Sask. film industry seven years after the provincial tax credit cut

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It was almost seven-years ago when the Saskatchewan Film Tax Credit was axed, an industry that once saw multi-million dollar movies made now is barely hanging on.

“We’re not gone, we’re just smaller,” ACTRA Saskatchewan Union Branch Representative Mike Burns said.

“We certainly are productive and we are still creative, and the industry is funded by Creative Saskatchewan which does a good job with the resources that they have. Unfortunately, resources they have are under what required to attract larger productions here.”

The province’s Creative Sask. gives the film industry two million dollars through grants.  A study commissioned by the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce and Sask Film that was done in 2012 said the industry generated $44.5 million in economic spinoffs and created about 850 jobs when the tax credit was available.

READ MORE: Chamber says Saskatchewan film tax cut kicked industry out at the knees

“We do continue to see activity in the province although it has declined, some film producers have chosen not to film in Saskatchewan, but overall we have not seen an impact in our provincial economy when it comes to that,” Ministry of Parks, Culture and Sports Dep. Asst. Minister of Stewardship Candace Caswell said.

“In Manitoba, they had a $220 million in business in 2018, in Alberta, almost $300 million, this isn’t small business this a big business,” Burns said.

While the industry still sees independent and low budget films using what Saskatchewan has to offer, Burns hopes to see bigger budget films make their way back to the province.

It would take a plot twist in this year’s provincial budget, which the premier has already said it’s going to be tight.

“We think eventually there will be a bigger and better film industry here again,” Burns said.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Bread price-fixing, dairy industry make top 2018 food stories: Charlebois

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A lot happened in 2018 food-wise, from E. Coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce to dairy supply management problems.

Sylvain Charlebois, who researches food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, gave his two cents on the food stories that dominated this year.

Even though the story came out at the end of 2017, Charlebois points to bread price-fixing as something that dominated headlines in the beginning of the year.

However, he thinks there wasn’t a whole lot of attention given to the matter aside from the $25 gift card offered to consumers.

Another one on Charlebois’s list is Maple Leaf Foods’ decision to build a $660-million facility in London.

Maple Leaf Foods is expected to open the new facility in 2021. (CBC)

« A lot of people underappreciate how significant these decisions are, » he said.

« In the U.S., over the last decade, they were able to build almost 4,000 brand-new food processing plants and we’ve barely seen about 20 in Canada during the same period. »

While there’s good news there, Charlebois said dairy farmers are feeling a bit nervous with the new trade deals signed recently.

« We need to find supply and management 2.0, » said Charlebois.

According to Charlebois, the supply and management system set in place for dairy only accounts for producing enough products for the domestic demand. Now that « we’re allowing more products into the Canadian market, » he said an imbalance is created.

U.S. health officials have traced a dangerous bacterial outbreak in romaine lettuce to at least one farm in central California. (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)

Romaine lettuce was also on top of people’s minds a few times with E. Coli outbreaks linked to produce originating from Arizona and California. Charlebois said people can expect more of these types of problems because of « global food supply chains. »

However, even if that happens, Charlebois said the outbreaks have been contained very quickly.

Moving into 2019, he anticipates the federal election will make things interesting because the new NAFTA hasn’t been ratified yet, where concessions in dairy were made.

« We’re going to see a new food guide for the first time in more than a decade, » he said. « Edibles will become legal in Canada, so that’s another interesting story in the food industry over the next little while. »

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Medicine is the real pot of gold for the cannabis industry

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The current preoccupation with recreational pot is about to fade as investor interest focuses on medicinal marijuana. The alliance announced last week between B.C. pot producer Tilray Inc. and Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG is a game-changer.

Tilray products co-branded with Novartis and its Sandoz AG consumer products unit will boast an enviable legitimacy with hospitals, doctors and patients served by the global distribution network of Novartis, among the largest Big Pharma enterprises. Tilray signed another deal last week, with brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, to develop cannabis-infused beverages. But the big story is the Tilray-Novartis alliance.

Recreational and medicinal pot are different industries, a distinction not yet made by most investors. Recreational pot is long established, and while some growth is to be expected from legalization, that industry has simply shifted from the illicit to the legal realm.

