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VANCOUVER — The price of cannabis at government-run stores in B.C. declined while potency rose between 2019 and 2020, says a new report that has a researcher raising questions about what its findings mean for public health.
The study found that the amount of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, increased from 64 milligrams to 129 mg per person over the age of 15 during that period.
Dr. Tim Naimi, director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria, said gross revenue of about $290 million from sales of cheaper but stronger cannabis suggests there’s a need to consider tougher public health measures, perhaps through taxation and potency restrictions.
“We hope over time that the government will consider public health considerations and not engage in a race to the bottom in terms of selling the most potent stuff for the cheapest prices,” said Naimi, who led the researchers doing the study.
The federal government did not place a limit on the amount of THC used in many cannabis products when its use was legalized in 2018.
The Ministry of the Solicitor General could not immediately be reached for comment.
Sales of regulated cannabis doubled in B.C. as the number of government stores rose from 11 to 25, researchers found from data provided by the province, which commissioned the report.
At the same time, the number of private stores selling cannabis also jumped from 128 to 270. But on a per-capita basis, government stores sell about twice as much cannabis as private ones, the findings show.
Last year, the B.C. government sold cannabis products containing nearly 8,000 kilograms of THC, amounting to about 400 million joints, the report says. Flower and pre-roll products accounted for about 84% of all cannabis sales by THC weight.
Naimi said more research is needed into legal cannabis sales, including why the Northern Health region had the highest per-capita sales in the province.
“That is interesting because that is similar to what we see for alcohol,” said Naimi, an alcohol epidemiologist.
It’s hard to compare sales of regulated cannabis across Canada because data are not collected in the same way in all jurisdictions, he said.
TORONTO — Well Health Technologies Corp. said it will be the largest private-sector operator of outpatient medical clinics in Canada with a deal Monday to buy MyHealth Partners Inc.
Vancouver-based Well Health said it has signed an agreement to buy Toronto-based MyHealth Partners Inc. for up to $266.3 million, adding 48 clinics in Ontario to its growing portfolio of medical businesses.
Well Health chief executive Hamed Shahbazi said it’s his company’s 10th acquisition this year, including CRH Medical Corp., a Vancouver-based surgical equipment company that it bought in April for the equivalent of $470 million.
MyHealth, founded in 2013, has 760 health care professionals, including doctors, who provide primary care, specialty care, telehealth services and diagnostic services under Ontario’s provincial health insurance program.
About 75% of MyHealth’s medical consultations are done through telehealth technology, some of it provided by Well Health’s group of companies.
MyHealth chief executive Suresh Madan, who will continue to head the business, said joining Well will help to further develop and implement technologies to cut wait times.
Under the deal, which is expected to close in the third quarter, Well will pay $82 million in cash, $94.3 million in shares at a deemed price per share of $9.80 and $30 million in convertible promissory notes.
Well has also agreed to a four-year performance-based earn-out worth up to an additional $60 million in cash, shares or a combination of both at Well’s discretion.
Among the conditions of the transaction is approval by Ontario’s Ministry of Health.
Shahbazi said the expense of medical technology, as well as the demands on the time of physicians that own and operate clinics outside of the hospital system, have held back Canada’s adoption of digital health services.
Through multiple subsidiaries Well Health provides electronic medical records services, billing services, cybersecurity services and clinics in several provinces, including B.C. and Ontario as well as in the United States.
Planning on throwing a raging party at an Airbnb this summer?
Think again … again.
Airbnb has announced it is extending its global ban on parties through at least the end of summer 2021.
In the summer of 2020, the vacation rental company announced that it was banning all parties and events at all of its listings around the world, until further notice. The company also put a cap on occupancy at 16.
And while COVID-19 travel restrictions are easing in countries around the world, Airbnb says it will continue to “work to try to cultivate safe and responsible travel through our platform.” As a result, the party ban will be extended through the summer.
As part of the ban, the company took measures within its platform to promote responsible behaviour such as removing the “event-friendly” search filter and removing any “parties and events allowed” house rules in listings. Those features will also remain inaccessible through at least the end of summer 2021.
