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CRA faces technical issues on first day of rolling out new supports during COVID-19 pandemic – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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The Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) website is up and running again after experiencing technical issues on the first day that Canadians can apply for new financial supports amid the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Monday, Canadians who have lost or missed work because of the virus can start applying for the new Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB).

The new benefit comes as Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa moved to a modified Stage 2 on Saturday amid a rise in new infections.

The Ontario government ordered gyms, theatres and indoor dining at restaurants to shut down for 28 days to prevent the spread of the disease.

With many people out of work, the CRB is expected to provide some relief as the country tackles the second wave.

The CRB will pay $500 per week for up to 26 weeks.

But many Canadians were left feeling frustrated on Monday as they couldn’t log into the CRA’s website to sign up for the new benefit.

CP24 received a statement from the CRA on Monday morning saying it was “experiencing technical issues with applications for Recovery Benefits.”

Just before 12:30 p.m. on Monday, the CRA then released another statement saying the issues were resolved.

“The technical issues which impacted the application process for the Recovery Benefits has now been restored. Taxpayers may now resume their applications,” reads the statement.

“The CRA regrets the momentary impact this may have on applicants and we appreciate their patience.”

A new caregiver benefit also comes into effect today, providing additional aid to those who have to care for dependents because of the virus.

The benefit will help many parents who miss work because of school or daycare closures, or because their children missed school or daycare after they contracted the virus or were exposed to it.

The new benefit will also provide support for individuals who miss work to care for family members who need specialized care that is unavailable to them due to the virus.

The federal government is also providing financial relief for those who contract the virus. A new sick leave benefit will pay up to $1,000 over two weeks for those who can’t work because they’re infected with the disease or must self-isolate due to the virus.

With files from the Canadian Press

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Canada's transport regulator hasn't settled a single COVID-19 flight cancellation complaint – CBC.ca

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The Canadian Transportation Agency has failed to settle a single complaint from Canadians demanding refunds for cancelled flights since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, CBC News has learned. 

The independent tribunal said it has been inundated with close to 10,000 complaints from mid-March, when global air travel largely ground to a halt, until Oct. 16. 

The agency confirmed it’s still processing complaints it received before March 11; it has yet to deal with any cases filed during the public health crisis.

For months, Canada’s Transport Minister has told Canadians if they are unsatisfied with refunds, the course of action is to file complaints with the tribunal.

Carly Aubertin and her husband Rob McLean are upset that they filed a complaint in April, which has been sitting in limbo ever since.

“It’s just so disheartening,” said Aubertin. “It’s frustrating that the government’s not there to support us.” 

The Ontario residents are considering selling their home as they wrestle with living off a single income because the pandemic has hurt McLean’s business. Sunwing gave them a voucher for a cancelled trip to Antigua due to COVID, rather than a full refund that could help pay their mortgage until the spring.

 “Right now, I mean, $5,000? There’s five months of mortgage right there,” she said.

Long backlog before pandemic started

The delay is partially due to a two-year backlog of complaints the CTA received before the pandemic struck. The backlog is tied to a significant influx of complaints received after new air passenger protection regulations came into effect in December 2019.

COVID-19 hampered further efforts to process complaints; the CTA temporarily paused its discussions with airlines regarding “dispute resolution activities” until June 30, 2020 to allow airlines to focus on more urgent matters. The agency also granted airlines an extension until Oct. 28 to respond to passengers seeking compensation.

But the CTA says it’s making progress on tackling the caseload. The agency processed a record number of complaints in the past fiscal year. The administrative tribunal also received a funding boost to get through cases more quickly and says it’s weeks away from starting on complaints filed during the pandemic.

WATCH | Thousands of Canadian travellers are waiting for flight refunds:

CBC News has learned that despite receiving thousands of complaints from travellers looking for refunds for flights cancelled due to COVID-19, the Canadian Transportation Agency has not settled a single one. 1:59

An ongoing battle for closure

The agency said it’s now working through about 17,300 complaints. 

Those includes complaints from Canadians like Aubertin and McLean, who spent about $5,000 for a spring vacation with a group of friends to celebrate some of their 40th and 50th birthdays.

McLean found himself without work during the pandemic, meaning the Port Robinson, Ont., couple has started to dip into their retirement savings. His last pay cheque was in February. 

“It’s frustrating because in these times we hear the leaders of our country saying to look out for everybody and do the right thing and respect your community, and then to allow these multimillion dollar companies to keep our money interest free for an extended period of time doesn’t feel like the right thing to us,” McLean said. 

Aubertin said the obstacles have been particularly disappointing given that other countries have taken a firmer stance on helping passengers.

In April, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a notice reminding U.S. and foreign airlines that they “remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers” despite the pandemic and warned that it would take “enforcement action” as necessary.

Carly Aubertin, left, and Rob McLean, right, have emailed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for help — but his office said the couple’s only option was to file a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency. (Submitted)

In Canada, airlines have been asking the government for financial help to survive an unprecedented drop in business during the height of the pandemic. In many cases, airlines have been issuing travel vouchers redeemable for two years, rather than refunds. 

