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Beaten rural roads threaten economy – Alaska Highway News

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The tab to fix rural roads in the North Peace is quickly nearing $1 billion, but the region is having little luck securing an increase in provincial funding.

Jackie Kjos, who helms the rural roads task force for the Peace River Regional District, gave the board an update Thursday in which she shared few successes and listed the many challenges that threaten to cut off communities and shut down industry.

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“Our roads are way worse in 2020 than they were in 2018,” Kjos said.

The state of the roads have caused recent havoc for business, according to Kjos.

Canfor’s sawmill in Fort St. John came within three days of shutting down because of a rural road slide in the Graham and Upper Halfway area.

In Upper Cache, a large canola operation couldn’t ship out a time-sensitive load due to road bans, and a buffalo rancher spun out in an accident that killed half a dozen calves at $2,000 a head.

Road bans this year have lasted 104 days — the fourth longest stretch in 40 years, Kjos said.

“There’s real economic impacts that are hitting not just people in the rural area, but the communities that are supported,” Kjos said.

The good news is that the region’s $20 million budget for rural roads hasn’t been touched while others in the province have seen annual cuts of up to 20%.

The bad news is there are up to 400 kilometres of rural roads that need to be brought up to standard — at a cost of about $1 million per kilometre.

And that’s not including the cost to repair any slides. 

The cost to fix Farrell Creek hill alone is $100 million, while there are seven slides threatening the Upper Halfway road, Kjos said.

“Any one that can go at any time,” Kjos said. “There’s 900 people, 6,000 loads of Canfor’s wood back there. It is catastrophic what would happen if we lose one of those roads that are the only access like that.”

Key corridors like Beryl Prairie, Aitken Creek, and Golata Creek “have fallen apart,” Kjos said. 

Three-quarters of permitted extraordinary loads hauled in B.C. are in the northeast. And road conditions are expected to get worse as the province ramps up plans to reclaim dormant and orphan wells at a pace of up to 625 per year.

On top of it all, there has been a revolving door of district managers at the Ministry of Transportation — the Peace region is now on its fourth manager in three years. And the task force only gets a short lobbying window of five minutes when meeting with ministers and their deputies.

“We’ve been playing pretty nice,” Kjos said. “We might need to apply a little more pressure.”

The task force was relaunched in 2017 after it was first established in 1997 to lobby for more rural roads funding. In 1998, the region got $11 million; in 1999, $6.5 million; and later $103 million.

But times have changed, and getting any significant new dollars has been a hard sell, Kjos said.

“The economics were different at that time,” Kjos said. “We were pulling in between $1.6 to $1.8 billion a year in oil and gas, so it was quite easy to build a business case — very difficult in this environment to build a business case, even before COVID-19 came along.”

Tumbler Ridge Mayor Keith Bertrand suggested increasing enforcement to keep industry accountable for damaging the roads by overloading their trucks.

“I can tell you from personal experience, not all loads are 100%, and a lot of the deterioration of those roads is because of overweight loads,” Bertrand said.

Kjos said she was reluctant to step in between the ministry and its relationships with contractors and CVSE.

“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword,” Kjos said. “Our goals are no different than the ministry of transportation’s, in that we want a healthy industry but we want to protect the roads, so the person who lives on the road and drives a minivan can get to town.”

Kjos has prepared a 10-minute video on the state of local roads and their importance to the economy as part of her lobbying efforts. Bertrand suggested she also include pictures of a fracking convoy.

“Meeting it on the road, it’s quite intimidating, especially on a rural road,” he said. “That might be a challenging task, to get a capture of a convoy, but it’s a pretty impressive sight and I’m sure Victoria has no idea.”

Director Tony Zabinsky, a councillor from Fort St. John, noted his concerns about the region’s dwindling aggregate supply, largely being taken up by BC Hydro for the Site C dam.

“We’re finding that small gravel pits there are already being used to their full capacity,” Zabinsky said.

“It’s going to affect the rural roads and building these things. We can get aggregate, but it’s the cost. If we got to bring in aggregate from another region the trucking costs are going to be astronomical.”

Kjos said that is part of her workplan as local gravel supply is critical for the long-term. 

“We’re questioning where gravel is being allocated this year, in particular where we got some roads that you’re bottoming out with a four-wheel drive and it hasn’t made the list. There’s a few of those we’re concerned about,” she said.

Kjos did note that the task force has seen some success in getting more pullouts built, and that a meeting with Director Karen Goodings and residents helped to bring improvements to the Milligan-Peejay road, which was in “terrible shape’ in early 2019. A planned $100,000 spend for pothole repair turned into $4 million of pavement overlay, she noted.

“That was a gain of $3.9 million, which we were pretty happy on achieving,” Kjos said.

Goodings suggested a meeting with the premier would go a long way to highlight the region’s problems.

The board needs to get the province “to understand how important the roads are to economy of our area, and to make sure to get that message out that we’re in fact prepared to boost the economy if the province would be prepared to help us out with some funding,” Goodings said.

— with files from Matt Preprost and Tom Summer

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at tsummer@ahnfsj.ca

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Indian economy's medium-term outlook remains uncertain – RBI Governor – The Guardian

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By Swati Bhat and Aftab Ahmed

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The medium-term outlook for the Indian economy remains uncertain with supply chains and demand yet to be restored fully while the trajectory of the coronavirus spread and the length of its impact remain unknown, Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das said on Saturday.

According to most estimates, the Indian economy will register a record contraction of over 4.5% in the current fiscal year that started on April 1 due to the pandemic.

Starting late March, the country was placed under one of the strictest lockdowns in the world for over two months. Since early June, the government has started easing restrictions to help some revival in the economy even though the number of infections in the country continues to rise.

