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Inspectors union calls for closure of 3rd Alberta meat plant with COVID-19 outbreak – CBC.ca

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A third meat-processing plant in Alberta is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases, prompting the federal food inspectors union to call for the plant to be closed.

Alberta Health has connected 34 coronavirus cases to Harmony Beef in Balzac, just north of Calgary, as of Tuesday.

More than a month ago, the first case in the plant prompted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to temporarily withdraw its inspectors from Harmony Beef over safety concerns.

Now with nearly three dozen cases connected to that outbreak, the plant remains open.

The union representing those inspectors is calling for Harmony Beef — and all other meat-processing facilities with infected employees — to be closed immediately.

Only a closure will fully stem the spread of COVID-19 among workers and their families, said Fabian Murphy, president of the Agriculture Union, which represents thousands of inspectors.

“Our position is whenever you have an outbreak like this, you have to shut the plant down. You have to get this under control,” Murphy said Monday from Ottawa.

“We have to put the health and safety of those employees working at those plants at the forefront here. That has to be the top priority — people’s lives.”

Major outbreaks, worker dies

Alberta is facing two other COVID-19 outbreaks in meat-processing plants, one at JBS in Brooks and the other outside of High River at Cargill.

The Cargill outbreak — with nearly 1,000 related cases, including a worker who died from the illness — is considered the largest single-site outbreak in North America. The plant reopened Monday after a temporary closure.

A spokesperson for Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro declined to answer CBC’s questions about Harmony Beef and the inspectors union’s request.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Harmony Beef said it provides a new surgical mask to each employee at the start of their shift. The company said it has also increased cleaning, staggered the starting times of shifts, added Plexiglass separations, and prevented employees in the three sections of the plant from interacting with each other.

The company said it also tests each employee’s temperature before their shift.

“In the 49 days since the first case was reported at Harmony we are aware of a total of 25 employee cases,” spokesperson Crosbie Cotton said in an email. “There has been no hospitalizations and almost all cases were asymptomatic.”

Carriers of COVID-19 can spread the virus through droplets, such as from coughs or sneezes, despite not showing symptoms themselves.

Meat-processing plants in Alberta provide much of the beef that is sold across Canada. Many workers at the facilities have become sick with COVID-19 in recent weeks. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

Murphy said he has spoken to food inspectors in Alberta who have said they’re concerned about how closely workers are standing together while on the job.

He said he doesn’t want to see Harmony become a third major outbreak, and would like to see closures last long enough that workers are past the 14-day cycle of when they might start showing symptoms.

“You have to give the folks the time to go through the incubation period to ensure they’re not positive for COVID-19 before they go back to that work site,” Murphy said.

Letter to prime minister

Prior to the news of the increase in Harmony Beef cases, Murphy and the Agriculture Union wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and various federal ministers asking them to step in to close meat plants, which are federally regulated, for 14 days after their first case is found, and to set national standards for how plants should respond to COVID-19.

“It’s not a consistent approach in Alberta and it’s not a consistent approach across the country,” Murphy said. “I think there’s a lot of political pressure to keep these plants open.”

On Tuesday, Trudeau announced an aid package for food plants. He said the funds could be used for companies to buy personal protective equipment. Officials with the federal Agriculture Department stressed that worker safety is a provincial responsibility.

WATCH | Prime minister on federal role in health and safety of meat plant employees:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes questions from CBC’s Tom Parry on why it’s up to the federal government to ensure international meat packing companies keep their workers safe. 1:20

CFIA has food inspectors stationed in every federally regulated meat-processing plant in the country. Companies cannot operate without the inspectors present.

CFIA withdrew its inspectors from Harmony Beef on March 27 after the first COVID-19 case was reported, the agency said in a statement. Harmony then closed the plant.

That same day, Alberta Occupational Health and Safety officials conducted a “live, virtual inspection” of the facility, a Labour Ministry spokesperson said. The company was then directed to provide workers with COVID-19 safety documentation.

The plant reopened March 31.

Alberta Health Services last inspected Harmony Beef on April 28. CFIA said its staff accompanied AHS staff for the on-site visit. Neither agency explained what the inspectors found.

