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The Calgary Stampede is mostly deserted due to COVID-19, but the show must go on – The Globe and Mail



Volunteer Jessica Rooney, left, cooks pancakes during a drive-thru pancake breakfast as people try to enjoy the Calgary Stampede even though it has been cancelled on July 4, 2020.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Stampede Park is mostly deserted but Calgarians are still finding ways to enjoy some Stampede perks from their cars and backyards.

The Calgary Stampede, which includes a rodeo, midway and exhibition, typically attracts more than 100,000 visitors a day, but it was among many large events forced to cancel this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To fill the gap, Stampede organizers and local groups are putting on fireworks, drive-through pancake breakfasts and other events that people can take in at a safe distance.

“You can’t cancel Stampede spirit, so we’re trying to keep that alive even though we can’t celebrate in the traditional way,” said Dana Peers, president and chairman of the Calgary Stampede Board.

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The Stampede was scheduled to start on July 3 but was scratched for the first time in more than a century. The 10-day event contributes $540-million to the local economy, organizers say, and creates 4,700 jobs, including 3,500 seasonal workers during the summer. But the Stampede laid off most of its 1,200 year-round employees in March.

Other fairs and exhibitions across the country are also facing cancellations. Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition, which attracts 1.4 million visitors each year in August, was cancelled in May – only the second time it has been shut down in its 142-year history. Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition in August is also out of commission.

In Calgary, instead of piling onto Scotsman’s Hill, a popular spot to watch the fireworks that are part of the Stampede’s nightly grandstand show, local residents with a view of the city skyline can see one of two fireworks displays from their homes. The first was last Friday and the second is this weekend. And the daily pancake breakfasts that usually draw large crowds across Calgary instead will involve lineups of cars and trucks.

“For lots of people, it’s synonymous with the Calgary Stampede that they’re going to have a free pancake breakfast,” Mr. Peers said. “We wanted to keep that tradition alive and the new rules have brought us to this drive-through method.”

A server delivers mini-donuts to a vehicle during a Stampede Food Truck Rally as people try to enjoy the Calgary Stampede even though it has been cancelled, in Calgary, Saturday, July 4, 2020.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The Stampede is the biggest event of the year for food trucks and vendors. To make up some of the loss, YYC Food Trucks is playing host to a 10-day event mimicking the midway, inviting people to drive up to their favourite spots. The event is putting more than 400 people and 30 trucks back to work, according to Jennifer Andrews, co-owner of YYC Food Trucks. A lineup of about 50 cars had formed 10 minutes before opening on the event’s first day.

“A lot of trucks have said that if it hadn’t been for the drive-through, they wouldn’t be in business,” Ms. Andrews said. “The Calgary spirit is vibrant and we’re survivors.”

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce is also holding a series of virtual events to bring the business community together over drinks and food from home. Networking events and parties in local restaurants, bars and temporary tents that sprout up throughout the city’s downtown are a major part of the Stampede experience traditionally for corporate Calgary and business leaders who visit from across the country each summer.

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The festival acts as the launching point for new client relationships and deals – much of which would not happen without the Stampede, according to chamber president and chief executive officer Sandip Lalli.

“The business community is having a hard time connecting and generating leads for business because of COVID-19,” Ms. Lalli said. “A lot of the conversation will probably be around how they got through the last six months.”

To keep the Stampede spirit going this summer, some crowd-drawing attractions are being held with physical distancing in mind.

A small group welcomed parade marshal Filipe Masetti Leite as he arrived at the Calgary Stampede grounds last Friday after a 13-month ride on horseback from Anchorage, Alaska. The 33-year-old Brazilian, who immigrated to Canada as a teenager, completed a 3,400-kilometre journey the same day the Stampede was supposed to begin.

Filipe Masetti Leite, a Brazilian cowboy who has been riding from Alaska to Calgary and who has also been chosen as the parade marshal for the Calgary Stampede, becomes emotional as he leads his horse Mack into the Stampede grounds in Calgary on Friday, July 3, 2020.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

“What this rodeo means, not only to Canada but to the world, thank you boys and girls,” he said as he stood on the stage at the rodeo grandstand. “I’m a cowboy and the older I get I fear our world ending, and I value it so much because the greatest lessons in my life were taught from a man who wears a cowboy hat and spurs, and I would not have finished this journey if I weren’t a cowboy.”

Local organizations are also holding their own community celebrations. Some breweries are planning Stampede-themed parties with cowboy hats, hay bales and wagon wheels.

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Grace Presbyterian Church is putting together a social-media video of prerecorded footage of people at home making pancakes and line-dancing. After more than 800 people attended the church’s pancake breakfast last year, the group hopes to provide its community members with a way to participate in the Stampede during the pandemic while fundraising for a local charity.

“There is a real sense of community spirit with the Stampede breakfasts that happen all across the city and people gathering together and celebrate,” said Rev. Jake Van Pernis. “We put together a virtual stampede party as a way of continuing with that sense of community connection.”