Numerous systems that help to prevent unauthorized parties will also be continued, such as the Neighborhood Support Line, which provides a forum for neighbours to report issues or concerns directly to Airbnb regarding disruptive parties. An initiative in the US, Canada, UK, France and Spain that restricts guests under the age of 25 from booking entire home listings in their local area under certain circumstances will also be continued.
Airbnb also wants to make clear that “those violating Airbnb’s rules or British Columbia’s public health rules risk suspensions or bans from its platform.”
At the end of summer 2021, Airbnb will provide another update on the future of the policy.
The minimum wage in B.C. jumps to $15.20 an hour on Tuesday, making it the highest rate of any province in Canada.
A statement from the Ministry of Labour says the rate climbs 60 cents per hour Tuesday, while the minimum wage for liquor servers will increase $1.25 per hour to match the minimum wage.
Labour Minister Harry Bains says the New Democrat government has kept its 2017 promise to provide regular, measured, predictable increases to raise the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour by June 2021.
The change also erases the lower minimum wage for liquor servers, ending what the Labour Ministry says was a discriminatory salary that disproportionally affected women.
The statement says B.C. has one of the highest costs of living in Canada and one of the lowest minimum wages when the increases began four years ago.
Future minimum wage increases will be tied to inflation starting in 2022.
Incremental raises since 2017 have given businesses time to prepare for each one, offering them stability and certainty, the ministry says.
Other increases include a more than $5-per-day boost in the minimum daily salary for a live-in camp leader, while the minimum monthly wage for a resident caretaker climbs to $912.28 plus $36.56 per suite for managers handling nine to 60 residential units.
The minimum monthly salary for a resident caretaker responsible for more than 61 suites increases to $3,107.42 on June 1.
About 121,000 people, roughly 6% of the workforce, earned the previous minimum wage of $14.60, or less, last year, the ministry statement says.
A further 12%, nearly 245,000 employees, earned under $15.20 per hour in 2020, says the ministry.
Rosario Agustin, a janitor in Vancouver, says the increases since 2017 have been important because the cost of living across the Lower Mainland is so high.
“I have worked at a skyscraper downtown for over 15 years, and most of that time I was making minimum wage and supporting my family as a single mom,” Agustin says in the statement.
“The minimum going up helps raise the bar for all of us.”
VICTORIA — The B.C. government is offering up to $1-million grants to help “anchor” attractions and tour bus operators survive the pandemic and ramp up operations when it’s safe to do so.
Premier John Horgan and Tourism Minister Melanie Mark say they believe the $50-million BC Major Anchor Attractions Program is enough to prevent any of those not-for-profits and businesses on the edge from going under.
Mark says urban attractions that receive 75,000 visitors or more each year are eligible for the maximum amount, while rural attractions with 15,000 or more visitors and tourism bus companies with 30,000 or more passengers a year may receive up to $500,000.
The funding will cover expenses like payroll, rent and utility costs related to restarting operations in preparation for gradual reopening in alignment with provincial health orders.
Horgan says anchor attractions have ripple effects for the economy as visitors stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and shop in the area, while also offering employment opportunities, especially for youth.
The application window will be open until June 7, with funds provided in July.
Horgan says few sectors have been hit as hard by COVID-19 as tourism.
“Many of our major tourism attractions we all know and love are struggling and we need to make sure we’re there for them,” he says.
“The effects, of course, are far-reaching not just on those anchor attractions but on the many communities that depend on tourism landmarks to have people coming through their community to boost their local economy and bring visitors to town.”
VANCOUVER — Woodside Petroleum Ltd. says it plans sell its 50% stake in the proposed Kitimat LNG development in B.C.
The Australian company says the plan includes the divestment or wind-up and restoration of assets, leases and agreements covering the 480-kilometre Pacific Trail Pipeline route and the site for the proposed LNG facility at Bish Cove.
Woodside will keep a position in the Liard Basin upstream gas resource.
