Medical, dental coverage ‘interrupted’ for hundreds paid through Phoenix

By Terry Pedwell

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA _ A trip to the dentist has resulted in more than just a sore tooth for hundreds of federal civil servants caught up in the ongoing battle with the problem-plagued Phoenix pay system, federal officials say.

The short-term denial of medical and dental benefits is just one of the latest issues many federal employees are struggling with as problems with the pay system persist.

Public Services and Procurement Canada had initially said in mid-December that the issue of civil servants being denied benefit coverage as a result of incorrect paycheques was not widespread.

The department has since revealed that hundreds of government employees whose work terms were extended could have been denied benefits or experienced processing delays.

“We did identify approximately 530 term employees whose work term had been extended and who may have had their coverage interrupted because of processing delays,” Public Services spokeswoman Michele LaRose said in an email.

The department maintains, however, that the problem isn’t far reaching, and that the issues that caused the benefit cut-offs in the first place have been resolved.

“There is no generalized problem with group benefit coverage,” LaRose said. “This situation has since been resolved and processes have been modified in order to mitigate any further issues.”

In the meantime, any employees who have had claims for dental or medical expenses rejected, or new employees whose group insurance benefits haven’t yet kicked in, can submit claims retroactively “once their pay situations are resolved,” the department said.

For those who’ve had to borrow to pay for medical or dental coverage, the government said they can claim the interest on those loans and will be reimbursed.

The auditor general reported in November that more than 150,000 civil servants about half of the people employed by government departments and agencies had experienced pay problems since early 2016, ranging from being overpaid to underpaid or not paid at all in some cases for months.

During that time, the backlog of problem files has swelled to nearly 620,000, prompting suggestions that a permanent, lasting fix could take years and cost taxpayers $1 billion or more.

Public Services has also revised how it collects money overpaid to civil servants as tax filing time approaches.

In a statement Monday, the department said employees who were paid too much in 2017 will have until the end of January to report the overpayments to Phoenix administrators.

Those employees will then only have to repay the net amount of overpayments they received, which do not include taxes and other deductions from the overpaid amounts, according to the new guidelines.

But civil servants who miss the Jan. 31 deadline will have to pay back the gross amount, including the deducted amounts they never actually received.

“If the overpayment was not recorded in Phoenix before the end of January 2018, the original tax slips for 2017 will reflect the overpaid earnings and associated deductions,” said the department.

“An amended tax slip will be produced for you.”

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents most federal employees, called the deadline a disappointing “half measure.”

The union has demanded that the government only recover the net overpayments that were made to employees through Phoenix.

Some retired civil servants also say they aren’t able to calculate how much they’ve been overpaid since they lost access to the government’s pay website when they left the government.

Unlimited Ubers out; this year, personal assistants are in

Today ChickAdvisor – Canada’s leading reviews and ratings platform – announced the results of a survey it conducted to help Canadians find the most desired gifts this year, all hand-picked by real consumers.

The survey – which was answered by over 5,000 community members – asked a variety of questions about the top brands to give and receive this year, brand loyalty during the holidays, and a series of would-you-rather gift options. The key categories covered ranged from top toys, drugstore cosmetics, prestige beauty, and even automotive gifts — in case someone made the really nice list this year.

“Canadians are still likely to buy from brands they know and trust, but increasingly, they are buying products based on reviews and ratings rather than relying solely on their own experiences with a brand or product,” said Ali de Bold, co-founder of ChickAdvisor. “In fact, only 56 per cent of surveyed shoppers consider brand loyalty during the holidays. To us, that indicates a key opportunity for companies to make a mark and capture new consumers this season; we’re talking about a $13 billion industry in Canada. People are looking to get – and give – something different from their regular products.”

These shopping trends were reflected throughout the survey results. While small mom-and-pop shops have gained popularity, big brands still ranked at the top of people’s lists. For example, CoverGirl, Maybelline and L’Oreal Paris ranked the most popular drugstore beauty brands, while MAC Cosmetics led the pack for luxury cosmetics. When it came to personal care, Johnson & Johnson (the parent company of Aveeno and Neutrogena) ranked first, followed by L’Oreal Paris (Garnier and Vichy) and Unilever (Dove, St. Ives, Simple).

“What really interested us was the technology results,” continued de Bold. “With everyone talking about Apple all the time — especially with the buzz around the iPhone 8 and X this year — we expected it to be the top-tech brand. However, it was edged out by Samsung and followed by Sony, LG Electronics, and Google.”