But some businesses are not able to adapt and Stampede guests will have to wait until pandemic restrictions lift for festival favourites to return. Amusement-park rides and games providers and retailers that display products at the midway are still unable to reopen.

“These businesses essentially will have little to no revenue for the next year and they’re going to have to hang on to make it through to next year,” Mr. Peers said. “It’s not an easy thing to say and it’s not an easy thing to do.”

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With average prices up another 14%, Swiss bank UBS warns of housing bubbles in Canada –



Average house prices rose 14 per cent in the past year, the Canadian Real Estate Association said Friday, adding to concerns that Canada’s most expensive real estate markets are dangerously overvalued.

The group that represents realtors across the country says the average price of a Canadian home sold on its MLS system was $686,650, almost 14 per cent higher than it was in the same month a year ago.

Canada’s inflation rate hit four per cent in August, the fastest increase in the cost of living in almost 20 years. The new data on house prices Friday means that house prices are going up at more than three times that record pace.

CREA says the average price can be misleading, since it is heavily skewed by sales in the most expensive markets of Toronto and Vancouver. It trumpets another number, known as the MLS House Price Index (HPI), as a more accurate gauge of the overall market, because it strips out some of the volatility.

But the HPI is rising by even more than the average is right now — up 21.5 per cent in the past 12 months. In the Greater Toronto area, the average price of a home that sold was $1,136,280 in September, up 18 per cent in a year, according to the local real estate board. In Vancouver, the average is 1,186,100 — up by more than 13 per cent in the past year.

“There is still a lot of demand chasing an increasingly scarce number of listings, so this market remains very challenging,” CREA chair Cliff Stevenson said.

The pandemic has had an unexpected impact on house prices in that instead of causing people to be more conservative because of the economic uncertainty, buyers have been eager to shell out for more space.

Canada’s central bank slashed its benchmark rate to help stimulate the economy through the pandemic, and when lenders passed those rates on to consumers in the form of record low mortgage rates that had the effect of pouring gasoline on the fire of housing demand, making it more affordable to borrow more and more money to buy a home.

UBS warns of bubble

The fresh numbers on prices come as a major Swiss bank was already warning that Toronto and Vancouver are home to two of the worst housing bubbles in the entire world.

In an annual ranking, UBS examines the housing markets in 24 major world cities in Europe, North America and Asia to assess them based on how expensive housing is compared to local income levels and other factors.

It then puts all the cities into one of five categories: 

  • Depressed housing market (a score of -1.5 or lower).
  • Undervalued (-0.5 to -1.5).
  • Fairly valued (-0.5 to +0.5).
  • Overvalued (+0.5 to +1.5).
  • Bubble (1.5 and up).

Six cities were deemed to have housing bubbles. Two of them are in Canada. 

Toronto got a score of 2.02. That was higher than every other city except Frankfurt, Germany, which scored a 2.16.

Vancouver scored a 1.66, just behind Hong Kong (1.90), Munich (1.84) and Zurich (1.83).

Realtors say a lack of homes is the problem and are urging the construction of new ones. But one expert says supply and demand imbalances are nowhere near able to explain the current price increases. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The bank says house prices in Toronto have effectively doubled in the past decade. Government interventions through things like foreign buyers taxes and rent controls caused the market to take a breather in 2018 and 2019, but things have only accelerated since, the bank said.

“Real prices increased by almost eight per cent from mid-2020 to mid-2021,” the bank said.

The bank says price gains are being fuelled by record-low mortgage rates, which are not expected to last much longer once the Bank of Canada inevitably has to raise its rate.

That “could lead to an abrupt end to the current housing frenzy,” the bank said.

Isabel Serrano, a prospective homebuyer in Toronto, is well aware of how frothy things have gotten in the city. She and her husband have been renting for the past 15 years, and are finally ready to buy. But despite having more than $200,000 a year in combined income, the pair can’t find anything in their price range — and they keep getting outbid when they try.

In an interview with CBC News, she said she has looked at between 40 or 50 houses in the past few months, and placed offers on four. In some cases, the house sold for six figures more than the asking price.

“I never thought it was going to be this hard. I really didn’t,” she said. “It blows my mind that there are no homes to buy. It blows my mind that we cannot find a house to buy for $800,000.”

WATCH | Isabel Serrano says house prices are out of reach for people like her

House prices out of reach

5 hours ago

Prospective home buyer Isabel Serrano says even though she and her husband have steady incomes, there’s only so high they can go in terms of buying a home to live in. (Credit: Mark Boschler/CBC) 0:53

‘A fast rebound’

Things don’t look much better in Vancouver. Taxes on vacant homes and foreign buyers in 2016 cooled what was then a red-hot market, as prices rose by more than 20 per cent that year. Those moves seemed to relieve some of the pressure, as prices declined by 10 per cent between 2018 and 2019.

“Since then, however, lower prices, falling mortgage rates and looser stress test rules have enticed households to buy properties again, leading to a fast rebound,” UBS said. “From mid-2020 to mid-2021, property prices increased by 11 per cent, offsetting past losses.”

