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Woody's pot shop?

Actor and marijuana advocate Woody Harrelson was one of nearly 60 applicants to apply to open one of Hawaii's first medical marijuana dispensaries.

Harrelson, 54, applied for a licence in Honolulu County under his company, Simple Organic Living.

The Hawaii Department of Health posted the list of 66 applications on its website Friday. The state is now reviewing applications for dispensary permits, which they will award in April.

Video game entrepreneur Henk Rogers also applied for a licence under his company, Blue Planet Foundation, which advocates for energy independence across the state. Rogers, 61, is famous for discovering the video game "Tetris" more than 20 years ago, and lives in Hawaii in an entirely solar-powered home.

Among other applicants include Dirk Fukushima, producer of the local television show, "Hawaii Stars," and former University of Hawaii Regent Charles Kawakami.

If selected, dispensary applicants must have $1 million cash before applying for a licences, plus $100,000 for each dispensary location. All applicants must have been Hawaii residents for more than five years.

Under a law passed in 2015, the state will grant eight licences for marijuana business owners across the islands. The law allows medical marijuana businesses to have two production centres and two retail dispensaries, for a total of 16 dispensaries statewide. Six are allowed on Oahu, four on Hawaii Island, four on Maui and two on Kauai.

Dispensaries are set to open in July.

Hawaii became the first to legalize medical marijuana through the legislative process 16 years ago. Lawmakers have introduced laws to legalize recreational marijuana; however they don't think they're likely to pass this year.



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Oilpatch takeover done deal

Suncor Energy has announced that nearly 73 per cent of Canadian Oil Sands shares and accompanying rights have been tendered to Suncor's offer.

Suncor officials said that as a result, the company will be able to ensure that a subsequent acquisition transaction will be completed and Suncor will acquire the remainder of the outstanding COS shares.

In mid-January, COS accepted a sweetened takeover offer from Suncor Energy as the market outlook for oilsands producers deteriorates.

The deal drew to a close a bitter takeover battle that pitted two partners in the massive Syncrude oilsands mine against each other.

Suncor offered to exchange 0.28 of one of its shares for each COS share — up from 0.25 of a Suncor share per COS share.

Steve Williams, Suncor president and chief executive officer, said they were pleased with the strong level of support from COS shareholders.

"From the outset, we've spoken about the excellent value this offer creates for both COS and Suncor shareholders and I'm looking forward to delivering on that commitment."

Suncor has extended its offer to Feb. 22 but has said further extensions beyond that are not anticipated.

The development makes Suncor the largest shareholder in the Syncrude oilsands complex north of Fort McMurray, Alta., which is operated by Imperial Oil.



BlackBerry cutting 200 staff

BlackBerry Ltd. (TSX:BB) is laying off 200 employees in Canada and the U.S.

The company said in a statement that 200 employees have been impacted in Waterloo, Ont., and Sunrise, Fla.

BlackBerry would not specify what departments were most affected or how many employees in each office would be losing their jobs, but it appears to be 125 Canadian positions and 75 American ones.

A worker adjustment and retraining notification posted on the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity's website said the company plans to lay off 75 employees at its Sunrise office.

Those layoffs began Thursday and will continue until Feb. 26, according to the notice.

Meanwhile, in Waterloo, BlackBerry appears to have ended its relationship with Gary Klassen, its director of architecture and innovation.

"My husband has walked out of BlackBerry for the last time," his wife, Jenn Klassen, wrote in a Facebook post. "Gary you've been a wonderful example of integrity, faithfulness and patience working there but I'm glad you're out."

Gary's social media accounts have yet to reflect the change in employment.

BlackBerry would not say whether Klassen quit or was let go.

"We can confirm that Gary Klassen has left BlackBerry. The company is grateful for his many contributions during his tenure and we wish him the best in his future endeavours."

BlackBerry has slashed thousands of jobs from its workforce in recent years in an effort to cut costs.

The company had 6,225 full-time employees as of Feb. 28, 2015, according to its most recent annual filing.

Three years before, the company had approximately 16,500 full-time employees, according to its 2012 annual filing. By 2014, BlackBerry employed just more than 8,000 full-time workers.

"As BlackBerry continues to execute its turnaround plan, we remain focused on driving efficiencies across our global workforce," BlackBerry said in a statement.

"This means finding new ways to enable us to capitalize on growth opportunities, while driving toward sustainable profitability across all platforms of our business."

Despite the cutbacks, the company said it is "actively recruiting in those areas of our business that will drive growth."

BlackBerry has been focused on a turnaround strategy that has included cost reductions, launching new software services and forging new relationships with corporate customers and wireless carries.

In December, BlackBerry reported a loss of $89 million in its fiscal third quarter. The smartphone company posted an adjusted loss of three cents a share for the period, much better than the 15-cent loss expect by analysts on average.

