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BC milk making plant planned
The Canadian Press - 1:42 pm - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

ABBOTSFORD — The B.C. government is spending up to $25 million toward the construction of a milk production plant aimed at boosting the supply of locally sourced food products.

The province said in a statement that the expansion to Vitalus Nutrition’s plant in Abbotsford will begin construction this summer and will increase local milk production by 50%, to 1.4 billion litres annually.

The province said the project will boost local production for dairy products such as butter, which is currently required to be shipped from Eastern Canada to satiate local demand.

It said this will also create up to 100 more jobs at the site.

B.C. Premier David Eby says in a statement that recent “climate disasters,” including the November 2021 atmospheric river event, elevated food prices and showed that the province “must produce more food here.”

The province said the new milk production plant expansion will also anchor B.C.’s new industrial development blueprint, which aims to focus on “growing clean energy and sustainable industries.”

Pot decision ‘missed opportunity’
The Canadian Press - Apr 22, 2024 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — The head of a B.C. cannabis growers group says the City of Vancouver’s choice to discourage instead of sanction a marijuana celebration over the weekend was a costly “missed opportunity.”

The BC Craft Farmers Co-Op says the city should rethink its approach to 4-20 celebrations and sanction what could be an “international cannabis tourism event.”

Co-op president Tara Kirkpatrick said the city erected barriers around Sunset Beach and had police target vendors at the unsanctioned celebration over the weekend instead of authorizing a “professionally run special event,” similar to the annual Pride Parade.

Previous celebrations in Vancouver on April 20—considered the day to celebrate smoking cannabis—have drawn tens of thousands of people, caused traffic gridlock and expensive damage to city parks.

However, Kirkpatrick said such an event could generate millions in tourism revenues for the province, which could cash in on B.C.’s “rich cannabis culture” and reputation as a place with “legendary craft cannabis farmers.”

Vancouver’s Parks Board had temporary fences put up, and closed washrooms and parking lots on Saturday as a way to “mitigate” what it said was a “non-sanctioned cannabis protest event.”

The group says Vancouver could have followed in the footsteps of the City of Prince George, which held a permitted “cannabis summit” over the weekend attended by thousands, including the city’s mayor.

Merritt company forces review
Glacier Media - Apr 08, 2024 - BC Biz

Photo: Facebook
Chace Barber, left, has concerns about the government’s grant process.

Should a company that administers provincial government grants also be offering and soliciting grant application services to grant applicants?

That is the root of concern raised by a nascent electric truck company from Merritt that has found itself in the middle of a controversy over how low-carbon innovation grants are being administered.

“There is definitely a conflict of interest for a grant-writing company to also be a grant-administering company,” said Theron Groff, chief marketing officer for Edison Motors, which is hoping to scale up its electric heavy-duty truck production and had applied for grants to B.C.’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, via accounting and business services firm MNP.

On Monday, those concerns led government to announce it has requested the auditor general of B.C. investigate CleanBC grant administration, including a review of MNP, the firm that both administers certain grants and offers companies services to draft their grant applications.

B.C. Premier David Eby said Monday he generally agrees with Groff’s assertion.

“So, in general, there should be separation between a grant administrator and a company that supports with grant applications,” Eby told Glacier Media.

The issue first arose in the B.C. legislature on April 3 at a public accounts committee meeting. There, BC United opposition MLA Jackie Tegart for Fraser-Nicola called on the auditor to undertake an examination of the CleanBC go-electric grant program for “any potential conflict of interest relating to program administrators charging success fees to successful applicants who use their advisory services.”

In response, on April 5, the ministry reportedly stated there were “no technical violations” from MNP because the grant application services it was offering were not for the grants MNP was administering. And so, at first, the BC NDP declined Tegart’s committee request.

Subsequent to the government’s explanation, Edison’s founder and CEO Chace Barber posted a video on social media April 6 to share his experience applying for the grants.

Barber claims Edison is the only company in B.C. building heavy-duty electric trucks and his company applied for a commercial vehicle innovation challenge (CVIC) grant.

Barber said Edison was declined by MNP, which was contracted to administer the grant—one of several other CleanBC grant programs MNP states on its website it administers.

Barber said MNP simultaneously reached out to Edison for a service to apply for other grants, offering Edison a “success fee” of 20% of the grant’s value.

Barber said he raised concerns, in person, with the ministry’s office of possible “corruption” in late February and was “personally annoyed” that Energy Minister Josie Osborne had told opposition MLAs last week she sought evidence of problems in the program.

“We were in her office to talk about these things,” Barber said.

Barber said Edison was then disinvited to a promotional event by Plug-In BC, which is a government-funded lobby group for vehicle electrification.

What was not clear from Barber was whether the grant application services offered were for grants MNP was administering.

