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Possible COVID-19 exposures at 3 St. John's businesses, St. Clare's hospital, says public health –



Public Health officials notified of potential COVID-19 exposures at three St. John’s businesses Sunday. (Getty Images)

Newfoundland and Labrador public health officials are advising of possible COVID-19 exposures at three St. John’s businesses and a St. John’s hospital over the past week.

According to a news release issued Sunday afternoon, anyone who visited the following businesses within the following times listed should arrange a COVID-19 test.

  •  McDonald’s, 54 Kenmount Road on Aug. 29 from 2:00 to 2:30 p.m. The advisory does not apply to people who only used the drive-thru.
  • Get Air Trampoline Park, 63 Thorburn Road on Aug. 29 from 4:00 to 5:00 p.m.
  • Pizza Delight, 46 Aberdeen Avenue on Aug. 29 from 6:15 to 7:00 p.m.

Additionally, anyone who visited the cafeteria at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Sept. 1 should also book a COVID-19 test.

People can arrange testing by completing the provincial government’s online self-assessment and referral tool, or by calling 811. Anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 is required to self-isolate until 24 hours after their symptoms resolve and they receive a negative test result.

Anyone who does not have symptoms of COVID-19 is not required to self-isolate while awaiting the test result but should self-monitor for symptoms and isolate themselves should any symptoms develop, the health department said.

Public health also released four potential exposures in St. John’s in a news release Friday, a list which also included Get Air Trampoline Park.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s next COVID-19 briefing is scheduled for Tuesday at 2:00 p.m.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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Opinion: Activist shareholder's bid to oust CN Rail executive, board members is misguided – The Globe and Mail



Founder of TCI Fund Management and activist investor Christopher Hohn is ramping up a bid to oust Canadian National Railway’s executive after the company’s failed acquisition of Kansas City Southern Railway.

Darryl Dyck/The Associated Press

Imagine for a moment that activist investor Christopher Hohn owned the Montreal Canadiens.

Picture the billionaire British founder of TCI Fund Management telling hockey fans he is firing the Habs’ general manager and coach, and sending the NHL team’s three best players to the Calgary Flames. And Mr. Hohn also owns the Flames.

That’s the sort of misalignment that exists with fellow shareholders in Canadian National Railway Co. as Mr. Hohn presses ahead with a proxy fight at the Montreal-based railway.

TCI owns 5.2 per cent of CN Rail. TCI also owns eight per cent of Calgary-based Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.

Over the past four months, Mr. Hohn steadily ramped up a campaign against CN executives. He wanted them to end the pursuit of Kansas City Southern (KCS), the U.S. railway that ranks as the corporate equivalent of the Canadiens’ Hall of Fame goalie and two young forwards who lit it up in last year’s Stanley Cup run. Mr. Hohn now wants four of 14 directors replaced, including chair Robert Pace, and chief executive Jean-Jacques Ruest ousted.

Mr. Hohn’s approach since May effectively has conceded KCS and its coveted southwestern U.S. and Mexican network to CP Rail.

The fact that Mr. Hohn has two horses in the race for KCS, one of which is his clear favourite, means his goals differ from those of fellow CN Rail shareholders. His bare-knuckles approach to such fights has been labelled as “poison,” and Mr. Hohn has been compared to a “locust” by executives at past targets, which include Deutsche Boerse and railway CSX Corp.

Activist investor TCI turns up heat on CN Rail, proposes slate of directors

Kansas City Southern formally scraps CN takeover agreement, backs rival CP offer

Mr. Hohn makes two arguments to support TCI’s activist campaign. In letters and presentations to the CN Rail board, he showed the railway’s results lag those of rivals. Mr. Hohn also said: “The bid for KCS exposed a basic misunderstanding of the railroad industry and regulatory environment.”

The first point is true. For a number of reasons, some outside the railway’s control, CN Rail currently trails other North American railways in efficiency. However, CN Rail executives have made it clear they are on top of the problems. Operations are going to improve, no matter who is on the board.

