Aurora Cannabis to lay off staff, close five sites – Business News


The Canadian Press – | Story: 303530

Aurora Cannabis Inc. is making its second round of significant cuts this year as it continues with a restructuring plan meant to address profitability struggles.

The Edmonton-based cannabis company announced Tuesday that it will reduce its selling, general and administrative workforce by 25 per cent immediately and another 30 per cent of production staff will be laid off from the company over the next two quarters.

“This has not simply been a cost cutting exercise,” said Michael Singer, Aurora’s executive chairman and interim chief executive.

“We have undertaken a strategic realignment of our operations to protect Aurora’s position as a leader in key global cannabinoid markets, most notably Canada.”

On top of layoffs, Aurora has also decided to cease some operations at five facilities — Aurora Prairie in Saskatchewan, Aurora Mountain in Alberta, Aurora Ridge in Ontario and Aurora Vie and Aurora Eau in Quebec — over the next two quarters.

Part of Aurora Vie will remain operational to allow for the manufacturing of certain higher margin items, in line with the company’s decision to focus production and manufacturing at the company’s larger scale and more efficient sites.

By the end of the company’s 2021 second quarter, production and manufacturing at Aurora Sky in Alberta, Aurora River in Ontario, Whistler Pemberton in British Columbia and Polaris in Alberta will be consolidated.

The company will also record production asset impairment charges of up to $60 million during its fourth quarter and a charge of up to $140 million in the carrying value of certain inventory.

Singer expects that these moves will improve gross margins and accelerate Aurora’s ability to generate positive cash flow.

“We believe that we now have the right balance for the long-term success of Aurora — market leadership, financial discipline, operational excellence, and strong execution,” he said.

“We remain focused on making Aurora a profitable and robust global cannabinoid company.”

The Canadian Press – Jun 23, 2020 / 10:28 am | Story: 303527

Capital Power Corp. says a $92-million expansion of its Whitla Wind power facility in Southern Alberta will make it the largest in the province.

The Edmonton-based company says it will add 54 megawatts of capacity by late 2021 through the third phase of the project, taking it to 353 MW.

Subject to regulatory approvals, the third phase is to be constructed concurrently with the 97-MW second phase announced in December, shortly after the 202-MW initial phase was placed in service.

Alberta ranks third in Canada with an installed wind energy capacity of almost 1,700 MW, according to the Canadian Wind Energy Association.

Whitla Wind 3 is to consist of 15 wind turbines and use the same technology in operation at Whitla Wind 1.

The projects are expected to generate carbon credits to offset Capital Power’s carbon compliance costs from its Alberta thermal power generation facilities.

“Once all three phases of the Whitla Wind facility are completed by the end of 2021, it will be Alberta’s largest wind facility with 353 megawatts of generation capacity,” said Capital CEO Brian Vaasjo.

The Canadian Press – Jun 23, 2020 / 9:22 am | Story: 303517

Amazon said Tuesday that its carbon footprint rose 15% last year, even as it launched initiatives to reduce its harm on the environment.

The online shopping giant said it emitted 51.17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide last year, the equivalent of 13 coal burning power plants running for a year. That’s up from 2018, when it emitted 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Amazon disclosed its carbon footprint for the first time last year after employees pressured the company to do more to combat climate change.

Amazon said that while its carbon footprint grew, the amount of carbon it emitted for every dollar spent on the site fell 5% between 2018 and 2019.

The Seattle-based company also said it’s on track to have 100% of its energy use come from solar panels, wind turbines and other renewable energy by 2025, five years earlier than it had planned.

But the increase in its carbon foot shows how tricky it is for a rapidly-growing company like Amazon to cut down on pollution. Amazon depends on fuel-guzzling planes and trucks to ship billions of items a year around the world. Emissions from fossil fuels rose 18% last year, Amazon said Tuesday.

Orders have increased during the coronavirus pandemic, as more people are stuck at home and are shopping online. To keep up, and deliver on time, Amazon said earlier this month that it leased 12 additional Boeing 767s, bringing its fleet of jets to more than 80.

On Tuesday, Amazon announced it would start a $2 billion to invest in companies that make products and technology that help protect the Earth. Earlier this year, Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos said he would spend $10 billion of his personal fortune to fund scientists, activists and nonprofits working to help fight climate change.

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Chuck Chiang/Business in Vancouver – Jun 23, 2020 / 7:21 am | Story: 303500

Recent protests in the United States triggered by police killings of black Americans have spurred widespread corporate disavowal of racial discrimination – but the question remains as to whether it will result in long-term change.

