Cash-strapped rural Alberta 'can't wring money' from struggling oil and gas firms, premier says - - Canada News Media
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Cash-strapped rural Alberta 'can't wring money' from struggling oil and gas firms, premier says –



Premier Jason Kenney urged rural municipalities to work with the province to help struggling oil and gas companies Tuesday, adding they can’t get “money from a stone.”

He made the comments following a survey that said the oil and gas sector owes $173 million in unpaid taxes to rural municipalities — more than double since a similar report was done last spring.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Kenney said the sector has seen a few bankruptcies in the past year while other companies are barely hanging on.

“You can’t wring money from a stone,” Kenney said, suggesting that could be the case for a number of smaller natural producers who are having trouble right now.

“The best solution, in our view, is to create a future for those companies that are struggling.

Rural Municipalities Alberta (RMA) distributed a survey of its members Monday that showed the amount of unpaid taxes from oil and gas companies had grown by 114 per cent since a similar survey last March.

Years of low oil prices have left many small producers in dire straits but rural communities say those unpaid taxes are leaving significant holes in their budgets.

A decommissioned pumpjack is shown at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta, in 2018. Rural Municipalities Alberta (RMA) distributed a survey of its members Monday that showed the amount of unpaid taxes from oil and gas companies had grown by 114 per cent since a similar survey last March. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The RMA said legislative gaps make it difficult to recover lost taxes from energy companies. When an oil and gas company goes bust, municipalities rank below regulators as creditors, the association said.

Al Kemmere, president of the RMA, told CBC News Tuesday he will meet with the provincial minister of municipal affairs next month to discuss the situation.

Asked about the premier’s comments, Kemmere agreed there needs to be discussion about solutions, but cautioned rural municipalities only have so much flexibility under the Municipal Government Act.

“We are also in a very limited scope of what we can do, too, because [while] other levels of government can … build a deficit into their budget, we cannot,” Kemmere said.

“That limits us again on what we can do and how we can find solutions. We either balance a budget every year or we are in contempt of our own act.”

Kenney said rural municipalities have the legal ability to take action when taxes go unpaid.

But Kemmere maintained they don’t have that authority other than through the civil courts — something he said could be “really messy” and puts risk on taxpayers.

On Tuesday, Kenney was asked how the province would find a balance between the rural municipalities and the industry. He said he didn’t view them as competing priorities but competing realities. 

“On the one part, the municipalities need the revenue and they have every right to assess it and and to seek to collect it — they have the legal right to collect it,” Kenney said. 

“But for companies that are on the verge of bankruptcy, they have no cash and very little in the way of assets. There’s not a lot to go after.

“So I would just say with the municipalities, you know, work with us to try to create the best conditions to turn that economic situation around.

The industry is seeking reforms to how taxes are assessed on oil and gas companies.

Properties are assessed by the provincial government, which evaluates them on replacement cost and not on market value, Ben Brunnen, vice president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said Monday.

What we’re seeing is a need to update the way our assets are valued inside municipalities,” he told CBC News.

“If we do that, we’ll find a way for companies to then … perhaps invest more because the economics are better over the long term and our industry will come out stronger.”

On Monday, Ponoka County Reeve Paul McLauchlin said about 40 per cent of unpaid taxes are from severely distressed companies in an industry hard and widely hit by lower resource prices. The rest of the shortfall is from companies that continue to operate but don’t pay.

“My personal opinion is that this is a tax revolt,” McLauchlin told Canadian Press. “They are using this as a lever to decrease their assessment and change those costs.”

A group concerned about the unpaid taxes, the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project, is planning a protest outside the McDougall Centre in downtown Calgary on Wednesday.

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Bylaw officers told to crack down on Uber: Surrey city councillor – Global News



A Surrey city councillor says she was told that the city’s bylaw officers were directed to target ridesharing vehicles over the weekend.

Linda Annis told Global News that Surrey’s general manager of corporate services Rob Costanzo informed her at a morning meeting of the initiative.

Annis said bylaw officers were instructed to book Uber vehicles and when the drivers arrived, to issue them a warning along with a $500-per-car fine to the company.

‘We respectfully decline’ — Uber, Lyft respond to Surrey’s efforts to halt ride-hailing

“To call a car that you are not wanting to use to issue a warning, to me, is totally inappropriate, and their time should be used for better things in terms of doing bylaw enforcement in Surrey,” said Annis.

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum is slated to speak to the media at 3 p.m. Monday. The mayor has previously said the ridesharing regime is unfair to taxi drivers, who must operate within smaller zone boundaries and with fleet size restrictions.

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On Friday, Surrey sent Uber a notice warning it to cease operations in the city or face fines.

Surrey threatens to fine ride-hailing drivers found operating in the city

Surrey threatens to fine ride-hailing drivers found operating in the city

Surrey has so far refused to issue municipal business licences to any ridesharing companies.