Mr. Hohn’s second argument is self-serving nonsense. If anything, the CN Rail board and CEO should have been canned if they lost their nerve and failed to take a shot at KCS, the smallest of North America’s seven large railways, and the player with the strongest growth prospects.

For two decades, U.S. regulators at the Surface Transportation Board (STB) made it clear that any consolidation among major railways would face intense scrutiny on competition concerns. In March, when CP Rail kicked off the battle for KCS by striking a friendly, US$29-billion deal, it was universally acknowledged that if the STB was going to approve any takeover, KCS would be the target and no further deals were likely.

KCS represented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a network that seamlessly links Mexico’s industrial and agricultural centers to U.S. and Canadian markets. In April, CN Rail tabled a richer offer, and for a few weeks, seemed likely to win KCS.

In early July, U.S. President Joe Biden effectively changed the rules of the takeover game by signing an executive order aimed at limiting corporate concentration across all sectors. The next month, the STB nixed a key element of CN Rail’s takeover strategy on competition issues, while CP Rail raised its offer.

With CP Rail now poised to win KCS – the STB still needs to give final approval – consider what CN Rail accomplished.

Mr. Ruest came close to building the dominant player in an industry that rewards scale. He saw the landscape shift mid-deal, yet still will walk away with US$1.4-billion in termination fees – a hefty consolation prize – and the satisfaction of forcing an arch rival to pay more on an acquisition.

It’s not the outcome CN Rail’s CEO wanted. However, it’s no reason to replace Mr. Ruest and four directors. Unless you are TCI’s Chris Hohn, and your nose is out of joint because the Montreal team ignored your advice, and the Calgary team had to pay a higher price to win the prize.

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Summer travel surge has WestJet and Air Canada asking for volunteer help –



A surge in summer travel across the country has forced Canada’s two biggest airlines to ask staff to help volunteer at airports to overcome staffing challenges — a move that is creating pushback from unions.

In an email to all employees, WestJet described how the rapid growth in passenger numbers is causing operational problems at several airports, including its flagship airport in Calgary.

The “growing pains of recovery requires all-hands-on-deck,” read the message, which included an open call for any staff members to sign up to volunteer to help guests requiring wheelchair assistance at the Calgary International Airport.

Meanwhile, Air Canada has needed extra personnel at Toronto’s Pearson airport since “airport partners are stretched beyond their capacity, which led to significant flight cancellations and missed connections,” read an internal memo.

In late August and early September, air passenger traffic reached its highest point since the pandemic began. The increase in business is critical to the aviation industry, which was devastated early on in the crisis as many countries restricted international travel.

The industry is not immune to the staffing challenges faced by many sectors as lockdowns started to lift; airlines continue to cope with changing government restrictions, while also following a variety of COVID-19 protocols at domestic and international airports.

In the U.S., American Airlines and Delta Air Lines also asked staff to volunteer at airports this summer.

At Toronto’s Pearson, the international arrival process can take up to three hours, as passengers are screened by Canada Border Services Agency and Public Health Agency of Canada agents, collect bags and possibly take a COVID-19 test.

“As the technology for sharing and displaying vaccine documents improves, passengers become more comfortable with the new process and vaccine-driven changes in border protections take effect, we hope to see further improvement in wait-time conditions in the terminals,” a Pearson spokesperson said in an email statement, which highlighted other steps to reduce delays.

Union objections

But several unions have advised their members to avoid volunteering for a variety of reasons.

CUPE, which represents flight attendants at WestJet, declined to comment. However, in a letter, it told members that “the company is imploring you to provide free, volunteer and zero-cost labour. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE.”

The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents WestJet’s pilots, also declined to comment. But in a message to members, it highlighted how “if you are injured doing this work, you may not be covered by our disability insurer.”

Unifor, which represents customer service agents at both of Canada’s major airlines, said its members were upset about the call for volunteers and the union wasn’t happy that there wasn’t any advanced warning or conversation.

