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Canada still ‘a long way off’ from COVID-19 economic recovery, experts say – Global News



Nicki Laborie considers herself one of the “lucky” business owners in Toronto, who has been able to keep her businesses afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Laborie, who owns Toronto restaurants Bar Reyna and Reyna On King, said her Mediterranean-themed cocktail and snack bars did “extremely well” in August and September — comprising two out of just four months her businesses were allowed to remain open throughout 2020.

“I can’t complain,” she told Global News, adding that she took two federal loans totaling $60,000 to help make ends meet.

“But did we struggle? Of course. Restaurants don’t make money to start with. The profit margins are five per cent and below. So, of course, when you’re not open, you’re suffering, end of story. I had to take out loans. I had to do what I had to do to keep going.”

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After more than a year, Canada’s economy is starting to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.

To date, the federal government has approved 12,004,240 applications for the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), which dropped down to 831,340 active beneficiaries between Feb. 14 and Feb. 27, down from 1,119,960 between Jan. 31 and Feb. 13.

That level of growth would cause anyone to believe that Canada is rebounding at breakneck speed, said Mikal Skuterud, an economics professor at the University of Waterloo. But as of March 21, the federal government also said there were still 2,317,010 active beneficiaries supported through Employment Insurance benefits, with almost 5,000 Canadians applying to become first-time beneficiaries during the week of March 15.

“It’s really hard to understand what’s going on,” Skuterud told Global News.

“We saw some (economic recovery) in February. I expect almost certainly we’re going to see some of that improvement in March. But it’s slow. We’re still a long way off.”

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The country’s most recent Labour Force Survey highlights some of those discrepancies.

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According to the survey, the national unemployment rate fell just 1.2 percentage points to 8.2 per cent in February. That percentage represents the lowest rate since the pandemic was first declared in March of 2020, but is a sign of a much more incremental improvement, Skuterud said.

Employment increased by 259,000 in February, after falling by 266,000 over the previous two months. Part-time jobs saw the biggest increase at 171,000, whereas full-time work jumped by 88,000.

That these numbers aren’t higher could be a good thing, said Skuterud.

The unemployment rate is the percentage of labour force participants that are not employed. To be a labour force participant in Canada, a person either has to be employed or searching for a job. But when someone stops searching for a job, they are no longer counted as labour force participants.

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“What happens as the economy recovers, is you get folks that had opted out and weren’t searching, weren’t participating in the labour market, who now start to search for a job,” he said.

“That’s going to push the unemployment rate up, but that’s actually a sign of recovery.”

Recovering economy versus recovering Canadians

Public health restrictions put in place in late December have been relaxed in many provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia. According to the Labour Survey, reopening provincial economies “allowed for the re-opening of many non-essential businesses, cultural and recreational facilities, and some in-person dining.”

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But partially reopening restaurants doesn’t mean restauranteurs started making money again.

Reyna On King, one of Laborie’s three businesses including online shop Reyna on the Rocks, has been doing take-out only since Oct. 9, when the Ontario government began cracking down on indoor gatherings.

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“It’s not like we’re dying,” she said. But “it’s horrible, we just don’t make any money. It’s literally just to stay open so that I stay visible.”

Laborie said federal assistance has helped “enormously,” covering roughly 75 per cent of her rent and payroll.

“If you know how to manage your money, you can get through it. But is it fun? No,” she said.

“It feels like you got to the top of the mountain and somebody pulled the rug from under you and said, ‘no, no, you have to go right back down to the bottom.’”

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Among those working part-time in February, the Labour Survey found the number of people working part-time who wanted to work full-time increased by almost seven per cent from 12 months earlier, with much of that reflected in Canadians who worked in retail and service industries.

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Even if the economy were to flourish, many Canadians could still have a tough time job hunting. Bouncing back from the pandemic could prove more difficult for Canadians unlike Laborie, who find themselves starting from scratch as they re-enter the workforce.

“What really matters for people getting back on their feet is how long they’ve been off their feet for, how long they’ve been out of work,” said Skuterud.

One study, released in October of last year, found that it becomes harder for people to find work once they reach six months of joblessness.

Skuterud said there were many reasons for this. Many jobs take skills that can be lost if they aren’t practiced over prolonged periods of time, he said.

And there are also the psychological effects of being out of work for so much time. People lose confidence, reduce their spending or find ways to adjust to other sources of income, Skuterud added.

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“They move in with their parents, for example, and find other ways to survive with less income,” he said.

