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Tilray merger vote delayed
The Canadian Press - Apr 16, 2021 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

NANAIMO — A vote by Tilray Inc. shareholders on the cannabis company’s deal to merge with Aphria Inc. has been delayed, allowing shareholders more time.

The vote had been scheduled for today, but shareholders will now vote on April 30.

The company says that shareholders who have already voted do not need to recast their votes.

Proxies previously submitted will be voted at the reconvened meeting unless revoked.

Tilray and Aphria announced their agreement to merge in December. If approved, the two will operate under the Tilray name with Aphria chief executive Irwin Simon at the helm.

Aphria shareholders voted 99.38% in favour of the deal earlier this week.

Big money for affordable housing
The Canadian Press - Apr 15, 2021 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press
B.C. Housing Minister David Eby

VICTORIA — The B.C. government is investing $2 billion in a low-interest loan program for builders of affordable housing.

Housing Minister David Eby said Thursday the financing will be offered to private developers and community groups through the province’s HousingHub program, a division of BC Housing.

The funding will target projects for renters and buyers with average household incomes of $75,000.

Eby said the loans will be provided at below-market rates and, in return, developers will commit to passing the construction savings on to residents through more affordable rents and housing prices.

The loans will be repaid once construction is complete, allowing HousingHub to reinvest in more units, he added.

Finance Minister Selina Robinson said the funding is part of Budget 2021, which will be unveiled in full next week.

“For far too long, housing in British Columbia was viewed as a commodity and a tool for building wealth, rather than a basic necessity of a home,” said Robinson, who was the housing minister before taking on the finance portfolio.

“The simple truth is, affordable housing is life changing.”

In order to ensure the savings are passed on to the residents, each developer must make a 10-year commitment around affordability. The agreements signed are unique to each project, Eby said.

Financing rates will depend on factors like a developer’s credit rating and relationship with banks, he said.

BC Housing has already received about 90 applications from builders interested in accessing a loan, he said.

“There’s lots of demand and competition for the funding,” Eby said.

Maximizing affordability

Applications will be prioritized based on maximizing affordability, such as the number of units and the price per unit offered to tenants or buyers, he said.

Developments will also be assessed through a geographic lens to ensure the benefit of the program is felt across the province.

“There’s really not a community in our province that isn’t facing some aspect of the housing crisis, although it looks different in different communities,” Eby said.

Paul Kershaw, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia’s school of population and public health, said the HousingHub is a positive and important program.

The program has seen private developers partner with non-profits to deliver the housing, which is an effective way to ensure the supply is affordable for middle-income households, said Kershaw.

But increasing supply should be complemented with other policy measures if the government truly wants to dampen the escalating housing market, he said.

“Anything being built and offered anew in a setting where … home prices continue to rise on average is going to erode the affordability that the provincial government is aiming to bring in by offering these low-interest loans,” he said.

Unhealthy situation

Complementary measures could include similar low-interest loans aimed at strengthening other parts of the economy, such as small businesses, he said.

B.C. is in an unhealthy situation when 18% of the province’s economy is real estate rental and leasing but only 2% of the population is employed in that sector, Kershaw said.

“It is a massive gap, and as a result that’s why there’s big growth in that industry, but it’s not generating earnings that are spread out to a whole bunch of people,” he said.

The Opposition Liberals said skyrocketing housing prices during the pandemic show the NDP government’s housing plan is failing. The party referenced a report from the B.C. Real Estate Association that found the average home price in the province increased by 20.4% last month compared with the same time last year. At the same time, active residential listings dropped by 24.4% as the housing supply sunk to the lowest level seen in decades, it said.

“It’s clear that the NDP’s supposed solutions for affordability have had no meaningful effect on the housing market,” housing critic and Kelowna West MLA Ben Stewart said. “Young British Columbians are still watching their dreams of home ownership fade away, while this government takes an undeserved victory lap.”

Forest industry touts importance
Jon Manchester - Apr 09, 2021 - BC Biz

File photo: Castanet

A new economic impact study by the BC Council of Forest Industries finds the industry generated over $13 billion in gross domestic product in 2019.

