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Uber, Lyft already rolling
The Canadian Press - Jan 24, 2020 - BC Biz

File photo: The Canadian Press

VICTORIA — Ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft say they are on the road in Metro Vancouver, less than a day after receiving long-awaited approval for operating licences.

Uber activated its app Friday morning, while Lyft held a news conference outlining is operational area covering downtown Vancouver, the international airport in Richmond and part of east Vancouver.

Uber says it will service North and West Vancouver, Vancouver, Burnaby, Richmond, Surrey, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and parts of Delta.

Rate structures for the two companies are 33 cents a minute, but Uber will charge 70 cents per kilometre while Lyft charges 65 cents, and base and services fees for Uber are $4.50 compared with Lyft’s $5.

Taxi rates can vary in Metro Vancouver, but the base fare is generally $3.25 and $1.88 per kilometre.

Vancouver quickly issued business licences to Uber and Lyft after the Passenger Transportation Board approved provincial licences Thursday.

Currently, drivers for both ride-hailing companies must arrange for separate business licences and fees in every municipality across Metro Vancouver, but a framework for a unified ride-hailing business licence is expected by early next month.

Peter Lukomskyj, Lyft’s general manager for B.C., told a news conference in Vancouver Friday that the company has been ready and waiting to get on the road.

“We are very excited today to bring Lyft’s ride-sharing service to British Columbia.” Lukomskyj said.

“Today, we have Lyft off,” he added with a smile.

Approval of ride-hailing in B.C. followed years of work that Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said included amending transportation service laws to accommodate both ride-hailing and existing taxi services, as well as ensuring safety for passengers and drivers.

The B.C. Taxi Association has opposed ride-hailing, arguing taxis cannot compete on an unlevel playing field.

Its president Mohan Kang said in a statement that association lawyers will review the licence approvals for Uber and Lyft and will be considering its options.

Vancouver welcomes MasterCard
Glacier Media - Jan 24, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed
(L to R) MasterCard’s Ajay Bhalla and Ajay Banga, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains and Invest in Canada’s Ian McKay.

Ottawa is putting up nearly $50 million to boost the presence of Mastercard Inc. in Vancouver with the launch of a $510 million cyber security centre.

The credit card company announced Thursday that the West Coast city would be the home of its sixth global technology centre—one focused on developing technologies to thwart cyber attacks in the payments arena.

In a bid to entice the financial giant to B.C., the federal government dipped into its Strategic Innovation Fund to the tune of $49 million.

A February 2019 analysis from The Logic revealed just over half the fund’s recipients were foreign firms, at the time the story was published.

“The Vancouver centre will help us meet the growing demand for technology solutions to reduce the cost of cyber-attacks, enable today’s connected devices to become tomorrow’s secure payment devices and address the growing vulnerabilities associated with the Internet of Things,” Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga said in a statement.

Mastercard’s new Intelligence and Cyber Centre will be based at The Exchange office tower on Howe Street, which counts Amazon.com Inc. among its tenants.

The Mastercard office houses Vancouver-founded cyber security firm NuData Security Inc., which Mastercard acquired in 2017.

Mastercard said in a statement the new centre will be “creating and maintaining” a total of 380 jobs, while the federal government estimated the new sit would create 100 new co-op positions.

NuData already employs about 100 workers in its downtown office, leaving Mastercard to hire about 300 more workers to meet the needs of the cyber centre.

Jill Tipping, CEO of the B.C. Tech Association, told Business in Vancouver Mastercard was clearly enticed by access to talent and the city’s connections with key markets around the world.

“I’m thrilled that they’re recognizing Vancouver as a great place to launch, but it makes it even more important that we put the investment into supporting our local homegrown companies,” she said.

Lego pro has dream job
The Canadian Press - Jan 23, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — Many years ago when Ryan McNaught was an IT professional, he got an email from his manager who wanted to have a meeting about the number of meetings they were having.

“I knew right then that I wanted to do something different,” McNaught said in an interview Wednesday.

Around that time McNaught met people who worked for Lego and began to collaborate on a few projects. The company had recently started its certified professional program, and they suggested he put together a business proposal and apply to it.

A little over a decade ago he became a Lego certified professional and is one of only 14 in the world.

Over the past few days, McNaught and a team of Lego builders moved into the Telus World of Science in Vancouver where they have made 20 models of skyscrapers from Canada, the United States, Australia, Asia and the United Arab Emirates. The structures include the Wilshire Grand Center in Los Angeles, Chicago’s Willis Tower, the Shanghai Tower and the Burj Khalifa from Dubai.

The group used more than 500,000 Lego bricks and took in excess of 2,400 hours to build the structures featured in the Towers of Tomorrow exhibition, which begins Friday.

All the buildings are on a scale of 1:200, McNaught said.