In addition to brand-related questions, the survey also presented a handful of fun “would you rather” options to uncover Canadians’ real desires this year:

  • 65 per cent of consumers would rather have their debt paid off than receive an all-expenses paid trip
  • 64 per cent of consumers would rather be given a personal assistant over an unlimited Uber account
  • 89 per cent of consumers would rather have free groceries for a year than be given a personal in-house chef

“While some of these gifts are hard to give, it’s important to note the changing consumer appetite,” said Alex de Bold, co-founder of ChickAdvisor. “More than 55 per cent of people surveyed said they’d prefer to give experiences over physical gifts. It makes it increasingly difficult for companies to stand-out in the saturated holiday market. Brands need consumers advocating on their behalf.”

That said, while Canadians are more exploratory during the holidays, ChickAdvisor is well-aware that a whopping 84.5 per cent actively read reviews as part of their purchasing journey before buying a product. More importantly, 73 per cent people will complete a purchase if the product has positive and authentic reviews.

“Reviews are more important than ever, to both brands and consumers,” added Mr. de Bold. “Consumers need to read about products, understand what others are saying about them, and make educated purchasing decisions. Regardless of the stats, this is the best way to ensure you’re buying a quality product that you know your loved ones will enjoy.”

To read reviews and ratings from over 156,000 Canadian consumers or to find the full survey results, please visit ChickAdvisor.com.

About ChickAdvisor:
ChickAdvisor is the first ratings and reviews platform in Canada, designed specifically for female consumers. Founded in 2006 by wife and husband duo Ali and Alex de Bold, ChickAdvisor has over 800,000+ authentic reviews on the platform and has worked with tier A brands including Unilever, and Aveeno, NIVEA. ChickAdvisor’s sister sites, XYStuff and FamilyRated, are Canada’s premier platforms for male and family-focused product reviews, respectively.

SOURCE ChickAdvisor

B.C. sets minimum age of 19 to consume marijuana, plans mix of retail sales

British Columbia has become the latest province to lay out its plan for regulating recreational marijuana, announcing that pot sales will be allowed through both public and private stores to buyers who are at least 19 years old.

B.C. is following other provinces in keeping the age of consumption, purchase and possession of marijuana consistent with alcohol and tobacco laws, which Solicitor General Mike Farnworth said Tuesday will more effectively protect young people and eliminate the black market.

“We know that the largest consumers of cannabis are young people,” Farnworth said when asked about evidence from health experts on the danger of cannabis on the developing brains of people older than 19.

“If you set it too high, for example at 25, you’re not going to get rid of the black market because they’re going to go and get it elsewhere.”

The federal government intends to legalize non-medical cannabis in July. B.C.’s announcement follows a public consultation period that received submissions from nearly 50,000 residents and 141 local and Indigenous governments.

The B.C. Liberals pressed the government to act quickly on the questions that remain about how pot will be sold and where.

“This should not be seen as a profit centre for government and any extra revenue should be redirected to enforcement and addiction services,” Liberal legislature member Mike Morris said in a statement,

Farnworth released few details about retail sales, beyond saying both public and private vendors will be allowed. He was unable to comment on online sales or whether current marijuana dispensaries would be able to apply for licences to continue operating after legalization.

The government expects to release details of its retail model towards the end January or the beginning of February, he said.

Work also remains to be done on whether people will be allowed to grow plants at home for personal use, a practice that has been banned by Manitoba over concerns about enforcement. Manitoba also released its plans for overseeing marijuana sales on Tuesday.

B.C.’s public consultation produced a report that was released alongside its announcement Tuesday. It revealed polarized views on drug-impaired driving, showing that some want zero tolerance while others said cannabis doesn’t impact the ability to drive.

The report also says there was some confusion among consultation participants on the distribution and retails sales of marijuana, but many opposed Ontario’s model. Ontario intends to sell the drug in up to 150 stores run by the Liquor Control Board of Ontario and ban consumption in public spaces or workplaces.

“Most of these individuals preferred to see the existing dispensaries and their supply chain legitimized, licensed and regulated,” the report says.

It also says two points emerged on public consumption: People don’t want to be subjected to second-hand smoke in public places and they want cannabis consumption limited to indoor use at a private residence or a designated space.

