A member of the Ahousaht First Nation on the west coast of Vancouver Island says the decline in bus service in the province is wearing on her.
Maryanne Titian, 69, says she and her husband John both have diabetes, and he is also waiting on a kidney transplant while she has suffered mild heart attacks.
The couple uses buses to get to medical appointments at least once a month that are hours away.
Since the closure of several bus depots on Vancouver Island this year, they are often left waiting outside in poor weather conditions for hours.
“It’s hard,” Titian said. “My husband and I are both not feeling well, we get sick really easy.”
“This time of year, it’s windy, it’s raining, it’s snowing in some places,” she said.
The closure of bus depots on Vancouver Island is part of a wider decline in services across Canada that are leaving some vulnerable people at risk.
The largest shift came in 2018, when Greyhound Canada announced it was cancelling service in most of Western Canada, citing plunging demand.
The provincial government stepped in to fill some of the gaps in northern British Columbia, including along the so-called Highway of Tears between Prince George and Prince Rupert.
The service BC Bus North, operated by Pacific Western Transportation, now provides transportation along the route where at least 18 women have gone missing or have been murdered, several of whom were last seen hitchhiking. It also serves Valemount, Dawson Creek, Fort. St. John and Fort Nelson.
A hodgepodge of other companies also entered the void left by Greyhound in parts of Western Canada and northern Ontario but haven’t matched the service provided by Greyhound.
While Greyhound announced it was pulling out of the Island months before the rest of Western Canada, its disappearance still has ripple effects on the local bus businesses, the CEO of one company said.
John Wilson of Wilson Group, which operates much of Vancouver Island’s bus services through its companies Wilson’s Transportation and Tofino Bus, said Greyhound played a key role in bringing passengers and freight from across the country.
“That connectivity across the country has stopped,” Wilson said, adding that apart from internal freight services, the company now almost entirely relies on passenger revenue.
Wilson Group is partnering with companies like Ebus, which has taken up and added stops along Greyhound’s Kelowna-Kamloops route, to try to reconnect the Interior with Vancouver and Vancouver Island, but gaps still remain, he said.
Ride sharing services and the consumer’s own decisions to drive are also affecting the bottom line, he said.
To compensate for declining demand, Wilson closed five bus depots this year in Port Alberni, Courtenay, Tofino, Parksville and Port Hardy, he said.
“Unfortunately, we had to make some tough decisions around closing some stations,” Wilson said.
Passengers are now primarily picked up at the curbside, although Wilson said the company is in discussions with some local businesses to allow passengers to wait inside.
Bus companies across North America are facing similar challenges, he said, and eliminating bricks and mortar operations are one of the ways they can reduce overhead without cutting routes.
While online bookings may not be accessible to many seniors or individuals without credit cards, between 80 and 85 per cent of passengers now book online, reducing the need for ticketing agents, he said.
Wilson said the company’s call centre remains open and he encouraged passengers experiencing barriers to reach out directly, adding the company will do its best to accommodate them.
“We definitely think it’s a small minority,” he said. “At the same time, they need to be looked after and we want to look after them. We’re doing the best we can to maintain the service levels as far as our schedules are concerned by reducing our overhead.
But the other option is to reduce runs, which hurts people even more, I think.”
Back in the Interior, the province agreed to provide the BC Bus North service on an interim basis and federal funding covering half the costs expires at the end of March 2021. BC Transit led a competitive procurement process for service providers on the current routes and the request for proposals closed in August.
The Ministry of Transportation said in a statement that the contract is being finalized and additional information will be available in the coming weeks.
There will be no disruption to the current BC Bus North service, it said.
Air Canada denies certain compensations claims, calls staff shortages a 'safety-related issue' – CBC.ca
Less than four hours before departure, Ryan Farrell was surprised to learn his flight from Yellowknife to Calgary had been cancelled.
Air Canada cited “crew constraints” and rebooked him on a plane leaving 48 hours after the June 17 flight’s original takeoff time.
Farrell was even more surprised six weeks later, when he learned his request for compensation had been denied on the basis of the staff shortage.
“Since your Air Canada flight was delayed/cancelled due to crew constraints resulting from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our operations, the compensation you are requesting does not apply because the delay/cancellation was caused by a safety-related issue,” reads the email from customer relations dated July 29.
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The rejection “feels like a slap in the face,” Farrell said.
“If they don’t have replacement crew to substitute in, then the flight [was] cancelled because they failed to assemble a crew, not because any other factor would have made it inherently unsafe to run the flight,” he said in an email.
“I think the airlines are trying to exploit a general emotional connection that people make between ‘COVID-19’ and ‘safety,’ when in reality if you put their logic to the test it doesn’t stand up.”