“Take a group of workers that is already very stressed by the kind of operation that’s going on, the quantity of passengers, the amount of extra processes that are in place because of COVID in order to travel — and then adding these pieces on is not helpful,” said Leslie Dias, Unifor’s director of airlines.

During the pandemic, WestJet decided to outsource the work of guest-service agents, who would help passengers that require wheelchairs, assist with check-in kiosks and co-ordinate lineups.

But the contractor is struggling to provide enough workers, said Dias, and that’s why there was a call for volunteers.

After flying more than 700 flights daily in 2019, WestJet flew as few as 30 some days during the pandemic. Currently, there are more than 400 flights each day.

“WestJet, as is the case across Canada and across many industries, faces continued issues due to labour hiring challenges as a result of COVID-19,” said spokesperson Morgan Bell in an emailed statement.

“As WestJet looks ahead to recovery, we continue to work toward actively recalling and hiring company-wide, with the current expectation we will reach 9,000 fully trained WestJetters by the end of the year, which is more than twice as many WestJetters as we had at our lowest point in the pandemic some five months ago,” she said.

Air Canada said it only asked salaried management to help volunteer at Pearson airport. 

Unifor said the airline was short of workers because the company didn’t have enough training capacity to accommodate recalled employees and couldn’t arrange restricted-area passes on time.

Thousands of airline workers lost their jobs, were furloughed or faced wage reductions last year, although the carriers are bringing back workers as travel activity increases.

Officials at Toronto’s Pearson airport say they are trying to reduce delays and wait times by bringing back the international-to-domestic connection process, which helps some arriving international passengers that are connecting onward in Canada to complete the customs process faster and go directly to their next flight. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Returning staff

At WestJet, its customer service agents have been recalled, according to Unifor. Many employees in other positions, though, remain out of work, including about 500 furloughed pilots.

Air Canada said it has been continually recalling employees since last spring, including more than 5,000 in July and August.

Asking for volunteers is an “unusual” occurrence in the industry, said Rick Erickson, an independent airline analyst based in Calgary. But he said it’s not surprising since cutting a workforce is much easier than building it back up.

Airlines have to retrain staff, secure valid certification and security passes, and find new hires as well.

Erickson said he even spotted WestJet CEO Ed Sims helping at the check-in counter in Calgary in recent weeks, as passenger activity was at its peak so far this year.

“This has been the most challenging time, honestly, in civil aviation history; we’ve never, ever seen anything approaching 90 per cent of your revenues drying up,” said Erickson, noting that airlines still have to watch their finances closely.

WestJet CEO Ed Sims is shown at the airline’s headquarters in Calgary. He’s been helping at the check-in counter at the Calgary airport in recent weeks. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Asking employees to volunteer isn’t illegal, but it does raise some questions, said Sarah Coderre, a labour lawyer with Bow River Law LLP in Calgary. 

“Whether or not it’s fair, and the sort of position it puts the employees in, if they choose not to volunteer, that would be concerning for me from a legal standpoint,” said Coderre.

Air Canada is currently operating at about 35 to 40 per cent of its 2019 flying capacity, but said one bright spot on the horizon is bookings for winter getaways toward the end of this year and the beginning of 2022.

“When looking to the sun leisure markets, we are very optimistic about our recovery,” a spokesperson said by email. “We are currently observing demand growth that is above 2019 levels.”

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Why natural gas prices have surged to some of their highest levels in years –



Natural gas prices have climbed to some of their highest levels in years, with the increases expected to ripple into people’s gas bills as winter fast approaches.

A marriage of factors in North America and Europe — from summer storms to an overseas supply crunch — have contributed to sharp rise in the price of the fossil fuel.

Martin King, senior analyst at RBN Energy, said the Alberta spot price for natural gas was around $4.80 a gigajoule on Thursday morning. With the exception of a February price spike amid a nasty North American cold snap, it’s some of the highest prices he’s seen in years.

“It’s pretty astounding,” King said. 

