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Why small businesses say they need Ottawa's help to get some relief on credit card fees –



The way Giancarlo Trimarchi tracks the numbers, you might think he was a sports fanatic scrutinizing the stats of his favourite teams.

He closely monitors the fees his family’s grocery store, Vince’s Supermarket in Sharon, Ont., pays to accept credit card transactions, almost as if they were batting averages or league standings.

He’s very concerned about the trend he sees.

As the pandemic drives online shopping, Trimarchi and many other business owners say the federal government needs to help convince credit card companies to provide some relief on the fees charged to merchants.

“There’s got to be a fairness factor,” he said. “There’s got to be a price … that can be justified and worked collectively on so everybody wins.”

It adds up

A key business cost from credit card transactions is what’s known as interchange rates. These are essentially handling fees that are set by the credit card company, paid by the payment processing company to its bank, but ultimately covered by the merchant who made the sale.

In 2018, the federal government struck deals with Visa and MasterCard to lower their average interchange rates charged to merchants on credit card transactions from 1.5 to 1.4 per cent.

Yet, despite those deals, Trimarchi says his company is paying more than ever during the pandemic — typically “well over” two per cent for online and phone orders.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but an extra 15 or 20 basis points on something that we can’t control is frustrating, because we have to find a way to mitigate that extra cost,” he said.

Consumers pay, too

While consumers don’t pay those interchange fees directly, the costs are typically embedded in the prices businesses charge. Trimarchi said he doesn’t want to raise his prices, but he also needs to maintain the slim profit margins that are typical in the grocery business.

Now, several small business associations are also sounding the alarm. Many independent operators have seen online sales skyrocket during the pandemic, and they insist the rates they pay for e-commerce transactions are higher than those for in-store purchases. They’re calling on the federal government to take urgent action.

Gary Sands, senior vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, has written to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland about the issue. He makes the point that the 2018 agreements that saw credit card companies lower the average interchange rate came before so much purchasing was driven online by the pandemic, and further reductions are needed.

“In the spirit of being in this together, Canadians would hope that the banks and card companies would have stepped up and voluntarily reduced their fees,” he wrote. “But that did not happen, and calls to do so have been met with a deafening silence.”

Every time a consumer pays with a credit card, the merchant pays a fee based on what’s known as the interchange rate, which is set by the credit card company. (CBC News)

Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said his organization is also lobbying the government “aggressively” with regard to online transaction fees.

There are several factors that help explain the seeming disconnect between the credit card companies’ deals with the federal government to lower the average interchange rate and the extra credit card costs many merchants say they’ve been incurring during the pandemic.

For starters, the new 1.4 per cent interchange rate target is an average. Different credit cards and different kinds of transactions for different goods and services carry different interchange fees. So, a merchant’s cost on a transaction depends in large part on what card a customer uses.

Critics take aim at Visa and MasterCard, but the fees merchants pay for credit card transactions are actually divided by a number of different financial services firms. The bank that issued the card gets a share, as does the payment processing company.

The ability of a business to negotiate lower merchant service fees and other costs associated with credit card transactions often depends on their size and sales numbers, which is why groups representing small- and medium-sized businesses want the federal government to get involved.

Credit card companies respond

In a statement to CBC News, Visa said its e-commerce rates for merchants “have never been lower,” and that it has fulfilled its commitment to charge an average rate of 1.4 per cent for both in-store and online transactions.

Mastercard’s statement to CBC News said the company remains committed to its “voluntary agreement with the Government of Canada” to reach the 1.4 per cent rate target.

Isaiah Archer of Whistle Buoy Brewing Company in Victoria, says almost every sale his company makes is done via credit card these days, and the fees are higher than they should be. (Isaiah Archer)


Even so, in Victoria, B.C., Isaiah Archer of Whistle Buoy Brewery Company says he and his four partners are also seeing higher charges than that for plastic payments. It adds up; a full 99 per cent of their sales are from credit card transactions these days.

Archer, 30, estimates Whistle Buoy pays between 2.5 and 3 per cent to process Visa and MasterCard payments, depending on the type of card a customer uses.

“It’s costing us more to make less, is the simplest way to put it,” said Archer.

Lobbying effort

Like most merchants, Archer is happy to make a sale of any kind these days. When the pandemic hit, Whistle Buoy had to move quickly into online sales and delivery. It’s been a blow for the new business, which launched in June 2019, less than a year before COVID-19 arrived in Canada.

“I think those credit card companies, at the end of the day, I’m sure they’re probably doing better than they ever have because a lot of consumers are going online,” he said.

Although the letter from the grocers’ federation complained that the fees for online transactions were excluded from Visa and Mastercard’s agreements with the federal government when they were negotiated in 2018, Kelly of the CFIB says that’s impossible to know. The undertakings are considered confidential, and not available for public scrutiny.

