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Cruise ship ban extended, effectively scuttling season in Greater Victoria – Times Colonist

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The cruise-ship season that was forecast to bring more than three quarters of a million passengers to Victoria’s shores — and an estimated $130 million in economic activity — has been scuttled.

Everyone from street vendors to restaurants, retailers, transportation companies and suppliers is expected to feel the financial blow.

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Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau on Friday extended the ban on large cruise-ship visits to Canada to Oct. 31, citing concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

Victoria had been expecting a record 300 cruise-ship calls and 770,000 cruise-ship passengers from April through to the end of October.

“Although we expected this and prepared for it, financially it’s a significant blow for the region,” said Ian Robertson, chief executive for the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, which operates the Odgen Point cruise terminal. “But we have always said the health and safety of Victoria is our No. 1 priority.”

Robertson said he has had several discussions with Garneau since mid-March, and has urged the federal and provincial governments to provide financial supports for businesses affected by the cruise cancellation.

“I’m calling on them to come up with ways to help the tourism industry through this period, at least until there is a rebound next year. Some businesses will not survive.”

John Wilson, president of Wilson’s Group, which provides the majority of transportation for the local cruise industry, said it’s another severe body blow for his company, which has already lost 97 per cent of its revenue to the COVID crisis. He said losses for Wilson’s Group could range from $5 million to $10 million this year, depending on the severity of the downturn.

Almost all of Wilson’s businesses, including the Grey Line sightseeing buses and CVS division that transport cruise passengers downtown and to Butchart Gardens, are not operating.

Wilson said financial help from the federal and provincial governments is desperately needed — either in grants or industry loans — to get tourism-related businesses, including his own, through to the 2021 season, “or many just won’t survive.”

“Going 18 months or longer without any revenue … it’s just not feasible,” said Wilson.

Garneau said he understands the cruise ban will have a massive impact on the tourism industry. He said the federal government is studying ways to offset the loss, but provided no details.

A 2016 study found the industry contributed about $3 billion to Canada’s economy, including $1.4 billion in direct spending by passengers, and about 23,000 Canadians were directly or indirectly employed because of the ships.

Cruise ships were one of the first- and worst-hit sectors in the COVID-19 outbreak, as hundreds of passengers fell ill on ships sailing in various parts of the world. Transport Canada monitored hundreds of ships with Canadians on board as they battled outbreaks or were not allowed to dock in planned ports, as countries closed to foreign tourists to keep COVID-19 out.

One Canadian passenger on board the Grand Princess died in Japan after being hospitalized with COVID-19.

In a Times Colonist editorial this week, Chamber of Commerce CEO Catherine Holt and Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Victoria, painted a grim picture of the local tourism industry. The region has a “disproportionally high” number of tourism businesses, with two in five working people employed either directly in the sector or in businesses dependent upon tourist spending.

“National and international travel are lifelines for these businesses. With borders and our waters closed to critical sources of travellers, airlines reducing flights and government directing people to stay local, tourism businesses are staring at a total collapse of their sector,” they said.

Holt and Nursey said the notion that tourism in the capital region can survive on local and regional travel is not supported by data.

Travellers from B.C. contribute less than one third of Greater Victoria’s annual tourism revenue. “We typically have 2.4 million visits by B.C. residents annually and that would need to grow to six million visits to offset lost revenue — completely unrealistic,” Holt and Nursey said.

Without significant financial support, and encouragement of local, provincial and national travel, “the majority of our businesses won’t survive 2020, let alone until spring 2021, when prospects for travel hopefully improve.”

Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business association, said cruise passengers often make the difference between being in the red or the black for some businesses in any given year.

He said it’s more important than ever for locals to support local businesses.

Speaking from the corner of Douglas and Yates streets after lunch at a sushi restaurant, Bray said he’s seeing plenty of foot traffic and it was encouraging that many people were carrying shopping bags.

“Businesses are being faced with the border being closed and travel between provinces restricted, so it’s critical for Island people to shop local and take in attractions,” he said.

“It’s up to all of us to be the difference.”

Robertson said the cruise business represents about 70 per cent of the harbour authority’s annual revenue, which supports operations across all of its properties, including the breakwater, Inner Harbour Lower Causeway, Ship Point and Fisherman’s Wharf.

He said without cruise income, the harbour authority is sidelining capital projects, closing some facilities and reducing maintenance and repairs without compromising safety.

“The breakwater is an example,” he said. “If one of the railings broke loose, we wouldn’t have the resources of people to fix that railing.”

