Potato shortage looms due to ‘harvest from hell’ after unseasonable weather

By Aleksandra Sagan


Farmers across Canada left thousands of acres of potato crops unharvested after a slew of bad weather created challenging conditions, setting the stage for a possible shortage of the starchy dinner table staple.

“It’s unprecedented. Never, never before have I seen this in my time,” said Kevin MacIsaac, general manager of the United Potato Growers of Canada (UPGC), an organization that provides industry information to help farmers make production and marketing decisions. He’s been with the organization for seven years and, before that, grew potatoes in Prince Edward Island, where he still lives.

In typical years, one area of the country may suffer from a bad harvest, while others do OK, he said, but this year, the problems span almost all the way across the country.

Farmers abandoned about 16,000 acres of potato crop, according to the group’s most recent estimate, which did not include figures for Saskatchewan, Ontario or Nova Scotia, but indicated they also suffered some losses. B.C. is the only province that did not mention abandoned crops in UPGC’s report.

The group expects to have more precise figures soon, MacIsaac said, but is working with the best information it has now.

P.E.I., the country’s largest potato producer, suffered the most.

Farmers left about 6,800 acres unharvested. In a typical year, some 500 to 1,000 acres may be abandoned, said Greg Donald, general manager of the Prince Edward Island Potato Board, which represents the province’s nearly 170 growers.

The weather this year in the province was relentless.

First came a lacklustre growing season, with a late spring and hot, dry summer, said Donald, which was followed by an early frost in September that killed any future growth potential.

Then came copious amounts of rain, which delayed the end of harvest beyond the usual Halloween target date, and farmers pushed into November.

In early November, it rained one day and the ground froze solid the next, he said, meaning farmers could no longer dig for potatoes.

“Many have described it as the harvest from hell,” he said.

Unusual weather caused other provinces to suffer similar setbacks.

In Manitoba, some 5,200 acres remain unharvested, according to UPGC. While the province’s prospects for a good yield were strong going into harvest, rainfall followed by a cold spell resulted in thousands of abandoned acres, said MacIsaac.

Most farmers will have some type of insurance to cover a portion of their costs associated with the lost income, but it won’t cover the profit they would have made, he said.

The thousands of unharvested acres could mean a shortage of processing potatoes (those used to make products like french fries and hash browns) and table potatoes (those sold whole in grocery stores), both men said.

‘It’s going to be a real, you know, challenge,” said Donald, adding there’s not going to be enough local supply for the markets the province typically serves.

Compounding the problem is a similar situation in parts of the U.S., as well as parts of Europe where a dry season hurt yields, making for a more global shortfall.

While some growing areas in North America may have a shortage, others will have a surplus that can balance that out, said Terence Hochstein, executive director of the Potato Growers of Alberta.

His province abandoned about 1,000 acres, he said, which is more than he’d like, but pretty typical. It was able to send some potatoes to P.E.I. and Alberta to help, he said.

“Overall, I think the crop is going to be tight, but I think the industry will be alright.”

Still, consumers could ultimately see price hikes on potato products due to basic supply and demand principles.

When there’s less of a product, it’s going to be reflected in the price, Donald said, adding even the potatoes that have been harvested are not quite safe yet.

Potatoes are mostly water and harvesting them in wet conditions adds the risk of bringing extra moisture into storage, making them more difficult to dry and keep, he said.

“So that’s still a big concern as well.”

Where are the drones? Amazon’s customers are still waiting

By David Koenig And Joseph Pisani


Jeff Bezos boldly predicted five years ago that drones would be carrying Amazon packages to people’s doorsteps by now.

Amazon customers are still waiting. And it’s unclear when, if ever, this particular order by the company’s founder and CEO will arrive.

Bezos made billions of dollars by transforming the retail sector. But overcoming the regulatory hurdles and safety issues posed by drones appears to be a challenge even for the world’s wealthiest man. The result is a blown deadline on his claim to CBS’ “60 Minutes” in December 2013 that drones would be making deliveries within five years.