Groff, via email, clarified to Glacier Media, “We are unable to speak with certainty on the record about whether MNP offered to apply (on behalf of Edison, for a fee) for any grants that they administer.”

Groff clarified further that Edison has applied for MNP-administered grants while also using MNP application services for another grant.

Regardless of how direct the perceived conflict of interest may be, Groff said there is a problem with the system.

“Would it not be possible to play a ‘you scratch my back, I will scratch yours,’ with other companies that either administer or apply for grants?” asked Groff.

“Also,” said Groff, “how is it at all fair that a company that is being paid by the government to administer grants, can also take 20 per cent of a grant? Is 20 per cent off our carbon tax-funded grant supposed to go to lining the pocket of a grant company?” he asked.

On Monday, Eby affirmed he is seeking to ensure the grant program is operated fairly.

“It’s critically important to me and I know to all applicants and all British Columbia that when people apply for government funding that they get a fair shot and then proposals that are chosen are chosen because they’re the best proposals,” he said.

“So to ensure that certainty for all British Columbians based on information that’s been brought forward to the provincial government, we’re ensuring that the auditor general has the resources and tools necessary to independently look at this and make sure that not just in this particular program, but generally, that we’re putting in place all safeguards to ensure we’re hitting that goal of fairness for all applicants.”

On Monday, MNP responded to the developments out of Victoria but said it could not comment on specific applications to grant programs it administers, such as Edison’s.

“We are aware of an allegation that one of our teams working in the province of B.C. in our grant management service line acted in the capacity as both the administrator and grant application consultant on the CleanBC grant program. These allegations are false and misleading,” stated MNP.

“Many firms provide grant administration and grant writing services to assist clients. Professional services firms that provide these services, including MNP, have policies and procedures to address potential conflicts of interest,” MNP said with respect to administration and services related to the same grant.

“With respect to grant application services, small and medium businesses that do not have the internal resources to complete these applications often engage a third party to assist them with their application. Professional services firms, including MNP, can assist clients in their pursuit of federal, provincial, and other grant programs when requested for programs where these firms are not the administrator.”

Parkland selling gas stations
The Canadian Press - Mar 26, 2024 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press
Parkland Corp. is looking to sell 157 convenience store and fuel station locations in six provinces. A Pioneer gas station is shown in Carleton Place, Ont., on Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008.

CALGARY — Fuel retailer Parkland Corp. has engaged two real estate firms to help it sell 157 of its gas and convenience store locations across six provinces.

The Calgary-based company said Tuesday it is partnering with NRC Realty & Capital Advisors LLC and Colliers Canada to find buyers for the locations, which include ones operated under the Chevron, Ultramar, Pioneer and FasGas brands as well as the On the Run convenience store banner.

The bulk of the stations are in Quebec and Ontario, with the balance in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Parkland owns nearly two dozen stations in Thompson-Okanagan, including four in Kelowna and two in West Kelowna. It is not known if they are among those being sold.

In an emailed statement, Francis Lapointe, Parkland’s vice-president of Canadian retail operations, said the decision to sell the stations is part of the company’s ongoing network planning and optimization process.

“As we continue to grow, we have identified sites that no longer fit our long-term strategic objectives in their current format,” Lapointe said.

“While high-quality, these locations would be better suited under someone else’s ownership.”

Parkland said the retail and fuel locations will be packaged with long-term Parkland fuel supply agreements, which should make them attractive to “experienced, entrepreneurial operators.”

Parkland has 4,000 retail and fuel locations in Canada, the U.S. and the Caribbean.

The company also owns and operates the Burnaby, B.C. refinery, which provides about a quarter of the gasoline and diesel used in the western province.

The gas and convenience store sale process comes as Parkland faces calls from New York-based activist investor Engine Capital LP for a complete board overhaul at the company.

In addition, Parkland saw the resignation of two board members who represented its largest shareholder, Simpson Oil at the end of last year.

Simpson has said it will evaluate its options to protect its shareholder rights once restrictions under an agreement that limits its ability to nominate and vote for board members at Parkland expire on March 31.

Parkland’s annual general meeting is set to take place in Calgary on Thursday.

Big penalties for overpass strikes
The Canadian Press - Mar 12, 2024 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

VICTORIA — Penalties for commercial truck crashes into overpasses or other infrastructure in B.C. are set to soar, including fines of up to $100,000 and jail sentences up to 18 months.

The New Democrat government says it’s proposing changes to the Commercial Transport Act that currently prescribes fines for over-height vehicles of $500 to $598, levels that are unchanged for decades.

Transportation Minister Rob Fleming says the proposed changes are in response to 35 crashes involving over-height commercial vehicles since late 2021.