By sharp contrast, medicinal pot is in its relative infancy, with tremendous growth potential.

Though it has proved its efficacy in treating pain, arthritis, epilepsy and other conditions, pot’s medicinal potential has been barely tapped. And legalization of pot in medicine will come sooner worldwide than for recreational use.

The U.S. will legalize medicinal marijuana in coming weeks, while recreational pot remains illegal at the national level.

Recreational pot use tends to be occasional, while many medicinal pot treatments will be “maintenance” drugs, like those for diabetes and high blood pressure, and will be used for a lifetime. And given the onerous regulatory approvals required of pot medications, there will be fewer players than in the over-crowded recreational industry.

That makes the pot firms strongest in medical marijuana the ones that will deliver the biggest investor returns in the long term.

Solving Trudeau’s Huawei quandary

Justin Trudeau keeps insisting that politics plays no part in Canada’s detention since Dec. 1 of one of China’s most prominent businesspeople on a U.S. arrest warrant alleging violation of U.S. trade sanctions against Iran. Or in deciding whether to grant access for her employer, Huawei Technology Co., world’s biggest maker of telecom equipment, to Canada’s emerging fifth-generation mobile network.

In fact, those actions are entirely political, including Beijing’s detention of three Canadian nationals in retaliation for Canada’s detention of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s second-ranking executive.

Trudeau earlier this year blocked the proposed sale of a second-tier Canadian engineering firm, Aecon Inc., to a state-controlled Chinese company on specious national security grounds.

Politics, or geopolitics, will also determine Trudeau’s decisions in this debacle. Among the ideal options is to release Meng Wanzhou in exchange for freeing the Canadian nationals. And to grant Huawei, which employs about 500 people in its extensive Canadian R&D operations, the access it craves to Canada’s 5G network, provided Huawei share its technology with Canadian partners – exactly what Beijing requires of offshore enterprises doing business in China.

The real story here is America’s determination to thwart China’s quest for leadership in a range of 21st-century technologies, on the flimsy pretext of national security.

That is flagrant hypocrisy.

Huawei has not been shown to be a spy for Beijing, while the Obama administration used bugs to eavesdrop on German Chancellor Angela Merkel — America is no slouch at illicit collection of intelligence on others.

The U.S. is pressuring its allies, including Canada, to help crush China’s ambitions. Even putting aside the U.S. administration’s neighbour-from-hell treatment of Canada since 2016, it isn’t Canada’s job to protect Silicon Valley from competition, and allow the U.S. to dictate Canadian industrial policy.

A needed French presidential turnaround

Emmanuel Macron’s French presidency is in trouble, and that’s no small matter for the world.

The French president has been a resolute champion of a European Union whose existence parallels Europe’s longest stretch of peace and prosperity.

The trade opportunities opened to Canadian industry by the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) give all Canadians a stake in the health of the French republic. France and Germany are the twin pillars of the EU, itself the world’s biggest economy.

The disturbing phenomenon of yellow jacket, or gilets jaunes, demonstrators burning cars and demolishing storefronts across France in recent weeks, in a populist revolt against Macron’s second diesel-tax hike this year, resonates among Albertans who’ve donned yellow jackets in their anti-Ottawa protests .

Macron is hobbled by a dismissive hauteur, and a reputation for being a servant of the wealthy.

But Macron can save his presidency. Having weakened himself by caving into the “mob” in scrapping the second of his diesel-tax hikes Dec. 5, Macron can recast himself as a forceful leader with a “people’s agenda” that includes pension reforms; the introduction of the same earned income tax credit for the working poor that then-U.S. president Bill Clinton used to narrow the gap between rich and poor; and a rejigging of tax brackets to end the windfall for the rich that resulted from Macron’s hugely unpopular scrapping of France’s wealth tax.

With several EU countries under the sway of nativist leaders, and Britain heading out of the EU, the dynamic optimist who won the Élysée Palace in May 2017 vowing to reform the EU, not dismantle it, is more needed now than ever.

David Olive is a business columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @TheGrtRecession

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Video game industry gathers at Montreal International Game Summit – Montreal

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Whether you realize it or not, many of the video games that you play in your phones or game consoles come — in one way or another — from Montreal.

