Students, newcomers advised to think safety when entering the workforce

By David Paddon

THE CANADIAN PRESS

TORONTO _ Canada may still be in the depths of winter, but for high school, college and university students across the country, now is the time to prepare for summer jobs and post-graduation employment.

Amid the typical criteria of job seekers such as location, compensation and opportunity, an often overlooked aspect of the job search is workplace safety, as the injury rate for new workers _ regardless of age _ is three to four times higher in the first month on a job than the normal rate.

Enzo Garritano, who heads one of several Ontario health and safety associations designated under provincial law, says  “one of the main things is for workers to understand their rights”  including the right to refuse unsafe work.

Garritano, who is president and chief executive of the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association, says job hunters should also research prospective employers before applying.

“There are a lot of tools to help you understand if a company performs well, if it’s dedicated to health and safety, has a culture of health and safety,” he says.

A report by the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada says the young worker group, aged 15-24, accounted for 27 workplace fatalities nationally in 2018, the most recent year available.

Of the deaths for young workers, the largest number was in construction (six) followed by agriculture (four).

Time lost due to injury was more evenly distributed across more than a dozen industries. Construction accounted for 4,473 lost hours, surpassed by accommodation, food and beverage (5,036) and retail (5,835).

In Ontario, the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board runs an internet portal that can search and display company health and safety performance over several years.

WSIB’s Safety Check portal not only provides an analysis by injury type, it can download the information for further analysis and comparisons.

In addition, there’s a voluntary program called Certificate of Recognition which evaluates a participating employer’s health and safety management system through audits every three years.

Garritano advises new hires to watch for proper orientation and training soon after starting work.

“If they don’t have that strong orientation program when they get there, (employees) need to make a choice to get out of there.”

He says new and young workers are at higher risk in the first month of getting injured.  “Therefore that orientation with the company they go to is paramount in the first few days of work. Paramount.”

Jan Chappel, senior technical specialist at the federal government’s Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, agrees it’s important for both employers and employees to start on the right foot.

“People learn very quickly on the job. So the key for employers is to provide health and safety information and education and training very early when they start working,” Chappel says.

She also advises job hunters to take proactive steps while at the interview stage.

“Look around. See if the employer has the right warning signs and other workers are wearing protective equipment.

“You can (also) ask the employer during the interview what precautions they take for health and safety.”

Trudi Rondou, a senior manager at WorkSafeBC, says her agency has different messages for each stakeholder.

“You’ve got the youths themselves. You’ve got the employers. You’ve got parents and teachers,” she says.  “So we have different messages, depending on who we’re trying to impact.”

For employers, a key message is to provide workplace orientation as well as health and safety programs that are appropriate for the industry or business.

Rondou says B.C. regulations require employers to provide specific training for new and young employees, and there are periodic inspections by provincial officers with enforcement powers.

“We don’t typically move to penalties as the first step. We try to educate and consult with the employer. . .. . .But if there’s willful defiance, if you like, then that penalty is certainly an option.”

Rondou also notes that _ at least in B.C., where health and safety is part of the high school curriculum young workers have a stronger awareness of the issues than they would have been a decade ago.

Rondou stresses that new employees should trust their instincts and speak up when things seem dangerous or wrong.

“Often they’re worried about their first job and wanting to make a good impression and not knowing how to speak up sometimes.”

But the best approach could be simply to begin by expressing uncertainty about how a job is done and asking for a demonstration or explanation of how to do it safely _ making it unnecessary to refuse a task or escalate a complaint.

“So we’re really emphasizing that they should listen to their gut and ask questions.”

Higher prices for gas, auto insurance and mortgage payments fuelled inflation in Canada

The excerpted article was written by Wolf Depner | Victoria News

Higher gasoline prices, car insurance payments and mortgage rates were the biggest drivers of inflation during the last 12 months.

According to Statistics Canada, national inflation rose 2.4 per cent in January 2020 compared to January 2019. Provincially, British Columbians saw inflation rise 2.3 per cent during the same period, as one of four provinces with inflation rates below the national rate. Alberta and Prince Edward Island with spikes of three per cent each led the provinces with rates above the national figure.

Higher gasoline prices were the biggest contributor to inflation, as gas prices were 11.2 per cent higher in January 2020 than in January 2019, when the world experienced excessive supply. Geo-strategic events, however, pushed oil prices up. This development is far from abstract for local drivers, as Greater Victoria recorded the highest gas prices in all of Canada Tuesday.

Insurance premiums for passenger vehicles rose 8.4 per cent in January 2020 compared to the same period last year, while mortgage payments rose 5.3 per cent. Fresh vegetables, a traditional source of inflation during the winter months, rose five per cent in price, largely because of severe weather in the United States impacting crops.

On the other end of the spectrum, phone services, traveller accommodation, and tutition fees dropped by 7.1, 4.8 and 3.6 per cent per cent.