Chevron Canada Ltd., the operator of the project, said earlier this year that it would stop funding further feasibility work on the project. The company put its interest up for sale in December 2019 but has failed to find a buyer.
Woodside acting CEO Meg O’Neill said following Chevron’s decision in March to cease funding that Woodside undertook a comprehensive review of its options for the project.
“The Kitimat LNG proposal was designed to develop a new source of LNG to supply Asian markets in the latter part of this decade,” O’Neill said in a statement.
“However, we have decided to prioritize the allocation of capital to opportunities that will deliver nearer-term shareholder value.”
O’Neill said exiting the Kitimat project will allow the company to focus on higher value opportunities in Australia and Senegal.
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.
Further help is on the way for B.C.’s struggling tourism sector.
Premier John Horgan and Tourism Minister Melanie Mark are set to announce more support today for the sector that’s lobbied the province for greater aid as it grapples with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A group of four tourism and hospitality industry associations reacted to B.C.’s budget announced last month, saying in a news release at the time that tourism-related spending was welcome, but it may not be enough to save some businesses before ongoing travel restrictions are lifted.
Non-essential travel is restricted between three regional zones in B.C. until at least May 24, when the province’s emergency order is set to expire.
Finance Minister Selina Robinson has said a $120-million tourism support fund in the budget was based on projections of recovery in the industry.
Eligible tourism-related businesses may also apply to B.C.’s COVID-19 recovery grand program for small- and medium-sized businesses.
UPDATED 11:37 a.m.
VICTORIA — B.C. will give all workers up to three days of paid sick leave to support those affected by COVID-19.
Labour Minister Harry Bains introduced the legislation today, saying it would be effective until Dec. 31.
He says the provincial government will be “stepping up in a major way” to support businesses with the cost.
Employers will be required to pay workers their full wages and those without an existing sick-leave program will be reimbursed by the government $200 per day for each worker.
WorkSafeBC, the provincial injury prevention and safety agency, will begin administering the program next month and employers will be required to cover the difference for those employees who earn more than $200 per day.
Bains also says a new permanent entitlement to paid personal injury and illness leave would take effect in January, although the number of entitlement days would be determined through consultation in the coming months.
“Having paid sick leave is good for businesses, good for workers, good for our communities and will help our economy recover faster,” Bains said in the legislature on Tuesday.
The government says about half of B.C. employees do not currently have access to paid sick leave.
B.C.’s proposed legislation closely matches the program introduced in Ontario, which has come under heavy criticism for falling short of what’s needed to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Premier John Horgan said last month the province was considering its own sick-leave program after the federal government failed to bring in a national plan that would fill in the gaps of the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit.
VANCOUVER — Increasing values are prompting homeowners to sell, but the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver says more supply is still needed to meet active market demands.
The board reports there were 4,908 residential home sales in its 15 regions in April, a 342% increase from the same month last year.
Board economist Keith Stewart says there’s been a corresponding supply from home sellers this spring to meet the spike in sales, but more homes are needed on the market to bring conditions to balance.
The number of homes listed for sale in the region is 10,245, a 9.1% increase from April last year, but the board says it’s still more than 11% below the 10-year average for April.
Stewart says record-low interest rates, increased household savings, a stronger economy and a continued need for living space in the COVID-19 pandemic are all factors helping boost demand, while steady price growth is encouraging more sellers to list their homes.
The benchmark price for a detached home in the market is more than $1.75 million, a 20.9% increase from last year, while the price for an apartment is $729,600, a 5.9% increase from last April.
In December 2017 the B.C. government introduced the ambitious BC Energy Step Code, a building code with five steps towards creating ‘net-zero’ energy-use homes by 2032.
It is the toughest code in Canada and a testing ground for the new national building code, now in the works, that will also put an emphasis on climate change. An objective of the code is to also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, since buildings account for about 30% of such emissions, according to government reports.
It will also add tens of thousands of dollars to new homes built to the highest level of the new code, which comes into effect this summer in all North Shore municipalities.