“We have Ubisoft here, we have Gameloft here — we have other big studios in the area — and so what that does is it draws in a lot of talent,” Socrates Sotos, the co-founder of indie game company Business Corp. Incorporated, said on Monday.

“Montreal is almost like the Hollywood of indie games.”

It’s why the city is a natural fit to host the biggest video game event in North America: the Montreal International Game Summit.


READ MORE:
This millennial is making $560K a month playing a video game on Twitch — here’s how

The summit is an event where hundreds of experts from around the world talk about their craft and share knowledge, the latest technologies and best practices in the video game industry.

Visitors can stop by the more than 70 booths showcasing video games, virtual reality experiences and the latest in sound technology.

They can also attend the different conferences on site and meet the people behind their favourite games.

“The importance of it is that it brings the community together,” the lead character artist at Insomniac Games, Gavin Goulden, told Global News.

Goulden was one of the speakers at the event. He is part of the team that developed the Spider-Man character for the video game.

Watch below: The lead character developer for the Spider-Man video game, Gavin Goulden, reacts to the passing of the father of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, whom he got to meet. 






“For us, it’s a great way to meet people and to make contacts in the industry,” Sotos said.

For Thalia-Ann Côté-Ortiz, a Beenox recruiter, it’s a great way to meet talent.

“It’s really important because we can get human contact with people and just to feel if it’s a good fit with us,” Côté-Ortiz said.

The two-day event takes place at the Palais des congrès and wraps up on Tuesday. For more details, visit the summit’s website. 

 

 

 

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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TSB calls out fishing industry after deadliest year in more than a decade

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The deadliest year in over a decade for commercial fishermen has the Transportation Safety Board of Canada sounding the alarm over what it calls the industry’s « disturbing safety record. »

So far in 2018, 17 people have died aboard fishing vessels, the most since 2004.

Those deaths were largely the result of crew members not wearing personal flotation devices or deploying safety signals, the board said Monday as it released its annual Watchlist.

« The industry’s safety culture still has a long way to go before its members stop accepting more risk than is necessary, » the board’s chair, Kathy Fox, told a news conference in Gatineau, Que.

In addition to fishing safety, the independent agency’s yearly report also calls attention to railway sign safety and runway safety at Canadian airports.

PFDs and emergency signals 

While safety measures have been recommended and implemented over the years in commercial fisheries, the board said it’s disappointed with the lack of results. 

The number of fishing vessel deaths continues to fluctuate year to year. For example, there were 17 deaths in 2004, eight in 2016, three in 2017 and 17 again so far this year.

Transportation Safety Board of Canada chair Kathy Fox, left, said it’s a huge disappointment that many of the TSB’s recommendations have still not been addressed. Senior marine investigator, Glenn Budden, sits next to Fox. (Submitted by Transportation and Safety Board of Canada )

« Why? Because while more and more fish harvesters recognize the value of wearing a life-jacket or using an emergency signalling device, there are still many who don’t, » said Fox.

Of the 63 fishing vessel deaths between 2011 and 2017, almost 43 per cent were due to a crew member falling overboard and 35 per cent blamed on the stability of the vessel.

The board said in about 80 per cent of those 63 deaths, the use of a PFD « could not be ascertained » and in 44 per cent, emergency signals weren’t received by authorities.

The report said a major hazard — whether it’s on the sea, in the air or by rail — is employee fatigue.

« Pervasive, especially in a 24/7 industry where crews can work long and irregular schedules across multiple time zones, fatigue has been found to be a risk or contributing factor in more than 90 TSB investigations since 1992, » the board said in a news release.

Time for enforcement, not education

Leonard Leblanc, president of the Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia, said it boggles his mind that the message to wear PFDs still isn’t getting through to a small number of fishermen. 

So far this year, seven fishermen have died in Nova Scotia — deaths Leblanc believes could have been prevented. 

That’s why he says the time for education is done. He wants better enforcement for those who break the rules. 

« We’ve done our share. We’ve educated as much as we can and the only step that we haven’t done is to have the provincial government proceed with fines, » said Leblanc, a retired fisherman from Chéticamp, N.S.