IBC creates task force to deal with sky-high strata insurance

BY

Source: Global News

The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) says it is working to find a solution to astronomically high strata insurance rates.

Rob de Pruis, IBC director of consumer and industry relations for Western Canada, says a task force has been created to engage with stakeholders and local governments across Western Canada.

“To get information from them to work towards solutions and recommendations to increase affordability and availability in commercial insurance, which strata corporations fall under.”

He says they already met in Edmonton on Wednesday.

Owners in a three-year-old Langley building told Global News last month that they were facing a premium hike from $97,000 to $371,000, and a deductible hike from $5,000 to $250,000.

That means if a problem arises in their unit, they will have to pay out of pocket up to their sky-high deductible.

De Pruis says expensive materials making up the building and extreme weather events are some of the many reasons for the spike in rates.

“The repair and maintenance schedule, the limits of coverage, the type of coverage and deductibles,” he said. “These are all factors that come into play that are unique to each property.”

His advice for stratas working towards reducing insurance risk is to strengthen building code requirements.

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James said in a statement that the provincial government is trying to help out.

“We have asked the British Columbia Financial Service Authority (BCFSA) to monitor the situation carefully and ensure we are doing everything we can to financially protect British Columbians.”

James is encouraging stratas that are having difficulty getting insurance to reach out to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

The task force will meet in Vancouver on March 17.

9 things mortgage shoppers should know about the stress-test changes

The excerpted article was written by THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Policy-makers are finally righting a glaring wrong in the mortgage market.

Effective April 6, Canadians applying for default-insured mortgages will no longer be subject to an improperly devised “stress test.”

This change will affect anyone getting an insured mortgage, including those putting down less than 20 per cent on a new purchase – for which default insurance is generally mandatory. It’ll also move the goalposts closer for borrowers trying to qualify for a mortgage with 20 per cent equity or more.

WHAT EXACTLY IS CHANGING

Today, people getting insured mortgages must prove they can afford a payment based on the benchmark five-year posted rate. The Bank of Canada calculates this rate from typical big-bank rates, and it’s currently 5.19 per cent.

Starting on April 6, a new and improved benchmark rate will be used. It’ll be based on the country’s median five-year fixed insured-mortgage rate, plus two percentage points. If that rate were in existence today, it would be about 4.89 per cent, says the Department of Finance. That’s 30 basis points less than the current (minimum) stress-test rate.

(There are 100 basis points in a percentage point.)

If you’re a mortgage shopper wondering whether any of this matters, here are nine reasons why it does:

1. The stress test is no longer determined by the biggest banks

Prior to this, the Big Six banks determined the benchmark rate, which serves as a minimum stress-test rate. It’s taken a few years, but officials have finally realized that’s not a good idea. For well over a year, banks have refused to cut their posted five-year rates enough to reduce this all-important qualifying rate. That’s kept the stress test unnecessarily difficult, blocking thousands of borrowers from qualifying for the best mortgage – or qualifying at all.

2. It’s economically beneficial

When interest rates dive, it’s usually indicative of a slowing economy. By keeping their posted rates high, banks prevented the stress test from adapting to lower economic growth expectations.

This new benchmark rate is more flexible. As economic prospects dim and rates decline, more people will qualify for a mortgage, and vice versa. That gives our housing-dependent economy a boost when it needs it most and slows economic growth when it gets too hot.

3. It’ll also make the uninsured stress test more fair

Canada’s banking regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), is expected to use the same benchmark rate for the uninsured stress test, which applies to borrowers with 20 per cent equity or more.

It said on Tuesday, “OSFI is proposing that the new [uninsured] benchmark rate for qualifying uninsured mortgages be the greater of:

  • The contractual mortgage rate plus 200 bps; or
  • The new benchmark rate (i.e. the weekly median five-year fixed insured-mortgage rate as calculated by the Bank of Canada from federally backed mortgage-insurance applications adjudicated by mortgage insurers, plus 200 bps).”

The majority of existing mortgages in this country are uninsured. OSFI’s stress test will remain tougher than the insured stress test because, as it puts it, “… uninsured mortgages … may have borrower and loan characteristics that are riskier than … insured mortgages.”

4. It’ll heat up home prices

Assuming rates stay the same by April, by my calculations a 30-bps reduction in the stress test would give most borrowers upward of 3 per cent more buying power. That won’t send home prices to the moon, but it should take them higher into the atmosphere.

Already, the national average home price is up 11.2 per cent in the past 12 months. This news creates unequivocally bullish market psychology, particularly heading into the high season for homebuying.

5. Expect more purchasing power to come

Other things equal, the buying-power boost discussed above could be magnified if mortgage rates fall further. The market implies that’s a good probability given Canada’s yield curve is inverted – long-term rates are lower than short-term rates. That’s traditionally been a sign of even lower rates ahead.

Some economists are predicting a Bank of Canada rate cut as soon as this spring or summer. That could drop the stress-test rate floor once again. (Although an easier stress test might arguably reduce the central bank’s desire to lower rates further.)

