Tuesday November 20, 2018
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One of the largest foreign holders of Canadian energy stocks says investors are turning away from the country, frustrated over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s failure to get pipelines built to ease a record discount for oil-sands crude.
In a letter to the prime minister, Darren Peers, an analyst and investor at Los Angeles-based Capital Group Cos., warns investors and companies will continue to avoid the Canadian energy sector unless more is done to improve market access.
“Capital Group’s energy investments are increasingly shifting to other jurisdictions and that is likely to continue without strong government action,” Peers wrote in a letter dated Oct. 19. “I hope that your government will be even more proactive in securing market access which will assure the competitiveness of Canadian energy companies.”

The CEO of the Royal Bank says the oil and gas sector is poised to deliver billions of dollars in new revenue to Canadian governments over the next decade by meeting growing global energy demand but it can’t do it without urgently needed support.
Dave McKay, who has previously taken Ottawa to task over Canada’s lagging tax competitiveness with the U.S., says a new RBC study suggests that Canadian governments could earn an extra $195 billion in revenues between now and 2030 with the right kind of energy development.

Much ado is made when housing development projects sprout up across the peninsula.

Environmental, historical, and cultural concerns typically top the public’s interest list after any announcement.

On occasion, there is indeed an endangered barn owl population or a First Nations burial ground in a proposed development area. However, frequently the land in question is already disturbed or less environmentally significant than proclaimed.

Raised in Grimsby, Mary Hays left the west Niagara community and became a teacher in the GTA. Her career lead her into the workforce placement sector where she worked with digital education platforms and decided what she was doing in education could be brought into the business world and potentially help solve the skills gap.
Hays developed a platform called Workbay which helps connect employers and employees but also provides a lot more tools to both. A customized version has been developed for Niagara, called Opportunity Niagara. A cross section of employers and academics got a firsthand look at what the platform’s capabilities are this week at SPARK Niagara, a local tech incubator. Those in attendance included representatives from Niagara College, Brock University, the tourism industry as well as economic development officers from the Region and Niagara Falls.

Rethinking the Bottom Line

by Brock Dickinson

Last week, I had the opportunity to deliver the keynote presentation at the Economic Developers Association of Canada (EDAC) annual conference in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The EDAC conference is an annual gathering of hundreds of professionals interested in local development, including economists, developers, investment attraction specialists, and site selectors. This year, they asked me to speak about the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs – a set of 17 ambitious development goals that every government on the planet has committed to achieve by 2030.
The 17 SDGs make for a pretty diverse agenda, targeting everything from the need for “decent work and economic growth” (which is SDG #8) to “responsible consumption and production” (SDG #12) to “clean water and sanitation” (SDG #6). While the goals themselves are fairly broad and high-level, they are underpinned by 169 action plans that are much more specific, tangible and precise.

OLG announces new Niagara casino operator

by Kevin Vallier

In what is being hailed as a win for Niagara’s casinos, Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) has selected Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment (MGE) as the service provider for the Niagara Gaming Bundle, following a competitive procurement process.

The Niagara Gaming Bundle includes Fallsview Casino Resort and Casino Niagara. MGE will also operate the future 5,000-seat Niagara Falls Entertainment Centre being built at the Hilton Fallsview, located adjacent to the Fallsview Casino.

OLG expects MGE will take over day-to-day operations in the summer of 2019. The agreement is for 21 years.

Meal-kits are eating up market share

by Kevin Vallier

It’s a relatively new industry but it’s one that continues to grow and shows no signs of being simply a trend. With many households in Canada having two working parents or, with the high divorce rate, single parent homes where that parent is also working full time, there’s no wonder the meal-kit industry is on the rise.

Meal-kit usage is growing at an explosive rate in Canada. According to a recent report by The NPD Group, the meal-kit business is among the fastest growing food segments in the Canadian marketplace. Data shows that the industry has roughly doubled since 2014, and is expected to exceed $400 million over the next year.