“All these kinds of adjustments mean that for some people it’s going to be harder to get back on their feet.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Canada’s manufacturers ask for federal help as Montreal dockworkers stage partial-strike



MONTREAL (Reuters) – Canada‘s manufacturers on Monday asked the federal government to curb a brewing labor dispute after dockworkers at the country’s second largest port said they will work less this week.

Unionized dockworkers, who are in talks for a new contract since 2018, will hold a partial strike starting Tuesday, by refusing all overtime outside of their normal day shifts, along with weekend work, they said in a statement on Monday.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Quebec’s 1,125 longshore workers at the Port of Montreal rejected a March offer from the Maritime Employers Association.

The uncertainty caused by the labour dispute has led to an 11% drop in March container volume at the Montreal port on an annual basis, even as other eastern ports in North America made gains, the Maritime Employers Association said.

The move will cause delays in a 24-hour industry, the association said.

“Some manufacturers have had to redirect their containers to the Port of Halifax, incurring millions in additional costs every week,” said Dennis Darby, chief executive of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME).

While the government strongly believes a negotiated agreement is the best option for all parties, “we are actively examining all options as the situation evolves,” a spokesman for Federal Labor Minister Filomena Tassi said.

Last summer’s stoppage of work cost wholesalers C$600 million ($478 million) in sales over a two-month period, Statistics Canada estimates.

($1 = 1.2563 Canadian dollars)


(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal. Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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Canada scraps export permits for drone technology to Turkey, complains to Ankara



OTTAWA (Reuters) –Canada on Monday scrapped export permits for drone technology to Turkey after concluding that the equipment had been used by Azeri forces fighting Armenia in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said.

Turkey, which like Canada is a member of NATO, is a key ally of Azerbaijan, whose forces gained territory in the enclave after six weeks of fighting.

“This use was not consistent with Canadian foreign policy, nor end-use assurances given by Turkey,” Garneau said in a statement, adding he had raised his concerns with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier in the day.

Ottawa suspended the permits last October so it could review allegations that Azeri drones used in the conflict had been equipped with imaging and targeting systems made by L3Harris Wescam, the Canada-based unit of L3Harris Technologies Inc.

In a statement, the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa said: “We expect our NATO allies to avoid unconstructive steps that will negatively affect our bilateral relations and undermine alliance solidarity.”

Earlier on Monday, Turkey said Cavusoglu had urged Canada to review the defense industry restrictions.

The parts under embargo include camera systems for Baykar armed drones. Export licenses were suspended in 2019 during Turkish military activities in Syria. Restrictions were then eased, but reimposed during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Turkey’s military exports to Azerbaijan jumped sixfold last year. Sales of drones and other military equipment rose to $77 million in September alone before fighting broke out in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, data showed.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Cooney)

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Investigation finds Suncor’s Colorado refinery meets environmental permits



By Liz Hampton

DENVER (Reuters) – A Colorado refinery owned by Canadian firm Suncor Energy Inc meets required environmental permits and is adequately funded, according to an investigation released on Monday into a series of emissions violations at the facility between 2017 and 2019.

The 98,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in the Denver suburb of Commerce City, Colorado, reached a $9-million settlement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) March 2020 to resolve air pollution violations that occurred since 2017. That settlement also addressed an incident in December 2019 that released refinery materials onto a nearby school.

As part of the settlement, Suncor was required to use a third party to conduct an independent investigation into the violations and spend up to $5 million to implement recommendations from the investigation.

Consulting firm Kearney’s investigation found the facility met environmental permit requirements, but also pinpointed areas for improvement, including personnel training and systems upgrades, some of which was already underway.

“We need to improve our performance and improve the trust people have in us,” Donald Austin, vice president of the Commerce City refinery said in an interview, adding that the refinery had already undertaken some of the recommendations from the investigation.

In mid-April, Suncor will begin a turnaround at the facility that includes an upgrade to a gasoline-producing fluid catalytic cracking unit (FCCU) at Plant 1 of the facility. That turnaround is anticipated to be complete in June 2021.

Suncor last year completed a similar upgrade of an automatic shutdown system for the FCCU at the refinery’s Plant 2.

By 2023, the company will also install an additional control unit, upgraded instrumentation, automated shutdown valves and new hydraulic pressure units in Plant 2.

Together, those upgrades will cost approximately $12 million, of which roughly $10 million is dedicated to Plant 2 upgrades, Suncor said on Monday.


(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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