For social advocates with insights on the business world in Vancouver, the answer appears to be a hopeful “maybe.”

Most observers say they recognize the current wave of calls for social justice could improve the treatment of employees from various racial, cultural, gender and religious backgrounds – but the track record in recent years of firms in B.C. and the rest of Canada putting the money where their mouths are has not been encouraging.

“Even before recent events, there has certainly been movement on gender equality, inclusion and diversity in the workplace,” said Queenie Choo, CEO of Vancouver immigrant and community services non-profit SUCCESS. “But there’s not a lot of traction yet. Yes, we’ve been cognizant of the need for it … but have we done anything substantial for it? I think there’s room for improvement.”

But, outside of a few companies and groups, the numbers overall continue to show a lack of equality.

Statistics Canada said Canadian women’s participation in the labour force as of June 2019 was 61.4%, almost 10% lower than the male figure of 70.1%. A number of other reports also continue to show lower earning powers in minority, immigrant and First Nations communities. LGBTQ groups say that many do not feel their workplaces are inclusive or safe.

“Where doesn’t it exist?” said Rhiannon Foster, co-chair of Vancouver LGBTQ organization LOUD Business, when asked about the gap between overall corporate diversity policies and workplace practices.

“There are wonderful things we can point to … but across the board in Metro Vancouver, it’s tough. It’s going to take a long time to get to even a B+ level.”

The systemic nature of bias in the business world shows up a number ways, observers say – manifesting itself in a range of ways, including how some companies choose job candidates for interviews based on surnames and the cultural identities they may suggest.

That is where the high visibility of the current protests provides some hope for business leaders like Choo, who said the headlines are pushing more people to examine their personal biases – an important development because much of the biases are held subconsciously.

“Most of us are driven by our unconscious bias, and hence the behaviours are displayed,” she said. “More than ever, we need to sharpen out unconscious-bias detectors through some training, reflection and also interactions to understand why we have these beliefs in our systems to drive what we do – especially when we look at employees promotions and people’s career development.”

The lack of diverse corporate leadership also continues to plague the effort for change. For example, Statistics Canada reported in 2016 that women held fewer than one in five business leadership roles in Canada, a number that has not improved significantly since.

The slow executive turnover rate in the business world is a major problem in accelerating the more dramatic change that’s needed to foster true diversity in the workplace, said Kevin Huang, co-founder and executive director of community-engagement consultancy Hua Foundation.

“What I’ve seen and experienced is that there’s always this push and pull of how much organizations and those with power want to engage this conversation,” said Huang, who speaks regularly with government groups and businesses about inclusive policies and practices. “What we’ve seen with COVID and now with the killing of George Floyd … is that this is really pushing corporations to re-evaluate how they can do better. But for all I’ve seen, there’s a lot of posturing and gesturing; we haven’t got into how entrenched systemic racism is.”

The Canadian Press – Jun 23, 2020 / 6:52 am | Story: 303496

Canada’s main stock index posted a triple-digit advance in early trading as the key financial and industrial sectors pushed higher, while U.S. stock markets also made gains.

The S&P/TSX composite index was up 143.61 points at 15,660.51.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 230.03 points at 26,254.99. The S&P 500 index was up 26.04 points at 3,143.90, while the Nasdaq composite was up 74.59 points at 10,131.07.

The Canadian dollar traded for 74.02 cents US compared with 73.83 cents US on Monday.

The August crude contract was up 24 cents at US$40.97 per barrel and the August natural gas contract was down two cents at US$1.71 per mmBTU.

The August gold contract was up US$14.20 at US$1,780.60 an ounce and the July copper contract was up almost a penny at US$2.66 a pound.

The Canadian Press – Jun 22, 2020 / 4:18 pm | Story: 303461

Air Canada has raised an additional $1.23 billion in financing to help offset the challenges of dealing with COVID-19, bringing its total to $5.5 billion since the pandemic struck in mid-March.

The Montreal-based airline says it received $823 million in proceeds from second-lien secured notes and US$300 million from Class C pass-through certificates.

The private offering of notes due 2024 with nine per cent interest completed Monday was secured by certain real estate interests, ground service equipment, certain airport slots and gate leaseholds.

Air Canada also says it completed a private offering earlier in June of one tranche of EETCs with a face amount of about US$315 million and an interest rate of 10.5 per cent.

Treasurer Pierre Houle says the fact that Air Canada was able to add $1.23 billion to its liquidity without using any unencumbered assets “leaves the airline in an excellent position to access additional funds should the need arise.”

The airline has also reduced costs through workforce reductions, a $1.1 billion cost transformation program, and capacity and network rationalization.

