The federal government says it’s investing $20 million in the nuclear industry to help Canada meet its target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The investment in Oakville Ontario’s Terrestrial Energy is meant to help the firm bring small modular nuclear reactors to market.
“By helping to bring these small reactors to market, we are supporting significant environmental and economic benefits, including generating energy with reduced emissions, highly skilled job creation and Canadian intellectual property development,” said Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains in a media statement.
Small modular reactors — SMRs — are smaller than a conventional nuclear power plant and can be built in one location before being transported and assembled elsewhere.
Atomic Energy of Canada Limited says it sees three major uses for SMRs in Canada:
Helping utilities replace energy capacity lost to closures of coal fired power plants.
Providing power and heat to off-grid industrial projects such as mines and oilsands developments.
Replacing diesel fuel as a source of energy and heat in remote communities.
Bains said nuclear energy is part of the energy mix Canada must have to reach its climate targets.
Another part of that mix, Bains said, was the recently announced $590 million investment — split evenly between the Ontario and federal governments — to help the Ford Motor Company upgrade its assembly plant in Oakville and start making electric vehicles there.
Recycling nuclear waste
Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan said the federal government is reviewing its radioactive waste program to ensure it adheres to the “highest international standards.”
“We do have to make sure that Canadians trust the power system,” O’Regan said. “SMR technology allows us to minimize the amount of waste and in some cases has the potential to recycle nuclear waste.”
The federal government says that Terrestrial Energy has committed to creating and maintaining 186 jobs and creating 52 co-op placements nationally.
The government says the company also has promised to undertake gender equity and diversity initiatives to, among other things, boost the number of women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
But evidence of the tens of thousands of businesses that have closed can be found in shopping malls and on main streets across Canada.
Behind the figures and bordered-up businesses is the human toll the closures had on the entrepreneurs who saw their passions, dreams and financial lifeblood disappear.
These are the stories of three entrepreneurs from different industries who faced that arduous reality and agreed to share details about their businesses’ downfall, the emotions they’ve felt and how they’re trying to keep their chin up through the heartbreak.
‘I knew we couldn’t weather that storm’
It only took a few days after the Alberta government forced Scott McDermott to close down his fitness gym that he realized the ultimate fate of his business.
Leading up to the coronavirus lockdown in March, he had already cancelled group workouts and child-minding services as fears grew about the coronavirus pandemic. He and his staff were busy preparing online workouts, meal plans and programs for members.
Two days after Best Body Fitness in Sylvan Lake, a resort town in central Alberta, was told to close its doors, McDermott had his weekly meeting with his bookkeeper.
As they looked over the numbers, it hit him. No matter how successful the online offerings were, there was no financial path to overcoming how deep of a hit COVID-19 was going to have on his gym.
“I just had to stop and go, ‘You know what, this isn’t gonna work.'”
Even if gyms would reopen quickly, there would be restrictions, and he knew some members wouldn’t feel comfortable returning for quite a while, regardless of the health and safety protocols introduced.
“I knew we couldn’t weather that storm,” he said.
“It was crystal clear. There was not a cell in my body that didn’t know that was the right decision.”
That March night he wept at his desk until 2 a.m. After 18 years in business, it was over.
“We put so much into it, and we helped so many lives, and we made such a difference, and it was just gone.”
WATCH | How this fitness gym owner realized his business would have to close:
During a meeting with his accountant, Scott McDermott knew instantly he had to shutdown his fitness gym for good. 3:43
After he informed the staff, customers who had prepaid memberships were invited back to take some of the fitness equipment as a trade.
Now, months later, McDermott is trying to stay positive. Instead of working upwards of 100 hours a week as an entrepreneur, his stress levels are noticeably down.
Part of the reason is because the gym was open 24 hours a day, so he always felt like he was working. In addition, the last five years were difficult financially with a struggling Alberta economy and rising business costs.
We stole from our RRSP, and we took from our savings account, and we borrowed money from our parents because you kept believing it’s going to get better. It’s going to turn the corner. When COVID hit, it’s like, no. That’s it.– Scott McDermott
“We stole from our RRSP, and we took from our savings account, and we borrowed money from our parents because you kept believing it’s going to get better. It’s going to turn the corner. When COVID hit, it’s like, no. That’s it.”
As painful as it was to shutter his business, he’s trying to enjoy this transition in life. He’s active with public speaking, online fitness coaching and writing two books. He’s also promoting a documentary about his recovery from a horrific cycling crash in 2015 during an ultra-endurance race.