AHS also said it had established a task force in the Calgary zone to handle COVID-19 at meat-packing facilities.

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BRP's CEO hopes 'staycations' will boost sales of Sea-Doos and off-road vehicles – Yahoo Canada Finance

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BRP's CEO hopes 'staycations' will boost sales of Sea-Doos and off-road vehicles

Sea-Doo maker BRP Inc. is facing a rough ride after the COVID-19 pandemic sank profits last quarter, with the company scrambling to cut costs while ramping up production following factory shutdowns.

First-quarter sales fell in all regions except the United States as the virus prompted staggered closures at dealerships and plants between January and May.

Despite year-over-year retail sales growth of about 35 per cent in May, the Valcourt, Que.-based company expects a 40 per cent revenue decline in the second quarter, propped up only by sustained demand among Americans.

“We’re not seeing the pickup (in Europe or Asia) that we’re seeing in the U.S.,” chief financial officer Sebastien Martel said on a conference call with analysts Thursday.

Chief executive Jose Boisjoli said “staycations and social distancing” will work to the advantage of the power sports vehicle producer. But he acknowledged that the fallout of an ongoing recession could weigh more heavily on sales, with revenue expected to drop between 10 and 20 per cent in the second half of its financial year.

“The unemployment rate is going up, consumer confidence is low and housing starts have reduced. All of this at one point will catch up,” he said.

The softer prospects prompted the company to shore up liquidity with a US$600-million loan, which matures in 2027.

BRP manufacturing operations will have resumed by next week in all six countries where it has plants following shutdowns that began between January and March, Boisjoli said.

Production will not be hampered despite physical distancing measures, but shipping will likely remain less efficient until the company builds up its inventory to ship in greater bulk, he added.

The comments came a day after BRP said it would cut 650 jobs or about five per cent of its global workforce as it stopped producing outboard motors — where sales were lagging before the global health crisis — part of up to $450 million in cost reduction measures slated for this year.

“For us, it’s a bit sad that we discontinued the production of the Evinrude — the outboard engine,” Boisjoli said. “The impact of COVID-19 has left us no choice.”

Three-wheeled motorcycles, whose sales surged in 2019, saw revenue fall by more than 40 per cent year over year in the first quarter as driver licensing offices shut down in many regions.

“The on-road industry suffered the most from containment measures due to the closure of riding schools and licence issuers and the cancellation of demo tours,” Boisjoli said.

In December 2018, he told The Canadian Press he hoped to triple global sales of three-wheelers by 2023 to more than $1 billion.

Sales of luxury items such as sporty roadsters and new Ski-Doos often wither in a recession, aggravated by an unemployment rate hovering at around 13 per cent in Canada and 15 per cent in the U.S.

“We do not believe the recent retail strength is sustainable and expect weaker economic conditions later in the year,” National Bank analyst Cameron Doerksen said in a research note.

BRP reported a loss of $2.58 per diluted share for the quarter ended April 30 as it took a $171.4-million impairment charge related to its marine business compared with a profit of $23.8 million or 25 cents per diluted share a year ago.

Revenue in the quarter fell eight per cent to $1.23 billion compared with $1.33 billion during the same period in 2019.

Excluding the impairment charge and other items, BRP said its normalized earnings for the quarter amounted to a profit of $22.7 million or 26 cents per diluted share compared with a normalized profit of $52.7 million or 54 cents per diluted share a year ago.

Analysts had expected normalized earnings at 23 cents per diluted share, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2020.

Companies in this story: (TSX:DOO)

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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U.S. coronavirus deaths hit grim record as cases rise rapidly in India, Russia – Globalnews.ca

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The coronavirus crisis threw at least 2.1 million Americans out of work last week despite the gradual reopening of businesses around the country, stoking fears Thursday that the scourge is doing deep and potentially long-lasting damage to the U.S. economy.

Amid a few glimmers of hope, most of the latest economic news from around the globe was likewise grim, as some of the world’s most populous countries continued to report rising infections and deaths.


READ MORE:
South Korea coronavirus cases rise by highest number since early April

The confirmed U.S. death toll topped 100,000, the highest in the world, on Wednesday.