It expects to end the second quarter with at least $9 billion in liquidity.

“Air Canada’s strong relative position has allowed us to navigate through this crisis and we have full confidence that we will be successful in maintaining liquidity at levels more than sufficient to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities ahead,” Houle says in a news release.

The Canadian Press – Jun 22, 2020 / 3:20 pm | Story: 303450

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan says achieving the Trudeau government’s target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is a “moon shot” — but it’s not a case of randomly throwing out ideas.

During last fall’s election campaign, the federal Liberals committed to the goal which means that any greenhouse gases still produced in Canada in 2050 would have to be offset with credits — but Ottawa has yet to give details on how that might be achieved.

In a wide-ranging online conversation with Peter Tertzakian and Jackie Forrest of Calgary’s ARC Energy Research Institute, O’Regan compared the net zero ambition to former U.S. president John F. Kennedy’s vow in May 1961 to put a man on the moon.

He added that specific goal gave the experts permission to find solutions and, in July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon.

O’Regan says the Canadian government is looking at all potential solutions to reduce carbon emissions, including using carbon capture and storage and employing hydrogen, geothermal and small modular nuclear reactors as alternative sources of energy.

He defended Ottawa’s record on providing aid to the oil and gas sector during the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, noting its wage subsidies and program to retire inactive oil and gas wells have been well subscribed, and suggesting companies are still evaluating its less popular loan programs.

“Net zero is a moon shot and a moon shot is not the same as just throwing ideas out there and seeing what sticks,” O’Regan said.

“A moon shot is a very specific goal — Kennedy said we’re going to get to the moon. And then afterwards the teams at NASA had to figure out how to do it.

“And by 1969, they had a man on the moon. If we could do it in eight years that would be great.”

Kyle Balzer/PG Matters – Jun 22, 2020 / 10:56 am | Story: 303419

Some good news if you’re looking to do any sort of travelling this summer within B.C.

Central Mountain Air announced today it is returning service July 7 to Fort St. John, Kamloops, Kelowna, Prince George, and Terrace.

Operating three days a week, Tuesday through Thursday, CMA is restarting after it temporarily suspended service in early April to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“Over the coming months, our schedule will responsibly and gradually return, as we continue to navigate our way through these unprecedented times,” reads an update from CMA, with the new travel period set for July 6 to Aug. 8.

“We look forward to providing travel and cargo operations that are essential and will enable reopening of our economy, as well as connect you to friends and loved ones.”

Public health guidelines and government travel regulations will be met on every flight, CMA says, citing passenger safety as its top priority.

The Canadian Press – Jun 22, 2020 / 9:42 am | Story: 303409

Canada’s top central banker says there will be long-term economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic as the country charts a “prolonged and bumpy” course to recovery.

In his first speech as governor, Tiff Macklem says the central bank expects to see growth in the third quarter of this year as people are called back to work and households resume some of their normal activities as restrictions ease.

But he warns that Canadians shouldn’t expect the short and sharp economic bounce-back expected over the coming months to last.

The combination of uneven reopenings across provinces and industries, the unknown course of consumer confidence, and unemployment rates will “likely inflict some lasting damage to demand and supply,” Macklem says in a speech Monday.

He said ongoing physical distancing rules may mean workplaces can’t be as productive as they once were, adding that many services will remain difficult to deliver.

The combination suggests the economy’s productive capacity will take a hit that will persist even as public health restrictions ease, Macklem says in a webcast speech to Canadian Clubs.

“The recovery will likely be prolonged and bumpy, with the potential for setbacks along the way,” he said in a prepared text of his speech released by the bank.

Macklem said the COVID-19 pandemic has created an economic shock unlike anything seen in our lifetimes. Entire sectors of the economy have shuttered, more than three million people lost their jobs through April and even more had their hours slashed.

“As the economy reopens, we should see very strong job growth. We should also see some pent-up demand giving a boost to spending,” Macklem said in his speech.

“But not everyone’s job will come back, and uncertainty will linger.”

The central bank’s response to the pandemic has been a drop to its policy interest rate to 0.25 per cent, which Macklem says is as low as it will go.

The Bank of Canada has also launched a purchasing program of bonds and government debt to help markets function and make borrowing cheaper for households and businesses.

Such purchases, known as quantitative easing, also send a signal that the bank’s key rate “is likely to remain low for a long period,” he said.

For the Bank of Canada, the impact of structurally low interest rates and the scale of the shock are having what Macklem said is “a profound impact” on the inflation-rate target.