While many people in Niagara are generally aware of the fact that the region produces quality fruit like grapes and peaches as well as being home to several green houses, most have no clue as to the massive economic impact the agri-business has on Niagara’s economy.
In fact, Niagara produces 80 per cent of the country’s grapes and wine. But the agri-business here in Niagara extends far beyond the wineries and the local fruit stands. The region has always offered some of North America’s best growing conditions, but today, with the help of advances in technology, research and new approaches, the face of farming is changing in a most profitable way.

After having the pleasure of interviewing a number of Niagara’s business leaders on the topic of philanthropy, it’s become quite clear that this region is very fortunate to have a business community whose generosity knows no bounds.
Business owners of companies of all sizes continue to support Niagara’s charities, post-secondary schools and healthcare facilities. On a daily basis these businesses are inundated with requests for funding from hundreds of not-for-profits, sports teams and service clubs. From major gifts in support of large capital campaigns to sponsoring a hole at a charity golf tournament to providing food and clothing to organizations like Community Care, these individuals aren’t just business leaders; they are community leaders.

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has signed a purchase and sale agreement to acquire 100 per cent of the equity of Eagle Creek Renewable Energy LLC in the U.S.
The purchase price is US$298 million, subject to customary working capital and other adjustments on closing, OPG said.
OPG has stated that no taxpayer dollars will be used to fund this acquisition. Instead, the investment will be financed through OPG’s corporate public debt program or other available credit facilities.

It’s difficult to go anywhere in Niagara without seeing a sign recognizing their contributions. The owners of these three companies have sat on boards, volunteered their time and donated millions to a variety of hospitals, schools and other charities. They don’t do it for recognition – to get their name on a building or to be honoured at a ribbon cutting. When you talk to them it’s clear that they are business owners with a strong social conscious.

Rankin Construction, Mountainview Homes and Walker Industries are three companies that literally and figuratively have helped build Niagara. There’s a theatre, cancer centre, YMCA, Technology Centre and other buildings that bear the name of either these companies or the men or families that own them. But there is so much more to what they contribute to this society. Much of it goes unnoticed by the general public but certainly not be the charities and families they’ve helped along the way.

Rising Up and Giving Back

by Kevin Vallier

It was a prime example of how business leaders come together to support Niagara charities and those less fortunate. In 2009, ten men from Niagara Falls lived together in a tent for five days. By the end of those five days they had managed to help raise $302,000 for Project SHARE.
Most of the same crew was back in 2010 for 10 Men in a Tent 2.0. An all women version called 12 Women Who Care was held in 2011 and 2012.
The concept was the brainchild of Niagara Falls businessman and regional councillor, Bob Gale. He was joined by former Niagara Falls Review publisher Dave Martineau, Niagara Falls Mayor (then city councillor) Jim Diodati, Niagara Ice Dogs owner Bill Burke, radio personality Rob White, Ripley’s Entertainment manager Tim Parker, Dino Fazio who at the time managed the Winter Festival of Lights, Dr. George Zimakas, and businessmen Brian Pellow and Kevin Grealy.

This is the first article in a series on the generousity of the local business community in Niagara.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Niagara isn’t home to numerous multi-billion dollar corporations. Companies like GM have downsized dramatically over the years and public sector jobs like government, healthcare and education are the leading employers. This type of corporate landscape can make it a challenge for non-profit social welfare organizations to raise money in order to help those they serve as part of their mandate.

Thankfully, Niagara is home to hundreds of small, medium and some larger size businesses that step up year after year contributing money and time to local charities. Business owners are asked daily for gifts ranging from golf prizes, sponsorship money, gifts-in-kind and large gifts supporting capital campaigns for hospitals, colleges and universities.

The Business of Philanthropy

by Kevin Vallier

One can’t walk into a Niagara hospital, new arena, community centre or many other such venues, without seeing front and centre a donor wall with the names of dozens, if not hundreds, of generous businesses and individuals whose cumulative gifts made the facility possible.  Businesses and business people make by far the lion’s share of all charitable donations to fundraising initiatives in Niagara – always have, probably always will.