The province last month cancelled the operating licence of B.C. trucking firm Chohan Freight Forwarders after one of its commercial vehicles lodged a steel girder in an overpass over Highway 99 in Delta in December.

Fleming says laws surrounding highway infrastructure crashes in B.C. have not changed since the 1970s, and the proposed maximum penalties for commercial transport violations will exceed those of other provinces and territories.

B.C. Trucking Association president Dave Earle says in a statement the association supports the proposed penalty increases.

$496M trade surplus posted
The Canadian Press - Mar 07, 2024 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press/ Christinne Muschi
Statistics Canada says the country posted a merchandise trade surplus of $496 million in January as imports fell to their lowest level since February 2022. A shipping container is loaded onto a ship in the Port of Montreal, Tuesday, Sept.19, 2023.

Statistics Canada says the country posted a merchandise trade surplus of $496 million in January as imports fell to their lowest level since February 2022.

The surplus came after a revised trade deficit of $863 million in December compared with an initial report of a $312-million deficit for the final month of 2023.

Statistics Canada says total imports dropped 3.8 per cent in January to $61.8 billion.

The move came as imports of consumer goods fell 7.1 per cent due in large part to a 19.0 per cent plunge in imports of pharmaceutical products. Excluding pharmaceutical products, imports of consumer goods were down 3.8 per cent in January.

Meanwhile, total exports fell 1.7 per cent to $62.3 billion as exports of metal and non-metallic mineral products lost 6.2 per cent. Exports of aircraft and other transportation equipment and parts also dropped 13.9 per cent in January.

In volume terms, total imports fell 4.1 per cent in January, while exports dropped 1.8 per cent.

Apple settles with Canadians
The Canadian Press - Mar 04, 2024 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — The B.C. Supreme Court has approved a countrywide multimillion-dollar settlement of a class-action lawsuit against Apple over software updates that allegedly slowed down older iPhones.

“We’re pleased with the results,” said K.S. Garcha, a lawyer for the class. “It was a complex matter.”

Garcha said the judge in the case approved the settlement at a hearing Tuesday.

Class members who make claims on the $14.4-million settlement can expect to receive between $17.50 and $150 each, depending on how many people submit a claim for the settlement money, he said.

The agreement covers eligible residents of Canada except those in Quebec, which Garcha said is about nine million people.

The settlement process took a couple of years, with Apple agreeing to a “compromise” without admitting any wrongdoing, Garcha said.

Going to trial rather than settling could’ve taken “a long period of time,” he said.

“The court may not approve some of the claims that you’re making. There’s an issue with regards to how the damages were quantified. There are potential appeals,” he said.

The company “vigorously defended the thing up until the settlement negotiations,” Garcha added.

He said the class-action lawsuit involved novel legal theories about the company putting software on devices without the owners’ consent.

People who owned iPhone models covered by the settlement have six months to make a claim, and the online process requires a person’s name, address and iPhone serial number.

People also have to declare under oath that they downloaded or installed certain software updates on a variety of iPhone 6 and 7 models before Dec. 21, 2017.

They would have also had to have “experienced diminished performance on that device after the relevant iOS version was installed or downloaded.”

The settlement agreement with Apple will see the company pay out between $11,137,500 and $14,427,500 depending on how many claims are made and approved.

The claims website for the “Canadian iPhone Power Management Class Action,” says Quebec residents are excluded from the settlement because there’s a separate, ongoing case before the courts in that province.

The B.C. lawsuit was originally filed in 2018, and Apple settled a similar case in the United States involving so-called throttling of iPhone 6 and 7 models, and Garcha said American class members ended up with US$92 payouts.

At a hearing in Vancouver in late January, Apple’s lawyer Jill Yates told the court the company has never admitted wrongdoing.

“Apple, throughout, has taken a position that it has done nothing wrong here,” she said. “These claims are novel, and they are not ones where Apple agrees that anything was wrongfully done.”

The company did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment about the settlement approval.

Trans Mountain cost ballooning
The Canadian Press - Feb 27, 2024 - BC Biz

CALGARY — The company building the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion now estimates the project’s costs will come in 10% higher than its May 2023 estimate of $30.9 billion.

That’s according to a regulatory filing Trans Mountain Corp. provided to the Canada Energy Regulator on Monday. It represents the latest in a series of cost increases for the high-profile project, which in 2017 was estimated to cost just $7.4 billion.

In the filing, Trans Mountain Corp., which is a Crown corporation, said the latest tally is subject to the receipt of final costs and expenses once the pipeline project is complete.

The company said it will need approximately three months following the completion of construction before it can provide a final cost estimate.