And then, of course, there’s the coronavirus, an unquantifiable wild card that could further weigh on rates.

When all’s said and done, we could potentially see a 50- to 100-plus-bps reduction in the stress-test rate by sometime next year.

6. The timing’s not ideal

There’s usually not a bad time to right a wrong, and the stress test did need fixing. But heading into a spring market with housing supply shortages, bidding wars in big markets and falling rates, this change could further fuel housing imbalances and over-indebtedness. For that reason, it might have been wiser to wait until summer to ease the stress test.

Then again, no one can predict home prices, and regulators may have something else up their sleeves to counterbalance the stimulative effect of this change. Based on OSFI’s Jan. 24 speech, the government is clearly concerned about the resurgence in borrowers with high loan-to-income ratios. More credit-tightening could eventually be on the way, particularly if home prices keep soaring.

In short, it’s not a given that the timing of this announcement is “bad.”

7. It takes pressure off banks to cut posted rates

This is one potential negative. Banks have been under the spotlight because their inflated posted rates adversely affect the stress test. Now, with policy-makers decoupling the stress test from posted five-year rates, banks will face less pressure to lower those rates.

That means the gap between posted and actual mortgage rates could widen, given that actual rates fall quicker than posted rates and given that banks are incentivized to keep posted rates elevated. This could result in bigger and more painful “interest-rate-differential penalties” for people who break fixed-rate mortgages early.

8. Expect more rate-timing

If you’re someone with high debt ratios, an easier stress test helps. Now that we’ll have an objective and responsive stress-test rate, it’s possible we’ll see more borrowers – those who almost qualify for a mortgage – trying to time rates. Folks whose debt ratios are too high under the then-current stress-test rate might defer their mortgage application until rates fall “enough.”

Conversely, some people could be caught waiting longer than anticipated if rates unexpectedly jump. The moral for those considering this strategy: Don’t try rate-timing.

9. The new benchmark is useful for rate shoppers

This is the first time the government will be publishing median market-wide insured-mortgage rates. Insured borrowers will be able to use that info to quickly compare the rate they’re being offered with the rates other people are getting. This could result in fewer lenders getting away with quoting inferior rates.

Robert McLister is a founder of RateSpy.com and intelliMortgage, and mortgage editor at rates.ca.

More active financial role, good health and good earnings are all reasons underpinning their positivity

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Driving has gotten more expensive in Alberta: Insurance, fuel & fee increases

Matthew Black CTV News Edmonton

EDMONTON — Albertans are paying more to drive their vehicles compared to a year ago, including increases in the cost of insurance, fuel, and licensing and registration fees, according to newly released StatsCan numbers.

StatsCan says the cost of passenger vehicle insurance premiums rose by 7.6 per cent last month, the largest monthly increase since November 2002.

The numbers also show premiums in Alberta have increased by 17.8 per cent on a year-over-year basis.
“A significant share of private passenger vehicle insurers in this province submitted applications to increase rates following the removal of a rate cap,” reads the report.

Fuel prices rose in Alberta as well last month, up 0.9 per cent from December 2019, according to the report. Alberta gas prices were up 6.6 per cent over the same month last year.
The federal carbon tax was introduced in Alberta on Jan. 1, 2020.The report also details a 14.4 per cent increase in other vehicle operating expenses in Alberta compared to a year ago.

“This was due, in part, to increases in service fees, including fees for drivers’ licences and passenger vehicle registration, introduced in the 2019-2020 provincial budget,” reads the report.
The 2019 Alberta budget raised motor vehicle registration fees by $9.20, up to $93.65.

In reponse, the province attributed rising gas prices as likely being due to the Jan. 1 roll out of the federal carbon tax, a levy Alberta continues to fight in court.
“We are ensuring that key services Albertans need are properly funded and more accurately reflect the costs of delivering them, including achieving modernizations such as online service delivery, which Albertans are asking for,” a government spokesperson wrote in an email to CTV News.

In late August, the province scrapped a five per cent cap on auto insurance rate increases implemented by the prior New Democrat government.
In December, Finance Minister Travis Toews introduced a new committee to advise on potential reforms to the province’s insurance system.
“This issue is such a significant issue that touches every Albertan,” Toews said. “To assemble a very credible, experienced committee like this, I believe we will be best-informed to make decisions around automobile insurance.”

Today, the Opposition NDP called the increases “very concerning” and called on the government to immediately reinstate the five per cent cap.
“In my office we have heard many, many stories from my constituents and Albertans … worried about people who are unable to afford these increased costs,” said New Democrat MLA Jon Carson.

The data was included in StatsCan’s monthly Consumer Price Index report which tracks changes in the average price for commonly purchased goods like groceries and haircuts.
Across Canada, the cost of gasoline and insurance premiums combined to result in a nearly 20 per cent increase in the CPI.

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