The company reports its fourth quarter earnings April 1.



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Housing starts slow

The annual pace of housing starts slowed in January.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Friday that the seasonally adjusted annual rate of housing starts for the first month of the year was 165,861 units, down from 172,533 in December.

The decrease came as the annual pace of urban starts fell 3.0 per cent in January to 153,701 units.

Multiple urban starts decreased by 5.3 per cent to 95,406, while single-detached urban starts increased by 1.0 per cent to 58,295.

The pace of urban starts fell in Quebec, the Prairies and British Columbia, but increased in Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

Rural starts were estimated at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 12,160 units.

The six-month moving average of the seasonally adjusted annual pace was 199,169 units in January compared with 203,304 in December.

"Housing starts trended down across the country with the exception of Ontario," CMHC chief economist Bob Dugan said.

"The overall decline is mostly attributable to a slowdown in the Prairies where the housing starts trend was at a four-year low in January. The slowdown in new housing activity coincides with an unemployment rate that is at a five-year high in Alberta".



Oil flows despite drop

Consultancy Wood Mackenzie says Canadian oil producers are among the very few globally who have reduced output in the face of low oil prices.

Wood Mackenzie says it found that only about 100,000 barrels a day — or 0.1 per cent of global production — has been cut as oil trades below US$35 a barrel, even as 3.4 million barrels of production is unprofitable at that price.

About 30,000 barrels of that production cut has come from older conventional and heavy oil wells in Canada, with the rest from ultra low-output wells in the United States and some aging offshore wells in the United Kingdom's North Sea.

But while Canada represents about a third of the reduced output, it accounts for more than half of unprofitable global production due to high costs and lack of access to markets.

Wood Mackenzie estimates that 2.2 million barrels a day of Canadian production is operating at a negative cash cost when oil is at US$35 a barrel, meaning more than half of Canada's total output of about 3.9 million barrels a day is currently unprofitable.

Much of that unprofitable production is coming from the oilsands, but Wood Mackenzie says that because of the costs and complexity of shutting down bitumen production, operators are reluctant to reduce output.

"Given the cost of restarting production, many producers will continue to take the loss in the hope of a rebound in prices," said Robert Plummer, vice-President of investment research at Wood Mackenzie.

Other producers who have entered negative cash cost territory include Venezuela with about 230,000 barrels a day of unprofitable production, the U.K. with about 220,000 barrels, and the U.S. with some 190,000 barrels.

The tight oil production from the U.S. that helped spur the glut of global production only starts to become cash negative below US$30 a barrel, Wood Mackenzie said.



VW delays earnings report

Volkswagen says it is postponing release of its full-year earnings as well as its annual shareholder meeting due to open questions about its diesel emissions scandal.

The German carmaker said Friday it would give new dates for the earnings release, formerly slated for March 10, and for its shareholder gathering originally set for April 21.

It said questions about how the matter will be resolved left open what it described in a statement as "valuation calculations."

Volkswagen says it is sticking to its plan to publish the findings of its investigation into the background and responsibilities of the scandal in the second half of April.

It said that when released, the company's operating earnings before one-time items would be at the level of the year before, within the expected range for the fiscal year 2015.

The Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker has admitted equipping cars with software that let them cheat on diesel emissions tests in the U.S. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is suing the company in federal court over what it says were 600,000 such vehicles.

Volkswagen says as many as 11 million cars worldwide have the software that enables them to cheat on tests. The company says it is working to fix the cars and to change its culture so that something similar does not happen again. U.S. law firm Jones Day is conducting an investigation into who made the decisions to cheat.



Cara commits to cage-free

Cara Foods, the owner of such restaurants as Harvey's, Swiss Chalet, Kelsey's and East Side Mario's, will switch to cage-free eggs in its entire supply chain by 2020.

The announcement was made Thursday by the group Mercy For Animals, which said it collaborated with Cara Foods to develop the policy.

Restaurant Brands International, the parent company of Tim Hortons and Burger King, took a similar stance on Monday to serve cage-free eggs at all locations throughout North America by 2025 amid pressure from customers for ethically-sourced food.

In the last year, Starbucks, Subway, McDonald's, Wendy's and several other restaurants, retailers, food manufacturers and foodservice companies have pledged to go cage-free at the urging of consumers concerned about animal welfare.

Mercy for Animals president Nathan Runkle said the decision by Cara Foods will reduce the suffering of countless hens each year.

The group says hens used for eggs are "crammed for life into tiny wire cages on factory farms" and each bird has less floor space "than the size of a sheet of notebook paper."

Runkle said with this latest announcement, "the days are numbered for egg factory farmers who pack birds in cages so small they can't walk, spread their wings, or engage in other natural behaviours."

"Any food company that has not yet adopted a cage-free egg policy is simply out of step with consumer expectations and business trends," he said.