The day may not be far off when drones will carry medicine to people in rural or remote areas, but the marketing hype around instant delivery of consumer goods looks more and more like just that  hype. Drones have a short battery life, and privacy concerns can be a hindrance, too.

“I don’t think you will see delivery of burritos or diapers in the suburbs,” says drone analyst Colin Snow.

Drone usage has grown rapidly in some industries, but mostly outside the retail sector and direct interaction with consumers.

The government estimates that about 110,000 commercial drones are operating in U.S. airspace, and the number is expected to soar to about 450,000 in 2022. They are being used in rural areas for mining and agriculture, for inspecting power lines and pipelines, and for surveying.

Amazon says it is still pushing ahead with plans to use drones for quick deliveries, though the company is staying away from fixed timelines.

“We are committed to making our goal of delivering packages by drones in 30 minutes or less a reality,” says Amazon spokeswoman Kristen Kish. The Seattle-based online retail giant says it has drone development centres in the United States, Austria, France, Israel and the United Kingdom.

Delivery companies have been testing the use of drones to deliver emergency supplies and to cover ground quickly in less populated areas. By contrast, package deliveries would be concentrated in office parks and neighbourhoods where there are bigger issues around safety and privacy.

In May, the Trump administration approved a three-year program for private companies and local government agencies to test drones for deliveries, inspections and other tasks.

But pilot programs by major delivery companies suggest few Americans will be greeted by package-bearing drones any time soon. United Parcel Service tested launching a drone from a delivery truck that was covering a rural route in Florida. DHL Express, the German delivery company, tested the use of drones to deliver medicine from Tanzania to an island in Lake Victoria.

Frank Appel, the CEO of DHL’s parent company, Deutsche Post AG, said “over the next couple of years” drones will remain a niche vehicle and not widely used. He said a big obstacle is battery life.

“If you have to recharge them every other hour, then you need so many drones and you have to orchestrate that. So good luck with that,” he told The Associated Press.

Appel said human couriers have another big advantage over drones: They know where customers live and which doorbell to ring. “To program that in IT is not that easy and not cheap,” he said.

Analysts say it will take years for the Federal Aviation Administration to write all the rules to allow widespread drone deliveries.

Snow, the CEO of Skylogic Research, says a rule permitting operators to fly drones beyond their line of sight  so critical to deliveries is at least 10 years away. A method will be needed to let law enforcement identify drones flying over people federal officials are worried about their use by terrorists.

While the rules are being written, companies will rely on waivers from the FAA to keep experimenting and running small-scale pilot programs.

“People like DHL and the rest of them (will say), ‘Hey, we can deliver via drone this parcel package to this island,’ but that’s not the original vision that Amazon presented,” Snow says.

There is a long list of FAA rules governing drone flights. They generally can’t fly higher than 400 feet, over many federal facilities, or within five miles of an airport. Night flights are forbidden. For the delivery business, the biggest holdup is that the machines must remain within sight of the operator at all times.

In June, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said the FAA was being overly conservative in its safety standards for drones. The group said FAA’s risk-averse attitude was holding back beneficial uses, such as drones helping firefighters who are battling a fierce blaze.

Even before the criticism by the scientific panel, the FAA had begun to respond more quickly to operators’ requests for waivers from some rules, says Alan Perlman, founder of the Drone Pilot Ground School in Nashville, Tennessee. He said it is also getting easier and cheaper to buy liability insurance.

Bezos was mindful of the safety issues, telling “60 Minutes” back in 2013, “This thing can’t land on somebody’s head while they’re walking around their neighbourhood.”

That didn’t stop him from predicting that drones fed with GPS co-ordinates would be taking off and making deliveries in  “four, five years. I think so. It will work, and it will happen.”

To Perlman, the billionaire’s optimism made perfect sense.

“When you’re in his world you think more about technology than regulations, and the (drone) technology is there,” Perlman said.

