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Tentative deal to settle part of XL Foods beef recall class-action lawsuit

EDMONTON - Lawyers have brokered a tentative deal to settle part of a class-action lawsuit filed over an E. coli outbreak and the largest meat recall in Canadian history.

The lawsuit is against XL Foods Inc., which operated a meat-packing plant in southern Alberta during the tainted beef recall in 2012.

Rick Mallett, a lawyer for the Edmonton law firm behind the class action, said the settlement is to cover refunds to consumers for products that were recalled.

He said the proposed $1-million settlement, plus other costs, is to go before a judge early next year for approval.

"The parties have reached a settlement on beef refund claims subject to approval of the court," Mallett said Tuesday following a hearing in Court of Queen's Bench.

"It applies to anyone who purchased recalled beef — XL beef — and disposed of it and didn't get a refund."

XL Foods recalled more than 1.8 million kilograms of beef in Canada and the United States.

In its statement of defence the company has denied liability and the allegations contained in the class action. The plant in Brooks was sold to JBS Canada last year.

In October 2012 Brian Nilsson, one of the chief executives of XL Foods, apologized to people who became ill and was quoted in the media as saying that the company takes full responsibility.

If the court approves the settlement, a public notice will be published in newspapers in Canada and some U.S. states to let people know how to submit claims.

Mallett said the agreement applies to anyone who threw beef away in response to recall notices, even if they can't identify whether it was XL beef.

During the outbreak, health officials confirmed that 18 people in Canada tested positive for a specific strain of E. coli bacteria linked to meat from the company's plant in Brooks, Alta.

The proposed deal does not affect the main part of the class-action lawsuit that involves people who claim they became ill.

Mallett said that part of the lawsuit could continue for another 18 to 24 months.

He said the number of people who say they became ill is much higher than the 18 cases documented in reports on the XL Foods recall.

"We have been contacted by, at this point, over 200 people indicating that they suffered illness or injury in various degree of severity."

At Tuesday's hearing, associate chief Justice John Rooke said any public notice about the proposed settlement must make it clear that claims are separate from and would not affect any possible future claims for injury damages.

The statement of claim — which contains allegations not proven in court — says XL Foods knew it had poor quality control and put its profits above the safety of consumers.

Last fall, the court ruled that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is a third-party defendant in the national class action.

Mallett said the federal food safety watchdog is not part of the proposed settlement on beef refunds, but remains part of the injury lawsuit.

"They remain in terms of the liability issues and any other quantum issues that relate to the bodily injury claims," he said. "They continue to be a part of the litigation."

The Canadian Press


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Oilsands alliance sets water use goals, but GHG targets proving tougher

CALGARY - A group of oilsands companies has set its first environmental performance target by limiting the use of fresh water in oil production, but goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions have proven much more complicated.

Members of the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance — an organization through which 13 oilsands players aim to make the industry greener — said Tuesday they have agreed to halve the amount of fresh water used to produce a barrel of crude from steam-driven projects to 0.2 barrels by 2022.

It's COSIA's first target involving specific numbers and deadlines since its inception in early 2012.

COSIA provides legal frameworks that enable oilsands companies to share their intellectual property for environmentally friendly technologies without stifling competition.

In addition to cutting water use, COSIA members are focusing on technologies that would reduce the industry's impact on land, help manage tailings waste and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"It's the kind of thing that you want to get right rather than do quickly," said COSIA CEO Dan Wicklum.

COSIA is "probably a small number of weeks or months away" from announcing targets for reducing land disturbance and tailings ponds that hold huge volumes of oilsands waste.

And it's still "working diligently" on the greenhouse gas element, though that's taking longer than other areas.

"I think it is more difficult to put together," Wicklum said.

"There's a global debate around GHGs. There's not a global debate around tailings. So I think it's tied up with regulation and policy and a global debate, which adds an added degree of complexity for that file."

Greenhouse gasses are emitted in various parts of the development process, so it's tougher to separate environmental technologies that can be shared through COSIA from ones that would give companies an economically competitive edge, he added in an interview.

That's not to say COSIA members haven't been working on cutting carbon emissions while the legal framework is being hammered out, the bosses of two major oilsands operators said.

"It's actually one of the top priorities," said Shell Canada president Lorraine Mitchelmore.

For instance, Shell aims to start up its Quest carbon capture and sequestration project next year. That project, partly funded by the Alberta and federal governments, would prevent 1.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from Shell's Scotford oilsands upgrader near Edmonton from escaping into the atmosphere by storing the gas underground.

Shell spent about $27 million on COSIA projects in 2014.

