CBC announces plans to sell off all buildings in midst of election campaign

CBC announced September 22, 2015 at a town hall for staff that it is selling all its property across the country, including major production facilities in Montreal and Toronto. These buildings were paid for by Canadians to allow the public broadcaster to produce quality original Canadian programming purely in the public interest. The announcement confirms a trend to strip CBC of that ability.

“The decision to close down production centres is of great concern for our members as it should be for all Canadians, and seriously jeopardizes the CBC’s ability to do meaningful production in the future,” said Marc-Philippe Laurin, CBC Branch President for the Canadian Media Guild (CMG). ‘Our members believe the public broadcaster can’t only be a distributor, it has to also be a producer. This plan threatens the ongoing legacy of award- winning documentaries, drama and other quality production at CBC and Radio Canada.”

These decisions most likely stem from the continuing and tremendous financial difficulties facing our national public broadcaster, a fact CBC President Lacroix acknowledged earlier this month.

“It makes no sense to plan this now, when three of the four national parties are promising to restore or increase funding to CBC,” says CMG National President Carmel Smyth. “Just today the Liberal party committed to increasing CBC funding by $150 million. In recent months the Green Party committed to an increase of $285-million, while the NDP says it will reverse the $115-million budget cut.  Why rush into such an irreversible decision now?”

In the words of former CBC President and Canadian cultural icon, Pierre Juneau:

“Public television cannot merely be a programmer. The particular ethics of public broadcasting demand that programs be designed with particular care. This requirement implies that the public broadcaster should also become involved in audiovisual production. While public broadcasters may buy or commission some programs, in-house production not only guarantees that programs will adequately meet the purpose of the broadcaster, but also ensures the perenniality of expertise—some would say a “culture” of creativity—particular to the public broadcaster.”

And as the Parliamentary Budget Officer pointed out earlier this year, asset sales are only a temporary fix. “Proceeds from one-time asset sales give the CBC a temporary cash infusion, which allows it to defer part of the Government’s operating subsidy until later in the fiscal year.”

The CBC has also cut more than 2,800 jobs since 2008 and has plans to cut another 1,600 by 2020.

Wide range of supplemental insurance options for those without employer benefits

The period of time between graduating from school to landing a full-time job with benefits can stretch on for months or years for young Canadians, meaning they lack extended health and dental benefits since they’re too old to be covered by their parents’ plans.

And with the growing use of contract employees who don’t receive benefits, that means young Canadians must fend for themselves and buy their own supplemental health and dental insurance.

Provincial health insurance doesn’t cover everything. Whether it’s a prescription for penicillin, a crown that needs to be replaced or an ambulance ride to the hospital, if you don’t have insurance, you’ll end up paying out of pocket.

Loretta Kulchycki, vice-president of group marketing at Great-West Life, suggests consumers start their hunt for health and dental benefits by deciding how much coverage they’re going to need and researching their options online.

“If you are young, you will tend to be healthier, and in that case would probably have lower premiums than somebody who, say, is planning for a retiree product,” she said.

Insurance companies generally offer a choice of the level of coverage, from bare bones plans that provide basic prescription drug coverage and dental checkups to comprehensive options with higher limits and a broader range of coverage.

How much you want to spend will depend on your budget and what you expect your needs to be since costs can quickly escalate depending on how much coverage you’re looking to buy.

“It is really about taking a look at: ‘What do I think I’ll actually use?’ as a starting point,” Kulchycki said.

How often do you think you’ll go to the dentist? Do you wear glasses? Do you think you’ll need the services of a physiotherapist? Those are all questions you should ask yourself when considering coverage.

Laurel Pedersen, assistant vice-president of health insurance product development at Sun Life, says if you have a pre-existing health condition, you have some choices.

A “guaranteed issue” plan may be more expensive, but will cover a pre-existing condition, while a fully underwritten plan may be cheaper, but exclude costs connected with your outstanding health issues.

Pedersen says an adviser can walk you through your options, and will understand what the different plans will cost, how they work and what might be in your best interest.

“They’re exactly there to walk them through their broader budget considerations,” she said.

Sue Reibel, senior vice-president of consumer solutions at Manulife, says if you’re coming off your parents’ group plan or another insurance plan, time is of the essence. You generally have about 60 days when you can roll yourself into an individual plan without going through underwriting.