The CTA said it issued a “non-binding statement” on issuing vouchers in the face of “unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances” during the pandemic.

The agency said the industry collapsed worldwide and there was an “absence of any general minimum obligation under the law for airlines to pay refunds for flights cancelled for reasons beyond their control.”

After months of public outrage, WestJet announced last week it was changing its refund policy on Nov. 2 to give customers back money for flights cancelled due to COVID-19.

Air Canada took to Twitter shortly afterwards and said it’s already repaid $1.2 billion to date for refundable tickets cancelled during the pandemic.

John Gradek, a former Air Canada executive and lecturer at McGill University’s aviation management program, said the timing is no coincidence.

Canada’s major airlines — WestJet, Air Canada, Air Transat, Sunwing and Swoop — are facing a series of class action lawsuits over refunds during COVID and the federal court certification hearing is scheduled for Nov. 2. 

Gradek also believes airlines realized there wasn’t public support for a government bailout unless carriers refunded passengers first. The Globe and Mail reported Friday cabinet is currently deliberating a package for the aviation sector that includes scaling back airport fee increases and low interest loans.

CTA losing credibility, Bloc MP says

Passengers and consumers have a right to feel upset about the federal government’s lack of action, said Bloc Québécois MP and transport critic Xavier Barsalou-Duval.

On Friday, he presented a bill seeking to amend the Canada Transportation Act in order to ensure passengers are fully refunded in the event that an air carrier cancels a flight. 

He said Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s failure to resolve the issue has put undue pressure on the CTA.

“By not acting, Mr. Garneau’s transferring the weight of the situation on the shoulders of the CTA and that’s a big problem,” said Barsalou-Duval. 

“[The CTA is] losing credibility. And that’s the big problem because usually they’re supposed to… apply the rules, apply the law.”

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s office has stated for months that he sympathizes with those seeking refunds, while reiterating that airlines are going through a difficult time. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In a statement to CBC News on Sunday, Garneau said he understood the frustration.

“This situation is far from ideal,” he said. “We are encouraged to see that some airlines have refunded their customers, and expect air carriers will do their best to accommodate passengers under these extraordinary circumstances,” the statement read.

“This is an important issue to Canadians. We also continue to work with the airlines to address the overall challenges they are facing due to the pandemic.”

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Owner of all-electric Nissan Leaf frustrated by difficulty of getting new battery – CBC.ca

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You might think that Nissan, the first car-maker to achieve widespread success with a zero-emissions electric vehicle, cares deeply about the environment. But Clayton Brander isn’t so sure. 

Three years ago, the Powell River, B.C., resident chose to buy a used 2013 Nissan Leaf, motivated by a keen interest in sustainability. 

“I love the car,” he said. “Honestly, in three years and 40,000 kilometres, I’ve replaced a set of tires and windshield wiper fluid. Nothing breaks down. It’s a fantastic little vehicle. I think electric vehicles are the way to go.”

But nowadays, instead of being able to drive the 120 km that 2013 Leafs could initially go on a full charge, Brander can’t get much more than 80 km. He has even become hesitant about turning on the heat or window defroster, since using those features require battery power and will reduce his driving range even further.  

Brander always knew that batteries lose capacity over time, and he figured it wouldn’t be a problem getting a new one. 

“The dealership where I bought the car said that in a few years, you can replace the battery for about $5,000,” said Brander.

But now, he can’t find one. He’s tried two nearby Nissan dealerships, three local repair shops and contacted Nissan Canada.

“Nissan hasn’t been helpful. I’ve sent probably six emails to them,” said Brander. “They keep telling me to go to the dealership. I called my local dealership and they sent emails to Nissan Canada. Six weeks later, neither of us has gotten a response.”

Both dealerships told him that a new battery — if he can find one — could cost him at least $15,000, which would be more than he paid for the vehicle in the first place.

WATCH | Brander’s struggle to replace his car’s battery:  

Clayton Brander of Powell River, B.C., assumed that buying a reliable electric vehicle was an environmentally sustainable decision. Three years later, he’s faced with the choice of buying an expensive replacement battery, if he can find one, or a new car. 2:10

His local dealership has encouraged him to solve the issue by simply purchasing a brand-new Nissan Leaf. The basic 2020 model costs $42,000 and can travel about 240 km on a full charge. That suggestion doesn’t seem very sustainable to Brander. 

“It seems like these things are going to end up in the landfill,” he said. “It makes more sense for them financially, I imagine, to sell new cars than to service the old cars.”

U.S. class-action lawsuit 

The Nissan Leaf has long been the world’s best-selling electric vehicle, surpassed for the first time in 2020 by Tesla’s Model S, according to Nissan and Tesla’s own figures.

Olivier Trescases, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Electric Vehicle Research Centre, said Nissan deserves credit for being a pioneer.

“They were one of the first to release a compelling electric vehicle with a reasonable range and most importantly, a low price point,” he said.

