News Briefs

  • 5/26/2022

    Newfoundland and Labrador cuts gas tax, promises $15 minimum wage by Oct. 1, 2023

    Flag of Newfoundland and Labrador is the most easterly province of Canada

    ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The Newfoundland and Labrador government is temporarily cutting the provincial gas tax in half and promising a minimum wage of $15 an hour by October 2023.

    Premier Andrew Furey told reporters the "temporary and targeted'' measures are intended to help people cope with the rising cost of living, driven mainly by spiking global oil prices.

    He says the cuts to the provincial tax on gas and diesel will save consumers about eight cents a litre at the pump.

    Labour Minister Bernard Davis says a $15 minimum wage will be phased in, beginning with a 50-cent increase to $13.70 on Oct. 1, followed by successive hikes to $14.50 next April and finally to $15 on Oct. 1, 2023.

    Newfoundland and Labrador's minimum wage is $13.20 an hour, which was the fourth-lowest in the country as of May 1, according to the Retail Council of Canada.

    Six other provinces and territories, including Ontario and British Columbia, offer a minimum wage of at least $15 an hour.

    Josh Smee, chief executive officer of non-profit Food First NL, said in an interview the move is a sign of "real progress.''

    "It's a small win, but it is a win,'' Smee said Thursday. "That's not to say it's enough - what $15 would have meant when people started asking for $15 is not what it means now, in terms of people's lives.''

    The province is also offering a one-time rebate of up to $500 to residents who heat their home with oil, as well as a 50-cent-an-hour subsidy for small employers to help them transition to the higher minimum wage.

    Finance Minister Siobhan Coady told reporters the measures add up to about $80 million, which will be paid for by higher-than-expected revenues from the province's offshore oil sector.

    "Right now, we're holding on our deficit position,'' Coady said, referring to the $351-million shortfall forecast in the provincial budget delivered April 7.

    As in the rest of the country, gas prices in Newfoundland and Labrador have skyrocketed, with Thursday's prices ranging from $2.22 a litre in St. John's to nearly $2.50 in parts of Labrador. The bill to cut the gas tax will be introduced in the provincial legislature on Monday, Furey said.

    -The Canadian Press

  • 5/26/2022

    Statistics Canada says retail sales virtually unchanged in March

    Man Complaining About Gas Prices

    OTTAWA - Retail sales in Canada were virtually unchanged in March at $60.1 billion as sales at new car dealers fell, offsetting gains elsewhere as consumers showed a willingness to keep spending, Statistics Canada reported Thursday.

    The result compared with the federal agency's initial estimate for the month that suggested sales rose 1.4%. The preliminary estimate for April suggests retail sales rose 0.8% for the month, but the agency cautioned the figure will be revised.

    Statistics Canada said sales in March were up in 10 of the 11 subsectors it tracks, representing 75% of retail trade.

    However, sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers fell 6.4% as new car dealers saw a drop of 5.9%.

    "A lack of supply, as chip shortages hamper production, continues to weigh on vehicle sales,'' Benjamin Reitzes, managing director of Canadian rates and macro strategist with BMO Capital Markets, said in a client note. "That's been a theme for some time, but is expected to ease as we work through 2022.''

    Sales at gasoline stations rose 7.4% in March.

    "Unfortunately, a good chunk of that underlying strength was due to broadly higher prices,'' Reitzes said.

    Meanwhile, core retail sales - which exclude gasoline stations and motor vehicle and parts dealers - increased 1.5% in March. In volume terms, retail sales fell 1% in March.

    "It's clear that inflation is eroding purchasing power,'' Reitzes said.

    Consumer enthusiasm could wane in the months ahead as higher interest rates ripple through the economy, he added.

    -The Canadian Press

  • 5/23/2022

    Some Jif peanut butter products recalled over potential salmonella contamination

    jif peanut butter recall

    The makers of Jif peanut butter are urging Canadians to check their recent purchases as they issue a recall for some products due to potential salmonella contamination.

    The J.M. Smucker Co. issued a voluntary recall Saturday for a number of peanut butter products sold in Canada, including creamy, light and crunchy peanut butter products.

    The company, which is issuing the recall in cooperation with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, says jars with lot codes 1274425 through 2140425 should be disposed of immediately.

    The Canadian recall follows an American outbreak of salmonella affecting 14 people in 12 states that has been linked to Jif peanut butter.

    Salmonella symptoms include fever, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting and in rare cases can cause arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis and urinary tract symptoms.

    Consumers who would like to report symptoms or who have questions are encouraged to contact Jif.

    -The Canadian Press

  • 5/17/2022

    Average price for gasoline in Canada tops $2 a litre for first time

    gas station sign with dollar sign in clouds

    Gasoline prices are showing no signs of letting up as the average price in Canada tops $2 a litre for the first time.

    Natural Resources Canada says the average price across the country for regular gasoline hit $2.06 per litre on Monday for an all-time high.

    The average was a nine-cent jump from the $1.97 per litre record set last week, and is up about 30 cents a litre since mid-April.

    Prices averaged about $2.34 a litre in Vancouver on Monday, while in Toronto the average was almost $2.09 per litre. Edmonton, in contrast, averaged just under $1.69 per litre.