Egg Farmers Canada has said it will take time for farmers to undergo a transition to cage-free production facilities.

On Friday, the group announced that its members have agreed to stop installing any new conventional housing and aims to switch to predominately alternatives by 2036, assuming current conditions prevail.

More than 90 per cent of the country's roughly 1,000 registered commercial egg-producing farms currently keep their hens in conventional housing, but Egg Farmers Canada is aiming to lower that to 50 per cent by 2024 and 15 per cent by 2031.



Quakes linked to oil

A 2005 spate of quakes in California's Central Valley almost certainly was triggered by oilfield injection underground, a study published Thursday said in the first such link in California between oil and gas operations and earthquakes.

Researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz, the University of Southern California and two French universities published their findings Thursday in a publication of the American Geophysical Union. The research links a local surge in injection by oil companies of wastewater underground, peaking in 2005, with an unusual jump in seismic activity in and around the Tejon Oilfield in southern Kern County.

In Oklahoma and other Midwestern states, the U.S. Geological Survey and others have linked oilfield operations with a dramatic surge in earthquakes. Many of those quakes occur in swarms in places where oil companies pump briny wastewater left over from oil and gas production deep underground.

"It's important to emphasize that definitely California is not Oklahoma," lead author Thomas Goebel at the University of California at Santa Cruz said Thursday. "We don't really expect to see such a drastic increase in earthquake occurrences" in California given different oilfield methods and geology in the two areas.

In Kern County, the shaking topped out on Sept. 22, 2005, with three quakes, the biggest magnitude 4.6, researchers said.

Researchers calculated the odds of that happening naturally, independently of the oilfield operations, at just 3 per cent, Goebel said. However, the oilfield operation "may change the pressure on ... faults, and cause some local earthquakes" in California, he said.

Researchers are now studying other areas of the state to see if California's high background level of shakiness is obscuring other seismic activity possibly linked to oilfield activity. California is the country's No. 3 oil-producing state.

The Center for Biological Diversity environmental group, using state figures, estimates that the amount of oilfield wastewater injected underground in California climbed from 350 million barrels in 1999 to 900 million barrels in 2014.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of oil-industry group the Western States Petroleum Association, said the organization is reviewing the study. But she said the study's calls for careful monitoring are consistent with what the group's member companies are already doing.

California on Dec. 10 commissioned Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to study the overall potential for oilfield-induced quakes in the state, said Don Drysdale, spokesman for the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the main oil regulatory agency. Rules that went into effect last year for some intensive forms of oil production require monitoring for seismic activity.

"In California, of course, we have a lot of natural seismicity here, so it's much more difficult" to establish that an earthquake was caused by oilfield activity than it is in places like Oklahoma, which used to be quiet, said Art McGarr, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey's Earthquake Science Center in Menlo Park, California.

"Nonetheless, I think they made at least a fairly convincing case that these earthquakes were related to fluid injection" by oilfield operators, said McGarr. He called the researchers' analysis "quite careful."



Gender employment divide

Job prospects for women are looking increasingly bleak as the so-called fourth industrial revolution puts female-dominated industries at imminent risk.

In Canada, where the traditional gender employment divide persists, that could mean a big hit to the economy given that almost half of the Canadian labour force is comprised of women.

"If we can't equip 50 per cent of our workforce with some of the foundational skills for where much of the market growth is going, we will be in a real economic crisis," Jane Wilson, the women's services director at Community MicroSkills Development Centre, said in a recent interview.

Canada will lack talented people to fill empty job openings, she said, and will be forced to fund social services for women missing the in-demand skills who find themselves unemployed.

Over the next four years, technological advances, like robotics and 3D printing, are expected to shift the employment landscape in a way that most adversely impacts traditionally female industries, according to a recent future jobs report from the World Economic Forum.

Nearly 4.8 million office and administrative jobs, for example, will disappear globally by 2020. Currently, women fill more than half of those roles around the world.

Meanwhile, some male-dominated industries, like architecture and engineering, stand to gain hundreds of thousands of jobs over the same time period.

Overall, women can expect to lose more than five jobs for each one gained, the report found, while men will lose about three jobs for every new position created.

That scenario is likely to play out in Canada, where the employment landscape reflects these historical gender divides, said Chanel Grenaway, the director of economic development for the Canadian Women's Foundation.

"Sadly, that hasn't changed," she said.

Many Canadian women are employed in the office and administrative jobs the report projects are largely disappearing. Women make up 94 per cent or more of all medical and office administrative assistants, receptionists, court reporters, medical transcriptionists and related occupations in Canada, according to Catalyst, a non-profit organization working to improve workplace inclusion for women.

In the meantime, male-dominated vocations — architecture, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, manufacturing and production — will grow, says the World Economic Forum.