“This allows you to compare from buildings around the world,” he added. So a person can sit the Empire State Building next to the CN Tower and compare the two for size and shape, he said.

Of the buildings featured at the exhibition, McNaught said the Shanghai Tower was the hardest to build.

“It’s shaped like a guitar pick or a rounded triangle, which twists as it goes up so it was really difficult to build out of Lego bricks.”

It is those limitations with Lego that make it appeal to McNaught’s “nerdy tech brain,” he said.

His favourite subjects in school were math and computer science, he said, and building a Lego model is “like being a real architect just with Lego bricks.”

McNaught and his team do research, look at photos, video and even satellite images of the buildings they are going to make.

“Then we do a paper sketch, pen and paper, work out the calculations … a lot of math is involved. Then we start building from there.”

His first Lego set was a blue boat given to him when he was three years old by his grandma Hazel.

McNaught said the one thing that has remained constant from the time he started playing with Lego are the bricks, which haven’t changed at all. His favourite brick is the two by four—two studs wide by four studs long, he said.

“It’s a very plain brick, but we use a lot of them,” he said.

McNaught said he’s “very fortunate” to be doing what he does because it’s an “aspirational career.”

“I was in senior IT management. I would put on a suit and go to work, very different day compared to now,” he said. “I haven’t worn a tie for years.”

James: Spec tax working
Wayne Moore - Jan 22, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed
B.C. Finance Minister Carole James believes her government’s spec tax is getting the job done.

A select number of residents in Kelowna and West Kelowna can expect to receive speculation and vacancy tax declaration packages in the mail.

The packages for the contentious tax will be arriving between Jan. 24 and Feb. 21.

Finance Minister Carole James says more than 99% of British Columbians will be exempt from paying the tax, while speculators, foreign owners and people who leave their homes vacant will continue to pay.

James points to the latest Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation rental report to claim the tax has been a success, though not all agree. According to the CMHC, the long-term rental stock in Metro Vancouver increased by nearly 19%, the most significant increase in a decade.

“We’re beginning to see moderation in the housing market, and over the past year we’ve seen more rental condos being put on the market and an increase in purpose-built rentals,” James said. “These are encouraging signs for making housing more affordable for families in B.C.”

The tax has now risen from 0.5% to 2% of assessed property value. In its first year, the government says it collected $115 million from the tax.

Two million of that came from properties in Kelowna. The government says that money will be funnelled back into the city through funding for housing.

Both Kelowna and West Kelowna continue to lobby the province to have the two cities exempt from the tax, which has been widely panned by the development and construction industries as being a job killer and rising prices for average home buyers.

Gregor gets green gig
The Canadian Press - Jan 21, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press
Gregor Robertson with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

VANCOUVER — Former Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson is lending his expertise to a Canadian company working to expand green building technology around the globe.

Robertson, who served as Vancouver’s mayor from 2008 to 2018, has joined Nexii Building Solutions as its executive vice-president of strategy and partnerships.

He launched Vancouver’s ongoing Greenest City strategy shortly after taking office and a statement from the company says Robertson will assist Nexii’s expansion plans to other countries.

Nexii says in a statement that it has developed innovative solutions with the potential to cut the environmental impact of the construction sector and tackle the global housing shortage.

Nexii CEO Stephen Sidwell said Robertson is an influential advocate for climate action and brings “a unique understanding of how cities, developers, and construction companies can work together to provide more sustainable buildings.”

Robertson says buildings are the largest source of climate pollution and he is pleased help the Vancouver-based Nexii expand its green technologies.

“I’m proud to be part of a Canadian company with significant potential to make a huge positive impact on the environment and communities globally,” Robertson said in the statement.

Robertson, 55, co-founded Vancouver-based organic fruit and juice company Happy Planet before entering B.C. politics as a New Democrat member of the legislature in 2005.

He declared his mayoral intentions in the spring of 2008, before the end of his first term in Victoria.

As mayor, he led the Vision Vancouver political party to successive victories over a decade before announcing in early 2018 that he would not seek re-election.

He departed without fulfilling his early pledge to wipe out homelessness by 2015, but his administration is credited with creating more than 600 units of temporary modular housing for the city’s most vulnerable residents.

MEC trying to save cash
The Canadian Press - Jan 20, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed

Vancouver-based outdoor equipment retailer MEC plans to sublease its 112,000-square-foot head office, which it built for $28 million and moved into in late 2014.

The company has already started scouting the market for a new headquarters that will be about one-third the size somewhere in Metro Vancouver, CEO Phil Arrata says.

Arrata said that the sublease and new head office will save the company millions of dollars annually—“far less than 10 million, maybe a couple million.”

The 22-store, 2,400-employee retailer, which manufactures about 20 per cent of its products, has struggled financially, losing $11.5 million in its 2018-19 fiscal year, which ended in February.