The central bank targets an annual inflation rate of two per cent as measured by Statistics Canada’s consumer price index.

The basket of goods used to form the index has been shaken by a shift in consumer spending habits during the pandemic. People are spending less on gasoline, which usually receives a heavier weight in calculating inflation, as its price has plunged and the frequency of car travel has dropped. Spending is also down on travel, while grocery spending is up.

Last week, Statistics Canada reported the annual pace of inflation was -0.4 per cent in May, marking the second consecutive month for negative annual inflation after a reading of -0.2 per cent in April.

Macklem said the Bank of Canada will provide “a central planning scenario for output and inflation” and related risks when it releases an updated monetary policy report next month.

“If, as we expect, supply is restored more quickly than demand, this could lead to a large gap between the two, putting a lot of downward pressure on inflation,” Macklem said.

“Our main concern is to avoid a persistent drop in inflation by helping Canadians get back to work.”

The Canadian Press – Jun 22, 2020 / 9:27 am | Story: 303407

The Conference Board of Canada says the economy may have already begun to recover from the deepest recession on record –  if the country can avoid another national COVID-related shutdown.

The private sector group’s quarterly forecast estimates Canada’s economy will shrink by 8.2 per cent this year, after about three million jobs were lost in March and April due to COVID shut-downs.

It also projects Canada’s national unemployment rate will peak at 13.7 per cent in the second quarter ending June 30, the highest since the measure was first recorded in 1976.

But the report says the addition of nearly 300,000 jobs in May and continued easing of restrictions in June probably indicate the pandemic’s worst impact on the labour market has passed.

It’s projecting the addition of another 1.3 million jobs in the July to September quarter, dropping the national unemployment rate to 10.5 per cent.

The Conference Board says that if the country can avoid a second national shutdown, Canada’s economy could grow by 6.7 per cent in 2021 and by 4.8 per cent in 2022.

The Canadian Press – Jun 21, 2020 / 12:59 pm | Story: 303367

OAKLAND, Calif. – Did teens, TikTok users and Korean pop music fans troll the president of the United States?

For more than a week before Donald Trump’s first campaign rally in Tulsa on Saturday night, these tech-savvy groups opposing the president mobilized to reserve tickets for the rally they had no intention of attending. While it’s not likely that they were responsible for the low turnout, their antics may have inflated the campaign’s expectations for attendance numbers that lead to Saturday’s disappointing show.

“My 16 year old daughter and her friends in Park City Utah have hundreds of tickets. You have been trolled by America’s teens,” tweeted veteran Republican campaign strategist Steve Schmidt on Saturday. The tweet garnered more than 100,000 likes and many responses from others whose kids or who themselves said they did the same.

Reached by telephone Sunday, Schmidt called the rally an “unmitigated disaster” — days after Trump campaign chairman Brad Parscale tweeted that more than a million people requested tickets for the rally through Trump’s campaign website.

Biden spokesman Andrew Bates said the turnout was a sign of weakening voter support. “Donald Trump has abdicated leadership and it is no surprise that his supporters have responded by abandoning him,” he said.

In a statement, the Trump campaign blamed “fake news media” for “warning people away from the rally” due to COVID-19 and protests against racial injustice around the country.

“Leftists and online trolls doing a victory lap, thinking they somehow impacted rally attendance, don’t know what they’re talking about or how our rallies work,” Parscale wrote. “Reporters who wrote gleefully about TikTok and K-Pop fans — without contacting the campaign for comment — behaved unprofessionally and were willing dupes to the charade.”

On midday Sunday, it was possible to sign up for a livestream a Tulsa “Team Trump on Tour”event later in the day through Trump’ website. It asked for a name, email address and a phone number. There was no age verification in the signup process, though the site required a pin to verify phone numbers.

Inside the 19,000-seat BOK Center in Tulsa Saturday, when Trump thundered that “the silent majority is stronger than ever before,” numerous seats were empty. Tulsa Fire Department spokesperson Andy Little said the city fire marshal’s office reported a crowd of just less than 6,200 in the arena.

City officials had expected a crowd of 100,000 people or more in downtown Tulsa but that never materialized. That said the rally, which was broadcast on cable, also targeted voters in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida.

Social media users who’ve followed recent events might not be surprised by the way young people (and some older folks) mobilized to troll the president. They did it not just on TikTok but on Twitter, Instagram and even Facebook. K-pop fans — who have a massive, co-ordinated online community and a cutting sense of humour — have become an unexpected ally to American Black Lives Matter protesters.

