News Briefs

05/30/2022

Canadian merchants eligible to claim rebates after settlement with Visa, Mastercard

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Credit Card, Visa, Master Card

TORONTO - Businesses in Canada may be eligible to claim hundreds of dollars in credit card processing fees following a multimillion-dollar class action settlement with Visa and Mastercard.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says merchants can now apply for rebates on so-called swipe fees charged on transactions dating back two decades.

The settlement comes as the pandemic quickened a shift away from cash towards digital payments as more consumers shopped online.

Corinne Pohlmann, senior vice-president of national affairs at CFIB, says credit card fees have become a growing issue for small businesses in Canada.

Credit cards charge merchants so-called interchange rates, a fee charged on every sale and paid to credit-card companies, payment processors and banks.

Those fees can range from as low as around one per cent for basic cards to nearly three per cent for cards that offer rewards such as cash back or loyalty points.

"The more perks on a card, the more expensive it is for a merchant to accept,'' Pohlmann said. "I don't think consumers understand how big a cost it could be for a merchant.''

While the settlement doesn't change the fees, it does allow businesses to apply for a refund of some of the fees paid since 2021.

The rebate ranges from $30 a year for small merchants, or up to $600, to $250 a year for larger merchants, or $5,000.

The settlement also gives merchants the power to pass credit card fees on to customers starting this fall.

While very few merchants are expected to add surcharges for accepting credit cards, Pohlmann said giving businesses the ability to recoup those fees will help them push back against future fee hikes.

Meanwhile, the federal government has repeatedly pledged to lower credit card processing fees for small businesses.

"They've promised to reduce fees for small- and medium-sized businesses to rates that are similar to what ... big businesses enjoy,'' said Gary Sands, senior vice-president of public policy with the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.

"But there's been a deafening silence from Ottawa.''

Sands said the amount being reimbursed by Visa and Mastercard represents a tiny fraction of fees paid. He also expressed concern that the settlement could be used by credit card companies as "camouflage in their battle to resist lowering their credit card fees.''

"The surcharge isn't a solution,'' he said. "What business is going to deliberately put themselves at a competitive disadvantage by passing those fees on to customers.''

- The Canadian Press

05/30/2022

Police believe convenience store robberies linked

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flashing lights of the police car

Two convenience store armed robberies within several days has the Prince Albert Police Service believing the incidents may be linked.

Officers on patrol responded to a report of a robbery at a business in the 2700 Block of 15th Avenue East in Prince Albert, Sask. around 1 a.m. Wednesday morning. A man holding a knife entered the store and fled with an undisclosed amount of cash and lottery tickets. The suspect is described as wearing a blue and white hat, white shoes, light-coloured bunnyhug and black jacket, and black pants.

Just before 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, police received a call for service involving a robbery at a business in the 1900 Block of Central Avenue. A man threatened staff with a knife while demanding money and lottery tickets. He then fled Eastbound on foot.

The suspect is described as being 5'8'' tall and approximately 150 pounds. He was wearing a black bunnyhug with a fish skeleton outline on the back, black pants, white Adidas shoes, a blue and white hat and a white medical mask.

No one was injured in either incident.

Due to the potential connection between these two incidents, police are warning the public and businesses to be cautious and stay alert. Staff are recommended to work in pairs and ensure store visibility by keeping the interior and entries well lighted. Report any suspicious activity to police.

Anyone with information on the identity of the man is asked to contact police at 306-953-4222 or anonymously through Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS. Tips can also be submitted anonymously online at https://www.p3tips.com/248

-The Canadian Press

05/27/2022

Statistics Canada says retail sales virtually unchanged in March

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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

05/24/2022

Some Jif peanut butter products recalled over potential salmonella contamination

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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

05/17/2022

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

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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

05/17/2022

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

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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