The latest job-loss figures from the U.S. Labor Department bring to 41 million the running total of Americans who have filed for unemployment benefits since the coronavirus shutdowns took hold in mid-March.

There were some encouraging signs: The overall number of Americans currently drawing jobless benefits dropped for the first time since the crisis began, from 25 million to 21 million. And first-time applications for unemployment have fallen for eight straight weeks, as states gradually let stores, restaurants and other businesses reopen and the auto industry starts up factories again.

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But the number of U.S. workers filing for unemployment is still extraordinarily high by historical standards, and that suggests businesses are failing or permanently downsizing, not just laying off people until the crisis can pass, economists warn.

“That is the kind of economic destruction you cannot quickly put back in the bottle,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork.


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The U.S. unemployment rate was 14.7 per cent in April, a level not seen since the Depression, and many economists expect it will be near 20 per cent in May.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

The figures come amid an intensifying debate in Congress over whether to extend $600 in extra weekly federal unemployment benefits, provided under rescue legislation passed in March but set to expire July 31.

Democrats have proposed extending the payments, while Republicans have argued that the extra money could discourage laid-off workers from returning to jobs that pay less than they are getting on unemployment.






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Major outbreaks in countries that first downplayed the crisis


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Kelly Kelso, a 30-year-old roadie from Nashville for the rock group Foreigner, got her first unemployment check last week after more than eight weeks of waiting. She said she is still receiving far less in benefits than the $1,250 per week or more that she made on tour.

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Though she is reluctant to leave the music industry, she said, “I have a cosmetology license. If all else fails, I could go back to doing hair.”

Another looming storm cloud: Economists say the sharp loss of tax revenue for state and local governments is likely to compound the damage from the shutdowns by forcing additional public-sector layoffs in the coming weeks.

Those layoffs have just recently started showing up in the weekly jobless claims report. Washington state, for example, reported layoffs of government employees.


READ MORE:
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Job cuts are also appearing far beyond the initially hit industries such as restaurants and stores, a sign that the damage is spreading even as businesses reopen. Washington state said it saw layoffs in insurance, and New York state reported job cuts by information technology companies.

Economists say many of the jobs lost are never coming back, and double-digit unemployment could persist through 2021.

And as discouraging as the numbers are, the real picture may be worse. The government counts people as unemployed only if they’re actually looking for a job, and many Americans probably see no point in trying when so many businesses are shut down.

Airlines and aircraft manufacturers are struggling after air travel plummeted early in the outbreak. Boeing is cutting more than 12,000 U.S. jobs through layoffs and buyouts, many expected to be in the Seattle area. European budget airline Easyjet said it will cut up to a third of its 15,000 employees. American Airlines plans to eliminate about 5,100 jobs.

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Amtrak likewise announced it will lay off about 20 per cent of its 18,000 workers amid a collapse in train ridership.

A number of European countries have strong safety-net programs that are underwriting the wages of millions of workers and keeping them on the payroll instead of adding them to the ranks of the unemployed. But the economic damage is mounting there, too.

Nissan is rolling back production in Spain in a move the government said could lead to 3,000 direct job cuts and thousands more losses at the automaker’s suppliers. And French unemployment claims jumped 22 per cent in April, with 843,000 more people seeking work.

READ MORE: Quebec courthouses to reopen next week as province eases coronavirus measures

Elsewhere around the world, India saw another record daily jump in coronavirus cases. Russia reported a steady increase in its caseload, even as the city of Moscow and provinces across the vast country moved to ease restrictions in sync with the Kremlin’s political agenda.

And South Korea reported its biggest jump in infections in more than 50 days, a setback that could erase some of the hard-won gains that have made it a model for the rest of the world.

Worldwide, the virus has infected more than 5.7 million people and killed over 355,000, with the U.S. having the most confirmed cases and deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Europe has recorded about 170,000 deaths.

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The true dimensions of the disaster are widely believed to be significantly greater, with experts saying many victims died without ever being tested.

Associated Press reporters from around the world contributed to this report.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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Irving Oil's Come By Chance refinery purchase a 'building block' to get Western Canadian oil east – Financial Post

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CALGARY – One of Canada’s richest families is buying Newfoundland and Labrador’s only oil refinery, which will be a “building block” in a larger strategy to process more Canadian oil.

