Ontario automakers faced more pain in ’09 than Alberta’s ongoing oil woes

By Andy Blatchford and Jordan Press

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA _ Ontario’s auto sector absorbed a far greater economic wallop during the financial crisis than the damage low oil prices have inflicted on Alberta, says an internal federal analysis.

The February memo, prepared for Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk, examined the two economic crises after some observers had called on governments to help Alberta’s energy industry much like the 2009 bailout of the automotive sector.

The auto sector’s situation was much more dire, the document concluded.

“With the current downturn in worldwide oil prices, some have advocated a similar type of assistance be made available to support the oil and gas industry,” said the briefing note, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

“However, the context differs considerably. The impact on the Ontario automotive industry was far more acute than what has been seen so far in the Alberta economy.”

The federal and Ontario governments spent a combined $13.7 billion to rescue automakers Chrysler Canada and General Motors Canada from potential bankruptcy.

At the time, consumers had difficulty securing car loans because of a credit crunch. Sliding sales stung the car companies, which could no longer generate enough cash to finance their operations.

They couldn’t seek help from flagging financial markets, so they knocked on government doors.

Fast forward to today and Alberta’s energy-dependent economy remains hobbled by stubbornly low oil prices, which started their plunge about two years ago.

Cheaper crude has pushed once-booming Alberta into recession, leading to big drops in business investment in the energy sector as well as large-scale layoffs in the industry and along the supply chain. The fallout has also been felt at the national level.

The memo compared the two situations.

The unemployment rate in Alberta’s oil sector climbed to 7.9 per cent in 2015, up from 2.9 per cent in 2011. By comparison, the analysis found, the jobless rate in Ontario’s auto manufacturing sector peaked at 21.9 per cent in 2009, an increase from 8.4 per cent in 2007.

It also noted that the 2008-09 recession was an international economic crisis, while the current context represents slowing global growth _ but not a recession.

The 2009 bailout came amid concerns Canada could lose auto-sector jobs “at an accelerated pace” due to lower-wage jurisdictions in the southern United States and Mexico, the document added. Since oil and gas resources aren’t mobile, there was a lower risk of jobs being moved out of Canada, it noted.

The analysis also underlined the importance of GM and Chrysler to the entire automotive supply chain. A bankruptcy, it said, could have had a “ripple effect” across the country.

When it came to Alberta’s energy sector, the document said some “smaller highly leveraged” oil firms may have been at some risk of default. But it argued that major oil companies had yet to approach governments for assistance and remained in relatively good financial shape.

Since February, when the federal memo was created, Alberta’s economy has faced even more challenges.

Not only have crude prices remained low, the provincial economy suffered another hit when huge wildfires forced the temporary closures of critical production facilities. The blazes also destroyed more than 2,000 structures and triggered the evacuation of 90,000 people from Fort McMurray.

The latest labour market survey said Alberta’s overall unemployment rate climbed last month to 8.6 per cent its highest mark in nearly 22 years.

Statistics Canada said the jobless rate in the province’s oil and gas sector peaked at 12.3 per cent in February. It fell to 11.8 per cent in March and was 9.7 per cent in July.

Alberta, however, has also received some help from Ottawa.

The federal government announced earlier this year that Alberta was eligible for an automatic payment of $251.4 million in financial relief through its seldom-used fiscal stabilization program.

In their March budget, the Liberals also boosted employment insurance benefits for hard-hit regions of the country, which included some parts of Alberta. The changes, however, were criticized for omitting Edmonton.

Mike Moffatt, a Western University economics professor, said the biggest difference between ongoing struggles in Alberta and 2009 was that, unlike today, the credit system back then had broken down.

He said the unusual set of circumstances had left banks unable to provide capital even when it made financial sense. So, if automakers couldn’t make their payrolls, they couldn’t turn to the banks for help, Moffatt added.

That made the “exceptionally rare” decision to provide an industry bailout necessary, he said.

“There was this underlying understanding that if we weren’t at the table, we could kiss the entire industry goodbye.”

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Ontario’s gender neutral health cards can’t be used in passport applications

TORONTO _ Ontario is scrambling to work out a deal with the federal government after learning its new gender-neutral health cards cannot be used to obtain a passport.

ServiceOntario, which administers the health card program, is in negotiations with Ottawa about a solution to the issue, which is a problem for people who don’t have a driver’s licence and want to get a passport.

Health Minister Eric Hoskins says as a temporary fix, ServiceOntario can issue receipts with the health card that contain all the identifying information needed for passport applications.

He says people who don’t have the receipt for their health card can obtain a copy from ServiceOntario.

Hoskins couldn’t say if the province told the federal government it was going to eliminate the part of the health cards that identify the person’s sex.

The province announced in June that it would stop including gender on health cards, and starting next year, people will have the option of selecting X on their driver’s license instead of M for male or F for female.