Insurance company continues to bill widow after she cancels husband’s auto policy

Losing her husband of 41 years to cancer last year was difficult enough for Maria Khoury.

“It’s not easy for me,” Khoury told Global News, explaining the subsequent problems she faced with her auto insurance company.

After the death of Eiwas Khoury in June 2017, the Vaughan, Ont., woman and her son sold the family’s car, which was listed in her husband’s name. That was a straightforward and easy process, they said.

But cancelling the auto insurance policy on the car turned out to be nearly impossible.

“They kept taking the money for almost 16 months,” Khoury said, describing how Aviva Canada was still withdrawing monthly insurance payments even after being told the car was gone and Khoury’s husband was deceased. Khoury and her son send Aviva a copy of his death certificate, but the deductions persisted.

The payments added up to about $1,900 on a car Khoury didn’t own for services she didn’t receive on a policy she explicitly didn’t want.

With the help of a friend, Khoury and her son called on Aviva’s ombudsman to refund the money once the company eventually stopped the deductions. The ombudsman did not order a refund.

“They gave me a hard time,” she said.

Instead, Khoury said, the ombudsman’s office suggested she could retain a lawyer if she wanted to pursue a claim.

Khoury, who lives on a modest pension, said that was not an option for her and that the payment to Aviva was a hardship.

A friend called Global News seeking help.

Responding to emails, Aviva originally told Global News it could not discuss the case, citing privacy, even though Khoury had provided authorization to discuss the matter.

“On an ongoing basis, Aviva Canada works to raise awareness among our customers about their insurance choices. In difficult times like this, when a loved one dies, we make every effort to help their family understand what steps are required to take care of their affairs. The same is true in this case. Aviva is working side-by-side with her to sort this out as quickly as we can,” said Aviva spokesperson Fabrice de Dongo in an email.

Aviva is one of Canada’s largest general insurance companies.

Pressed about why the company persistently made deductions from Khoury’s bank account even after she cancelled, Aviva Canada responded by announcing it would give back the money.

“Aviva Canada is pleased to let you know that we have spoken with Mrs. Khoury to let her know that we will be processing a refund of the full amount of the premiums, plus any administrative charges she may have incurred, that have been paid since Mr. Khoury’s passing. That refund is being processed electronically today,” de Dongo wrote in a follow-up email.

The resolution took 24 hours. Khoury had fought unsuccessfully alone with Aviva for 16 months.

Khoury is grateful to be getting her money back and to have the battle behind her.

“Thank you very much. I appreciate it. If it was not for you, the money was gone.”

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Irregular migrants on track to cost Canada almost $400 million, watchdog says

By Teresa Wright


OTTAWA _ Asylum seekers who entered Canada irregularly last year will cost federal organizations $340 million an amount projected to balloon to almost $400 million by the end of 2019, the federal budget watchdog says.

A report Thursday from the parliamentary budget officer calculates the average cost of each irregular migrant who arrived in Canada between April 2017 and March 2018 at $14,321.

The PBO projects that costs will rise to $16,666 in the fiscal year ending March 2020 because of extensive wait times for migrants waiting to complete the entire asylum claim process, “leading to greater expenses for federal health insurance costs.”

The actual amounts can vary depending on how long asylum seekers wait for their refugee claims to be finalized, budget officer Yves Giroux wrote in his report. For instance, claimants accepted at their first hearing will cost the country less, those who exhaust all legal avenues and are eventually removed from Canada will cost more.

But Giroux warned that $340 million could become an annual cost if Canada doesn’t seen any decrease in the number of irregular asylum seekers.

Canada has experienced an influx of irregular migrants along the border with the United States since early 2017, shortly after the Trump administration took steps to end temporary protected status for tens of thousands of migrants living in the U.S.

Since then, almost 35,000 asylum seekers have filed refugee claims at the Immigration and Refugee Board _ Canada’s arms length agency that deals with refugee claims and appeals. Many claimants have avoided official border checkpoints where they would have been turned back to the U.S. under the Safe Third Country agreement between the two countries.