But he added that one of the design “compromises” Nissan initially made in order to keep production costs down was to not install an advanced cooling system for its batteries. “They were using a chemistry that was particularly temperature-sensitive, and they did not use expensive liquid cooling.”

Olivier Trescases works at the University of Toronto’s Electric Vehicle Research Centre, where students are working on a battery prototype that will get longer life and a greater driving range. (Dianne Buckner/CBC)

That means the battery’s capacity is reduced more quickly. In 2012, Leaf owners in California and Arizona launched a class-action lawsuit claiming the car’s driving range was lower than advertised.

The company settled the suit and extended the battery capacity warranty to five years on models made from 2013 onward. Later, Nissan extended the warranty to eight years on models made after 2016. 

As well, a battery replacement program for first-generation Leafs was launched in the U.S. A new one cost $5,499 US, plus labour, but the program was discontinued in early 2018.

Where’s the loyalty? 

After an inquiry about Clayton Brander’s situation from CBC’s Go Public team, Nissan declined an interview but released a statement via email. It said Nissan Canada will conduct an inspection of Brander’s vehicle and is “hopeful to find a resolution.” 

Contacted by phone, the head of corporate communications for Nissan Canada wouldn’t clarify if that means that they would find him a new battery, or at what price. 

The statement also pointed out the environmental impact of the Leaf, saying owners around the world have driven 4.8 billion kilometres and helped to prevent “more than 2.4 billion kilograms of CO2 emissions.”

Trescases believes Nissan should show more loyalty to its first customers. “Some of these early adopters helped them to get the car out on the market, get some acceptance and go from there.”

Nissan Canada says more than 3,300 Canadians have purchased Leafs built prior to 2015.

Trescases said the challenge of replacing batteries in older electric cars shouldn’t discourage buyers of newer models, explaining the latest EV batteries are incredibly efficient.

An electric vehicle charging station is pictured in Burnaby, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

“Today, companies are talking about million-mile batteries,” he said. “That’s a big buzzword, but let’s say they even get close to that — that means that the battery will actually outlive the car by a long stretch.”

Last year, Nissan began powering streetlights in Japan and a stadium in the Netherlands with batteries from cars no longer in use.

Keeping car on the road

At just seven years old, Brander’s Leaf is newer than most cars on the road in Canada, where the average vehicle is 10 years old. (In B.C., the average is 11.)

He remains determined to hang on to the vehicle, ideally with a new battery. He’s happy that Nissan Canada finally got in touch with him after the inquiry from CBC News, but he’s puzzled why the company says the vehicle needs to be tested. He said he already paid $130 for a battery test at a local dealership.

“The fact that I don’t get enough driving range out of this one is all that’s needed to determine that I need a new battery,” he said.

A newer-model Nissan Leaf is seen at an electric vehicle charging station in Burnaby, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

He’d like to see Nissan show some loyalty to its most faithful fans, by helping keep the cars on the road for as long as possible.

“They got all the kudos for introducing the electric vehicles to the masses, so that looks really good,” he said. 

“But they’re losing them now by not supporting these older models and just pushing new vehicle sales, instead of saying, ‘Look, we can still keep these out of the landfill.'”

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WestJet pilots protest ‘outsourced’ flights to Swoop in Calgary – Global News

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About 50 WestJet pilots protested outside the Calgary International Airport on Sunday to draw attention to what they call the “outsourcing” of WestJet flights to low-cost carrier Swoop.

Though both are owned by the same company — the WestJet Group — protesters said Swoop is flying WestJet’s routes, which means fewer hours for WestJet pilots.

“The biggest issue for us is routes that have been flown by WestJet Airlines over the last two decades are now being flown by Swoop,” said Capt. Dave Colquhoun, WestJet Master Executive Council chair.

“When Swoop was initially envisioned, we were told that wouldn’t happen. Now that it started to happen, especially out of Toronto, we’re concerned about that and we want to bring that concern to the public view.”

Read more:
WestJet to start refunding flights cancelled amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Colquhoun said pilots want to see the WestJet Group consult all members on how to grow Swoop.

“They’ve done it unilaterally and they’ve done it in an environment where just recently we gave in major concessions to help them weather the storm,” he said.

“Our pilots have taken substantial cuts in wages and working conditions in order to help our airline through this pandemic. Right now, our guys are flying about a half to a third of what they were a year ago.”

Read more:
WestJet cuts ‘just the leading edge’ if feds don’t provide aid to airlines: experts

The WestJet Group responded to the union’s concerns, telling Global News that Swoop is important to the company’s future.

“[Swoop] is well-positioned to serve price-sensitive travellers while stimulating demand in Canada’s largest market,” it said.

“After a drop in guest traffic of up to 95 per cent and with recovery slower than anticipated, stimulating demand in our industry is critical for our group’s survival. Toronto is our country’s largest air travel market, and every guest who flies with WestJet, Encore or Swoop is a win for our group, assisting in our recovery and supporting our collective future.”

The WestJet Group said its focus is “ensuring we have a long-term sustainable future” while “providing good jobs for thousands.”

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There is no anticipated impact on WestJet operations.

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

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