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What will and won’t be delivered if there’s a labour disruption at Canada Post

Source: The Canadian Press

OTTAWA _ Canada Post is facing a potential labour disruption as of Friday. Here’s what you need to know if there’s a halt in postal services:

_ All packages and parcels are already in the system will be stuck there and no new packages or letters will be accepted.

_ Postal workers will still deliver government pension and benefits, but not all. Federally, Canada Post and the union have agreed to keep delivering cheques for old age security, Canada Pension Plan, the working income tax benefit, the Canada Child Benefit and student loans. In Saskatchewan, child support and victim assistance payments are also set to keep moving. In Alberta, child and spousal support payments and benefits to vulnerable persons are on the delivery list. Ditto for Quebec pension plan cheques. This list is subject to change.

_ If you haven’t or can’t sign up for direct deposit for employment insurance, you can call 1-800-206-7218 to ask for a cheque that can be picked up at the nearest Service Canada location.

_ Passport applications will need to be done in person if you plan to travel in less than six weeks from when you drop off your application. The federal government is recommending anyone who doesn’t need to urgently travel should hold off on passport applications for the time being.

_ Any mail you send the Canada Revenue Agency like tax payments, or that they are supposed to send you like refunds, rebates, benefits aside from the ones deemed essential (see above), won’t be delivered. The CRA recommends using their online services instead. All mail will be held at the CRA until postal services resume.

_ You still have to pay your hydro, water or other bill on time even if it doesn’t arrive in the mail.

_ Online shopping won’t shut down, but delivery details have changed. A note on Amazon’s website said that until further notice, it won’t ship to P.O. boxes, Canada Post retail locations (which Amazon calls pickup points) or remote locations. Well.ca has moved all deliveries to UPS, which means a halt on shipping to P.O. boxes and express shipping.

canada-press

Federal investment will help Manitoba farmers predict the effects of flood and drought on farmland

Federal investment will help Manitoba farmers predict the effects of flood and drought on farmland

News Release:

GOVERNMENT OF CANADA

Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Lawrence MacAulay announced today an investment of over $1.1 million for the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association (MFGA) to develop a hydrology model of the Assiniboine River Basin that will help predict the effects of flooding, excess moisture and extreme drought on agricultural lands.

Based on the new model, a web-based tool will be developed that farmers can use to gather information on their farmland to help effectively manage moistures levels and mitigate risk associated with drought and flooding.

Information collected will contribute to better risk management strategies for farmers and the agricultural sector and could potentially lead to the development of new and improved insurance products.

Quick facts

  • Recent severe moisture events have impacted producers across the country. Since 2007, governments have been required to respond with AgriRecovery assistance multiple times to water-related disaster events including excess moisture, flooding and drought.
  • This project has been funded under the Growing Forward 2, AgriRisk Initiative, which supports the research and development, as well as the implementation and administration of new risk management tools for use in the agriculture sector.
  • The Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association is a non-profit organization comprised of producers, agri-business and extension leaders who are dedicated to the development and promotion of a sustainable hay, forage and livestock industry.

Quotes

“Extreme weather events have created many challenges for Prairie farmers in recent years. We’re committed to working together with the agriculture sector to equip farmers with the tools they need to proactively manage business risks such as these.”

Lawrence MacAulay, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food

“Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association has engaged in this proposal as we believe grasslands and forage crops are a critical part of the solution for future flood and drought ravaged areas of the Assiniboine River Basin,” says Henry Nelson, MFGA vice chair and project manager of the hydrology model for the Assiniboine River Basin. “The hydrology model will showcase proactive solutions for many stakeholders across the Assiniboine River Basin for flood and drought mitigation.”

Henry Nelson, Vice-Chair of Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association

Additional links

Contacts

Guy Gallant
Director of Communications
The Office of the Honourable Lawrence MacAulay
613-773-1059

Media Relations
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
613-773-7972
1-866-345-7972
Follow us on Twitter: @AAFC_Canada
Like us on Facebook: CanadianAgriculture

Duncan Morrison
Aquanty Project ARB, Communications
204-770-3548

A quick look at changes to mortgage lending rules made by Ottawa in recent years

The federal government has moved several times in recent years to restrict mortgage lending. Here’s a quick look at some of the changes Ottawa has made:

Feb. 15, 2016: The minimum down payment for new government-backed insured mortgages increases from five per cent to 10 per cent for the portion of the house price over $500,000.

July 9, 2012: The maximum amortization period for new government-backed insured mortgages drops to 25 years from 30 years. Ottawa lowers the maximum amount Canadians can borrow when refinancing to 80 per cent from 85 per cent and stops offering insurance on mortgages for homes worth more than $1 million.

April 18, 2011: Ottawa withdraws government insurance backing on lines of credit secured by homes, such as home equity lines of credit.

March 18, 2011: The maximum amortization period for government-backed insured mortgages is cut to 30 years from 35 years and the maximum amount Canadians can borrow in refinancing their mortgages is reduced to 85 per cent from 90 per cent of the value of their homes.