He isn’t sure if any of these ventures will flourish enough to pay the bills, but he’s excited to find out.
“It’s like a blank slate,” he said. “I’m just trying to be creative and find a way.”
‘Telling the team was really, really hard’
Unlike McDermott, Brianna Hallet was able to reopen her hair salon after the lockdown began in March. However, as the summer wore on, it became clear SwizzleSticks Salon Spa in Calgary was no longer viable.
Adhering to health restrictions meant operating at less than half capacity with up to seven stylists working at one time, even though there are 16 chairs.
The spa side of her business never did reopen to offer massages, facials and other services.
Meanwhile, she said her landlord wouldn’t budge on providing any relief, and the business struggled to pay the rent that was still owed for the spring months when the shop was closed.
Hallet also didn’t qualify for the federal government’s Canada Emergency Business Account, which provides small businesses with interest-free loans of up to $40,000.
“It just seemed like there were too many blockades, and we really didn’t know what the rest of the year would also hold. So even if we got through the next month, what would the next month bring? Would we have to be closed again?”
When the decision was made to permanently close, Hallet had her accountant in the room to help explain the situation to staff and help with the transition.
“Oh my gosh, telling the team was really, really hard. I had the PricewaterhouseCoopers team with me. So that was really nice to have some support on site, but that was an emotional day. Lots of tears.”
WATCH | It wasn’t just one financial obstacle to overcome:
Brianna Hallet was able to re-open SwizzleSticks after the lockdown measures, but it proved to be difficult. 2:25
The end of SwizzleSticks is still a painful reality for Hallet who worked there 14 years and was the owner for the last six years.
“It’s been hard. It’s been a really tough identity thing. I didn’t realize how much of my identity I placed within SwizzleSticks. Even last night, I was journaling some thoughts, and it’s still — it’s the identity,” she said, along with grief and mourning.
Hallet is thankful she kept up her skills behind the chair after becoming the salon owner, as she’s been able to find work at a different salon.
While her first experience as a business owner didn’t end the way she would have liked, it hasn’t diminished her entrepreneurial spirit.
“Absolutely, it’s just a part of me. There are too many opportunities not to do it again.”
‘It feels like a huge loss of yourself’
At the beginning of the year, business was actually pretty good at Enzo Energy Services. The oilpatch has had many struggles since the severe price crash began in 2014, but in the early months of 2020, Casey Johnson’s shop in Red Deer, Alta., was pretty active, and crews were busy.
The trucking company hauled chemicals and other fluids for the oil and gas industry.
Still, he clearly remembers March 9. Saudi Arabia and Russia had begun flooding the market with oil as part of a price war and — coupled with growing coronavirus fears beginning to hurt demand for fuel — sent crude prices spiralling to their lowest levels in several years.
Enzo qualified for multiple government aid programs, but it didn’t make an impact.
“For the size of company we were, it was like firing a paintball gun at a tank. It just wasn’t enough,” he said. “The core issue was such a drop in demand for our services.”
In August, the business shutdown, and two auction companies were called to sell off everything from large trucks to office desks and chairs. Johnson always thought his business would eventually be sold or merged with a larger company.
“It was excruciating,” he said. “It was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever made in my life.”
At its height, the firm had 25 employees.
“To tell them and their families that their paycheque will not be coming from the business any longer was really hard.”
WATCH | The tough transition after closing your business:
After shuttering his business, Casey Johnson was fortunate to get a new job and in a way, create a new identity for himself 1:12
Johnson himself has been able to find work at an environmental company, which he described as a relief to keep him busy while this part of his life winds down. There’s still more work ahead to be done with creditors, and finding a new tenant for the building won’t be easy.
Still, he’s optimistic about the future. When he does reflect on the business, he tries to focus on the many high points of the 10-year journey.
“When a business closes down, it feels like a huge loss of yourself,” he said. “[But] we’re more than the job we do or the business that we own. And there’s more value to life than the business, even though when you’re in the middle of it, it can be hard to make that distinction.”
But the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) warned that the models under considerationwould cause “potentially devastating impacts on rural Alberta” and could cost rural municipalities more than $290 million in 2021 alone.
Allard said Monday the government would not be choosing any of those previous models.
Instead the government estimates its three-year plan will save the industry between $81 and $84 million.
“These measures are intended to provide much needed certainty to industry investors, municipalities, and other taxpayers for the next three years,” Allard said.