Speaking on CKNW’s The Simi Sara Show, Surrey Coun. Jack Hundial said it was unfair to be targeting workers operating the Uber vehicles, adding he’d pay the first $500 fine issued to any Uber operator.

“We can’t be penalizing the drivers,” he said.

“If you want to issue a fine as a city, then you address it with Uber, not with individual drivers. These guys and girls are just trying to make extra money to support themselves,” he said.

Surrey had a council meeting scheduled for Monday night, and Hundial said that while ridesharing wasn’t on the agenda, it would likely be discussed.

Uber, which launched with a service area including most of Surrey, has said it won’t stop operating in the city.

B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation says Surrey does not have the authority to ban ride-hailing companies.

Surrey sends Uber notice to cease operations by Friday night or face bylaw fines

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Under the province’s Transportation Network Services (TNS) regulations, cities can set the requirements for a business licence, but cannot stop companies from operating within the region if they’ve won a licence from the Passenger Transportation Board (PTB).

Metro Vancouver is currently working on region-wide business licences for ridesharing companies but said there will be no significant movement on the initiative until February.

Uber currently has a municipal licence to operate in Delta, Richmond and Vancouver.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Pregnant Canadian woman stuck in Wuhan, China, coronavirus epicentre – Times Colonist



A teacher who is living with his pregnant wife and child in a city that is at the epicentre of China’s coronavirus outbreak is hoping to get his family out safely.

Tom Williams is a British expat who has been living and working for about five years in Wuhan, which is the capital of Hubei province in China.

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His wife Lauren, who is from Langley, B.C., is about 35 weeks pregnant, he said in a telephone interview from Wuhan. He also has a two-and-a-half-year-old son, James, who was born in White Rock, B.C.

“We are quarantined in the city,” he said.

While he said things are “pretty calm” and “under control” he noted the road closures have added a “little bit of worry” for when they will have to get his wife to the maternity hospital. She is due in the middle of February, he said.

“We’re due to give birth in Wuhan. That’s becoming a little bit more risky as time goes on,” Williams said. “It’s a changing picture. It’s changing everyday. New stuff and new guidelines going on.”

He contacted the emergency hotline for the Canadian embassy over the weekend, he said.

Staff there put him through to Ottawa and he said he was told that he and his family should stay put.

“There’s no imminent plans to evacuate Canadians from the city,” Williams said, adding that he would like to get out of Wuhan “as soon as possible,” but was prepared for the alternative.

“If I have to stay behind, so be it. As long as my wife is guaranteed a safe birth.”

Other countries need to follow the lead of the United States, which has had a flight approved while working with the Chinese authorities, he said.

“Particularly for people who are at higher risk.”

China has now reported more than 2,700 cases of the new virus with at least 80 deaths, and officials say the rate at which it’s spreading is accelerating.

In a news conference in Ottawa Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said 167 Canadian citizens in the affected region have registered their whereabouts with the federal government, a voluntary move that helps Canada keep track of them and get them information.

Eight of those have requested some form of “consular assistance,” he said.

Canada doesn’t have a standing diplomatic presence specifically in Wuhan. Some of its allies, such as the United States, have large consulates, which they’re evacuating. They’re taking some particularly vulnerable citizens with them on charter flights, where there’s room alongside the diplomatic staff.

Canada does have a hotline for Canadians to call if they need help.

“We are also liaising with our international partners to ensure options to ensure the safety and well-being of all Canadians who need consular assistance in China,” Champagne said.

In Wuhan, Williams said local shops are still open and well-stocked, however, some of the roads are allowing only approved vehicles.

“If you are more central in the city or closer to the epicentre of the virus then there are only approved vehicles allowed on those.”

People have to wear masks according to guidelines and local authorities are checking peoples’ temperatures, he said.

Williams and his family are not in the central part of the city, so cars are still allowed but there’s very little traffic, he said.

Although the situation is “sad and upsetting,” Williams said he’s quite peaceful about it.

“It is what it is. You can’t control these things sometimes,” he said. “We’re trying to have hope instead of fear.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2020.

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GRT talks to resume Tuesday –



The region and Unifor Local 4304 will resume bargaining talks on Tuesday morning, to try and end a strike by Grand River Transit workers.

That announcement was made Monday morning by the region.

The region’s CAO says they are pleased talks are resuming.

“That’s the only way that this is going to get resolved. The parties get together face-to-face at the bargaining table … try to understand what the outstanding issues are and try to find ways, if we can, to resolve them … get the strike done and get transit up and running again.” Mike Murray told Kitchener Today with Brian Bourke on 570 NEWS.

“I’m convinced the two teams, face-to-face, they’ll find ways to work this out.” he added.

The over 700 drivers, mechanics, vehicle service attendants and dispatchers have been on strike since last Tuesday morning.

“Just like on the first day of this strike, we remain committed to bargaining the best possible collective agreement on behalf of Unifor Local 4304 members,” Tim Jewell, Unifor Local 4304 President said in a release. “Transit workers deserve a safe and respectful work environment.”

The two sides have not met since Wednesday.

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