The study also found the forest industry supported more than 100,000 jobs and generated nearly $8.5 billion in wages, salaries, and benefits.

As well, the industry contributed more than $4 billion in government revenue.

“This study demonstrates again that B.C.’s forest products sector is an important part of the provincial economy, putting paycheques in people’s pockets, helping small businesses pay their bills and supporting a good quality of life for British Columbians,” council president Susan Yurkovich said.

The study found one in 25 of all jobs in B.C. are in the forest sector, and are most concentrated in the Cariboo, where they represent 14% of all jobs.

Additionally, the study found that between 2009 and 2019, forest industry companies invested about $14 billion in B.C. operations.

“B.C.’s forest industry is and will continue to provide opportunities and benefits for British Columbians for decades to come,” said Katrine Conroy, B.C.’s Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

More than 5,300 Indigenous people are directly employed in the industry, more than any other resource sector, and Indigenous communities are key partners in business and stewardship.

In addition to jobs directly tied to forestry, thousands of B.C. companies supply goods and services to the forest industry.

The study found that other businesses across B.C., from restaurants to corner stores, also rely on a healthy forest sector as workers spend in their local communities.

“Kamloops has been, and continues to be, a hub for regional forestry operations,” Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said. “From equipment supply to pulp manufacturing, forestry is a significant contributor to our GDP and provides millions of dollars annually to support Kamloops families.”

“Prince George and other communities across the Cariboo have long recognized just how important the forest industry is to our economy,” Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall added. “This industry provides jobs throughout its operations, and it supports many local businesses who rely on the forest sector for their economic prosperity.”

Horgan calls on laid-off workers
The Canadian Press - Mar 24, 2021 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

VICTORIA — More than 1,400 laid-off tourism and hospitality workers are set to provide non-clinical help with the COVID-19 immunization rollout in British Columbia.

Premier John Horgan says the province has partnered with 14 hard-hit businesses across the province to help get some of their employees back to work.

He says the companies or organizations include Air Canada, WestJet, Vancouver International Airport, Vancouver Canucks, Tourism Whistler, B.C. Business Council and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.

Ceres Terminals Canada, which operates the cruise port at Vancouver’s Canada Place, is also providing staff to work in the mass immunization clinics being set up across the province.

Regional vice-president Kathy deLisser says the cruise ship industry has been hit hard and the partnership helps B.C. residents get immunized and begin travelling again.

Horgan says B.C.’s vaccination program has seen success but the province has also seen a recent increase in cases, which means residents must continue to follow public health guidelines.

“All of us are tired of this,” he told a news conference Wednesday. “We’re just exhausted with COVID-19. But we are not out of the woods yet. We have several more miles to go before we rest.”

Chevron ends Kitimat LNG funding
The Canadian Press - Mar 19, 2021 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed

CALGARY — The decision by Chevron Canada Ltd. to stop funding its proposed Kitimat LNG project on B.C.’s north coast isn’t surprising given its failed attempt to sell its stake over the past 15 months, an analyst says.

“This is a portfolio-specific decision by Chevron to be pretty choosy about how they allocate capital,” said Matt Murphy of Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. on Friday.

“There was ample opportunity for other parties to come in and take over the project and proceed with it. I think the fact no one did is just further support for industry broadly being fairly choosy in how they’re allocating capital.”

In an update this week, the Canadian arm of California-based Chevron Corp. said it has been continuing to work on Kitimat LNG activities that add value or were required for regulatory and operational compliance since putting its 50% stake on the sales block in December 2019.

“At this time, it is Chevron’s intent to cease Chevron-funded further feasibility work for the proposed Kitimat LNG project,” it said on its website. Company officials did not immediately respond to a request for more detail.

Chevron is the operator of Kitimat LNG. The other 50% is owned by Australia’s Woodside Petroleum Ltd. Staff in Australia and at its Calgary office said they were unable to immediately comment on the project’s status on Friday.

In its 2020 annual report, however, Woodside says it “remains committed to working with our stakeholders to improve the cost competitiveness of the proposed (Kitimat LNG) project.”

Kitimat LNG was included as part of a Chevron asset impairment charge of US$2.2 billion in 2019. Woodside also recorded a 2019 writedown in its Kitimat LNG stake of US$720 million.