Saint John, N.B.-based Irving Oil announced Thursday plans to buy North Atlantic Refining Corp. and its Come By Chance, Nfld. refinery from New York-based investment firm Silverpeak for an undisclosed sum, which marks the seventh time the refinery has changed hands in its storied history.

The deal is subject to conditions, including a Competition Bureau review, but it would make family-controlled Irving Oil the only refinery operator in Atlantic Canada. The deal comes weeks after Irving Oil secured permission to bring Western Canadian to the East Coast and forms part of a larger strategy to strengthen its business, according to a company spokesperson.

Last month, Irving Oil obtained Transport Canada’s approvals to source Western Canadian oil from the West Coast, through the Panama Canal to its refinery in New Brunswick.

“Our recently announced plans to source Canadian crude oil and today’s announcement in Newfoundland are two building blocks that fit together with our company’s existing strengths,” Irving spokesperson Candice MacLean said in an email. “All of these elements contribute to our long-time objective of helping Canada be even more competitive in the international landscape.”

MacLean also said Irving, which owns a 320,000-bpd refinery in Saint John and a 71,000-bpd refinery near Cork, Ireland, has been investing for years “in the broader Atlantic Basin and have continued to pursue opportunities for growth in these regions, including Atlantic Canada.”

Analysts believe the Come By Chance refinery and associated retail fuel station network in Newfoundland and Labrador are a strategic fit for Irving, which operates filling stations across Atlantic Canada and the U.S. Northeast.

The sale marks the seventh time the refinery has changed hands

Irving operates a distribution network in Newfoundland, including its flagship Big Stop trucking stations in multiple locations across the province.

“It makes sense that they would see a benefit to acquiring the Come By Chance distribution and retail assets,” IHS Markit oil markets, midstream and downstream analyst Susan Bell said in an email.

She said the Come By Chance refinery has been challenged historically because it has been prohibited from selling fuels into the broader Canadian market beyond Newfoundland.

Built with federal and provincial money between 1970 and 1973, the refinery operated for just a few years before going bankrupt in 1976. Petro Canada bought the refinery, then dubbed the “biggest lemon in the world” according to Memorial University archives, for $10 million in 1980. The Crown corporation couldn’t turn a profit on the facility either and sold it for $1 to Newfoundland Energy Ltd. in 1986.

The refinery would change hands again and again. Swiss commodities trader Vitol SA sold the facility to Calgary-based Harvest Energy Trust for $1.6 billion in 2006. Harvest, in turn, sold itself to Korea National Oil Corp. for $4.1 billion in 2009.

The refinery changed hands again in 2014 when Silverpeak, then called SilverRange Financial Partners, bought the facility and invested in expansions. The refinery was initially built to process 100,000 barrels of oil per day but now, according to Irving’s release, it is a 135,000-bpd refinery. In 2019, the previous owner of the refinery had applied to further expand the facility to process 165,000 bpd.

A spokesperson for Silverpeak declined to comment while the sale is still pending. North Atlantic Refining was the firm’s main energy holding, though it also owns a joint venture in Peru.

The facility now processes 135,000 barrels per day, up from its original 100,000

Historically, the top five foreign sources of oil to that refinery in Newfoundland were the United States, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Nigeria and Norway, said Dinara Millington, Canadian Energy Research Institute vice-president of research.

In 2018, the majority of the refinery’s throughput was sourced from the U.S., and data from the Canada Energy Regulator show imports to Newfoundland from the U.S. averaged 88,100 bpd, or about 68 per cent of the refinery’s capacity.

Millington said the refinery is calibrated to refine light crude oil but noted that a proposed expansion project to add a coker could enable the new owners at Irving Oil to run a heavier slate in the future.

The most recent offshore oil discovery in Newfoundland is also a large heavy oil deposit, so the refinery could — at least theoretically — be recalibrated to accept heavy oil produced locally.

That heavy oil from Newfoundland “will need a home,” Millington said, though she noted a likely outcome would be to send the heavy crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast, where refineries are already designed to process heavy grades.

• Email: gmorgan@nationalpost.com | Twitter:

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