“The Indian economy has started showing signs of getting back to normalcy in response to the staggered easing of restrictions,” Das said in an address to an online forum.

“It is, however, still uncertain when supply chains will be restored fully. How long will it take for demand conditions to normalise and what kind of durable effects will the pandemic leave behind on our potential growth?” he said.

Das said that the 2008 global crisis and the current crisis show that such economic shocks have “fatter tails” than generally believed, and that the country’s financial system should have larger capital buffers.

A recapitalisation plan for Indian banks is necessary as the economic impact of the pandemic may result in higher bad loans and erosion of capital for banks, the RBI governor added.

The central bank has cut policy rates by 115 basis points in response to the pandemic, resulting in a total policy rate reduction of 250 basis points since February 2019, along with providing liquidity of 9.57 trillion rupees ($127.28 billion).

It has also eased some bad loan provisioning norms and allowed loan moratoriums for retail customers.

Das said that the central bank has to carefully unwind the unusual monetary and regulatory measures taken to cushion the economic shocks in the post pandemic world, as the financial sector should return to normal functioning without relying on the regulatory relaxations as the new norm.

India recorded 27,114 coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 820,915 including 22,123 dead.

The RBI governor also said that inflation will continue to moderate going forward and investment activity will revive.

(Reporting by Swati Bhat and Aftab Ahmed; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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NWT says its economy is weathering Covid-19 better than others – Cabin Radio

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Published: July 10, 2020 at 4:27pmJuly 10, 2020


The NWT’s economy will come out of Covid-19’s initial months damaged but in better shape than other parts of Canada, the territory said on Friday.

The territorial government is forecasting a 3.3-percent contraction in its economy this year, which it says is “significantly less than the national average of 8.2 percent forecast by the Conference Board of Canada,” an economic think-tank.

Despite steep declines in the tourism and transportation industries, the territory said “steps taken to keep the diamond mines and the public sector active” had softened the pandemic’s blow.

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Mining and government are by far the territory’s largest employers. The Ekati mine has suspended activities but the Gahcho Kué and Diavik mines remain fully operational.

The private sector is in worse shape. A GNWT-commissioned survey of businesses showed that 81 percent of NWT companies had experienced a “significant decrease” in revenues.

Tourism and transportation industries were the hardest-hit, telling the government they saw revenues drop by an average of 71 percent.

On the other hand, more than 90 percent of businesses surveyed by the territory in April and May reported they expected to make it through the pandemic.

Consumer spending and small business spending has rebounded since May, the territory said, and 71 percent of NWT residents surveyed were planning to travel within the territory in the next six months.

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The Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment said the results of third survey – carried out in June to examine the impact on consumer demand – is coming soon.

According to the territory, the various surveys are “part of … ongoing work to better understand the effects of Covid-19 on the NWT and how best to respond to them.”

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Saskatchewan economy adds 30,000 jobs in June as businesses open up again: Statistics Canada – CBC.ca

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Saskatchewan added more than 30,000 new jobs in June as businesses began to open back up from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saskatchewan’s unemployment rate dipped to 11.6 per cent in June from a high in May of 12.5 per cent, according to a Statistics Canada report on Friday. 

At the national level Canada added almost one million jobs in June.

The national jobless rate fell to 12.3 per cent, down from the record-high of 13.7 in May. There are still 1.8 million fewer jobs in Canada today than there were in February.

Jason Childs, an associate professor of economics at the U of  R, said he was pleasantly surprised by the employment gains.

“To be gaining 30,000 jobs provincially and nearly a million jobs nationally is some unexpected good news, which is nice for a change,” he said.

Employment is rebounding as more businesses open up across Canada. (Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey)

The growth in Saskatchewan was split between 22,000 full-time jobs and 10,000 part-time jobs.

Childs cautioned that the jobless rate in the province is still more than six per cent higher than it was at this time last year, when it was 5.2 per cent, and there still about 40,0000 fewer jobs than before the pandemic.

“[Some people] don’t appreciate how deep the hole we’re in is and this is not a hole we’re going to get out of quickly,” Childs said. “[Unemployment] has more than doubled from this time last year.”

All those job losses have not been evenly distributed throughout the population.

Young workers are taking the brunt of the job losses in the province.

One in five people 15 to 24 years old are without a job, compared to 8.6 per cent of workers over the age of 25.

University of Regina associate professor of Economics Jason Childs says we have a long way to go to get back to pre-pandemic economic levels. (CBC)

Unemployment among First Nations is 18.4 per cent and the Métis jobless rate is 17.3 per cent.

Childs said both those groups already have higher unemployment and they will have a harder time getting back in the workforce.

“People looking for that first job are going to have a really tough time right now because anything that opens up you’re probably going to be competing with somebody who’s got a lot more experience,” he said.

The one sector hit hardest by the pandemic is food and accommodation, where an estimated 400,000 workers across the country are still without a job.

Employment increased in all provinces in June, but it remains below February levels. (Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey)

Childs said those jobs are dependent on consumer spending and tourism, and that people’s financial habits have changed during the pandemic.

“I still think we’re going to see a drag [on the economy] as we get what’s called the Paradox of Thrift,” Childs said.

“As people begin to save for their own protection we may see that drag on economic activity as consumption falls off.”

He said people are beginning to cut back on ‘luxuries’ like going out to eat or grabbing a cup of coffee.

“That’s a place where you can cut back fairly easy,” he said.

“People are dealing with a massive amount of uncertainty right now and uncertainty breeds caution and doesn’t breed spending.”

Childs said no amount of fiscal stimulus is going to solve this crisis without consumer confidence.

“You need to get people back to a place where they feel comfortable and safe spending in order to return to the previous level of economic activity,” he said. “Or we’re just gonna have to get used to this.”

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