 

Mother Nature proves less troublesome for Prairie farmers in 2017: report

A report from the Canadian Crop Hail Association says a reduction in potentially damaging storm activity on much of the Prairies this past summer led to one of the lightest hail-claim seasons in eight years.

The 2017 report from the Regina-based association shows there were just over 8,600 claims in Western Canada that generated $96 million in insurance payouts.

The report says there was a decrease in storm frequency from the five-year average, while damage claim frequency was down about 30 per cent for the same period of time.

Manitoba farmers suffered the most losses, followed by Alberta and Saskatchewan.

The association says the lack of moisture was widespread this year with record to near-record dry conditions throughout much of Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta.

The organization also says farmers continue to insure their crops for hail damage at near record levels.

The report said there was more timely precipitation in Manitoba where producers enjoyed good yield and quality, despite dry conditions. The province’s loss ratio of 45.9 per cent was well below 2016’s record loss ratio of 158.9 per cent.

Alberta followed at 33.7 per cent, compared to 83.6 per cent in 2016. Saskatchewan reported a 30-per-cent loss ratio compared to 73 per cent in 2016.

The report said producer premiums totalled just over $286 million for an industry loss ratio of 33.8 per cent.

A dry spring combined with 2016 unharvested acres and some continued industry rate declines resulted in a five-per-cent decrease in producer-paid premiums this year.

The Canadian Crop Hail Association is a member-driven organization that represents the interests of the Canadian crop hail managing general agencies and insurance companies. It’s been serving the crop insurance industry since 1915.

Association member companies write crop-hail insurance products totalling more than $250 million in premiums, and liability totalling about $6 billion.

 

Satellite Technology Helps Ranchers Manage Feed Crops

The Government of Canada is committed to working with agricultural industry partners to explore and develop new risk management tools that meet the needs of Canadian farmers when faced with serious challenges beyond their control.

Member of Parliament for Winnipeg South, Terry Duguid, on behalf of Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister, Lawrence MacAulay, was at the University of Manitoba’s Asper School of Business today to announce federal support for a study exploring the use of new and innovative technology to track hay and pasture production. The cutting-edge research, headed by Dr. Lysa Porth in the Warren Centre for Actuarial Studies and Research at the University of Manitoba’s I.H. Asper School of Business, will play an important role in contributing to the stability to the cattle sector.

Working with the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association (SCA), with $988,000 in federal funding, the project consists of collaborative research with Alberta Beef Producers (ABP) to use new satellite-based technology to reliably estimate forage growth at the farm level in each province, and to develop a forage production index, which would form the basis for the development of new insurance tools.

Quotes

“Feed is the lifeblood of any livestock operation, and our government understands the importance of helping to protect ranchers from risk such as losses to their forage crops. This project uses cutting-edge satellite technology to equip ranchers with the information they need to manage those risks and demonstrates why the University of Manitoba is renowned for its world-class research. With this targeted investment, our government is helping to ensure our ranchers remain on the cutting-edge of science, which helps to create good jobs and grow our economy.”
–  Terry Duguid, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg South

“The Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association is glad to support and facilitate this research into forage insurance innovation. Grass and hay insurance uptake rates in the prairies are much lower than for annual crops. Some of this is due to program design and how programs work. By exploring satellite options perhaps we can move perennial crops closer to competitive balance with annual crops, at least when it comes to insurance programs offered. The AgriRisk Initiatives program is the successor to the program that helped to bring Western Livestock Price Insurance to the marketplace and we are glad to see the federal government continue investing in finding new solutions for producers.”
–  Ryder Lee, Chief Executive Officer, Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association

“This project provides a tremendous opportunity to bring together leaders in agricultural risk management and insurance, both within Canada and internationally, across academia, the private sector and government.  Satellite-derived approaches show promise for improving forage insurance, based on improved design that is cost-efficient, representative and reliable, however, more research and development is needed. Our team looks forward to working with the project partners and discussions with Canadian producers in order to help develop improved risk management for forage based on state-of-the-art technology.”
–  Lysa Porth, Director, Warren Centre for Actuarial Studies and Research, and Assistant Professor / Guy Carpenter Chair in Agricultural Risk Management and Insurance

Quick Facts

  • Budget 2017 focused on agri-food as one of the top industries in the Government’s Innovation and Skills Plan, an ambitious effort to make Canada a world leader in innovation with a focus on expanding growth and creating good, well-paying jobs.
  • Budget 2017 set an ambitious goal of growing Canada’s agri-food exports to $75 billion by 2025.
  • Saskatchewan farms reported 3.9 million acres of tame hay in 2016. (Statistics Canada)
  • This project is led by Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association, and involves an interdisciplinary research team with members from the University of ManitobaUniversity of WaterlooNanyang Technological University, SCOR Inc. (an international agricultural reinsurance provider) and Airbus Defence and Space, along with cooperation from Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation (SCIC) and Alberta’s Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC).
  • This investment is made through the AgriRisk program which supports the research and development, as well as the implementation and administration of new risk management tools for use in the agriculture sector. AgriRisk is a Growing Forward 2 Business Risk Management initiative.