Trans Mountain Corp. also said in Monday’s filing it continues to work towards an in-service date for the pipeline expansion in the second quarter of this year, with commencement of firm service contracts slated for May 1.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Greg Pardy said in a note to clients that the new date represents a one-month delay from its prior start date.

The Trans Mountain pipeline, which is owned by the federal government, is Canada’s only oil pipeline to the West Coast. Its expansion will increase the pipeline’s capacity to 890,000 barrels per day from 300,000 bpd currently.

The expansion project, for which construction is more than 98% complete, has been underway for more than three years. Canadian oil producers have already begun ramping up production in expectation of the additional export capacity, which is expected to improve the prices Canadian oil companies receive.

BC minimum wage going up
The Canadian Press - Feb 26, 2024 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press
Workers pull a boom while harvesting cranberries in Pitt Meadows, B.C., last fall.

VICTORIA — Minimum-wage workers in B.C. will get a pay hike of 65 cents an hour to $17.40 starting June 1, a move the government says will help lift more people out of poverty.

The Ministry of Labour says in a statement the 3.9% increase is consistent with the province’s average inflation rate last year.

Labour Minister Harry Bains says the province has gone from having one of the lowest minimum wages in the country to the highest of all provinces, and the change is aimed at preventing more workers from falling behind.

Bains says increases for the lowest wage will be automatic from now on and will be determined by the previous year’s average inflation rate, offering predictability for workers and employers.

The statement says the minimum piece rates for 15 hand-harvested crops will also increase by 3.9 per cent on Dec. 31.

The government says the decision to delay the pay raise for hand-harvested crops is meant to ensure producers will not have to adjust wages in the harvest season.

BC budget family friendly
The Canadian Press - Feb 22, 2024 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press
BC Finance Minister Katrine Conroy delivers the budget on Thursday.

VICTORIA — B.C. families and small business operators are expected to benefit from an election-year budget that boosts spending while forecasting a ballooning deficit of more than $7.9 billion and economic growth of less than 1%.

The budget also includes a home flipping tax to deter real estate speculators, as well as a commitment to provide one cycle of free in vitro fertilization to anyone who wants to start a family, Finance Minister Katrine Conroy said Thursday.

B.C. is an economic leader in Canada but a slowing economy and increasing housing and grocery costs mean people needed help, she said.

“At the end of the day, people have a lot on their minds right now and they’re feeling stretched,” Conroy said in her budget speech to the legislature.

She said the New Democrat government would not resort to making cuts.

“This would only weaken the services we all rely on and drive up costs with added fees and fares,” Conroy said. “It would leave people at risk to those who take unfair advantage by putting profits ahead of people.”

The budget includes a one-year boost to the B.C. Family Benefit, giving eligible low- and middle-income families an extra $445 over a year on average, as well as a one-time electricity credit that will save households an average $100, she said.

The electricity credits will appear on customer bills starting in April and run to March 2025, Conroy said.

She said the budget includes an increase to the payroll threshold for B.C.’s Employer Health Tax, meaning an estimated 90% of businesses will now be exempt. Small businesses across the province had been lobbying the government to raise the threshold to $1 million from $500,000, and that will be implemented.

“Our number one ask was to see an increase in the Employer Health Tax threshold,” said Bridgitte Anderson, president of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. “But we are concerned about the debt and deficit increasing substantially.”

Conroy said the home flipping tax, to be introduced this spring, will fund the construction of housing for middle-income earners.

“To those who just want to make a quick buck by flipping homes, things are about to get more difficult,” she said. “If a home is sold within two years of purchase, the profit will be taxed.”

Conroy also said everyone in B.C. who wants to have a child should have the opportunity to do so. The budget includes a program to fund one cycle of free in vitro fertilization to anyone who wants to start a family.

“No one should be denied the opportunity to have a child because of how much money they make, who they love and whether they have a partner,” she said at a news conference before tabling the budget. “I know this will be welcome news to people who want to start a family.”

Conroy choked up as she talked about her own family when announcing the IVF program. “Darn menopause, sorry,” she said, to laughter in the legislature.

Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec already have similar programs, she said.

The budget forecasts slowing economic growth of 0.8% this year, followed by growth of 2.3% in 2025. B.C.’s debt is forecast to increase to $123 billion this year, up from $103.7 billion.

BC United Opposition Leader Kevin Falcon said the budget presented Thursday was a “foolish” use of taxpayers’ money.

“This is a reckless, inflationary budget that’s going to make things more unaffordable for families,” he said after Conroy’s speech. “When government is spending this recklessly, it drives inflationary pressures, which impacts groceries, it impacts housing, it impacts everything that is already affecting British Columbians.”

Falcon said the ballooning debt would be handed down to future generations and the province’s credit rating was in danger of downgrades due to the spending. He said young people are being driven out of the province because of spiralling living costs.

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