April 19, 2010: Ottawa introduces a requirement that all borrowers meet the standards for a five-year fixed rate mortgage even if they choose a mortgage with a lower interest rate and shorter term. The government also lowers the maximum amount Canadians can withdraw in refinancing their mortgages to 90 per cent from 95 per cent of the value of their homes and requires a minimum down payment of 20 per cent for government-backed mortgage insurance on non-owner-occupied properties bought for speculation.

Oct. 15, 2008: The maximum amortization period for new government-backed mortgages is fixed at 35 years and a requirement for a minimum down payment of five per cent is introduced. Ottawa also establishes a consistent minimum credit score requirement and introduces new loan documentation standards.

 

Assisted dying bill wins approval of House of Commons, now heads to Senate

By Joan Bryden

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA _ The federal government’s controversial bill on assisted dying sailed through the House of Commons on Tuesday, approved by a vote of 186-137.

“It’s an historic day,” Health Minister Jane Philpott said immediately following the vote, thanking MPs for passing a bill she said “will essentially transform end-of-life care options for Canadians.”

Only four Liberal MPs including Rob Oliphant, the chair of a special joint parliamentary committee that had recommended a much more permissive approach to assisted dying voted against Bill C-14, as did most Conservatives, all New Democrat and Bloc Quebecois MPs and Green Leader Elizabeth May.

But the bill now heads into choppier waters in the Senate, where the government has less control over the agenda and many independent-minded senators are pushing for amendments.

It is virtually guaranteed the bill will not be passed by Monday, the day the ban on assisted dying is formally lifted in accordance with last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling.

“No, no, impossible,” Sen. Claude Carignan, Conservative leader in the Senate.

Senators are not dragging their feet; they’ve agreed to extend their sitting hours and have taken the usual step of inviting Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Philpott to testify about the bill before the entire Senate on Wednesday.

However, they must still debate the bill at second reading, send it to committee to hear from some half a dozen witnesses, propose and consider possible amendments and debate and vote on the bill a final time.

Carignan said more than 40 Conservative senators want to speak during second reading debate alone and he expects “many amendments” will be proposed. Consequently, he said the bill can’t be put to a final vote until the end of next week at the earliest, possibly sometime the following week.

Advocates of assisted dying are urging senators to scrap the bill’s restrictive eligibility criteria. Without that change “Bill C-14 will be constitutionally dead on arrival,” said Shanaaz Gokool, CEO of Dying with Dignity Canada.

“(That’s) a warning the Liberal government has chosen to ignore. We encourage members of the Senate not to make the same mistake.”

However, a number of disability rights advocates are urging passage of the bill, despite their concerns that it doesn’t go far enough to protect the vulnerable. They argued that an imperfect bill is better than no legislation at all.

That continued to be the message from Wilson-Raybould and Philpott as they kept up the pressure Tuesday to have the bill enacted by June 6.

In the absence of a new law, the Supreme Court’s criteria for allowing assisted dying would apply. But Wilson-Raybould suggested that would amount to “one of, if not the broadest assisted dying regimes in the world.”

“Under an approach where any serious medical condition is eligible, the law would be saying that an assisted death could be an acceptable treatment for a soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder, a young person who suffered a spinal cord injury in an accident or a survivor whose mind is haunted by memories of sexual abuse,” she said.

Wilson-Raybould also argued there is uncertainty whether the court’s criteria would have “the legal effect of completely striking down existing criminal law that prohibits consensual killing and the aiding of suicides outside of an assisted dying context.” She did not explain that assertion.

In what’s known as the Carter decision, the Supreme Court ruled that consenting adults have a right to seek medical help to end their lives if they have “grievous and irremediable” medical conditions that are causing enduring suffering that they deem intolerable.

Bill C-14 sets out considerably more restrictive eligibility criteria, allowing assisted dying only for clearly consenting adults “in an advanced stage of irreversible decline” from a serious and incurable disease, illness or disability and for whom natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

Jocelyn Downie, a professor in both the medicine and law faculties at Dalhousie University, said Wilson-Raybould is misrepresenting the Supreme Court ruling.

The court said the medical condition must be irremediable, while PTSD and memories of sexual abuse “may well be remediable,” Downie said. Moreover, she said a young person’s initial response in the days or even months following a spinal cord injury would not be considered “enduring” suffering, as the court required.

“To suggest that somehow the sky is going to fall on June 6 is specious,” agreed NDP justice critic Murray Rankin, noting that medical regulators in every provinces have issued strict guidelines doctors must follow in providing assistance in dying.

Unless it’s amended by the Senate, Rankin predicted the bill will face court challenges and be found unconstitutional.

“People who won that hard-fought victory in Carter are going to be back in the Supreme Court in a few months. That’s wrong,” he said.

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