Arrata would not speculate on how much money the company will lose in its current fiscal year, although he hinted that losses could exceed those of last year. His aim is to get the company to be cash-flow positive in the 2020-21 fiscal year, he said.

One reason that the current fiscal year could be worse than last year is that MEC sold real estate in the 2018-19 fiscal year and booked a one-time capital gain. No such transactions took place this year, he said.

Hope for lumber industry
The Canadian Press - Jan 17, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

CALGARY — Financial analysts say Canadian production cutbacks and a consumer-driven recovery in housing starts in the United States could mean better times for lumber and panel products this year.

In a research report, RBC analyst Paul Quinn estimates B.C. lumber producers have permanently closed mills accounting for 18% of the province’s capacity, a move that is expected to help to bring North American supply in line with demand and support price increases.

He adds the closure of three oriented strand board mills and part of another has removed about 9.5% of North American OSB capacity.

RBC is forecasting that U.S. housing starts will increase by about 2.5% this year to 1.3 million units, driven by strength in single-family housing, and there will be further gains in lumber demand from the adoption of “mass timber” methods which allow construction of taller wooden buildings.

Meanwhile, CIBC analysts are also bullish on the lumber sector in North America, given stronger housing starts this year and their estimate of a five per cent decline in supply from last year.

In a report, they say they expect a robust spring selling season, with lumber prices and producer share prices likely to rise.

“2019 was one of the worst years in memory for lumber and OSB companies, with most reporting significant declines in profitability and seeing their equity value deteriorate,” noted RBC’s Quinn.

“However, a number of positive developments have us feeling increasingly bullish.”

Horgan offers financial aid
The Canadian Press - Jan 16, 2020 - BC Biz

File photo: CTV News

VANCOUVER — Premier John Horgan says the government is making $5 million available for loans to help contractors who are in danger of losing their equipment due to a forest industry strike on Vancouver Island.

He says the program for struggling forest industry contractors will be available by the end of this month with bridge loans to help save equipment.

Horgan announced the funding during a speech to forest industry contractors at the annual Truck Loggers Association convention.

He spent much of his speech addressing the labour dispute between Western Forests Products and the Steelworkers union, saying the seven-month strike is unprecedented in B.C. history.

Up to 3,000 people are out of work, and local politicians in Port McNeill and Campbell River says local economies are struggling.

Horgan says he has urged both sides to negotiate a settlement.

Kimberley solar facility sold
The Canadian Press - Jan 15, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed

VANCOUVER — Mining company Teck Resources Ltd. says it is purchasing the SunMine solar electricity generating facility in B.C. from the City of Kimberley.

The Vancouver-based company says it has agreed to pay about $2 million, matching the city’s debt associated with the operation.

The 1.05-megawatt SunMine opened in 2015 on reclaimed land at Teck’s Sullivan Mine, which was closed in 2001 after producing zinc, lead and silver for nearly 100 years.

But its earnings for the community fell short of expectations, in part due to heavy smoke caused by summer forest fires, and the city has been negotiating to sell it to Teck for several years.

Citizens voted in a referendum during the October 2018 municipal election in favour of selling the facility.

Teck CEO Don Lindsay says the company will use SunMine to build firsthand experience with solar power that could lead to its implementation at other operations.

“Our involvement with SunMine is part of our commitment to taking action on climate change, advancing renewable energy development and supporting the global transition to a low-carbon economy,” he said in a news release.

Teck is awaiting word from Ottawa on whether it will be allowed to build its proposed $20.6-billion Frontier oilsands mine in northern Alberta, a project that environmentalists say is inconsistent with Canada’s greenhouse gas emission reduction policies.

Energy usage skyrockets
Wayne Moore - Jan 14, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed

Sub-zero temperatures across the province have kept furnaces and other heating devices humming at record levels.

According to BC Hydro, the utility set a new record for the highest peak hourly demand for electricity on Monday.

Consumption reached 10,203 megawatts, beating the previous record set Jan. 3, 2017, of 10,194 megawatts.

Hydro expects power demand to remain high, with forecasts of more snow and below-freezing temperatures through the week.

The highest demand for electricity is on weekday evenings when people return home, turn up the heat, switch on lights, make dinner and do other household activities.

BC Hydro reminds customers there are ways to reduce electricity use during the winter, thus cutting down on your electricity bill. These include:

  • Setting thermostat at an ideal temperature based on time of day can help reduce wasted electricity:
  • 16 C when sleeping or away from home
  • 21 C when relaxing, watching TV
  • 18 C when doing housework or cleaning
  • Avoid cranking up the thermostat – cranking up the thermostat does not heat the home up faster than turning it up a degree or two at a time.
  • Draftproofing around windows and doors to reduce heat loss by 10 per cent.
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