"When we look at our budget, that is sacred," she said.

COSIA members have agreed their emissions performance should be better than producers of conventional oil, said Suncor CEO Steve Williams. Some of the newer oilsands projects are already achieving that goal.

Amin Asadollahi, oilsands program director at the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank, said he's encouraged by COSIA's work.

"However, a lot more needs to be done," he said.

Asadollahi describes COSIA as a "black box" that doesn't publicize enough information for it to be held accountable. He also said members should also stop opposing tougher regulation if they want to make a difference on the environmental front.

Governments need to step up to the plate, too, Asadollahi said.

"COSIA in itself cannot do this," he said. "We would like to see government sending the right signal and the right level of incentive required for industry to reduce its emission intensity."

Currently, COSIA members are sharing 777 technologies costing more than $950 million. This year, 68 projects with a cost of more than $200 million were started.

"If there's a difference from '14 to '13, I would say that real stuff is getting done now," said Williams. "So we've moved from the tremendous challenges we've had from aligning fiercely competitive companies to actually getting stuff done."

Suncor spent $18 million on COSIA technology in 2014 and that's expected to rise next year.

Mitchelmore said there's a perception that COSIA is only making progress in "baby steps."

"Well, I would say to put 13 companies together, it truly is an incredible feat and to do that in such a short time frame, I would say it's giant steps."

Follow @LaurenKrugel on Twitter

The Canadian Press


Reitmans shutting down Smart Set stores, refocus on its other brands

MONTREAL - Shoppers will be losing another Canadian retail option after Reitmans announced Tuesday that it is closing all of its Smart Set womenswear stores.

The Montreal-based retailer said it will shut 107 Smart Set stores over the next 12 to 18 months, including 31 by year end or early next year.

About 76 locations will be converted to other company banners, which include Reitmans, Penningtons, Addition Elle and RW&Co., as well as Thyme maternity stores.

Reitmans (TSX:RET.A) had tried to refocus the Smart Set banner over nearly two years to appeal to a slightly older woman willing to pay a little more, but decided to abandon the efforts in the face of intense competition that has driven down prices.

"It's a very, very difficult market and I guess we never had the appropriate focus for that particular customer," president and CEO Jeremy Reitman said in an interview.

He said the decision will help the company "refocus its sales and merchandising efforts" and improve overall results.

Smart Set represents about 10 per cent of the Montreal-based company's annual sales, which were approximately $960 million for the year ended Feb. 1. Reitmans has previously closed stores and cut costs as sales and profits have fallen over the last few years.

The banner joins a series of Canadian names that have closed or face threat of bankruptcy. Among them was womenswear store, Jacob, which abandoned efforts to restructure the chain and announced in October the closure of its 92 stores across the country.

There has also been an influx of American fashion retailers that have gradually built a Canadian presence in recent years.

While Target and Marshalls are two of the more notable newcomers, other big foreign brands like H&M and Banana Republic have increased market share by driving down prices. Mid-priced retailers such as Ann Taylor, Loft and J. Crew have also moved into the country after building reputations with cross-border shoppers.

Meanwhile, high-end department stores Nordstrom and Saks are moving in to compete against Holt Renfrew.

But Reitman denied that Smart Set's problems were the result of the influx of U.S. retailers.

"There's a lot of people in the space that have closed down or are closing down, which led them to reduce prices dramatically and that put a pressure on our pricing structure," he said.

"It's a very, very busy space and we are not in a position of dominance and we didn't think we could grow to a position of dominance."

Retail analysts said the decision to close Smart Set is not surprising.

"You can take the approach where you continue to do battle and eat into your war chest or refocus and figure out which horses to ride so that you can compete," said Terry Henderson of JC Williams Group.

He said Reitmans tried to avoid the intense competition from low-priced rivals by adjusting Smart Set, but probably should have started sooner and been more aggressive.

Henderson said he expects other struggling fashion retailers will "throw in the towel" and expects to see fewer domestic companies around by spring.

Reitmans said it will incur non-cash asset writeoffs of $2.2 million after tax associated with the closures, which will be recorded in its third-quarter results being released Dec. 4.

The company's adjusted profits are expected to increase 42 per cent to $8.2 million or 11 cents per share on quarterly revenues of $254.6 million, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

"I think Reitmans is very secure. We have a very strong balance sheet," Reitman said.

Brynn Winegard, a marketing analyst at Winegard and Company, said Smart Set stumbled at least partly because the retailer failed to convince shoppers of a value level when they contrasted the quality of its clothing against the relatively discounted price.

"If Canadian shoppers saw the value they'd continue to pay the prices," she said in an interview.