Leblanc said his association has met with the provincial Labour Department and asked officials to step up their presence on wharves when fishing season starts.

TSB wants action 

Leblanc said he agrees with many of the recommendations Watchlist 2018 puts forward to keep fishermen safe. They come about a year after Transport Canada released updated safety regulations for fishing vessels.

The Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations include:

  • That federal and provincial authorities work together to co-ordinate regulatory oversight of commercial fisheries.
  • That Transport Canada release user-friendly guidelines on vessel stability.
  • That harvesters adopt these new guidelines and the 2017 Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations and that it results in changes.
  • That there is evidence that harvesters have changed their behaviours around « flotation devices, immersion suits, emergency signaling devices, and safe work practices. »

But Fox said the board is tired of recommending changes that are not implemented.

« There are dozens of TSB recommendations that have been active for over a decade without a fully satisfactory response, » she said. 

It should be safety first, and money after. Some tend to have money first and safety after.– Leonard Leblanc, Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia

Leblanc, too, is frustrated that some fishermen don’t seem to be listening. 

But he insists that safety is improving, even if 2018 has been a particularly deadly year. 

In fact, in the last decade, Leblanc said commercial fishing companies in Nova Scotia have spent far less on workplace injury insurance. He said fewer accidents mean assessment rates for employers have dropped by 40 per cent. 

« This is a bad year, but it’s a year that reminds us that the work of promoting safety is never over, » he said.

« A life is precious, it’s priceless, and to me, that should be the first thing that should happen on a vessel. It should be safety first, and money after. Some tend to have money first and safety after. »

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Alberta craft brewers celebrate fast-growing industry

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A collaborative approach to business is helping spur growth in Alberta’s craft brewing industry, according to the Alberta Small Brewers Association (ASBA).

“Everybody really tries to raise each other up,” Lauren Reid, an official with the ASBA, said Saturday on Global News Morning.

“It’s definitely a collaborative industry; everybody’s friends in the industry.”

The ASBA celebrated Alberta Beer Week in late October.

Reid said the industry started to grow rapidly roughly five years ago, and there are now roughly 90 breweries in the province.

“We’ve got about 20 to 30 breweries growing every single year,” Reid said.

“You look to other Canadian or even American cities… we’re growing quickly and we’re catching up to them very quickly.”


READ MORE:
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Reid pointed out that there are now some areas in the province where a number of breweries are within walking distance of each other. For example, a craft brew hub in Calgary called the “barley belt” contains seven different breweries within a seven-kilometre stretch.

She believes there will be more brewing destinations in the coming year and added that Alberta consumers will be the driving force behind any continued industry growth.

“Buying local is a huge thing… get to know your local breweries and really support them that way,” Reid said.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Newfoundlander has high hopes for his province’s pot industry

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PORTUGAL COVE, NL — Newfoundland’s unique position in the North Atlantic one half-hour ahead of the rest of the country means there will be a desperate crush of retailers clamouring to record the first-ever legal sale of cannabis in Canada on the morning of Oct. 17, 2018, but local lore will judge Thomas Clarke as the homegrown folk hero who got out in front of the rest.

True, technically speaking, the path traced by the rising sun westward across the continent next Wednesday will ultimately grant bragging rights to that historic first sale to one of the handful of pot shops also set to open in downtown St. John’s and neighbouring Mount Pearl slightly to the east of Clarke’s budding THC Distribution setup in Portugal Cove, a picturesque oceanside burg just a hair’s breadth west of St. John’s and a mere 26 kilometres from Cape Spear, the easternmost point in North America.

Thomas H. Clarke, outside his cannabis store THC Distribution, near St. John’s, Nfld., is hoping to be the first independent seller to legally sell marijuana for recreational use in Canada on Wednesday.
Thomas H. Clarke, outside his cannabis store THC Distribution, near St. John’s, Nfld., is hoping to be the first independent seller to legally sell marijuana for recreational use in Canada on Wednesday.  (Paul Daly / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Corporate-marijuana giant Canopy Growth — about to open a $55-million, 150,000-square-foot grow op in St. John’s, licensed to supply the province with 12,000 kilograms of pot a year in addition to a half-dozen branded outlets scattered across the Rock — is already making a big noise about how one of its own outlets on Water St. will be the first place to sell a legal gram of cannabis in Canada.