The harbour authority has already cut its workforce by 50 per cent and reduced its expenses by half.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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Torstar shares halted on TSX after getting rival takeover offer for newspaper company – CBC.ca

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A second bid to buy newspaper publishing empire Torstar Corp. has emerged, one that reportedly values the company 14 per cent higher than the previous offer.

Torstar Corp. confirmed on Thursday that a second offer to buy the company has come forward, and the company’s board is currently considering the unsolicited offer by an unnamed private investor group.

Torstar “is engaging in discussions and negotiations with the New Offeror regarding its non-binding proposal,” the company said in a press release.

The company did not say who was making the offer, but the Globe and Mail newspaper first reported that the bid came from the Proud Brothers, Matthew and Tyler, who made their money in the technology sector.

The new  bid reportedly offers 72 cents a share to buy the company. That would value the company at $58 million, better than the 63-cent offer in May from the Bitove and Rivett families’ company Nordstar, which valued the company at $52 million.

Like many newspapers, the owner of the Toronto Star, Hamilton Spectator and 70 other publications across Canada has seen a precipitous drop in its paid circulation and advertising revenue, and a corresponding increase on the digital side is not making up for it.

The company took in $479 million worth of revenue in 2019, down $64.4 million or 12 per cent from 2018’s level, and spent $51 million more than it earned, according to its latest earnings.

But the company has $42 million in cash on its books, and no debt, which is what makes it an attractive acquisition even beyond the core business.

Shares in the company were halted in premarket trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Thursday morning, with regulators citing “pending news” as the reason for the halt.

Torstar shareholders are scheduled to vote on whether or not to accept the original NordStar offer on July 21. 

Torstar’s board says it still recommends shareholders vote for the NordStar deal, pending the discussions they are having with those who’ve made the new offer.

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Popular West Island pub asks recent patrons to monitor health after employee tests positive for COVID-19 – CTV News Montreal

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MONTREAL —
A popular pub in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue is the latest in the greater Montreal area to go on hiatus after a COVID-19 case that could have exposed patrons to the virus.

Annies Sur Le Lac has temporarily closed so that its staff – about 20 people – can get tested for COVID-19 after a member of management tested positive.

The pub’s manager, Kevin O’Connel, told CTV News the measure wasn’t required by public health but was taken out of an abundance of caution. 

“This is all new to us,” he said.

He also wanted to publicize the situation so that anyone who visited the bar on Friday, Saturday or Sunday can be aware, monitor their health and go get their own tests if needed.

Employees wear personal protective equipment and practice proper hygiene, O’Connel said. The person who tested positive also didn’t interact directly with customers.

Still, that person had been at the pub over the weekend, and was in contact with other staff, so they aren’t taking any chances, he said. 

Annie’s reopened on June 22 with health protocols in place, O’Connel said. More than two dozen tables were removed from the outdoor terrace to allow two metres of distance between patrons. They made it easier for people to wash their hands and put protective equipment on staff.

O’Connel says he called public health authorities at Info-Santé and was told the bar isn’t under any obligation to close, but they decided to “pull the plug” anyway. 

They’ll reopen once all the staff have been tested—15 to 20 people—and the entire establishment can be sanitized. A cleaning company is coming in on Friday to do the deep clean.

None of the other staff is showing symptoms. If all the test results come back this week, it’s possible the bar will reopen this weekend.

In the meantime, the bar has posted a sign on the door that explains the closure.

After a much bigger outbreak in Montérégie, which involved a bar in the South Shore, Quebec released new rules today for bars. They include cutting off alcohol sales at midnight, limiting capacity to 50 per cent and banning dancing.

O’Connel said his bar had reopened for the spring and summer season for a single day in March when the pandemic forced it to shut. Now, after reopening for just two weeks, he says he’s very disappointed about all the stops and starts but wants to put safety first.

He went for his own test this morning in Mercier, he said.

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Annual pace of housing starts in Canada increased in June: CMHC – BNNBloomberg.ca

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OTTAWA – Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. says the annual pace of housing starts rose in June as starts of multi-family projects rose, offsetting a decline in single-detached homes.

The federal housing agency says the seasonally adjusted annual rate of housing starts came in at 211,681 units in June, up from 195,453 in May.

Economists on average had expected an annual pace of 198,000 starts, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

The result came as urban starts of apartments, condos and other types of multiple-unit housing projects rose 13.0 per cent to 154,602 units in June, while urban starts of single-detached homes fell 4.5 per cent to 42,073.

Rural starts were estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 15,006 units.

The six-month moving average of the monthly seasonally adjusted annual rates of housing starts rose to 199,655 in June, up from 197,063 in May.

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