Associated Links

Follow us on Twitter: @AAFC_Canada
Like us on Facebook: CanadianAgriculture

SOURCE Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Halifax

If it looks like a pumpkin, you can call it a pumpkin

By Lee Reich

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Friends have complimented me on my pumpkins, but are these things I’ve grown really pumpkins? Sure, they are round and orange and fluted. But look again: There’s more than a hint of red in their skins, and their shape is more akin to a doughnut than to a basketball.

But yes, they are pumpkins, if only because the word “pumpkin” refers to any squashy-type fruit that looks sort of like a pumpkin. No, a “pumpkin” doesn’t even have to be spherical and fluted and orange; there is at least one pumpkin variety, Lumina, whose skin is pale, almost white. Just the kind of pumpkin to scare Halloween goblins, eh?

Segue over into the world of botanical classification and you find what you and I call “pumpkins” falling into any of four different species. Each of these species also embraces one or more kinds of squashes.

___

THE STALKS ARE TELLING

The easiest way to tell these species apart is by their fruit stalks. Look at the fruit stalk of Hubbard, Turk’s Cap, buttercup or banana squashes: it’s soft, round and prickly. The second part of the botanical name _ Cucurbita maxima _ hints at one of the pumpkins included in this group, the variety Dill’s Atlantic Giant. It has been the usual record holder for the world’s largest pumpkin, even if it does have more than a hint of non-pumpkinish pink in its skin. This group also includes the pale Lumina. (The record for the world’s largest pumpkin sits at a whopping 2,624.6 pounds.)

Next, look at the stalk of a Butternut squash; it’s smooth, hard and flares out where it joins the fruit. This species _ Cucurbita moschata _ includes so-called “cheese” pumpkins, such as Long Island Cheese, a variety esteemed for pies. Why cheese? Because the flattened shape and light ribbing suggests a wheel of cheese.

Yet another species that includes pumpkins are the gourd-like Cushaws, with smooth, hard and angled fruit stalks. Few pumpkins are represented here, but Japanese Pie pumpkin is one. The species name is mixta.

The species with the most pumpkins is Cucurbita pepo, with pentagonal fruit stalks and prickly stems and leaves. You are right to be reminded of zucchini squash here, because this species includes, besides pumpkins, zucchini and other summer squashes, acorn squashes and some miscellaneous gourds. Among pumpkins, here’s where you find varieties such as Connecticut Field, Small Sugar and Jack Be Little.

___

WHY CHOOSE ONE PUMPKIN OVER ANOTHER?

Knowing your pumpkins’ lineage isn’t merely academic. Lineage might be important if you’re growing pumpkins for eating.

Most pumpkins used for pies come from the species pepo or moschata. Actually, butternut squash _ a moschata _ is often the ingredient of the “pumpkin pie filling” that you buy canned.

Lineage also factors into how long you can store your crop. Moschata and maxima pumpkins excel at “common” storage, the traditional method of keeping the fruits through winter by just sitting them on shelves in a cool, dry room.

If you are among the growing legion of gardeners who save their own seed, here’s another reason to know your pumpkins’ lineage: Grow more than one variety of pumpkin, and they just might cross-pollinate. Sow seeds from the cross-pollinated pumpkins and you’ll get pumpkins different from the mother ones.

The only pumpkin species that surely will not cross-pollinate each other are pepo and maxima types. On the other hand, crosses between moschata and maxima or between moschata and mixta are possible, while pepo crosses readily with either moschata or mixta pumpkins.

Finally, a pumpkin’s lineage tells you something about its handle. My pumpkins were an old French variety, Rouge Vif d’Etampe, a maxima species. I tried to lift the first one I harvested by its stalk; the soft stalk quickly said good-bye to the fruit. Pepo pumpkins have better handles.

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