Meanwhile, Allard said the government will be startinga longer-term review of the system, including the ongoing issue of energy companies’ unpaid property taxes.
Tim McMillan, president and CEO of Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said the property assessment values being used under the current system are not accurate so he doesn’t view the changes for the next three years as a tax break.
“This is an interim measure, as we’re working to correct a broader system issue that has built up over a very long period of time,” he said.
RMA president Al Kemmere said he hasn’t crunched the numbers yet to see exactly how much municipalities will lose under this plan but said it will be “nowhere near what we were looking at under the proposals.” He said he believes members of the association are willing to do their part.
Kemmere saidunpaid taxes continues to be his organization’s top priority and that some members are on the cusp of not being able to pay their bills. Municipalities estimate they are owed approximately $173-million.
The OPEC+ member countries are on the brink of a financial crisis if the latest assessments of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are accurate. The IMF has presented a very bleak outlook for an economic recovery in the Middle East and Central Asia, predicting a 4.1% contraction for the region. The main driving factor behind this bearish outlook is the IMF’s forecast that oil prices will remain in the $40 to $50 range in 2021. An extension of the current low oil price environment for another year would badly hurt oil and gas exporting countries, which includes all of the OPEC+ members. In its statement, the IMF predicted an economic contraction of 2.8% in April for the Middle East and Central Asia. IMF director Jihad Azour highlighted a large disparity in the projected economic loss of oil-importing and exporting countries, forecasting a negative 6.6% growth for oil-exporting countries, compared to a contraction of 1.3% for oil-importing countries.With many of the OPEC+ members being rentier-states, the need for higher oil prices cannot be overstated. A vast part of the government budgets of OPEC member states depends on oil and gas-related revenues. As such, all OPEC countries are looking at significant budget deficits this year, especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait. Former OPEC member Qatar is in a similar situation, even as it tries to mitigate the damage by increasing its LNG exports. As both oil and gas demand has seen significant demand destruction this year, prices for both have plunged. At present, Brent oil prices are still 40% below their pre-COVID levels. There is little hope of a significant rise in prices any time soon as global oil and gas storage volumes are still at historically high levels, and demand looks set to dip again due to new COVID-related lockdowns and a further economic recession. The frequently cited breakeven price for the Saudi government budget is $80 per barrel, although Saudi government budget discussions seem to revolve around an oil price of $50. Iraq has also stated that it expects price levels of $50 per barrel for 2021. These optimistic predictions seem to be based solely on Chinese post-Covid economic figures, which have proven to be highly untrustworthy and don’t take into account the fact that global demand for Chinese products will also need to pick up. The impact of the second wave of COVID cases in Europe and America will undoubtedly hurt this demand for Chinese goods.Related: Biden’s $2 Trillion Energy Plan Could Crush Natural Gas
But of all the parties that will suffer from low oil prices and the continued impact of a global pandemic, OPEC+ members will suffer the most. Some oil and gas producers were already in a dire financial situation before COVID, including Libya and Venezuela. The major oil market contango and storage glut has been largely overlooked recently, but it still very much exists. Reports of demand recovery in some markets appear to be more wishful thinking spurred by multi-trillion-dollar cash injections rather than a viable economic recovery. OPEC and the IEA both agree that demand is still fledgling, having both cut world oil demand forecasts. The IEA cut its outlook for worldwide oil demand to 91.7 million barrels per day this year while OPEC brought its forecast down to 90.2 million in 2020. OPEC reiterated that future cuts could still be made.
With the financial environment outlined above, OPEC+ members can no longer afford to base their economic stability and future on hydrocarbons alone. Economic diversification has to be put in place, even if the effects won’t be felt for years. Government budget cuts are imminent and could destabilize the region if not done prudently. OPEC+ discussions on stabilizing the market should not be focused at present on price levels or market share only. The real question is how to create a market that is resilient enough to cope with Black Swan events without toppling the current ruling elite. Instability is not only increasing in the Arab producer regions, but also in Russia where sanctions and low oil prices are taking their toll.
OPEC+ members cannot simply bet on the death of U.S. shale as it is an industry that has proven incredibly hard to kill over the years. U.S. shale will almost certainly reemerge, possibly in a different form, but it is reasonable to assume the sector itself is far from dead. Leaders in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Moscow, and Kuwait City now have to find a way to survive. With oil at $50 per barrel in 2021, some OPEC members will be in a real crisis. With that in mind, a conventional OPEC+ JMMC statement today or tomorrow will be seen by some as a white flag.
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