Winegard said Smart Set, the closure of Jacob and Target's struggle in entering Canada demonstrate the losing battle retailers face when they refuse to launch an e-commerce platform in a country enthusiastic about online shopping.

"Companies that are located singularly in bricks in mortar, like Smart Set, who don't have an online shopping option or who are in their brand-maturity phase, are not going to survive," she said.

It wasn't immediately clear how many people will lose their jobs as a result of the closures. About 40 employees working with the Smart Set banner at the head office will be transferred to the company's other banners. Reitmans employs about 10,000 full-time and part-time employees across Canada at all its stores.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, Reitmans closed down a penny at $6.14 on Tuesday.

— With files from David Friend

Follow @RossMarowits on Twitter

Note to readers: This is a corrected story: An earlier version incorrectly stated overall Reitman revenues were $96 million.

The Canadian Press


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Harper's infrastructure plan to trim next year's surplus by $300M, down to $1.6B

OTTAWA - The Harper government's already shrinking surplus suddenly got even smaller for the 2015 election year — by $300 million.

Ottawa is now banking on a $1.6-billion surplus for 2015-16, down from its $1.9-billion estimate two weeks ago and only a quarter the size of the $6.4-billion prediction the government announced in last spring's budget.

The new, whittled-down projection factors in the $5.8-billion infrastructure announcement Prime Minister Stephen Harper made earlier this week, the Finance Department said Tuesday.

The vanishing act, meanwhile, means the Conservatives will leave fewer surplus scraps for political rivals to fight over as the country heads into the election.

The government first announced a drop in the surplus Nov. 12 when it delivered its fall fiscal and economic update. It attributed that decline to the unexpected slide in oil prices and Ottawa's new, multibillion-dollar tax and benefit package aimed at families with kids.

This latest balance-sheet adjustment was also connected to a multibillion-dollar government spending plan: a push to upgrade federal infrastructure across the country.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who unveiled the big-ticket plan himself on Monday, said the government intended to invest in projects that would create jobs and yield quick results. About $2.8 billion of the total was earmarked to improve historic sites, national parks and national marine conservation areas.

A spokeswoman for the Finance Department said the new spending will not lead the country back into deficit.

"The government remains on track to return to balanced budgets in 2015, with a surplus of $1.6 billion projected that year," Stephanie Rubec wrote Tuesday in an email, while refusing to talk about other potential spending measures in the pipeline.

"The department does not comment or speculate on possible policy actions or discuss what might be under consideration."

The updated budgetary figures released Tuesday project the infrastructure plan to trim surplus predictions by a total of $1.3 billion over the next five years: $300 million in 2015-16; $400 million in 2016-17; $200 million in 2017-18; $200 million in 2018-19 and $200 million in 2019-20.

But in terms of actual spending, the government expects to invest $1.3 billion on the infrastructure package in 2015-16 alone. After that, it will spend $1.7 billion in 2016-17; $800 million in 2017-18; $700 million in 2018-19 and $800 million in 2019-20.

Rubec said accounting standards enabled the government to do this because the cost of infrastructure investments is amortized over the life of the asset.

"As a result, a significant portion of the amount spent in coming years will be accrued beyond 2019-20," she said.

Harper's infrastructure announcement faced criticism for recycling old promises, but the government has countered by saying the majority of the cash represents new funds that had not been previously announced.

The only exceptions are a $500-million investment for schools on aboriginal reserves and $80.5 million for the restoration of the Canada Science and Technology Museum, Rubec said.

Asked why Ottawa chose not to partner with provinces and municipalities, she said the goal of the most-recent plan was to improve federal assets. She added it's in addition to support provided for provincial, territorial and municipal infrastructure, primarily through the $53 billion New Building Canada Plan.

The department was also asked whether the infrastructure plan was intended as a stimulus package to create jobs and kickstart a lacklustre economy.

"Canada is not in recession," said Rubec, who added the projects will raise productivity and long-term growth in Canada.

The incumbent Conservatives have consistently tried to cast themselves as careful custodians of public finances in a world filled with economic tumult.

When he introduced the fall update Nov. 12, Finance Minister Joe Oliver highlighted how Ottawa had pruned federal program spending for four straight years and he insisted that only the Tories' plans for jobs and growth would lead to prosperity.

Among the government measures is a new family-friendly tax and benefit proposal that would eliminate an estimated $27 billion from public coffers over six years. It also prevented Canada from balancing the books before the end of the current fiscal year.

Critics have zeroed in one particular element of the proposal: the controversial, $2-billion-a-year income-splitting plan for couples with children. They argue this would only benefit about 15 per cent of Canadian households.