Drive around and you’ll see the Meridian Arena, the Gale Centre, Scotiabank Convention Centre, McBain Community Centre, Walker Cancer Centre, Rankin Technology Centre and First Ontario Place to name just a few.  Donor walls are filled with the names of big, medium and small local businesses and with the who’s-who in any particular business community.

Rarely do these walls have the names of public sector workers or their unions.  Not that these individuals and organizations don’t give, they surely do, especially through workplace source deduction plans that are often set up with groups like the United Way.

Leaders of the world’s largest oil companies want everyone to know it won’t do anyone any good to make them pay for the damages of climate change.
Executives have been making the argument after a series of U.S. states and municipalities filed class action lawsuits against Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Exxon Mobil Corp. and others in recent months, arguing it should be them that pays for the sea walls, levees and other infrastructure climate change is sure to require.

Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits Inc. has acquired Backyard Vineyards Inc. of Langley, British Columbia for $3 million in stock, cash and the assumption of some debt. In what is described by the Company as a “highly strategic transaction” the acquisition transforms Diamond Estates into a national producer of VQA wines and positions the Company to build a major new winery in the internationally-recognized Okanagan Valley wine-producing region.
Diamond Estates Wines and Spirits Inc. is a producer of wines and a sales agent for over 120 beverage alcohol brands across Canada. The company operates wineries in Niagara and one in Toronto, producing VQA and blended wines under brand names 20 Bees, EastDell, Lakeview Cellars, FRESH, Dan Aykroyd, McMichael Collection, Benchmark and Seasons.

U.S. tariffs put rhetoric ahead of prosperity

by Mishka Balsom

The Trump administration’s recent decision to levy a 10 per cent import tariff on aluminum and a 25 per cent tariff on steel makes little economic sense, not only to Canada, but for the United States. Despite the belief among much of President Trump’s base that tariffs will protect American jobs, a policy brief from the Trade Partnership estimated that 146,000 American jobs will be lost because of such tariffs. This is borne out by the experience of 2002 when President George W. Bush enacted similar tariffs on steel, causing the loss of 200,000 American manufacturing jobs. If the true aim of U.S. policy is to protect American jobs, it is foolhardy in the extreme.

Years ago, allegations emerged that the oil industry was heavily subsidized by governments, part of an opinion shaping strategy by activists convinced fossil fuels were accelerating climate change. As subsidy estimates grew larger, few questions were asked. Governments had to stop contributing to this planetary threat.
Except it wasn’t true.
While indeed some countries insulate consumers from the full cost of energy for political reasons, the definition of what constituted a subsidy was expanded beyond previous comprehension. In Canada the allegations of subsidies are complete rubbish. The oilpatch has a huge hill to climb to return sanity to the discussion.

State of the Canadian Economy

by Trevin Stratton PhD

Tariffs. Trade talks. Pipelines. Electoral change. While the Canadian economy continues to grow (albeit somewhat slowly), these are just some of the factors that might slow it down. As we head into summer, and the mid-point of 2018, now is a good time to take stock of Canada’s economic performance and consider what the latter half of the year might have in store for us.
The economy stumbled into 2018, slogging its way through weak consumer spending and housing markets. Real GDP increased at a pace of 1.3 per cent in the first three months of 2018 – the slowest quarterly growth in nearly two years. The Canadian economy grew at less than a 2-per-cent rate for the third consecutive quarter, a far cry from the nearly 4-per-cent average between July 2016 and June 2017.

Despite the efforts of many individuals and organizations, there still is not enough young people entering the skilled trades as a career.
Skills Canada estimates almost half of new jobs created in the next decade will be in skilled trades, but only 26 per cent of young people are considering that type of career. Jon Whyte from the Niagara Home Builders’ Association (NHBA) says not enough is being done to promote the skilled trades. “One of the things we, and others, have been recommending is a one-to-one journeyperson to apprentice ratio,” said Whyte. According to the NHBA most provinces already have a one-to-one ratio whereas Ontario has one of the highest tradesperson to apprentice ratios for residential construction trades in Canada.

