenue boost for the coffers of the Alberta government, partly making up for huge declines in oil and gas returns.
Coniferous stumpage fees—paid by forest companies for evergreen wood such as pine or spruce harvested from Crown land—have nearly doubled to $67.31 in September from $36.56 per cubic metre in August.
That’s more than eight times the $8.27 per cubic metre assessed in September 2019 and far exceeds the recent high of $40.25 reached in June 2018 during the last big North American lumber price spike.
“Right now, industry is definitely thriving and it’s good news for the 40,000 people whose jobs depend on forestry,” said Brock Mulligan, spokesman for the Alberta Forest Products Association.
The industry generally supports the Alberta stumpage system as fair, he said, adding that the main constraint on production growth in the province is availability of wood fibre.
“We think the system is a pretty accurate reflection of the market and it provides an appropriate return to both sides, one party being the people of Alberta who own the resource and the other being the forest companies who manage the resource, harvest it and manufacture the product,” said Mulligan.
In a report this week, CIBC analyst Hamir Patel pointed out that Alberta’s market-based stumpage system is the “most reactive” to near-term lumber prices because it is adjusted monthly based on North American prices.
The increase in fees undermines U.S. claims of government subsidization of the industry in Canada, he said. The Americans continue to collect softwood lumber import tariffs despite a recent World Trade Organization ruling against them.
“The Alberta system has attracted increased scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Commerce during the current trade dispute … for allegedly keeping stumpage rates too low,” Patel said.
“That argument certainly has no merit in today’s strong wood products market with surging log costs as wood products prices reach extreme highs in the current environment.”
Alberta stumpage fees are now about $46 per cubic metre higher than those set in June in B.C., he said.
B.C. resets its stumpage fees annually, with occasional adjustments.
VICTORIA — The B.C. government has capped rent increases for next year at 1.4%.
Landlords had been allowed to raise rents up to a maximum of 2.6% this year, although the government imposed a rent freeze until the end of this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Housing Ministry says in a statement any tenant who received a notice of a rent increase for 2020 that would have gone into effect after March 18, should continue to pay their current rent until Nov. 30.
The government says landlords can only increase rent once per year and must provide tenants with three months’ notice.
The ministry released guidelines in mid-August for repayment of rents that were unpaid as people lost work because of the pandemic.
The government says the increase allows property owners to make investments and repairs, while ensuring rent increases are moderate and predictable.
Hotel Zed has opened its third location in the province, and it has even more of a 1970s feel that its predecessors.
The retro-chic brand opened Hotel Zed Tofino last week, and it has many unique features. The 58-room building has the world’s first “bike-through” lobby, a secret arcade, a psychic’s den and a light-up mini disco.
“It was really important to me when envisioning this property that we honour the surroundings and community, while still staying true to our brand of being ridiculously fun,” Hotel Zed president and CEO Mandy Farmer said in a press release.
“We had so much fun creating the various elements within this property. I have to say that the bike-through lobby is my favourite part. I can’t think of anything more amusing than being able to ride my bike right into the lobby and not get in trouble!”
The other two Hotel Zed locations are in Kelowna and Victoria.