The project includes natural gas producing assets in the Liard and Horn River Basins in northeast B.C., the proposed 471-kilometre Pacific Trail Pipeline and plans for an LNG liquefaction and export terminal at Bish Cove near Kitimat.

At one time, about 20 LNG terminals were proposed for the West Coast but the $40-billion LNG Canada project headed by Shell Canada is the only one to reach the construction stage.

Canada’s lack of existing natural gas pipeline capacity from wells in northeastern B.C. to the West Coast makes it difficult for any Canadian liquefied natural gas export terminal to compete with other projects in the global LNG market, Murphy said.

“All of these companies around the world—Chevron is a great example—they’re being very selective with how they’re allocating their dollars, so that’s fewer megaprojects, more selective brownfield expansions,’ he said.

“Greenfield LNG off the West Coast of Canada doesn’t fit the bill for them.”

Canada has advantages such as its proximity to Asian LNG markets, but projects in Russia, Mozambique and Qatar, for example, are closer to their gas sources, Murphy said.

Canada’s LNG setbacks aren’t expected to greatly affect its natural gas producers, he added, because there is sufficient pipeline capacity and demand to continue to supply markets in Eastern Canada and the United States.

Carbon tax could hike bills
The Canadian Press - Mar 17, 2021 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

SURREY — Natural gas supplier FortisBC says prices won’t change for at least another three months, but other charges such as the provincial carbon tax still have the potential to increase the customer’s bill.

A statement from FortisBC Energy Inc. says the British Columbia Utilities Commission has approved the plan to maintain natural gas prices at current levels for all customers until June 30.

But the B.C. carbon tax, which applies to fuels including natural gas, is set to increase on April 1 from $40 to $45 per tonne, after the hike was twice delayed in March and September of last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With taxes and other charges excluded, Fortis says current natural gas prices amount to $2.844 per gigajoule for Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Whistler and Revelstoke customers, and $2.999 for customers in Fort Nelson.

The Canada Energy Regulator estimates the average Canadian home fuelled by natural gas uses just over 88 gigajoules annually.

FortisBC charges a flat fee to recover fixed costs, a delivery charge and a storage and transport fee, but Diane Roy, vice-president of regulatory affairs with FortisBC, says the utility makes no profit on the cost of natural gas.

“We understand that energy costs are an important decision in household budgets,” Roy says in the statement on Wednesday. “Our priority remains to deliver safe and reliable energy to our customers while working to keep rates as low as possible.”

FortisBC delivers natural gas and electricity to about 1.2 million customers in the province.

BC farmland jumps in value
Okanagan Edge Staff - Mar 15, 2021 - BC Biz

Photo: Getty Images

It turns out farmland is COVID-proof.

In fact, it may be even better than just COVID-proof.

Farm Credit Canada released its annual farmland values report on Monday, and it discovered the average value of Canadian land increased 5.4% in 2020, which was even more than the 5.2% it gained in 2019.

The average B.C. farmland increased 8% in 2020, which was more than the 5.4% gain in 2019 and the 6.1% jump in 2018. Last year’s 8% jump was the biggest of any Canadian province.

“Since land is the most valuable asset on any farm operation, the agriculture land market is a good barometer for measuring the strength of Canadian agriculture,” FCC chief economist J.P. Gervais said in a press release. “Despite having gone through a uniquely volatile year, farm income generally improved and the overall demand for farmland remained strong throughout 2020.”

The reason for the value increase was commodity prices climbed in the last half of 2020 for many crops and interest rates remained close to historic lows. Domestic demand for food remained strong, and global supply chains continued to have an appetite for Canadian food and commodity exports.

“Producer investments in farmland are a reflection of their confidence and optimism,” Gervais said. “Agriculture presents opportunities as producers seek to expand, diversify or transfer their operations to the next generation.”

BC urged to protect old growth
The Canadian Press - Mar 12, 2021 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — The most at-risk ecosystems should be set aside from logging while B.C. shifts its forestry policies toward a more sustainable system, says a forester who helped write a provincial report on old-growth forests.