The income-splitting promise was a main plank in the Conservative's 2011 election platform, although it was strictly contingent on a balanced budget.

Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter

The Canadian Press


TSX advances amid strong showings in Canadian retail sales, U.S. economic growth

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed higher Tuesday amid stronger than expected showings for Canadian retail sales and U.S. economic growth.

The S&P/TSX composite index gained 58.24 points to 15,073.65 as Statistics Canada reported that retail sales rose by a better than expected 0.8 per cent in September, led by auto sales.

The loonie was ahead 0.29 of a cent to 88.87 cents US.

The rise in the Canadian dollar also came in the wake of a report from a major international organization that forecast the Bank of Canada would begin hiking its key interest rate as early as May 2015 — months ahead of when economists have been predicting.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said forecast that inflation will return to the central bank's two per cent target on "a sustained basis by late 2015."

It also said the Bank of Canada's key rate, currently at one per cent, would likely rise steadily after the May increase.

And in the U.S., data showed the American economy expanded at a faster than expected annualized pace of 3.9 per cent in the third quarter. Economists had forecast that this first revision to GDP would show growth slipped from 3.5 per cent to 3.3 per cent.

"The U.S. is on a good trajectory right now. The economy is moving in the right direction — it’s not going whole hog, full steam ahead (but) it's going at a good pace," said Sadiq Adatia, chief investment officer at Sun Life Global Investment.

U.S. indexes were largely little changed amid other data from the Conference Board which showed that its U.S. consumer confidence index unexpectedly fell to 88.7 in November from 94.1 in October.

The Dow Jones industrials was off 2.96 points at 17,814.94, the Nasdaq gained 3.36 points to 4,758.25 and the S&P 500 index was 2.38 points higher at 2,067.03.

The TSX energy sector continued to be a drag, down 0.85 per cent ahead of a key meeting Thursday of the OPEC oil cartel. Crude has been hit hard by a rising greenback that has depressed all commodities priced in U.S. dollars, as well as lower demand and rising supplies. Oil prices had risen to about US$105 a barrel last summer during a period of heightened geopolitical worries.

The focus is now on OPEC to see if it will cut production in order to support prices. But Adatia doesn't think it will make much difference.

"I don’t think you see much movement in oil even if you get a decent comment on Thursday," he said.

"I think we’ve kind of found a range here. So $75 to $80 is probably where we’re going to be sitting for a fair bit of time now."

On Tuesday, the January crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange dropped $1.69 to US$74.09 a barrel.

Other TSX sectors were higher with the gold group ahead about four cent as December bullion climbed $1.40 to US$1,197.10 an ounce.

The base metals component gained 1.85 per cent even as March copper fell three cents to US$2.98 a pound amid doubts that the interest rate cut unveiled by China's central bank last week will be enough to improve conditions to raise demand.

The consumer staples sector was ahead 0.67 per cent as convenience store operator Alimentation Couche-Tard (TSX:ATD.B) said its quarterly net income surged 25 per cent to US$286.4 million despite a dip in revenues to US$8.9 billion. Profits ex-items were 55 cents per share, a penny below expectations. Its shares ran ahead $1.52 to $39.70.

The Canadian Press


Most actively traded companies on the TSX

TORONTO - Some of the most active companies traded Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange:

Toronto Stock Exchange (15,073.65, up 58.24 points):

Pengrowth Energy Corp. (TSX:PGF). Oil and gas. Up six cents, or 1.36 per cent, to $4.48 on 23 million shares.

Athabasca Oil Corp. (TSX:ATH). Oil and gas. Down 15 cents, or 4.89 per cent, to $2.92 on 20.6 million shares.

Mood Media Corp. (TSX:MM). Advertising and marketing services. Up half-a-cent, or 1.12 per cent, to 45 cents on 10.9 million shares.

Kinross Gold Corp. (TSX:K). Miner. Up 35 cents, or 11.11 per cent, to $3.50 on 8.5 million shares.

Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX). Miner. Up 61 cents, or 4.29 per cent, to $14.83 on 8.1 million shares.

Eldorado Gold Corp. (TSX:ELD). Miner. Up 77 cents, or 10.66 per cent, to $7.99 on 7.6 million shares.

Companies reporting major news:

Alimentation Couche-Tard (TSX:ATD.B). Retail. Up $1.52, or 3.98 per cent, to $39.70 on 1.6 million shares. The convenience store operator said its quarterly net income surged 25 per cent to US$286.4 million despite a dip in revenues to US$8.9 billion. Profits ex-items were 55 cents per share, a penny below expectations.

