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Fighter jet delays fuelling exodus of pilots from Air Force, insiders say

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OTTAWA—The oft-delayed purchase of new fighter jets is contributing to a flight of pilots out of the Air Force to the civilian sector, causing a critical shortage of skilled aviators to fly Canada’s aging fleet of CF-18s, insiders say.

Flying a 30-year-old jet holds less appeal for pilots who are no longer prepared to sacrifice quality of life and are instead quitting for airline careers, where demand for experienced personnel is sky-high.

The rush out the door has left the Royal Canadian Air Force coping with less experienced pilots flying increasingly outdated jets, former fighter pilots tell the Star.

“It’s not a winning proposition,” one veteran former pilot told the Star.

In a recent report, the auditor general turned a spotlight on the crisis, noting that the Air Force only had 64 per cent of the CF-18 pilots it needs. Between April 2016 and March 2018, 40 fighter pilots left and the Air Force was only able to train 30 new ones. Since then, 17 more pilots have indicated they are out the door.

If that pace continues, there won’t be enough experienced pilots to train new ones and the Air Force won’t be able to meet its obligations to NATO and NORAD, the report said.

The Star spoke to several former fighter pilots about the situation. They spoke on background because of sensitivities around their current jobs.

They say several factors are at play in the exodus of pilots. These include exasperation over the delayed purchase of replacement jets that are now not expected for a decade or more, as well as a desire for better quality of life away from the two main fighter bases in Cold Lake, Alta., and Bagotville, Que.

But the biggest factor is the huge demand for pilots across Canada and the world, offering military pilots an easy path to the cockpits of commercial airliners.

“There’s not enough pilots globally … so companies are very aggressive in recruiting wherever they can find them. Military pilots are prime candidates, so they get offered good deals and off they go,” one former pilot said.

The broader pilot shortage problem could soon be the topic of parliamentary study. Liberal MP Steve Fuhr, a former Air Force pilot who flew the CF-18, has proposed a motion to have the Commons transport committee examine the challenges facing flight schools in training new pilots.

Speaking to the motion earlier this month, Fuhr (Kelowna-Lake Country) said the industry-wide shortage is already having an effect on the civilian sector and the military, and noted that Canada could be short 3,000 pilots by 2025.

“As the pilot shortage percolates up, both scheduled and nonscheduled commercial air service will be negatively affected,” Fuhr told a meeting of the committee on Nov. 21.

The CF-18s were last deployed in a combat role in Iraq against Daesh, and remain potent fighters. Able to fly at almost twice the speed of sound, they continue to hold appeal for young military pilots.

But delays in purchasing new fighters, first by the Conservative government and now the Liberals, means replacement aircraft are 10 years or more away. With no prospect of flying the next generation of fighter, some pilots see little incentive to stick around and are opting to quit the Armed Forces when their flying tours are complete.

“They make the calculation that I’m never going to fly anything other than an old 40-year-old F-18 in my entire career,” the former pilot said.

However, another veteran pilot downplayed the delayed procurement as a reason for the departures. “Realistically, I don’t think that’s driving people out the door,” he said.

After two tours of flying — typically about six years — pilots usually move to a desk job. That’s the point where military pilots who are keen to keep flying decide to jump to the private sector, which offers the promise of a good career and the chance to live closer to big cities.

“That’s why guys get out. What’s ultimately driving them out is opportunity,” he said.

Whatever the reason, the departures are hitting the RCAF hard. The Air Force has 76 CF-18s and just over 100 pilots qualified to fly them, insiders say. As a result, having almost 60 quit the forces in just over two years marks a huge loss in experience, they say.

The former Air Force veterans stressed that training is good and that the young pilots arriving at the front-line squadrons are well-qualified. Yet they are considered “minimum combat-ready,” able to initially fly only as wingmen and require another one or two years of experience to be considered qualified to fly all missions and serve as flight leaders.

“That’s the danger of this cycle. They’re not regenerating the same numbers as they’re losing,” the pilot said. “The experience level is dropping … With that goes an increase in risk.”

By the time they are replaced, the CF-18s will have been in the Air Force fleet for almost half a century, 30 years longer than planned. The auditor general noted that it’s been 10 years since there was any significant upgrade to their combat capabilities. The Air Force had been relying on the experience of its pilots to overcome shortfalls caused by the age of the aircraft.

“You can still fight OK with an old jet if you have very, very skilled individuals flying it. We invest a lot in our training and therefore our people are very capable, adaptive, innovative,” the pilot said.

“The problem is that those guys are leaving,” he said.

In response to the auditor general findings, Lt.-Gen. Al Meinzinger, commander of the RCAF, said the Air Force is taking steps to help retain aircrews, including measures to improve the quality of life along with changes to how the Air Force trains its pilots to give it “greater flexibility to better meet future personnel demands.”

It looks as if you appreciate our journalism. Our reporting changes lives, connects communities and effects change. But good journalism is expensive to produce, and advertiser revenue throughout the media industry is falling and unable to carry the cost. That means we need you, our readers. We need your help. If you appreciate deep local reporting, powerful investigations and reliable, responsible information, we hope you will support us through a subscription. Please click here to subscribe.

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier

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12 strategies to manage credit card payments and debt

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Today, almost everyone carries a credit card in their wallets. It is used to pay for almost everything from groceries to flight tickets to gas.