    Gasoline prices have been elevated since late February when oil spiked to around US$100 a barrel after Russia invaded Ukraine, while the price jumped to over US$110 per barrel last week.

    Prices have also been spiking more recently as the reopening of the economy, and the start of the busy travel season, have led to high demand for gasoline that refiners have limited capacity to meet.

    -The Canadian Press

  • 5/14/2022

    Off with the mask: Quebec becomes last province to lift COVID 19 masking health order

    mask on a green background

    MONTREAL - Quebec was the first province in Canada to impose a mask mandate after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and on Saturday, it became the last province to allow residents to go maskless in most indoor public places.

    In force since July 2020, the masking rule expired at 12:01 a.m., allowing patrons of stores, bars, restaurants, gyms and shopping centres, along with students in elementary and high schools, to wear a mask only if they choose to.

    Masking remains mandatory, however, on public transit and in health-care facilities. People who contract COVID-19 will have to wear a mask in public while they recover, and companies can set their own rules in the workplace.

    Health Minister Christian Dube said Friday that some Quebecers will continue masking in public and their personal choice should be respected.

    "Personally, I think that I will continue to wear (a mask) in certain situations when I feel that I'm more comfortable,'' Dube said. "I'll see how things evolve in the coming weeks, but I think it's just respectful to be able to allow people to wear it.''

    Masking is recommended for vulnerable people, including the immunocompromised. An association representing people with immune disorders says at-risk residents are worried about having to navigate difficult terrain.

    The Association des Patients Immunodeficients du Quebec says that while many people might feel society is getting back to normal, that's not the case for everyone.

    Marc Griffin, a Montreal-based mental health-care worker who suffers from an autoimmune disorder, said he feels "left behind.''

    "There's a large swath of us I'd say who are on pins and needles, trying to figure out how to live our lives in a maskless world.''

    Griffin said he will spend the coming weeks figuring out how to safely travel to doctor's appointments. At a minimum, he said, the province should have kept mandatory masking for essential services like grocery stores and pharmacies.

    "It's always a calculated risk and now it's more calculation, more talking to my doctors about what they recommend I should do,'' Griffin said.

    Out of respect to those most vulnerable, the province's 1,900 pharmacies are asking customers to wear a mask when they approach the drug counters. Bertrand Bolduc, president of Quebec's order of pharmacists, said many customers suffer from a variety of ailments and are deemed at risk for COVID-19.

    "We won't play police, but we'd like for people to wear a mask,'' Bolduc said in an interview. "Our staff will also continue to wear it.''

    Toby Lyle, owner and co-founder of the Burgundy Lion Group, which operates several bars and restaurants in Montreal, said the masking rule change is "definitely a relief.'' He said his staff were finding it increasingly difficult to tell patrons to keep their masks on.

    Lyle said staff will be permitted to continue wearing masks if they wish to do so, as will customers.

    "If people decide to wear a mask, it's absolutely fine,'' Lyle said. "It's everyone's personal choice at that point.''

    As for restaurants, an industry association representative said owners are happy to see another measure fall after two years of dealing with mandatory reservations, capacity rules and vaccine passports.

    "We're just happy to not have to apply any guidelines; we don't have any restrictions to follow, so it will allow restaurant owners to just manage a restaurant and not manage everything else,'' said spokesman Martin Vezina.

    Dr. Andre Veillette, an immunologist at the Montreal Clinical Research Institute, said he feels it would have been better to keep masks in place until COVID-19 indicators were lower.

    "It would be great if we could maintain it a bit more until case numbers are much lower, but I think at the same time, the goodwill of the people is becoming sparse and people are fed up with it,'' Veillette said.

    - The Canadian Press

  • 5/10/2022

    Strike at Sobeys distribution centre in Quebec ends after workers ratify new deal


    Workers at a Sobeys distribution centre in Quebec have ratified a new contract, ending a three-month strike over wages and benefits.

    Empire Co. Ltd., the grocer's parent company, says workers voted in favour of a new three-year collective bargaining agreement Tuesday.

    The company says it looks forward to welcoming back employees and resuming operations at its Terrebonne distribution centre, which supplies its Quebec network of stores.

    About 190 workers went on strike Feb. 8.

    Kim Bergeron, a lawyer representing UFCW Canada's Local 501, says 59% of workers voted in favour of the new deal.

    Under the collective agreement, she says employees will receive a salary increase of up to 28% upon ratifying the new contract.

    Bergeron says workers will receive an additional pay raise of up to 12% over the three-year contract, or to the maximum of the pay scale.

    The new collective agreement also includes five additional days off: Three sick days, one float day and one extra holiday day, she says.

    Sobeys also agreed to increase the starting salary at the distribution centre to $22, Bergeron says.

    She says they return to work on Sunday.

    Empire says the impact of the strike on earnings per share is estimated to be five cents per share - largely due to higher transportation costs - and will affect earnings in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2022.

    Workers at the Terrbonne warehouse had previously rejected a deal proposed by the company in April.

    The resolution of the labour dispute "removes a temporary layer of complexity and costs from industry-wide supply chain disruptions,'' Irene Nattel, an analyst with RBC Dominion Securities Inc., said in a client note.

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