The Canadian Press


Alimentation Couche-Tard to test European private label coffee program in Canada

MONTREAL - Alimentation Couche-Tard, touting the successful rollout of its Simply Great Coffee program in Europe, says it has begun to test marketing the concept in Canada as the convenience store chain seeks to expand sales of high-margin fresh food.

Quebec-based Couche-Tard said Tuesday that it began to sell its own private brand of coffee this summer in Sherbrooke, Que., and will add some 20 locations in two different Canadian test markets in the coming months.

Details of the Canadian coffee program, including its name and the location of the test market sites in Quebec and elsewhere, were not disclosed.

The rollout of the Simply Great Coffee program at 20 per cent of its locations in Europe boosted coffee sales in those stores by more than 10 per cent, new CEO Brian Hannasch said Wednesday during a conference call to discuss the company's fiscal second-quarter results.

"It's one of the highest margins we have in our stores...It's a great routine driver of customers to our stores," Hannasch said.

Couche-Tard (TSX:ATD.B) has been trying to expand its fresh food offering across North America after examining the success of such offerings at the Statoil Fuel & Retail locations it acquired in Europe.

The company delivers bakery products and sandwiches to about 400 stores in five pilot markets in Canada and the United States. The retailer also prepares food such as chicken, pizza and hamburgers at some 200 locations.

Hannash said he's pleased with the results, particularly in the U.S., but is working to better manage spoilage and reduce logistics costs.

"Canada is still in more pilot mode. We don't think we've got the right recipe yet here in Canada but there's a lot of work being done to make that happen," he told analysts.

Meanwhile, Couche-Tard said it has launched a program in Europe, Statoil Extra, in which customers who sign up receive notifications on their cellphones of discounts on things like coffee, car washes and the like.

The program, developed in collaboration with Montreal IT company CGI Group (TSX:GIB.A) has helped to drive repeat traffic and the company said it may be expanded to North America.

Chief financial officer Raymond Pare said the company already offers loyalty programs in North America with grocery and other partners, but using its own mobile system is very powerful and easier to adapt various offers.

"We're at the stage where we did roll out this tool in Europe and we will evaluate the performance but we always had in mind loyalty wherever we are," he said in an interview.

Couche-Tard said its net income surged 25 per cent to US$286.4 million in the second quarter of its fiscal year despite a dip in revenues blamed largely on a higher U.S. dollar.

The company, which reports in U.S. currency, says profits excluding one-time charges were $313 million or 55 cents per diluted share, a penny below analyst expectations. The adjusted profits were up from $249 million or 44 cents per share a year earlier.

Revenues for the period ended Oct. 12 were $8.94 billion, down from more than $9 billion last year. The decrease was the largely the result of currency fluctuations and lower average fuel prices.

Couche-Tard also attributed the stronger results to acquisitions as well a $457-million decrease in long-term debt to $2.15 billion.

Hannasch said various efforts, including the coffee program in Europe, have helped improve the company's organic sales growth, while strong fuel margins and debt reduction were improving the bottom line.

Meanwhile, the CEO said a decision by U.S. pharmacy retailer CVS to stop selling cigarettes has started to help sales at nearby Circle K stores. And he expects falling oil prices will help to stimulate sales and traffic to its stores.

Derek Dley of Canaccord Genuity said the lower net debt to earnings ratios and about $1.2 billion in available liquidity leaves Couche-Tard "very well-positioned to pursue accretive acquisitions."

"Ownership of Couche-Tard shares offer investors an attractive hedge within a declining oil price environment," he wrote in a report.

Same-store merchandise revenue increases slowed in the U.S. and Canada from the prior year, but were still up 2.8 and three per cent respectively in the quarter, while in Europe same-store revenue was up 2.1 per cent.

Fuel volume sales for stores open at least a year decreased 1.1 per cent in Canada, but were up 2.1 per cent in the U.S. and 2.2 per cent in Europe, while gasoline margins in the United States increased 12 per cent and were up slightly in Europe and Canada.

Fuel profits increased 8.8 per cent to $538 million even though revenues decreased 1.4 per cent to $6.36 billion. Merchandise profits were up 1.8 per cent to $659.1 million on $1.94 billion of revenues.

The company said it realized about $22 million in pre-tax cost savings in the quarter at its European Statoil Fuel & Retail operations, an acceleration from $12 million in the first quarter. Total annual savings are about $119 million. Couche-Tard expects to end up with $150 million to $200 million of annualized savings before the end of December 2015.