“We’re seeing seven-year highs for natural gas both in the U.S. and Canada and, on the international front, we’re seeing pretty much close to all-time highs in many markets worldwide.”

While those prices will help natural gas producers, it’ll have consumers facing higher gas bills at a time when they’re already paying more for housing, transportation and food

“We’ll see how the spring and summer next year shape up,” King said. “But in the very short term, going into the winter, we’re all going to be facing higher natural gas bills.

It’s part of an international story.

Natural gas is used for home heating, power and is used by appliances like stoves and gas dryers. (Kim Brunhuber/CBC)

In the U.S. futures market, the natural gas contract for October climbed to over $5 US per one million British thermal units — a level not seen since February, 2014. 

Reuters reported Thursday that U.S. natural gas futures slipped as storage levels improved, but one analyst told the news service it wasn’t “enough to put a ceiling on the recent rise in prices.”

Meanwhile, the price of natural gas in Europe has risen fivefold since last year, pushing power prices across the continent to their highest in over a decade.

In North America, views range on how high prices might still climb.

King said it seems like the price could potentially go a “little bit higher” into October, adding much depends on how cold things get at the start of the winter heating season. 

Higher commodity prices prompted Saskatchewan’s natural gas distribution company this week to apply for an increase in the price of natural gas in the province. 

SaskEnergy said the market price for natural gas has doubled since the Crown decreased its prices back in 2019. 

It pointed to increased natural gas demand for power generation coupled with higher liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports are contributing to increased commodity prices.

In Ontario, Enbridge Gas has applied to the regulator for an increase ranging from six to eight per cent in the rates paid by its 3.8 million customers. On an annualized basis, that represents about $60 to $80 more for the average residential customer, the company said.  If approved, it would take effect on Oct. 1. 

Spokesperson Andrea Stass said that through the pandemic, in 2020 and early in 2021, demand for natural gas  declined and prices dipped to some of their lowest points “in many years.” The company decreased rates in July by two per cent, she said.

“We’re now at a point where our economy is recovering and demand is increasing,” Stass added. 


There are several factors running through the natural gas market these days impacting prices globally.

In Europe, stockpiles of natural gas are low, the result of a witch’s brew of issues that include an unusually cold winter and maintenance work at Norwegian facilities. Power prices on the continent are “skyrocketing.”

With gas prices soaring overseas, the United States is shipping as much liquefied natural gas as it possibly can from North America, said Jeremy McCrea, director of Raymond James Energy Research in Calgary.

“It’s actually draining our gas inventories quicker than … I think a lot of guys have expected,” he said.

He also noted that the slow down that’s occurred in oil well drilling in North America has had an impact because many of those wells also produced associated natural gas.

“If you look at the one-year outlook for gas prices, you’re looking at $4 to $4.25 prices here,” McCrea said, referring to the Alberta market, “which are some of the highest levels that we’ve seen since 2014.

“We’ll see how the spring and summer next year shape up,” said Martin King, senior analyst at RBN Energy. “But in the very short term, going into the winter, we’re all going to be facing higher natural gas bills.” (Martin King)

Hurricane Ida also had an impact on U.S. gas production. 

Higher natural gas prices should help lift provincial revenues in Alberta. It’s also expected to help Canadian gas producers that slashed operating costs amid much lower prices. 

“They are very slowly and very cautiously increasing their capital spending programs,” said RBN Energy’s King.

“By nature, it’s a very cyclical industry. And just as soon as we’ve seen these strong gas prices, a warm winter could wipe out all the gains that we’ve seen very, very quickly.”

Darren Gee, president of Calgary-based Peyto Exploration & Development, said current pricing is good for the company, generating more cash flow from its natural gas production.

“We’d love to say that this [pricing] translates into then more drilling and more investment in Alberta and more jobs for Albertans,” Gee said Tuesday. 

“But the challenging part is that we still … have limited amount of egress in western Canada. We can only get so much gas out to market, whether that’s to the U.S. market or to the global market.”

He said it’s also been difficult for the industry to get workers.

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