Not a unique problem
Air Canada’s response to Farrell’s complaint was not an outlier. In a Dec. 29 memo, the company instructed employees to classify flight cancellations caused by staff shortages as a “safety” problem, which would exclude travellers from compensation under federal regulations. That policy remains in place.
Canada’s passenger rights charter, the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR), mandates airlines to pay up to $1,000 in compensation for cancellations or significant delays that stem from reasons within the carrier’s control when the notification comes 14 days or less before departure. However, airlines do not have to pay if the change was required for safety purposes.
The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), a quasi-judicial federal body, says treating staff shortages as a safety matter violates federal rules.
“If a crew shortage is due to the actions or inactions of the carrier, the disruption will be considered within the carrier’s control for the purposes of the APPR. Therefore, a disruption caused by a crew shortage should not be considered ‘required for safety purposes’ when it is the carrier who caused the safety issue as a result of its own actions,” the agency said in an email.
That stance reinforces a decision made July 8 — three weeks before Farrell learned he’d been denied compensation — when the CTA used nearly identical language in a dispute over a flight at a different air carrier. The regulatory panel’s ruling in that case emphasized airlines’ obligations around advance planning “to ensure that the carrier has enough staff available to operate the services it offers for sale.”
Air Canada exploiting policy, advocate says
In the December memo, which was issued at the height of the Omicron wave of COVID-19, Air Canada said: “Effective immediately, flight cancellations due to crew are considered as Within Carrier Control — For Safety.”
“Customers impacted by these flight cancellations will still be eligible for the standard of treatments such as hotel accommodations, meals etc. but will no longer be eligible for APPR claims/monetary compensation.”
The staff directive said the stance would be “temporary.” But Air Canada acknowledged in an email on July 25 that the policy “remains in place given the continued exceptional circumstances brought on by COVID variants.”
Gabor Lukacs, president of the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group, said Air Canada is “unlawfully” exploiting the passenger rights charter to avoid paying compensation and called on the transport regulator for stronger enforcement.
“They are misclassifying things that are clearly not a safety issue,” he said of Canada’s largest airline, calling the policy “egregious.”
Consumers can dispute an airline’s denial of a claim via a complaint to the CTA. However, the agency’s backlog topped 15,300 air travel complaints as of May.
Air Canada trying to deter compensation claims: lawyer
Lukacs also noted that European Union regulations do not exclude safety reasons from situations requiring compensation in the event of cancellations or delays. Payouts are precluded only as a result of “extraordinary circumstances,” such as weather or political instability.
“This document, along with the previous declarations and behaviour since the beginning of the pandemic, shows that Air Canada’s priority is clearly to try to limit the costs of the flight cancellations instead of providing good service to its clients,” Sylvie De Bellefeuille, a lawyer with Quebec-based advocacy group Option consommateurs, said after reviewing a copy of the directive.
She said Air Canada aims to deter passengers from requesting compensation in the first place. “This tactic does not, in our opinion, demonstrate that the company cares about its customers.”
Air Canada disagrees with that characterization.
“Air Canada had and continues to have more employees proportionate to its flying schedule when compared prior to the pandemic,” the company said in an emailed statement, indicating it had done everything it could to prepare for operational hiccups.
“Air Canada follows all public health directives as part of its safety culture, and during the Omicron wave last winter that affected some crew availability, we revised our policy to better assist customers in their travels with enhanced levels of customer care for flight cancellations related to crew contending with COVID.”
John Gradek, head of McGill University’s aviation management program, said the transportation agency is partly responsible for the “debacle” because it established looser rules than those in Europe and the United States.
“Carriers have been making strong efforts to point fingers and claim delays are outside of their control to reduce liability,” he said in an email.
The Current28:53Travellers continue to battle wait times and cancellations at airports, but experts say there won’t be relief anytime soon
Fill up today! Here's when gas prices will rise seven cents a litre in Ottawa – CTV News Ottawa
Ottawa motorists will want to fill up the gas tank on Saturday, before prices start to rise at the end of the weekend.
Gas prices dropped to their lowest level in six months at Ottawa stations on Saturday, at $1.599 a litre. According to ottawagasprices.com, some stations in Ottawa were selling gas for $1.54 a litre.
Prices have dropped 20 cents a litre in Ottawa since Thursday.
However, Canadians for Affordable Energy President Dan McTeague is telling motorists to fill up the gas tank today.
McTeague forecasts prices will rise seven cents a litre in Ottawa and across Ontario on Sunday to 166.8 cents a litre.
Gas prices in Ottawa have dropped 56 cents a litre since hitting a record high of 215.9 cents a litre on June 11. A drop in demand and rising fears about a recession drove down the price of oil. The Ontario government cut the gas tax rate on July 1 from 14.7 cents per litre to 9 cents per litre.