CEO Bruce Linton will be on the ground to mark the moment before “ending his day at our headquarters here in Smiths Falls for a huge celebration,” a Canopy representative affirms.

That hasn’t stopped Clarke from doing a masterful job of stealing Canopy’s thunder in the local media — even in the pages of long-lived American pothead bible High Times magazine — for months now, however. And he’s still at it.

“I’ll be the first independent, locally owned guy to make a sale in Canada and I think that’s a way better story than Tweed sells their weed to their f — in’ CEO,” he laughed good-naturedly down the line from Portugal Cove over Thanksgiving weekend, audibly beaming at the news that the St. John’s CBC-Radio affiliate would be broadcasting both its morning show and its noon-hour call-in show, Cross Talk, live from THC Distribution on Legalization Day.

Any way you cut it, Clarke’s successful bid to turn his former home at 1614 Portugal Cove Rd. into a legitimate shop selling cannabis and cannabis accessories counts as a victory.

This has arguably been his destiny for most of his 43 years, even though his birth certificate might quibble with his assertions that he chose the name THC Distribution for his business because his middle name is “Herb.”

Clarke, 43, and a father of three children aged 11, 2 and 1, has put in his time in the marijuana game, even done time for it. He’s been selling weed in and around St. John’s since he was in junior high, got busted at 18, when a customer got caught with two ounces of hashish and ratted him out as the source and, despite never actually getting pinched with any physical product himself, spent 30 days in prison for his troubles the next year.

He’s been a public voice for reasonable cannabis laws ever since and, once the Trudeau government decided to follow through on its election promise to make weed legal, also became a constant, loud presence in the St. John’s media and in the faces of local politicians demanding that Newfoundland growers and business owners get a fair share of the pie.

His experience on the file, as it were, no doubt contributed to the success of the stringent, multi-faceted business plan he submitted to the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation (NLC).

“Because I’ve been working on this basically my whole life I guess I had a really good plan put together, right?” he says.

“I’ve been around the cannabis industry for 30 years. I started selling weed when I was in Grade 8. It’s always been my passion and something I’ve been a social-justice advocate for my whole life. So once Justin Trudeau was elected and I saw that, holy sh-, this is really happening I said ‘I have to start talking to people about this’ so Newfoundland could have a good foothold when legalization happened and that we went in the right direction, which I think would be having local product and local business owners opening shops. That’s a way to have the cannabis industry grow in Newfoundland and try to keep the industry as localized as possible.”

Most of THC Distribution’s initial, immediate competition will consist of miniature NLC-run outlets attached to Loblaws-owned Dominion supermarkets around the city, Ontario-based Canopy’s five planned storefronts in St. John’s, Mount Pearl and Conception Bay South and a few scattered weed-retail counters in convenience stores and “wellness” boutiques.

Clarke is the only person who received a licence for a “standalone, strictly cannabis shop” on the Avalon Peninsula — there’s another on the way in Labrador and one more to come on the west coast of Newfoundland, apparently, although as of Oct. 5, the NLC itself could only vaguely peg the number of outlets that might be approved in time to open for Legalization Day at around 20 — so that will, by virtue of geography, make his the first truly independent small business to sell legal marijuana in Canadian history on Legalization Day. He’s counting on Newfoundland pride to put him over the top.

He’s already trademarked the name “Wild Newfoundland Blueberry Cannabis Company” in hopes of eventually selling varieties of the Canadian-born cannabis strain known as “blueberry” — ideally to be someday grown right in Newfoundland — to pot-starved international tourists bused out to Portugal Cove from the cruise ships that routinely dock in St. John’s harbour. He dreams of marketing locally grown weed “grown with the oldest, freshest water in the world” sourced from wandering icebergs.

“The options for cannabis for 300,000 people on the Avalon are going to be either the Dominion grocery store or the Tweed/Canopy weed-corporation giants or the local cannabis expert in Portugal Cove,” he says. “So I think I’m gonna do okay.”