The report last April co-written by Garry Merkel urged B.C. to act within six months to defer harvesting in old forest ecosystems at the highest risk of permanent biodiversity loss.

“There (are) some of those ecosystems targeted for harvesting right now,” he said in an interview this week, six months after B.C. released the report and pledged to implement the recommendations from the panel of two independent foresters who were commissioned to write it.

“I do share the impatience of a lot of folks.”

At the same time, Merkel said he doesn’t question the government’s commitment to implementing the panel’s recommendations and the process overall will take years.

“This is very much in my mind an intergenerational process that we’re working through.”

Old-growth forests are crucial to the overall health of ecosystems in the province, said Merkel, affecting everything from the raindrops that collect in the tree canopy to the water that runs in salmon streams below.

The risk of biodiversity loss is high when at least 30% of the natural old forest in an ecosystem is not kept intact, he said, adding B.C.’s old growth retention targets in some areas are lower than that threshold.

The old growth panel’s report says it’s projected that almost all of B.C. would be at high risk of biodiversity loss once most of the available old forest is harvested under the current management approach.

Just over 13 million hectares of old forests remain in B.C., according to provincial data. The report notes as much as 80% of that land consists of smaller trees with lower commercial value.

US company buys BC gold miner
The Canadian Press - Mar 10, 2021 - BC Biz

Photo: Facebook

CALGARY — International gold producer Newmont Corp. says it has struck a deal to take over the junior Canadian miner developing the Tatogga gold-copper discoveries in the Golden Triangle region of northwest B.C.

The Denver-based miner says it has agreed to buy the 85.1% of the shares in GT Gold Corp. it doesn’t already own for $3.25 each or about $393 million.

Shares in GT Gold rose to nearly match the offer price, jumping by as much as 60% to $3.22 from Tuesday’s close of $2.01 on the TSX Venture Exchange.

Newmont CEO Tom Palmer says the company is committed to maintaining relationships with the Tahltan Nation, including with the nearby community of Iskut, as it explores the 47,500-hectare Tatogga property.

He adds the company concedes that Tahltan consent is necessary to advance the project and that the nation will be a partner “at all levels.”

National Bank analyst Mike Parkin says the project is suited to Newmont’s skill set in developing and operating large-scale mines but the early stage means no major capital spending is expected for several years.

“Newmont is a major international mining company who already has an established relationship with the Tahltan Nation as Newmont owns 50% of the Galore Creek Mining Corp., whose project is in Tahltan territory,” said Tahltan central government president Chad Norman Day in a news release.

“TCG understands the sensitivities of all mining projects and has communicated with Newmont that Tahltan consent is a requirement for the advancement of any project in Tahltan territory.”

BC eases business aid criteria
The Canadian Press - Mar 05, 2021 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed

VICTORIA — The B.C. government has eased the eligibility requirements and extended the deadline for small and medium-sized businesses applying for funds under its $345-million pandemic recovery grant program.

Businesses with up to 149 employees must now show a 30% drop in revenue in any one month between March 2020 and the time of application compared with the same time period during the year before.

The grant program previously required businesses to show a 70% drop at some point during March or April last year, plus additional revenue losses of 30% to 50% from May 2020 until their application.

The deadline for businesses to apply has been pushed back from the end of this month to Aug. 31, or until all the money has been spent.

Ravi Kahlon, the minister of jobs and economic recovery, said Thursday the province has been “nimble” with the program and the changes directly follow feedback from the business community.

About $55 million has been distributed through the program so far and an influx of applications hasn’t slowed down, he said, though he couldn’t say how many more businesses may now apply given the latest changes.

“Certainly we have some businesses that have applied that weren’t able to get the funding because they didn’t meet (requirements), and now we’ll be able to call them and tell them that in fact they do have funding available.”

B.C. had previously eased the program’s eligibility rules last December, but a 70% revenue drop last March or April was still required at the time.

Businesses may apply for grants ranging from $10,000 to $30,000, with additional funds available to tourism-related businesses, which Kahlon said represent just over half of applicants to the program so far.

Applications received previously will be reviewed under the new criteria.

In a statement, Liberal jobs critic Todd Stone urged the NDP government to eliminate the requirement that businesses must be at least 18 months old.

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