Speaking on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work on Friday, McTeague said the recent drop in gas prices is welcome, but “don’t expect it to last.”
“The markets, I think, are overestimating the amount of demand drop we’ve seen in the United States and underestimating the severest supply shortage that we’re having,” McTeague said.
Pandemic benefits were too generous with businesses, stringent with workers: experts – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, August 6, 2022 11:21AM EDT
Benefits rolled out at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic allowed vulnerable Canadians to stay healthy while maintaining an income, but business supports were excessive and show the outsized influence of business groups on public policy, economists say.
Nearly two and a half years ago, the federal government faced an unprecedented task of shutting down the economy to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19. That shutdown led to a series of pandemic relief benefits aimed at softening the blow to workers and businesses, with the two most prominent programs being the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy.
Recent analysis from Statistics Canada based on census data shows two-thirds of Canadian adults received pandemic benefits in 2020, with these benefits cushioning income losses and reducing inequality.
Previous analysis from the federal statistics agency also found that, as was expected, usage of the wage subsidy program correlated with a lower probability of closure and fewer employee reductions.
While there was little time to spend on crafting the benefits and fine-tuning the details in March 2020, economists are now assessing the successes and failures of these programs in retrospect.
City of New York University economics professor Miles Corak, who has written analyses on these programs, says any evaluation needs to account for the uncertainty people and governments were facing at the time and the urgent need to keep people healthy.
That said, Corak said while the CERB was “terribly successful,” the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy was a “huge failure.”
“The Canada Emergency Response Benefit got money out the door quickly in time to keep people at home, which is what we wanted to do to save lives,” he said.
On the other hand, Corak said the CEWS “came too late, it wasn’t well-targeted and dramatically over-insured (businesses).”
The CERB was quickly announced in March 2020 and $2,000 monthly to Canadians who lost income because of the pandemic shutdown. That was followed soon after by the CEWS, which subsidized businesses’ employee wages by 75 per cent in hopes of encouraging companies to hold on to their staff.
Corak says that by the time the wage subsidy was introduced, many businesses had already parted ways with their employees.
Another source of criticism for the wage subsidy program was that it subsidized wages for all workers at affected businesses, rather than simply those whose jobs were at risk of being lost, making it especially costly.
Jennifer Robson, an associate professor of political management at Carleton University, also pointed to the wage subsidy program as being unsuccessful. Robson said businesses that would have otherwise closed down for reasons unrelated to the pandemic remained artificially afloat because of the wage subsidy.
“These were not businesses that were going to return to profitability,” Robson said.
Statistics Canada data shows the number of business closures spiked dramatically in April 2020, but a sharp decline followed, bringing monthly closures to a lower level than pre-pandemic.
About 31,000 businesses closed in August 2020, while nearly 40,000 had closed in February 2020.
In hindsight, Corak said the wage subsidy program should have been smaller in scope and targeted to larger businesses with specialized needs where it would be important for companies to hold on to the same employees, such as the airline sector.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business has said the wage subsidy was “crucial” for small business owners and noted in April this year that only two of five of its members reported being back to normal sales.
Adrienne Vaupshas, the press secretary for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in a statement the focus of the government at the onset of the pandemic was to protect jobs and ensure a strong economic recovery.
“Today we have recovered 114 per cent of the jobs that were lost during the darkest months of the pandemic,” Vaupshas said.
In contrast to what some economists have characterized as excessively generous supports for businesses, some low-income Canadians have experienced clawbacks to social assistance benefits because they collected CERB. The Canada Revenue Agency is also hoping to recoup benefits paid out to over 400,000 Canadians whose eligibility was questioned.
In response, anti-poverty group Campaign 2000 has called for CERB amnesty.
Corak said while it’s reasonable to ask those who fraudulently collected benefits to pay them back, businesses should be held to the same standard.
“The concern I would have is the asymmetry in this response between individuals and businesses,” Corak said.
The CFIB has called for more loan forgiveness for small businesses who accessed loans through the Canada Emergency Business Account. The federal government is already offering partial loan forgiveness if repayments are made by the end of 2023.
Robson said when it comes to shaping public policy, business interest groups have well-resourced public relations teams to further their interests.
“There is nothing like that for individual low-wage workers,” said Robson.
Corak noted that at the start of the pandemic, there was a focus on the role of front-line workers, but with time, this shifted to small businesses.
“I think the small business lobby was very effective in informing individual MPs and putting pressure on cabinet and the government to respond in a way that many unseen and unheard mothers, fathers workers and families just didn’t have that same voice,” Corak said.
The danger of the wage subsidy program, Corak said, is that it sets a precedent for providing excessive subsidies to businesses and thereby stifling innovation.
“We’re almost moving towards a basic income for small business rather than a basic income for individuals,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2022.
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