Clarke hasn’t had the easiest time getting THC Distribution off the ground. This past August, a petition circulated by some of his neighbours in Portugal Cove and last-minute fretting by the local council over his business application suddenly had his $125,000 investment up in the air. The Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s municipal government swung back around to his side on Oct. 2, though, voting 5-2 in favour of him opening his doors on Oct. 17.

Now, like every other legal pot retailer in Canada, he’s stuck worrying about how many of the licensed producers he’s required to buy his stock from through the NLC will actually have product available in time for Legalization Day.

The margins are going to be tight, any way you cut it, since Newfoundland law allows for only an 8-per-cent commission on product sold; of the $66,847 Clarke has spent on Canopy weed for opening day, he only stands to make about $5,000.

“If I’m not ready to open on the 17th it’s gonna break my f — ing heart. But I’m 99.999 per cent sure I will be,” he says. “The NLC had seven licensed producers signed up and only two of them have weed to ship for the 17th. I know I’ll have Canopy stuff and I think I’ll have Aurora, but that’s it. Everyone else has delays because of packaging problems or problems with the weed they grew or problems with their Health Canada licences for selling it and stuff, so there’s a lot of f — in’ tangly problems down here. If I don’t run out of weed on the first day, I’m pretty sure I will on the second or third day.

“It’s definitely a long-haul venture.”

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Saint John mayor wants focused industry talks after Irving Oil explosion and fire

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Saint John Mayor Don Darling says he plans to have « focused discussions » with industry officials after an explosion and fire at the Irving Oil refinery Monday shook area homes, and sent at least five people to hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Irving Oil officials are still trying to determine the exact cause of the « bed-shaking » morning blast that saw flames shooting an estimated 30 metres high and a plume of black smoke billowing over the city’s east side for hours, but believe it stemmed from a malfunction in a diesel-treating unit.

The incident comes on the heels of a « significant » explosion last month at the American Iron & Metal Company Inc. scrap-metal recycling plant on the city’s waterfront, an apology from Irving Oil in June for the release of a mystery product from the refinery, and a butane leak at the refinery in January that forced 65 people from their homes for days.

In a Facebook video post, Darling said Monday was « a bit of a scary day for everyone » and he has heard from « many » concerned residents.

« And I’ll assure you that we will have those next phase conversations at the right time, » he said.

« The days, weeks and months ahead, will give us the time to have focused discussions and look for a new relationship going forward, » Darling posted on Twitter.

The Irving Oil facility is the largest refinery in Canada. It employs about 1,400 people and is capable of producing more than 320,000 barrels per day at the sprawling site, which covers more than 300 hectares.

Although the explosion occurred on the Thanksgiving holiday, close to 3,000 people were working onsite due to a regularly scheduled maintenance project. About 100 were the normal operations crew, while the rest were tradespeople working on the turnaround project, officials said.

Evacuation not required

The refinery, which is less than five kilometres from the city centre and surrounded by residential neighbourhoods, was evacuated and shut down following the 10:16 a.m. explosion.

No evacuation order was issued for area residents, but Saint John Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) officials did encourage people to stay in their homes up until about 6 p.m., when the situation was deemed stabilized.

No evacuation order was required, EMO manager Mike Carr told reporters during a news conference Monday afternoon.

« We work under the direction of the boots on the ground … We go by the people that are onsite that can make that situational assessment and at no point in time did they think that we should actually evacuate the area, » he said.

« It seemed to be contained to that [diesel-treating] unit for the duration. »

The Irving Oil refinery, which opened in 1960, covers more than 300 hectares on Saint John’s east side and is surrounded by residential neighbourhoods. (Google Maps)

Darling said he stands by that decision.

« Had there been the need for [evacuation, fire] Chief [Kevin] Clifford, the head of our EMO with 40 years of experience, would have made that call with is team, » he said.

Air quality monitoring is ongoing. As of late Monday night, no concerns to public health had been identified, officials said.

The mayor commended emergency officials for doing a « stellar job » and said he’s grateful no one was killed or seriously injured.

« Today was a big test and I’m thankful everyone goes home tonight, » he tweeted.