“There’s a separate agreement with Visa, a separate agreement with MasterCard, and for competitive reasons, they’re not shared,” he said. 

Fees lower in other countries 

Visa said it derives no revenue from the interchange rate, as the fee is paid by the payment processing company to the bank, and is ultimately passed on to the merchant. Credit card companies make money from annual card fees and interest payments from cardholders who don’t pay off their balance every month.

A Visa spokesperson pointed to other charges for merchants accepting digital payments, such as terminal rental and processing fees.

Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says the organization is lobbying the federal government to help get credit card fees lowered for merchants. (CBC News)

Kelly said it’s important to remember the 1.4 per cent interchange rate target is an average that applies to both small and big businesses, highlighting another factor that makes survival more challenging for many independent businesses: large corporations are able to reduce their overall fees more easily than small operators.

“Big companies, of course, can bring hundreds of millions of dollars of business to these payments processors, and can threaten to take it away,” he said. “So they have a much better chance of negotiating rates.”

During a dispute in 2016, for example, Walmart threatened to stop accepting Visa chain-wide, saying it was paying $100 million a year for Visa’s services. The issue took six months to resolve.

Giancarlo Trimarchi said he believes financial institutions have too much power in Canada. He points to Australia, where the interchange rate is below one per cent, or the EU, where it can be as low as 0.3 per cent.

“It’s such a small group of merchant service processors that dominate the landscape of payment acceptance, that we really have very little power, without the government helping us.”

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COVID-19: National panel agrees with Dr. Henry on four-month vaccine delay – Vancouver Sun



The vaccine experts say extending the dose interval to four months can protect the entire adult population within a short time despite limited supply.

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Taking a cue from B.C.’s top doctor, a national panel of vaccine experts recommended that provinces extend the interval between the two doses of a COVID-19 shot to up to four months when faced with a limited supply, in order to quickly immunize as many people as possible.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization issued updated guidance Wednesday for the administration of all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in Canada.

Extending the dose interval to four months will create opportunities to protect the entire adult population against the virus within a short time frame, the panel said in releasing the recommendation.

As many as 80 per cent of Canadians over 16 could receive a single dose by the end of June simply with the expected supply of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the panel said.

  1. The British Columbia Centre for Disease Control says new preliminary data shows that a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine reduces the risk of the virus by 80 per cent within two to three weeks of receiving the shot. The agency says in a statement that research led by Dr. Danuta Skowronski, the head of its influenza and emerging respiratory pathogens team shown here in a file photo, came to the conclusion after analyzing COVID-19 cases in long-term care homes.

    A look at the studies from Israel, U.K. that informed B.C.’s second-dose delay

  2. B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

    Longer interval between doses means restrictions can be lifted sooner: Henry

The addition of the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to the country’s supply could mean almost all Canadians would get their first shot in that time frame, but the federal government has not yet said how many doses of that vaccine will be delivered in the spring and how many in the summer.

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“The vaccine effectiveness of the first dose will be monitored closely and the decision to delay the second dose will be continuously assessed based on surveillance and effectiveness data and post-implementation study designs,” the panel wrote.

“Effectiveness against variants of concern will also be monitored closely, and recommendations may need to be revised,” it said, adding there is currently no evidence that a longer interval will affect the emergence of the variants.

The committee’s recommendation came hours after Newfoundland and Labrador said it will extend the interval between the first and second doses to four months, and days after B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the province was doing so.

Manitoba also said Wednesday it will delay second doses in order to focus on giving the first shot to more people more quickly.

Ontario previously said it was weighing a similar move but would seek advice from the federal government.

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Trudeau 'very optimistic' vaccine rollout can be accelerated and move closer to U.S. goals – National Post



Trudeau held to his September target, but said with vaccine deliveries being moved up and new candidates being approved, the timeline could be moved up

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OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday morning he was hopeful Canada’s vaccine timelines could be moved up, but offered no assurance the vaccine rollout here won’t be completed months after the United States.

But late on Wednesday afternoon, a national panel of vaccine experts recommended extending the interval between the two doses of a COVID-19 shot when faced with a limited supply.

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s updated guidance is for the administration of all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in Canada. It says extending the dose interval to four months will create opportunities to protect the entire adult population against the virus within a shorter timeframe.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Tuesday evening America would have enough vaccines delivered to cover the entire population by late May. The rollout of those vaccines into arms will follow, but America is still likely to be able to vaccinate its entire population months ahead of Canada.


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Trudeau’s long-held timeline is to have all Canadians vaccinated by the end of September. He held to that target at his Wednesday morning press conference, but said with vaccine deliveries being moved up and new candidates being approved, it is possible the timeline could be moved up.