High prices aren’t just bad for would-be buyers like Serrano, who plan to live in them — they don’t augur well for investors hoping to pay them off by renting them out either.

According to UBS, anyone buying an investment property with the intent to rent it out would need to rent it for 31 years in Vancouver to cover the price of buying it. In Toronto, it would take 28 years. In cities like Miami and Dubai, it’s half that.

It’s a big reason why the bank suspects both Toronto and Vancouver are in bubble territory, which UBS defines as “a substantial and sustained mispricing of an asset, the existence of which cannot be proved unless it bursts.”

UBS has no qualms calling what’s happening in Canada’s two biggest housing markets a bubble, and they aren’t the only ones.

Prof. George Fallis, who teaches economics at York University in Toronto, says the city’s housing market shows all the signs of being detached from fundamentals.

Supply and demand

“A bubble exists if you can’t explain price increases by using the normal variables we look at,” he said in an interview. “Whenever you see that kind of thing, that should be a warning light.”

Fallis says he worries some people buying today are doing so based solely on the expectation that gains in the future will be the same as those of the past, and it’s always dangerous when that happens.

“Economists are not psychologists and the psychology of frothy expectations is poorly understood. But it’s clear that it’s [caused by] something arising which sort of shocks you,” he said. The most likely trigger could be a rapid rise in interest rates, something that experts have already warned is inevitable.

“You only know a bubble exists when it bursts,” Fallis said. “It just keeps going and going and going until it doesn’t.”

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Two B.C. women file constitutional challenge of vaccine card – CHEK



VANCOUVER — Two British Columbia women who say doctors advised them against getting COVID-19 vaccines have filed a constitutional challenge of the province’s vaccine passport.

A petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court says 39-year-old Sarah Webb, who lives in Alberta and B.C., developed an adverse reaction from her first dose of a vaccine in May and ended up in the emergency department of a Calgary hospital six days later.

The court document says Webb’s symptoms included fatigue, heart arrhythmias, severe pain and a rash on her arm.

It says she received antibiotics but developed further complications the next day and went to another hospital, where a doctor told her she should not get a second vaccine shot.

The petition filed against the attorney general and the Ministry of Health says Leigh Anne Eliason of Maple Ridge, B.C., was told by her doctor that she should not get a COVID-19 vaccine because of the risk of side effects due to her medical history.

READ MORE: A look at COVID-19 vaccine certificate programs across Canada

Neither the Attorney General’s Ministry nor the Health Ministry could immediately provide a response to the court challenge.

The petition says both women’s physicians have written exemption letters citing their physical disabilities.

However, the petition says each of the doctors raised concerns that neither the government nor any provincial medical associations had provided guidelines on how to write such a letter or what information should be included.

“There is no evidence to suggest that the attorney general of British Columbia or the (Health Ministry) have considered individuals like the petitioners in making the vaccine card announcement or in crafting the vaccine card orders,” says the petition, which was filed on Sept. 23.

B.C. residents without proof of vaccination are prohibited from certain activities like dining in restaurants, entering movie theatres and gyms. That deprives the petitioners of their charter rights, the petition says.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said anyone who chooses not to be vaccinated has options including ordering takeout from restaurants and watching movies and sports at home because her order is aimed at reducing transmission of the virus from anyone who may be infected.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2021.

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Stellantis cutting 1800 jobs at Windsor Assembly Plant – CTV News Windsor



Windsor, Ont. –

Stellantis says it is cutting its Windsor Assembly Plant down to one shift next spring in a move that will mean about 1,800 lost jobs.

The company, formerly known as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, says the move comes as the automotive industry faces significant headwinds including the semiconductor shortage and the effects of COVID-19.

The cut from two shifts comes after Stellantis cut the third shift at the minivan plant in 2020 at a loss of about 1,500 jobs.

Stellantis says it will cut the second shift beginning in the spring, but reaffirmed it’s commitment in the 2020 collective agreement with the local Unifor union to spend upwards of $1.5 billion at the plant.

The auto industry has been grappling with a significant shortage of computer chips, pushing auto companies to prioritize high-margin vehicles like pickup trucks and SUVs and cutting back production of sedans and minivans.

The Windsor plant produces the Chrysler Pacifica, Chrysler Voyager and Chrysler Grand Caravan.

Official statement from UNIFOR Local 444

“The company served the union official notice late this afternoon that they we will be moving to a one-shift operation at the Windsor assembly plant on April 17, 2022. We will be meeting with the company in the coming days to explore ALL other options, however official notice has been given. The company reiterated its commitment to the bargained investment and the three-shift operation in the future. We will be getting more specifics over the course of the weekend and the upcoming days.”

Official statement from Stellantis

“The global automotive industry continues to face significant headwinds such as the persisting semiconductor shortage and the extended effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to these factors, Stellantis will adjust production operations at its Windsor Assembly Plant (WAP) in Canada. Beginning in the spring of 2022, WAP will transition to a one-shift operation. The company reaffirms its WAP investment commitment outlined in the 2020 Collective Agreement of up to $1.5B CAD.”

—With files from CTV Windsor’s Angelo Aversa

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