It’s unclear how long the refinery will remain shut down. Irving Oil is working with WorkSafeNB, the Department of Environment and EMO officials to « understand what happened » and decide on next steps, said chief refining and supply officer Kevin Scott.

The company is offering counselling to any employees or contractors shaken by the incident, he said.

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Canadian turkey sales are plummeting. B.C.’s industry thinks it may have a solution

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VANCOUVER—The familiar odour of ammonia wafts through the air as fourth-generation farmer Derek Edwards swings open the wooden doors to one of his heated barns, greeted by 4,000 juvenile turkeys, several of which dash over to peck at his feet.

The Edwards farm in Richmond is more than a century old, and Derek, 43, is the latest in a line of turkey farmers, with roots tracing back to the British Isles. Turkey is involved in nearly every aspect of his family’s lives. It’s their protein each day for their meals and it’s the family’s source of income. Even his twin daughters’ pets are turkeys: Blackie and Whitie, named after the black and white colours of their plumage.

But there are fewer birds in the Edwards barn compared to five years ago. The industry as a whole is shrinking, with Canadians consuming fewer whole turkeys per year and nowhere more so than in Vancouver.

“Not as many people are eating turkey for holidays,” Edwards said, as he listened to the distinctive chirps of his four-week-old Christmas flock, wary of signs of distress. “The families aren’t as big as they used to be. For a lot of new Canadians, I don’t think we really have broken into that segment of the population.”

The Canadian turkey industry is in trouble. Retail sales have decreased steadily: Industry figures show that more than a quarter of annual sales at grocery-store checkout counters — the equivalent of 22 million kilograms of turkey — have disappeared over the past 15 years.

In British Columbia, the province hit hardest by the decline (annual grocery-store sales in the province are down by more than six million kilograms since 2002, according to Turkey Farmers of Canada), industry leaders are grasping at possible explanations, such as lack of advertising by grocery chains and lack of appetite among a growing population of Asian and South Asian customers.

“That’s just another sign of our times,” said Trevor Allen, who raises about 12,000 free-range turkeys each year at his farm in Chilliwack, B.C. “You know what, I did see a real spike in my whole-bird sales when we had 9/11. People were screaming for it. I think what happened is people suddenly realized family is important. Then, it slowly, started going to wherever it is today.”

The losses have been difficult for an industry that relies so much on holiday retail sales, said Michel Benoit, general manager with the B.C. Turkey Marketing Board. With Thanksgiving and the winter holidays rapidly approaching, the marketing board has been working furiously to find new customers among the Asian and South Asian customers who have traditionally shied away from the festive bird.

“This weekend, we had in-store demos where we were sampling turkey with some Asian sauces in five different locations that were highly Chinese or South Asian populated,” Benoit said in mid-September. “We wanted to show them it’s a good protein source, it’s a tasty product and it’s something they should try.”

Asians and South Asians have, in recent decades, been among the fastest-growing immigrant populations in B.C. According to the 2016 Census, the population the two ethnic groups have grown by nearly half a million since 2001.

Henry Beh, a Chinese-Malaysian immigrant who moved to B.C. four decades ago, said festive options for the Chinese community tend to involve barbecued chicken, pork or duck, meats that are perceived to have a more tender and juicier profile.

“Whenever there’s a festival, Autumn Festival or Chinese New Year, there will be 30 to 100 people lining up just because they want to buy the barbecue. But turkey, I don’t see any turkey barbecued at the Chinese stores. It’s seen as not desirable,” Beh said.

Even if the Asian and South Asian communities were to buy in, a systemic problem would remain: an enormous amount of turkey purchased for Thanksgiving and Christmas is priced at a loss. At most grocery stores, it’s common to see whole-turkey deals for 99 cents a pound or less. That leaves virtually no room for retailers to make a profit, since B.C. turkey producers wholesale their live birds at a market-controlled rate of about 91 cents a pound.

“It’s great for us — we get to sell a bunch of turkeys,” said Benoit, of the marketing board. “But, on the other hand, the rest of the year, there’s a reluctance by people to pay $4 (per pound). It fixes in the consumer the mindset that 99 cents a pound for turkey is a fair price and anything over that is not.”