Couche-Tard has more than 8,500 stores, including nearly 6,300 company-operated locations and 1,100 franchised outlets.

On the Toronto Stock Exchange, its shares closed up nearly four per cent, gaining $1.52 to $39.70 on Tuesday.

Follow @RossMarowits on Twitter

The Canadian Press


Focus on the Markets

The Canadian dollar closed at 88.87 cents U-S, up 29-100ths from Monday's close.

The S-and-P/T-S-X composite index was up 58.24 points to 15,073.65.

Volume at 4:15 p.m. Eastern Time was 434.80 (m) million shares.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 2.96 points to 17,814.94.

The Standard-and-Poor's 500 index was down 2.38 points to 2,067.03.

In the New York Mercantile Exchange, the gold futures for December closed at 1,197 dollars, 10 cents U-S per ounce, up one dollar, 40 cents.

The January crude contract closed at 74 dollars, nine cents U-S per barrel, down one dollar, 69 cents.

(The Canadian Press, The Associated Press)

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ADM

The Canadian Press


Highlights from the fall 2014 report of the federal auditor general

OTTAWA - Highlights from auditor general Michael Ferguson's fall 2014 report, released Tuesday:

— Veterans Affairs is not providing veterans with timely access to mental health services; the disability benefits program has a complex and time-consuming application process and some vets are forced to wait as long as eight months to find out if they can receive benefits.

— Many veterans must endure long delays in obtaining medical and service records from National Defence and long wait times for mental health assessments.

— The Nutrition North program, which subsidizes the high cost of healthy food in northern communities, does not properly distribute subsidies or ensure savings are properly passed on to consumers.

— Nutrition North, which was intended to foster healthy eating, also subsidizes foods of dubious health value, such as ice cream, bacon and processed cheese spread.

— It's impossible to fully assess the effectiveness of $13.9 billion in loans Canada and Ontario provided to Chrysler and GM's Canadian subsidiaries in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis due to a lack of comprehensive reporting to Parliament.

— Library and Archives Canada doesn't know which departmental records should either be disposed of or archived, and has a backlog of 98,000 boxes of material waiting to be archived — some of it dating back to 1890 — with no plan for how to deal with it.

— Canada's national sex offender registry may not include some Canadians convicted of crimes abroad because the RCMP doesn't have access to Foreign Affairs information on convicts released from prisons in other countries.

— Canada's reverse-osmosis water purifiers, long a marquee element of the Canadian military's disaster relief efforts, produced only 65 per cent of projected output in the wake of last year's Typhoon Haiyan disaster in the Philippines, and only 73 per cent of that was ever distributed.

— The military's Integrated Relocation Program, which compensates members when their work requires them to move, requires better oversight and review.

The Canadian Press


Canadian-born mobile bike repair shop attracts triathlete Simon Whitfield

Gold-medal triathlete Simon Whitfield is an investor, franchise owner and enthusiastic spokesman for a Vancouver-based mobile bike repair business looking to expand around the world.

"We're not the triple-A of cycling," said Whitfield, dispelling a misconception he admits he had when he first heard of Velofix.

"At first I made the mistake that a lot of people make, they think we do roadside assistance. The first thing they educated me on is no we don't . . . The bike shop comes to you and does all the bikes in your garage."

It's the brainchild of businessman Chris Guillemet, retired professional soccer player-turned businessman Davide Xausa and bike mechanic and champion track cyclist Boris Martin.

Their expansion plan was pitched recently to the investors on CBC's "Dragons' Den," which will be airing that episode Wednesday.

The principals can't share what developed out of that appearance until it airs, but from their base in Vancouver they've already got a toehold in Toronto and are working ambitiously to spread to the rest of Canada, the United States, Australia and Europe.

"I own two of the trucks myself and also work with the corporate on business development," said Whitfield, who won Olympic gold in 2000 and silver in 2008 in the triathlon and now lives in Victoria and on Salt Spring Island.

"We've got five trucks on the road today and they're all franchises," said Guillemet, who also participates in endurance sports.

He said the whole thing started when he and Xausa were looking to get their own bikes repaired and balked at the idea of parting with them for a week or more if they took them to a shop, or not getting the work done properly.

"We found it very frustrating trying to get our bikes fixed. . . In a shorter riding season if your bike's gone for seven to 10 days that's a good chunk of your season," Guillemet said.

Martin put the first truck on the road and they worked out the kinks in their plan, which includes online booking, inventory control and the kind of route co-ordination needed to be successful.

"We're the same price as a bike shop because we don't have the overhead," said Guillemet. "We're a bit of a disruptive force."