“We’re very optimistic that we’re going to be able to accelerate some of these timelines,” he said. “We’re going to continue to do everything we can to allow our population to get through this challenge as quickly as possible,” he said.

  1. Public health measures like masking are being recommended regardless of if someone has been vaccinated.

    What happens after my COVID shots? Masking, social-distancing, still recommended, but some experts want different approach

  2. Federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand.

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Trudeau said COVID has had a much more devastating impact on the U.S. and that will have a significant impact on the recovery.

“Obviously, the pandemic has had a very different course in the United States with far greater death tolls and case counts and that has had its own impact on the American economy,” he said.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, the party’s health critic, said the government should be providing a clearer, more detailed explanation of its vaccine plan, to help businesses have confidence about what comes next.

“We don’t have any of that data. We don’t actually know what the realistic time horizon is for delivery of vaccines,” she said.

With Canada set to be months behind the U.S., United Kingdom and potentially other countries in the rollout, Rempel Garner said the government should be offering information about what else it will do to ease the pandemic in the meantime.


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“I think we’ll have a problem on compliance and certainty for business reopening, so this is why we’re saying look, be honest with Canadians, and then let’s work together to come up with a plan B,” she said. “COVID fatigue is a real thing. There’s a lot of frustration.”

Trudeau announced that both the government’s rent subsidy for small business and the wage subsidy will be extended into June as the pandemic continues. The extension of the rent subsidy is forecasted to cost an additional $2.1 billion and the wage subsidy will cost the government an additional $13.9 billion.

Finance Minister Chyrstia Freeland said the government would continue to support businesses with the goal of keeping the economy moving so it can resurge quickly when restrictions are lifted.

“Our government will continue to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to help Canadians through this bleak time, to prevent economic scarring and invest in a way that allows us all to come roaring back,” she said.

Biden moved up his timeline to May, from what had been the end of July, after announcing the U.S. government had approved a third vaccine candidate from Johnson and Johnson. Canada is expected to approve that vaccine soon.

Canada received 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the first shipment in a total of two million doses expected before mid-May, on top of a further 20 million doses expected between April and September.

Despite all the recent vaccine announcements, Trudeau said it was too early to formally move up the deadline, because there could still be issues with manufacturing or deliveries.


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“These are new processes for new vaccines that are being manufactured in the millions and even billions in order to cover everyone on Earth,” he said. “We’ll be facing continued challenges, which is one of the reasons why we made such a deliberate effort to sign more deals with more different companies than many of our fellow countries.”

While the Biden administration has said it won’t ship vaccines from the U.S. to other countries until all Americans are vaccinated, Trudeau said Biden knows the challenge is global.

“It was very clear that they understand, like us, we know that you don’t get through this pandemic, anywhere, not fully, until you get through it everywhere.”

— With files from The Canadian Press

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Nova Scotia to accept shipment of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine –



Nova Scotia has decided to receive its first shipment of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Next week, the province will get 13,000 doses of the third COVID-19 vaccine approved for use by Health Canada.

They don’t have a long shelf life and must be used by April 2.

Because of that, even though it is a two dose vaccine, the province announced today it plans to administer all of the supply as first doses. They will be going into the arms of Nova Scotians between the ages of 50 and 64 at 26 locations throughout the province on a first-come, first-served basis.

Earlier this week, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended the Oxford-AstraZeneca only be used for people between the ages of 18 and 64.

“AstraZeneca is different than the two vaccines we’re using now,” explained the province’s chief medical officer of health at Tuesday’s briefing. “The Pfizer-BioNtech and the Moderna are mRNA vaccines, which have been shown to be 94 to 95 per cent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 illness.”

“The AstraZeneca is slightly different. It’s called a viral-vector vaccine and it’s been shown to be about 62 per cent effective against preventing symptomatic illness.”

Because of that, Dr. Robert Strang said it won’t be used for any group considered to be a high risk for severe disease and/or exposure.

Unlike the mRNA vaccines, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine does contain a virus, however the province says it isn’t the one that causes COVID-19. It’s a “different, harmless virus that triggers an immune response.”

The vaccine also doesn’t need the cold or ultra-low cold storage that the other two require. It can be stored between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius, which is similar to the standard flu vaccine.

Doctors Nova Scotia and the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia will be handling the launch.

“This vaccine provides another tool in our fight against COVID-19 and builds on the roll-out that is already underway in our province as we work to vaccinate all Nova Scotians,” said Premier Iain Rankin in a news release. “We have to move fast as we are mindful of the fact that we have a short window to use it given that they will expire in a month.”

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