The PBO says this influx has placed “significant pressure” on federal resources, leading to major delays in processing times for refugee claims.

Last year, the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) had the capacity to hear 24,000 claims per year, but received more than 52,000 total new asylum claims half of which were from irregular migrants.

The federal government promised $173 million over two years to address rising costs, but Giroux said the growing backlog of claims shows it is not enough money.

“It’s a bit like shooting yourself in the foot to under-fund the IRB and other government agencies, because these kinds of savings end up increasing federal costs. So the savings, in terms of claims processing, end up costing more,” he told reporters in French.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel has been calling on the Liberals to close a loophole that exists in the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which is believed to be a major factor in the spike of irregular border crossings.

She blamed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for causing the spike when he published a tweet in January 2017 in which he welcomed fleeing migrants to Canada in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigrants.

“It just blows my mind that between 2017 through next fiscal year, this prime minister is choosing to spend $1.1 billion on essentially what amounts to the abuse of our asylum system. Some of the numbers in here are absolutely shocking,” Rempel said in response to the PBO report Thursday.

Ontario has pegged its provincial costs for dealing with irregular migrants at $200 million. Quebec did not provide the PBO with its cost estimate, but Giroux said they likely face similar financial pressures as Ontario.

Giroux said federal figures suggest costs for provinces and territories are at least the same amount as those incurred by the federal government.

Conservative MP Larry Maguire asked Giroux to analyze the current and projected costs of dealing with an influx of irregular migrants who have been crossing through non-official entry points along the Canada-U.S. border since 2017.

Maguire, a member of the Commons immigration committee, said he turned to the PBO for help after not getting answers from the Liberals on the total costs of “illegal immigrants” entering Canada.

“As parliamentarians, we have been repeatedly stonewalled by the Liberals on what the total costs have been to taxpayers. Today we finally have those numbers and… they’re very staggering,” he said at a press conference.

Aon partners with six major Canadian insurers

TORONTO (November 28, 2018) – Aon Choice is a best-in-market platform that helps benefit plan sponsors deliver a better employee experience, simplify administration and manage costs in a single turnkey benefits solution. Aon is pleased to announce that partnerships are now in place with a total of six of Canada’s largest national insurance providers, comprising more than 80% of the group benefits market. That distribution power enables more companies to secure the advantages of the Aon Choice platform without having to switch insurance providers – and to start improving employee engagement now by providing more choice and flexibility in their benefits offerings.


“We’ve seen incredible changes in the workplace over the past few years, and one of the biggest is that workplaces today are more diverse than ever,” said Greg Durant, Health and Benefits Leader in Canada for Aon. “From a benefits perspective, that has made it difficult for plan sponsors to meet each of their employee’s unique healthcare and financial needs. Aon Choice was specifically developed to address that challenge, creating a single, easy to use benefits solution that maximizes choice and flexibility for employees while helping to manage costs and reduce administrative burden for employers. The fact that we are now working in partnership with so many leading Canadian insurers is a testament to the need for a better approach – and to the advantages that Aon Choice is delivering.”

Key Facts:

  • Aon partners with six major national insurance providers – Sun Life, Manulife, Great-West Life, Desjardins Insurance, SSQ and Green Shield – to offer traditional and flexible benefits through the Aon Choice platform.
  • Together, the six insurers represent 82% of the total group benefits market in Canada.
  • Aon Choice is a total rewards delivery system that allows businesses to offer benefit programs that traditionally have been available only to largest companies.
  • The program simplifies benefits selection and administration through technology, offering greater choice for employees
  • With the integrated Aon Choice platform, employees can access all their plan information through an easy-to-use, customizable benefits portal and anytime, anywhere access with mobile responsive technology.
  • Aon Choice allows employees to enroll, see coverage and plan details, view total rewards statements, add dependants and make changes, submit claims and view claims history, view their retirement savings plan balances and perform other retirement-savings-related functions, and access voluntary benefits coverage.

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