He said there were individuals out there trying to make mobile work on their own.

"Maybe some guys are in a pickup truck, or some guy is pulling a little trailer behind their bike."

But nothing like the co-ordinated approach they have taken with their specially equipped, red Mercedes Sprinters and all the online business support.

"It still surprises me today that nobody had done it before us but that happens in some industries," Guillemet said. "I think people tried it and maybe because they didn't have an online booking system that was route optimized for trucks, it wasn't very efficient . . . I think we have put a lot of things in place that have allowed the system to work."

Guillemet said even the name was carefully selected to have worldwide appeal, and the company expects to have its first U.S. franchises operating in 2015.

"It's really taking off, probably more even we suspected," said Whitfield.

After a lifetime spent training and competing at an elite level, Whitfield says he thought it would be hard to give up when he retired in 2013, but has found that isn't the case.

"I scored five goals at indoor soccer the other day. I don't know if you've ever seen anyone celebrate as much as I did. I chase my two daughters around. I'm out in the ocean as much as I can paddling and absolutely loving it . . ."

"I realized I didn't need to compete any more."

The Canadian Press


Loonie up: retail sales, U.S. GDP beat forecasts, OECD predicts early rate hike

TORONTO - The Canadian dollar closed higher Tuesday amid strong economic data and a report predicting that the Bank of Canada will move earlier than anticipated on interest rates.

The loonie was up 0.29 of a cent to 88.87 cents US as Statistics Canada reported that retail sales rose by a better than expected 0.8 per cent in September, led by a strong showing in auto sales. Economists had expected a rise of 0.5 per cent.

And in the U.S., data showed the American economy expanded at a faster than expected annualized pace of 3.9 per cent in the third quarter. Economists had forecast that this revision to GDP would show growth slipped from 3.5 per cent to 3.3 per cent.

The rise in the Canadian dollar also came in the wake of a report from a major international organization forecasting that the Bank of Canada will begin hiking its key interest rate as early as May 2015 — months ahead of what economists have been predicting.

In its latest economic outlook, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said that inflation will return to the central bank's two per cent target on "a sustained basis by late 2015."

It also says the Bank of Canada's key rate, currently at one per cent, will rise steadily after the May increase.

The OECD also called on Europe to relax its fiscal rules and for governments to spend more money, saying Europe's sluggishness is dragging down the global economy.

Other data out Tuesday showed the Conference Board's U.S. consumer confidence index unexpectedly fell to 88.7 in November from 94.1 in October. A reading of 96 had been expected.

Meanwhile, investors will also get information this week on how the Canadian economy is performing.

Statistics Canada releases its reading on September gross domestic product and the third quarter on Friday. Economists expect that the agency will report that GDP rose by 0.4 per cent in September after dipping 0.1 per cent in August, adding up to an annualized pace of 2.1 per cent.

On the commodity markets, oil prices fell ahead of a key meeting Thursday of the OPEC oil cartel.

The January crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange declined $1.69 to US$74.09 a barrel.

Prices have been hit hard since mid-summer, pressured by a rising greenback that has depressed all commodities priced in U.S. dollars, lower demand and rising crude supplies. Prices had risen as high as about US$105 a barrel during a period of heightened geopolitical worries, including the possibility that Islamic State militants could seize chunks of Iraq's oil infrastructure.

The focus now is whether the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will cut production in order to support prices.

Elsewhere on the commodity markets, March copper dropped three cents to US$2.98 a pound while December gold rose $1.40 to US$1,197.10 an ounce.

The Canadian Press


A list of the top 20 prime-time programs in the Nielsen ratings for Nov. 17-23

Prime-time viewership numbers compiled by Nielsen for Nov. 17-23. Listings include the week's ranking and viewership.

1. NFL Football: various teams, CBS, 26.36 million.

2. NFL Football: Dallas at N.Y. Giants, NBC, 22.38 million.

3. "NCIS," CBS, 18.1 million.

4. "60 Minutes," CBS, 17.19 million.

5. "NCIS: New Orleans," CBS, 16.86 million.

6. "Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick," NBC, 14.67 million.

7. "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 14.61 million.

8. "Dancing With the Stars," ABC, 14.3 million.

9. "The Walking Dead," AMC, 13.33 million.

10. NFL Football: Pittsburgh vs. Tennessee, ESPN, 12.77 million.

11. "Madam Secretary," CBS, 12.41 million.

12. "Blue Bloods," CBS, 11.62 million.

13. "American Music Awards," ABC, 11.61 million.

14. "Football Night in America," NBC, 11.47 million.

15. "The Voice" (Monday), NBC, 11.13 million.