The Step Code is not yet mandatory and gives B.C. municipalities the option to have residential construction meet one or more steps of the Step Code as an upgrade to the existing code. The City of Vancouver, for example, has its own building code and is moving towards having all new homes becoming net zero by 2030.
Step 1 is a minor improvement over the existing code, while the second step is a 10% improvement in efficiency. Step 3, which nine Metro Vancouver municipalities have already moved to, along with some of the larger centres in the Greater Victoria region, specifies a 20% improvement. Step 4 is a 40% upgrade from current standards.
Step 5 requires builders to construct homes that be net-zero, meaning the home produces more energy than it uses.
“It is a function of the efficiency of the HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] equipment, the tightness of the envelope, the degree of insulation, all these different things,” explains Ron Rapp, CEO of the Homebuilders’ Association of Vancouver (HAVAN).
A certified energy adviser must sign off on plans that meet performance models. Then the final structure is checked with a blower door test, which uses a specialized fan to measure how tightly a building is sealed against air leakage.
A typical older house, due to natural leakage, may have 10 to 20 air changes per day. A Step 5 level house would have less than one air change daily.
The City of West Vancouver, the District of North Vancouver and the City of North Vancouver will all require Step 5, which has the highest air tightness, as of July 1, the first municipalities in Canada to do so.
Home builders are now finding just how steeply expensive stepping up can become.
A 2019 HAVAN modelling study of a standard new detached house estimated that the cost to implement Step 1 would be $5,600 above the current building code. To meet Step 3 would add $15,300, and that cost would rise to more than $24,000 at the Step 4 level.
At Step 5, primarily because of the much higher levels of insulation, advanced mechanical systems and ultra-high-performance windows, the cost soars to $48,220 for a typical house.
“It would be much more than that on a large, custom-built house: at least $70,000 to $110,000,” said Casey Edge, executive director of the Victoria Residential Builders Association and a consistent critic of the Step Code.
Edge noted the costs are layered onto new homes, while the much larger pool of existing homes, many built decades ago, continue to emit most of the emissions.
Larry Clay, founder and president of Clay Construction Inc. in Langley and incoming national president of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association, sits on the industry’s National Net Zero Committee, which works with the federal government on building code standards.
His company builds eight to 10 houses per year valued at up to $3 million, all of them to Step 3 and up to net-zero standards.
Clay said it was fairly easy for B.C. builders to achieve Step 2 and even Step 3, but the challenges increase at higher levels, and it is not only about cost.
He cites the example of a large custom house he is building in Langley under a Step 3 building code. The client had considered going to Step 5—net zero—until energy modelling showed the design changes that would be needed. These included much thicker walls, much smaller windows and changes to roof overhangs.
The client said “no way” and kept with the original design.
“At what point,” Clay asks, “does a homeowner have the right to keep the design they want?”
He said window size and orientation could become a big issue under Step 4 or 5. For example, he notes, in Burnaby and Vancouver many homeowners may want a big-window north view of the Inlet and the mountains, but the Step Code would require small or no north-facing windows, without substantial costs added.
Clay said adding $25,000 to $50,000 onto the price of a new house may fly in Canada’s most expensive markets of Vancouver, Victoria or Toronto, but not in most of B.C. or Canada.
Builders in many smaller centres try to deliver new houses that cost around $300,000, he notes.
“Adding $24,000 to $50,000 to the cost would kill their business,” Clay said.
Clay, who is also the immediate past-president of HAVAN, and Edge both say the fact that different municipalities have conflicting Step Code requirements adds to the cost and confusion for builders and consumers.
“Municipalities are circumventing the purpose of the Step Code, which was to slowly improve the code to let builders and suppliers become familiar with it,” Clay said.
Clay, who becomes president of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association this May, notes that Canada’s new national building code, expected to be introduced in 2025, will also require much higher levels of energy efficiency and other measures to combat climate change.
Clay said home builders are as concerned about the environment as anyone and will meet any standards demanded, but that government incentives, perhaps mortgage industry price breaks, may be needed.
“We will get there [to net zero]. We have to, but we need help,” Clay said. “Home builders can’t do it alone.”