“You’ve got an opportunity to get a preferential purchase,” she said. “If you pass that time frame, then you’re buying (while) taking all of your individual circumstances into account and it may affect your price.”

Reibel noted that when insurance shoppers consider what they need, it’s important to understand what other coverage they already have and what they need so they don’t end up paying for non-essential items or lacking insurance for something they could have anticipated.

“It is understanding where your personal gaps are,” she said. “It takes some time to really think about your personal situation and reflect. It is not a big investment of time, we’re talking about half an hour of thinking that can save you a lot of money.”



Federal government should invest $3.3B into health care for seniors: Report

A new report has put a price tag on aging in Canada.

The Conference Board of Canada study, commissioned by the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), says that it would cost the federal government $3.3 billion in the next year to implement three strategies to cope with the wave of aging baby boomers.

In the next five years, the price would jump to $17.5 billion as boomers put an ever-increasing strain on the Canadian health-care system.

“The reality (is) that it costs more to look after people who are aging,” said Dr. Cindy Forbes, president of the CMA. “There are at least three items that are doable and will make a difference to Canadians in the next budget cycle.”

The first strategy recommends giving provinces and territories additional money for health care based on the age of their populations.

That would require the federal government to boost funding to the Canada Health Transfer (CHT), the country’s largest handover of cash from the federal government to provinces and territories. Money sent through the CHT must be used for publicly provided health care.

The money is currently provided solely based on population, which the report calls uncommon and impractical, because an elderly population has higher health-care costs.

According to a recent study in the journal PLOS One, the average cost for care in a patient’s last year of life is $54,000.

The Conference Board report says countries like Belgium, Germany and Switzerland all top up their health-care transfers based on age.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he’d renegotiate the terms of the CHT when it expires in 2017 so that increases would be tied to population and economic growth.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said if elected, he’d negotiate the terms of an adjusted CHT with the provinces come 2017. Tom Mulcair, leader of the federal New Democrats, has said an NDP government would reverse Conservative cuts to provincial health transfers.

The second potential reform laid out in the report is coverage of the entire cost of medications for all households that are currently spending at least $1,500 per year, or three per cent of their annual income on drugs.

A July study by Angus Reid showed that 14 per cent of Canadians have neglected to fill a prescription due to cost.

Mulcair recently suggested a similar strategy that would see the creation of a universal pharmacare program. He said that if elected, he’d contribute $2.6 billion to the project over the next four years.

Forbes said she’s heartened to see pharmacare being discussed on the campaign trail.

However, the Conference Board report says funding a national pharmacare plan would cost $8.4 billion over the next five years. In 2016 alone, it would cost $1.5 billion, more than half of Mulcair’s proposed four-year budget.

The report also lays out the costs of making two key caregiver tax credits refundable.

According to Statistics Canada, there are currently eight million “informal caregivers” in Canada _ people who look after aging or ill loved ones without financial compensation.

Those caregivers may be eligible for the non-refundable Canada Caregiver Tax Credit (CCTC) or Family Caregiver Tax Credit (FCTC), which offer a tax return on expenses incurred during the course of caring for a dependant.

A refundable tax credit could reduce a tax bill to below zero, essentially refunding some of the money spent on caregiving. It would cost $90.8 million in 2016 to make the credits refundable.

While the report doesn’t detail the cost of making the credits refundable past next year, the Conference Board’s Matthew Stewart said the price tag is only expected to grow by about one per cent each year, bringing the total cost to $500 million by 2020.

Stewart, the associate director of national forecasting at the board, said it’s up to politicians to decide whether they’re willing to invest the money in these three strategies to cope with ballooning health-care costs as Canada’s population ages.

“To me, the most interesting thing in this report is the cost of aging,” he said.  “Rarely have we actually put that into dollar amounts.”



Now That Oil Has Crashed, This Is Where Canada’s Biggest Wage Gains Will Be

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For the first time in a long time, Canada’s energy workers won’t see the country’s largest wage gains next year, according to two surveys released this week.

In fact, oil and gas workers are set to see the country’s slowest wage growth, according to a survey of employers by Hay Group, a management consulting firm.

They can expect only a 1.5 per cent pay hike next year, much lower than the 2.4 per cent average salary increase the survey forecasts for the country as a whole.

 In oil and gas, “the labour supply now exceeds demand,” the study said.