16. "Modern Family," ABC, 10.88 million.

17. "The Voice" (Tuesday), NBC, 10.82 million.

18. "Criminal Minds," CBS, 10.68 million.

19. "The Good Wife," CBS, 10.26 million.

20. "Mom," CBS, 10.19 million.

___

ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.; CBS is a division of CBS Corp.; Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox; NBC is owned by NBC Universal.

The Canadian Press


Fox struggling to find audience in new television season

NEW YORK, N.Y. - If Fox launches a comeback over the next couple of years, the network may very well look upon the week before Thanksgiving 2014 as its low point.

The Nielsen company said the struggling network finished fifth in prime-time viewership behind Spanish-language network Univision last week. Univision was helped by coverage of the Latin Grammy Awards last week.

The highest-ranked Fox show in Nielsen's weekly ratings was the "Batman" prequel "Gotham," the network's biggest success of the fall. Still, Nielsen said 45 other programs had a bigger audience than the 6.5 million people who watched "Gotham."

On ABC, "The American Music Awards" saw its ratings go down slightly from last year, but it was easily responsible for more tweets than any other TV show.

The Canadian Press


US economy on a roll as third-quarter growth revised higher

WASHINGTON - The U.S. economy grew even faster in the third quarter than initially thought, posting the strongest six months of growth in more than a decade and pulling further ahead of other big economies of the world.

The gross domestic product, the country's total output of goods and services, expanded at a healthy 3.9 per cent annual rate in the July-September period, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday. That's a notable jump from its first estimate of 3.5 per cent. The revision was propelled higher by more robust consumer and business spending.

Together with a 4.6 per cent surge in the spring, the country has recorded its biggest back-to-back quarterly performance since 2003.

"The question of whether the economy is accelerating or will accelerate is no longer a question; we can say somewhat definitively that the economy has already accelerated," said Dan Greenhaus, chief strategist at BTIG, in a research note.

In contrast, other advanced economies are struggling.

The eurozone economy barely grew in the third quarter, and inflation is a mere 0.4 per cent, raising concerns of deflation. Japan unexpectedly found itself back in recession in the July-September period. And momentum in emerging economies like China and Brazil is also shaky.

Tuesday's data further pushes the world's biggest economy "onto a different page than Europe and Japan," said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Fueling third-quarter growth was consumer spending, which accounts for 70 per cent of economic activity. That climbed at a 2.2 per cent rate in the three-month period, an improvement from an initial estimate of 1.8 per cent. Business investment in equipment shot up at a 10.7 per cent rate, revised up from 7.2 per cent.

GDP has been on a roller coaster this year. It started with a steep slide in activity in the first three months of the year when the economy contracted at a 2.1 per cent rate, largely due to a severe winter.

Analysts believe momentum could decelerate to around 2.5 per cent in the current quarter but then pick up again in 2015. They expect growth of around 3 per cent, representing a sustained acceleration in activity six years after the Great Recession.

Since the recession ended in June 2009, growth in the U.S. has averaged at subpar rates just above 2 per cent. The lacklustre recovery has been blamed on the financial crisis and the severity of the recession. Such downturns are usually harder to recover from because it requires repairs to the banking system to get credit flowing again.

But economists believe 2015 will be the year when the recovery shifts into a higher gear, in part because they expect the government itself to help. Government spending grew at a 4.2 per cent rate in the third quarter, the strongest performance since the spring of 2009. The gain was bolstered by a 16 per cent surge in defence spending.

The optimism is being fueled by modifications in government budget and tax policies. Across-the-board cuts in government spending and tax increases approved to control huge budget deficits had been holding back growth. By next year, economists believe a better budget picture will begin to pay off and fuel growth.

Meanwhile, an improving job market is expected to provide households with more income, boosting consumer spending. The sharp drop in oil prices should also put more money in Americans' pocketbooks as they spend less at the pump.

To be sure, weakness overseas and another possible recession in Europe may still hamstring U.S. growth. Those concerns rattled financial markets earlier this fall. But stocks have since rebounded to new highs amid signs that central banks in Europe, Japan and China will take action to bolster growth.

The U.S. economy is also relatively insulated from overseas weakness since exports account for less than 14 per cent of U.S. activity, one of the lowest such shares in the world.

The Federal Reserve in October ended purchases of bonds aimed at pushing long-term interest rates down, though language used by the Fed shows that it does not expect to begin raising short-term interest rates for a "considerable time." Many economists believe the Fed's benchmark short-term rate, which has been at a record lows near zero for six years, won't start rising until the middle of next year.

The Canadian Press




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