If managed properly, credit cards can be an essential financial tool that allows users to build credible credit, earn money back and gain great perks, like purchase protection and insurance. However, carrying a poor credit balance can plunge you into massive debt.

“Credit card debt is very high-interest debt, typically in the neighbourhood of 20% or more,” said Scott Hannah, president and CEO of Credit Counselling Society in a report.

If you have a balance payment on your credit card, clearing it off can be a difficult task if you’re a low-income earner—or you’ve already incurred too much debt that after using a credit card payment calculator you know you’ll be unable to pay back.

However, no matter how terrible you think your current situation is, there’s always a way out that works best for you. With interest on loans compounding everyday, there’s little wonder why clearing a credit card debt is so difficult. In fact, according to MNP, an accounting firm, nearly half of all Canadians are less than $200 per month away from becoming financially insolvent.

Tackling credit card debt can seem quite tedious, especially with many people choosing to ignore the problem and just keep making the minimum payment. Here are some practical strategies you can take advantage of to effectively tackle credit card debt.

1. Gain a complete understanding of your debt problem

This starting point for anyone trying to get out of debt is to understand why you’re in debt, in the first place.

Critically examine all areas of your finances to determine if your expenses don’t match your finances or if it was due to an unforeseen circumstance such as a medical emergency. Whatever the case may be, it is very important to know the reason why you are in so much debt so you can effectively tackle the root cause.

2. Look into your spending habits

Typically, one quick way to stop yourself from running into credit card debt is to examine your spending habits. What are the things you spend your credit card on? Are they essentials or things that can be easily done away with?

According to Hannah, most people can only account for about 75 to 80 per cent of their monthly expenditures and the remaining gets blurry. It is important to track your expenditure—whether it’s an extra shot of drinks at the bar or a box of cereal from the supermarket. Knowing what you spend money on allows you to build a better financial strategy against debt.

3. Build a budget

Once you have a clear picture of what your monthly expenses are, building a budget becomes the most important step towards managing your income better. Having one central location for tracking both your income and expenses is great in curtailing unnecessary spending and getting you out of debt.

Your budget needs to contain all of your expenses incorporated from essentials like groceries, mortgage, medical care and insurance to others such as utilities. While most people struggle to stick to their budget, you can create some margin for flexibility to make it easier for you.

4. Increase your minimum payment

For most credit cards, the minimum payment is approximately 2 per cent of the last month’s balance. But therein lies the problem because if you consistently pay only the minimum, then the lump of that money goes straight to your interest and not the principal.

Paying some extra money every month would go a long way in helping you clear your credit card debt faster and reduce the compounding interest.

5. Ask for a lower rate

It is very possible to negotiate for a lower rate with your bank; only thing is, most people tend not to do so. If you find yourself struggling with paying back your credit card debt, you can reach out to your lender and ask them to offer you a lower rate.

Long-time customers who have a history of making timely payments have more advantage with getting their request approved.

6. Take advantage of a balance transfer promotion

In a bid to entice new customers, lenders run promotions periodically on balance transfers for their credit cards. Basically, these offers involve having a low-interest rate between 0 to 2 per cent for a limited period—usually between 6 to 10 months.

Always be on the lookout for a lender that offers the lowest rates and longest promotional period, which would give you enough time to clear your debt.

7. Switch to a low-interest credit card

Once you have critically examined your spending habit and created a budget, yet it is obvious that you will always carry over a credit card balance, then it is time to switch to a low-interest credit card.

While these types of credit cards usually have little perks, they are quite useful in wiping a couple of percentage points off your interest. Typically, rates on low-interest credit cards vary but they could be as low as half the interest on a regular card.

8. Begin an avalanche

The avalanche method is great for those who have a lot of debt with several creditors. This method means you’d make the minimum payments on all your existing debts and then add any extra income to the debt that has the highest interest rate.

Using the avalanche method allows you to reduce the interest paid while clearing multiple debts.

9. Use the debt snowball approach

Another debt repayment strategy that you should consider is the debt snowball method. In this strategy, you would focus on paying off your small debt first before moving to the larger ones—all whilst still paying the minimum on all other debt—regardless of interest rate.

10. Get an extra income source

Creating additional streams of income goes a long way in helping you clear your credit card debt. By finding a better paying job or choosing a good side hustle, you can easily put down more money towards your debt repayment.

There’s a lot of gigs you can offer today to raise extra money such as writing, graphic design, proofreading, teaching and programming.

11. Use a personal loan

If your credit card balance is quite high, paying it off using a personal loan may be very advantageous. While the interest rates on credit cards can be as high as 29 per cent, with a good credit score you can qualify for a personal loan at a lower rate.

The main advantage of using this strategy is being able to pay off multiple credit card debts and focus on making single but fixed monthly payments on the remaining loan. Also, you spend lesser money on interest costs and repaying the loan in instalment would boost your credit score.

12. Spend more cash

Despite being very valuable items, credit cards can quickly run you into massive debt when not used properly. If you already have some debt yet to be paid, it is better to spend more cash than accumulate more debt on your credit card.

Get a low-interest credit card but only use it in emergencies once you know there isn’t enough money in your bank account to pay off the accumulated debt.

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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