Instead, the survey sees the largest wage gains going to employees at credit unions (up 3 per cent) and workers in leisure/hospitality (up 3 per cent) and insurance (up 2.9 per cent).

Fewer employees are planning to give workers a raise next year. Seventy per cent of respondents in the survey said they would, compared to 83 per cent in last year’s survey.

“This is due to continued economic uncertainty across many sectors in the Canadian economy and to the fact that more employers are now adopting a ‘wait and see’ position before increasing their budgets,” Hay Group said in a statement.

The survey forecasts notably stronger wage growth for the U.S. at 3 per cent overall.

“Canadians have now fallen further behind their U.S. counterparts,” it notes.

But despite the oil slump, the survey still sees Saskatchewan as the province with the highest average wage growth next year, at 2.7 per cent. Alberta, Ontario and Quebec are all forecast to see 2.5 per cent wage growth, while B.C. (2.3 per cent) and the Maritimes (1.9 per cent) bring up the rear.

Another survey released this week also predicts oil and gas workers will no longer lead in wage growth next year, but it has a different projection for who the wage winners will be.

The compensation planning survey from human resources firm Mercer predicts jobsin high tech will take the crown in 2016, with wage growth of 3 per cent. By comparison, it sees 2.9 per cent wage growth in the energy sector.

Allison Griffiths of Mercer told the Globe and Mail she couldn’t remember the last time the energy sector didn’t lead Canada in wage growth.

“But it’s not all [wage] freezes,” she noted. “They’re not having an increase of zero. They still are projecting some growth.”

For all sectors of the economy, Mercer sees 2.8 per cent wage growth next year.

It says 8 per cent of Canadian companies froze salaries this year, but only 3 per cent are currently planning to do the same next year.

The energy sector has had it worst, with 37 per cent of companies freezing salaries this year.


Chances of Bank of Canada interest rate cut sit at 35%, says RBC’s Eric Lascelles

Bloomberg News

Chances the Bank of Canada will cut interest rates in the next few months are about one in three as a weaker currency fails to boost exports and companies continue to grapple with lower oil prices, according to Eric Lascelles.

CIBC World Markets says the loonie has been overvalued by 10 per cent since the recession, which has saddled Canadians with the equivalent of a 90 basis point higher interest rate from the Bank of Canada.

“Oil’s tumble has brought the Canadian dollar down with it,” said Nick Exarhos and Avery Shenfeld, economists at CIBC World Markets. “But our currency is still richer than it may look.

The chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada Global Asset Management pegs the chance of a cut at 35 per cent and says it depends in part on whether capital-spending reductions at energy companies deepen. There’s also about a 25 per cent chance of a recession occurring this year in Canada, he said during an interview at Bloomberg’s Ottawa office.

“To the extent that we’re hearing things from oil companies, it sounds like there’s another round of capex retrenchment going on right now,” said Toronto-based Lascelles, whose firm manages $375 billion. Canada’s economy has hit a “significant air pocket,” he said.

The Bank of Canada cut its overnight lending rate to 0.75 per cent in January, calling it “insurance” against further damage from the plunge in oil prices. Lascelles says it’s still unclear whether the oil shock will be worse than the bank predicted, requiring further action.

“There’s a distinct risk that the economy undershoots their expectations again, and they deliver another insurance cut,” he said. The next rate decisions are July 15 and Sept. 9.

Trading in overnight index swaps shows there’s about a 26 per cent chance of a cut, according to Bloomberg calculations.

Canada is more vulnerable to another output contraction in the second quarter than the U.S., which can blame much of its economic weakness from January to March on a port strike and bad weather, Lascelles said. He predicts Canada’s first-quarter output growth will be about 1 per cent.

Any contraction in the second quarter would mean “it’s a pretty easy call to cut rates,” he said.

The Bank of Canada will probably stay on hold, and the economy should begin to benefit from gathering economic growth in the U.S., which Lascelles expects to expand at about a 3 per cent annual pace this quarter.

“More likely is they do manage to pause their way through,” Lascelles said of the Bank of Canada. “If they did manage to do that, then you start to revert back to the normalization arguments for the subsequent years.”

He predicts there’s a 40 per cent chance the Federal Reserve raises borrowing costs in September, 30 per cent it will happen in December and 30 per cent in 2016 or later.


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