In response, some producers, including Derek Edwards in Richmond, have diversified their flocks so as to include “specialty” and organic birds that, because they’re given better feed and more space to roam in, go for as much as $20 a pound at high-end grocers like Whole Foods.

But, at the moment, premium, specialty and organic products make up just seven per cent of all turkey production in the province.

Dion Wiebe is CEO of Rossdown Natural Foods, one of B.C. main producers of organic turkey. Wiebe said his primary customers tend to purchase exclusively organic foods, representing a limited niche that shows slow signs of growth.

“There’s all kinds of debate why the whole-bird consumption is down. I think the whole demographic is shifting and changing,” he said. “I think there’s a generation — you give them a whole turkey and they go, ‘What? I don’t have anything to put that in.’ ”

Wiebe’s company has been recently focused on trying to market turkey products outside of the October and December rush, but progress is limited, in part by consumer demand and in part by the amount of shelf space retailers are willing to offer year-round

There are also extra risks associated with raising organic and specialty birds. For example, while the certification standards generally prohibit medications, turkeys that roam in open pastures can be exposed to disease-carrying wild birds. With a bird-flu outbreak in the province still in recent memory, farmers like Edwards have to monitor the health of their flocks multiple times every day.

One such disease, blackhead, has recently resurfaced as a topic of concern after the only legally permitted treatment in Canada was withdrawn in 2016. The disease, which can be contracted when birds eat infected worms, is named after its symptom of turning turkeys’ heads black. A single infection can wipe out entire flocks. To compound matters, outbreaks of the disease generally occur more in B.C.’s temperate climate compared to the rest of Canada.

Two years ago, Benoit said, a farmer who attempted to start a large-scale organic farm had his efforts completely dismantled by blackhead.

Allen, the Chilliwack free-range turkey grower, said he worries about blackhead every day.

“When I go in and pick up one or two mortalities every couple of weeks, I start wondering, ‘Is this the start?’ ” he said. “I wouldn’t even want to think about what would happen if that came on my farm.”

Luke Nickel, an associate veterinarian with Alberta-based Poultry Health Services, said farmers are now restricted to preventative techniques such as restricting public access and changing shoes and clothes before entering barns.

Nickel, who comes from a B.C. turkey-farming family, said the PHS petitioned Health Canada to approve a new anti-blackhead medication used in Europe, but were rejected. Health Canada said it rejected the medication in part due to concerns that the antibiotic would create additional resistance in bacteria harmful to humans.

Back at the Edwards farm, its patriarch wonders how secure the turkey business will be in the future as he turns over the sawdust used as the birds’ litter. The young turkeys obediently move out of the way, in a semicircle expanding from Edward’s pitchfork, before returning to nest in the hills and dips created by the churn. Looking at his birds, Edwards’s hopes remain high for a push in the industry to market easier-to-prepare processed turkey products to the elusive Asian and South Asian markets.

“Living in Richmond, you have Asian friends, South Asian friends,” Edwards said. “My buddies — I was like, ‘Why don’t you eat a turkey?’ They said, ‘Well, we don’t know how.’ I said, ‘You can buy it as ground turkey instead of ground chicken or ground beef.” They said they hadn’t really thought of that.”

Benoit at the marketing board said ground turkey has been the one true area of significant growth in the industry. The key is the additional processing, whether the turkeys are segmented, made into sausages, or sandwich patties. And while it’s unclear whether marketing efforts will succeed in selling the non-traditional, prepared products, it seems many in the industry are on board.

“What’s going to make it on the centre plate? I know a whole turkey won’t. Is it a cutlet? Is it marinated? Is it a value-added item that people can learn to use within their protein for the week?” Wiebe, the organic processor, said.

“That’s where our industry is going … They need it cooked in less than 30 minutes and it needs to complement everything else around the plate.”

Beh also suspects ground or cut-up products may be the only way to break through his Asian culture’s reluctance for the big bird.

“If you take the whole turkey and make them into smaller portions, maybe that’s the way it sells better,” he said. “More packaging. That might be able to sell.”

However, this Thanksgiving, Beh’s family will be dining out, likely at a Chinese restaurant.

Michael Mui is a Vancouver-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @mui24hours

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