In recent weeks, they’ve been re-purposing their usual platforms and hashtags from boosting their favourite stars to backing the Black Lives Matter movement. They flooded right-wing hashtags such as “white lives matter”and police apps with short video clips and memes of their K-pop stars. Many of the early social media messages urging people to sign up for tickets brought up the fact that the rally had originally been scheduled for Friday, June 19. The date is known as Juneteenth because it marks the end of slavery in the United States. Tulsa, the location for the rally, was the scene in 1921 of one of the most severe white-on-black attacks in American history.

Schmidt said he was not surprised. Today’s teens, after all, grew up with phones and have “absolutely” mastered them. They are also the first generation to have remote Zoom classes and have a “subversive sense of humour,” having come of age in a world of online trolls and memes. Most of all, “they are aware of what is happening around them,” he said.

“Like salmon in the river they participate politically through the methods and means of their lives,” Schmidt added.

That said, the original idea for the mass ticket troll may have come not from a teen but an Iowa grandma. The politics site Iowa Starting Line found that a TikTok video posted on June 11 by Mary Jo Laupp, a 51-year-old grandmother from Fort Dodge, Iowa, suggesting that people book free tickets “make sure there are empty seats.” Laupp’s video, which also tells viewers how to stop receiving texts from the Trump campaign after they provide their phone number (simply text “STOP”), has had more than 700,000 likes. It was also possible to sign up for the rally using a fake or temporary phone number from Google Voice, for instance.

As Parscale himself pointed out in a June 14 tweet, though, the ticket signups were not simply about getting bodies to the rally. He called it the “Biggest data haul and rally signup of all time by 10x” — meaning the hundreds of thousands emails and phone numbers the campaign now has in its possession to use for microtargeting advertisements and reach potential voters.

Sure, it’s possible that many of the emails are fake and that the ticket holders have no intention of voting for Trump in November. But while it’s possible that this “bad data” might prove useless — or even hurt the Trump campaign in some way, experts say there is one clear beneficiary in the end, and that is Facebook. That’s due to the complex, murky ways in which Trump’s political advertising machine is tied up with the social media giant. Facebook wants data on people, and whether that is “good” or “bad” it will be used to train its systems.

“No matter who signs up or if they go to a rally, Trump gets data to train retargeting on Facebook. FB’s system will use that data in ways that have nothing to do with Trump,” tweeted Georgia Tech communications professor Ian Bogost. “Might these fake’ signups mess up the Trump team’s targeting data? Maybe it could, to some extent. But the entire system is so vast and incomprehensible, we’ll never really know.”

Glen Korstrom/Business in Vancouver – Jun 21, 2020 / 6:48 am | Story: 303353

B.C.’s gym chain Steve Nash Fitness World plans to rebrand, drop the name of former National Basketball Association star Steve Nash and open gyms by early July. The news comes days after a group of new investors agreed to acquire rights to the Steve Nash Fitness World brand – a purchase that BC Supreme Court still needs to approve.

The new owners plan to honour all existing service agreements with members, including pre-paid memberships and personal training services, the company said on June 19. Current members whose memberships have been frozen due to COVID-19 will be able to extend their freeze during the month of July if they so choose, according to the company, which is mired in insolvency procedings.

Chris Smith remains as CEO. 

The newly named Fitness World aims to reopen some locations during the first week of July, with full access to the workout floors, group fitness, and small group training sessions. Each location is expected to enforce stringent health and safety measures. 

Nash, along with partners Mark Mastrov and Leonard Schlemm, in December 2009, purchased Fitness World – a 13-gym chain that owner Henry Polessky founded in 1978.

Nash later sold his shares to those partners, who also sold the shares. Nash was later stuck in an agreement that said his name could be in the corporate brand. He had a falling out with Steve Nash Fitness World operatives and launched a lawsuit for breach of contract in October 2016, aiming to remove his name from the enterprise. That lawsuit dragged on for years before Nash finally lost.

He then reached an agreement with Steve Nash Fitness World last year, and, in September 2019, he joined the company’s board of directors.

Fitness World’s new ownership team has not been publicly revealed, but its members have extensive experience in the fitness industry, according to The Bowra Group, which was appointed as the proposal trustee in the insolvency proceedings of the company officially known as SNFW Fitness.

Under those proceedings, all legal actions against the company – which owes more than $44 million to creditors – are stayed. SNFW Fitness filed a notice of intention to file a proposal to creditors on April 3. The BC Supreme Court on June 17 then extended the deadline for filing that proposal until August 3. If the company does not file a proposal by deadline, it is deemed bankrupt under federal bankruptcy and insolvency legislation. 

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