Time to Turn Small Business Talk into Action

by Julie Kwiecinski

Every election, party leaders and candidates like to position themselves as friends of small business, fighting for the little guy or gal on Main Street. It makes for a great photo-op, but with increasing government debt, higher labour and energy costs, and NAFTA uncertainty, it’s imperative that parties back up all their small business talk with plans for real and immediate action if elected.

We recently conducted a survey of our members on the top small business issues for the next government to tackle after the June 7th election. The 3,390 respondents told us that reducing the provincial debt is their number one priority (71 per cent), followed by balancing the budget (68 per cent).

It wasn’t an apology nor admission of wrongdoing. But it was certainly an about-face for Steve Williams, the CEO of Suncor Energy Inc. On May 3, Williams was very explicit about why Suncor would not be investing in any new projects in Canada.
“Big investment in the resource industry….is starting to move away from Canada. And that is partly because of taxation, partly to do with royalties, partly to do with the uncertainty – the length of time it takes to get through these regulatory hurdles – and the general belief in the investment community that Canada is not a great place to spend money”.

Can Niagara be More Resilient?

by Brock Dickinson

One of the realities of growth and job creation in the current economy is that new and entrepreneurial ventures are carrying a lot of the burden. The US-based National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) suggests that almost all of the job creation in the American economy since the year 2000 has been driven by companies less than five years old.

This reliance on entrepreneurship ups the ante in terms of how well we support new business ventures. The World Bank says that Canada is actually the 2nd easiest country in the world to start a business in, with procedures that take a single day. But while red tape isn’t an issue in launching a business, the barriers begin to mount up starting on day two – and recent changes at both the provincial and federal levels have made it more difficult to get a new business from start-up to success.

The Keys to Raising Financially Savvy Children

by David Somerville

If you asked any parent these days what about raising children is keeping them awake at night, it could be several things. One of the top three concerns for sure would be how kids today have no appreciation for money.  Kids these days don’t really understand the concept of money. Why would they? Parents today are basically glorified ATM machines in the eyes of their children.

Most parents we talk to are overwhelmed with the expense of raising children. Not only are the basic needs draining the bank account, but the consistent wants of the children are financially exhausting.  The keeping up with the Jones’s – teen edition – is on full stage these days with the need to fit in and the social media barrage of advertisements.

Bill 148 A Niagara Perspective

by Kevin Vallier

 As the Niagara Independent wraps up its five-part series on the impacts of Bill 148, Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, it has become clear that the legislation is stifling the growth of local companies. Small and medium-sized business owners in particular have stated they will have to lay-off employees, reduce hours or not hire seasonal workers to the extent they have in the past.

It’s not only the rapid minimum wage increase that has added unanticipated costs to the bottom line but several other amendments to the Act as well including equal pay for full or part-time employees, vacation entitlements and scheduling. Business owners that The Niagara Independent spoke with said they have no issue with increasing minimum wage. The issue they have is with the phoney consultation process and rapid implementation.  

Ontario’s Economic Performance worst in Canada Study Finds

by Niagara Independent Staff

Every year when the provincial or federal budgets are introduced, the public gets bombarded with economic spin as the governments of the day seek to put lipstick on a pig.  For the public, constantly experiencing unemployment, underemployment and a seemingly ever-increasing cost of living to go along with minimal income growth – these rosy statistics put out by government Ministers just does not seem to match their own realities.

Recently Ben Eisen and Milagros Palacios, academics with the Fraser Institute, put out several economic measures about Ontario’s economy over the last decade (2007-2016) to objectively measure its performance.  Matching what most Ontarians are feeling, the results weren’t good.

Niagara Region’s Director of Economic Development David Oakes recently announced he was stepping down from the role after about two years in the position. Oakes is moving on to become the Deputy CAO of the City of St. Catharines, and he’s leaving behind some big shoes to fill.

And filling those shoes will be a challenge.  I’ve worked in economic development for more than 25 years, leading projects and programs in more than 400 communities in 30 countries. For the past dozen years, I’ve also been the head of the University of Waterloo’s Economic Development Program, which runs the professional certification programs for those who hope to work in this field in Canada.

Bill 148 came into effect in January of this year.  While most of the buzz created by the bill goes to the 36% hike in minimum wage, there are many additional measures in the Bill that are causing increased costs and concerns for businesses. 

In the first two profiles, the Niagara Independent looked at the impact the bill had on a locally owned and operated restaurant followed by an agricultural business. In both cases, the owners had little to no option on raising prices or find ways to work more efficiently with few employees to make up for increased costs imposed on them by Bill 148.

This is the second in a multi-part series of reports on how the Ontario government’s Bill 148 has impacted local Niagara businesses. The effects of Bill 148, Fair Workplaces, Better Job’s Act is hitting Niagara’s business sector. One local businessman willing to speak openly about the Bill, yet unwilling to disclose his name for fear […]

Niagara’s Next Jobs

by Brock Dickinson

As you’ll see from coverage elsewhere in the Niagara Independent, Innovate Niagara is approaching the 10th anniversary of some of its operations in the community. According to ancient tradition (or to Hallmark – I’m never really sure about these things), the 10th anniversary is supposed to be marked by gifts of tin or aluminum. That’s not quite the “golden” anniversary we often look forward to, or the “diamond jubilee” we offer to monarchs, but it is a significant opportunity to look back and reflect on where we’ve come from.

Innovate Niagara is one of 14 Regional Innovations Centres (or RICs, since we all love a good acronym) spread across Ontario, structures meant to promote and encourage innovation and the growth of high technology industries. Long before it started to operate under the name “Innovate Niagara” however, the organization was first known as nGen, and was focused on growing Niagara’s interactive and digital media industries. For the uninitiated, that’s things like video game companies, computer animation firms, online content creation businesses, and e-learning ventures

Three months have passed since the onset of Bill 148, leaving small business owners across the Niagara Region conflicted by the impact of the changes to the Employee Standards Act and the Labour Relations Act. With increases in business costs across the board, employers have been left holding the bag on how to compensate for the rise in costs.

Situated in the quiet town of St. David’s is The Old Firehall Restaurant. Originally a volunteer fire station, The Old Firehall is one of only two restaurants in the community. In 2001, owner Chris Rigas purchased the establishment from his father and since then has enjoyed the intimate dining experience the historic building provides local residents and visitors.

Ontario’s small businesses have been struggling to cope with much more than hasty and hefty minimum wage hikes. Lying in the shadows of these dramatic increases are many other sweeping labour reforms that mean even higher labour costs and more red tape.

The Ontario government has described its labour reform exercise as the biggest overhaul of the province’s labour and employment standards laws in over two decades. Yet, they have failed to adequately educate employers about the exhaustive list of other significant changes beyond the minimum wage. How can a business be expected to comply with what it doesn’t yet know and/or fully understand?

One thing our new knowledge economy produces in huge volumes is a lot of vague but exciting-sounding terms meant to say something about how technology reshapes our world. You probably know the type of world I mean. There’s Hacking. And Cracking. And Phishing. And Making. And Coding.

One of the more exciting ventures to launch in Niagara recently is called Code Niagara. Started by Yashvi Shah, a young woman from Niagara Falls, Code Niagara is a not-for-profit group that delivers “coding,” or computer programming training to young people in Niagara. Yahsvi’s story is an interesting one: As an undergraduate student, she signed up for some introductory computer programming classes at McGill University, where she found that her classmates from across Canada were already familiar with the basics of coding. Her own time in Niagara elementary and high schools had left her without any exposure to coding, which placed her at an obvious disadvantage. To make sure that other Niagara youth didn’t face the same challenges, she launched Code Niagara.

The Biggest Risk Facing Canadians Is Their Debt

by David Somerville

When I get the chance to really talk to friends, family and clients, the one thing that comes up most often is how they are struggling to manage their monthly cash flow. This concern is not just limited to people I’m spending my time with, but rather Canadians as a majority are currently living month to month and for many, living in a debt and spending crisis.

I came across some startling facts in my research for this article. In 2016 Canadians were adding more debt to their balance sheets faster than any other time in history.  Currently the average Canadian owes $22,595 of non-mortgage debt. Breaking it down another way, the average Canadian owes $1.64 for every dollar of take home income.