In those fields, statistics on the limited female participation can be misleading, Wilson says.

Last year, for example, StatCan figures indicated about 817,000 women worked in the goods-producing sector in industries like agriculture and construction. But those numbers don't tell the whole story, said Wilson.

"When you get down to who's actually an apprentice and completing apprenticeships, that's where the numbers take a deep dive," she said.

In 2011, women held 14 per cent of registered apprenticeships in the country, predominantly working as hair stylists or cooks. Two per cent or less of all carpentry, plumbing and heavy equipment apprentices that year were female.

In those industries, women's work is often confined to more traditionally female roles, like administration, marketing or communications, she said.

Despite efforts to move more women into those in-demand professions and trades, "we haven't seen a big shift in the dial," said Grenaway.

Both Grenaway and Wilson advocate for more investment for programs geared to helping women train for and transition into such career paths — particularly, programs that focus on helping women overcome unique barriers to employment, like access to affordable childcare.

Otherwise, Canada will be left lacking a talented workforce to fill future job openings.

"There's a downside as far as the economy goes whichever way you look at it if we don't take a harder look at the magnitude of effort and investment that will be needed to turn around the ship ... so that women are heading in droves towards these jobs," Wilson said.



A lukewarm reception

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's promises of fast-tracked infrastructure spending and employment insurance reform in Alberta have received a lukewarm reception among some oilpatch workers.

"It's just a drop in the bucket of the billions that we've sent out east," said pipeline contractor Chad Miller, 35, of $700 million to come for construction projects and another $250 million for Alberta from a federal fiscal stabilization fund.

Miller had been hoping to see some help for small-business owners and contractors and doesn't see the infrastructure cash, or the promises of EI reform, helping him as he struggles to find work.

"I'm a small-business owner., I don't pay into it, so them extending EI benefits is great for these employees, they need it, but what about the small entrepreneurs? That's what Alberta's driving on."

Chase Scoville, 19, of Red Deer, said the money is a good start, but he worries about how it will be spent.

"That's a lot of money, of course," said Scoville. "I just hope it doesn't get spent too fast on the wrong things."

He said EI reforms wouldn't help him either since he's still working to find an apprenticeship, but he thought Trudeau showed concern for what's happening in the province.

"I do think he has quite a bit of concern about what's going on over here, because he does realize how much Alberta means to Canadian resources and ... how much Alberta puts out in Canada's GDP every year."

But he said he wasn't confident Trudeau would push through pipeline approvals.

"I hope that it happens, but I just think it's one of his backburner things."

Jason Lawrence, 35, a pipefitter from Calgary, said he was frustrated with Trudeau's noncommittal answer after being asked point-blank about supporting the Energy East pipeline. He would have liked to see the government take a clear stand either way.

"You can't please everybody," said Lawrence. "As soon as the government can make a decision, then investors can decide what they're going to do. But right now it's a whole lot of living in limbo."

He said investor certainty is going to help the oil and gas sector, not infrastructure spending.

"This isn't a problem that you're going to solve by throwing money at it. The oilpatch has all kinds of money and if they were going to invest in this industry, they'd be doing it. There's just not enough investor confidence right now."



Rusting hulk to sail again?

The SS United States, an ocean liner bigger than the Titanic that once carried celebrities across the Atlantic at record speeds, may one day sail again.

Crystal Cruises luxury travel company announced plans Thursday to overhaul the ship at a cost of at least $700 million. The massive steamship has been docked in Philadelphia for two decades, gutted and rusting at an unused wharf on the Delaware River.

But before it can be turned into a state-of-the-art commercial vessel, the SS United States must undergo a nine-month feasibility study.

In its glory days in the 1950s, the ship carried everyone from royalty to immigrants across the Atlantic Ocean, accompanied by three on-board orchestras. At the time, it was the biggest and fastest ocean liner that had ever been built in the United States — at 990 feet, 108 feet longer than the Titanic.

On its maiden voyage in 1952, the liner's 268,000-horsepower engines propelled it across the Atlantic in three days, 10 hours, 42 minutes. That record stood until 1990. The ship was decommissioned in 1969.

The SS United States is now owned by a conservation group, with a purchase option signed by Crystal Cruises.

This is not the first time plans have been in the works for refurbishment. In 2003, the Norwegian Cruise Lines said it planned an overhaul that did not materialize.



LNG decision postponed

Royal Dutch Shell is postponing a final investment decision on its proposed liquefied natural gas mega-project in British Columbia as it grapples with plummeting earnings due to low energy prices.

Chief executive Ben van Beurden said Thursday that the company was delaying a final commitment on the LNG Canada project in northwestern B.C. as it makes "substantial changes in the company" that will likely include further spending cuts on top of the $12.5 billion it cut last year.

A final decision on the LNG Canada project had been expected in the spring, but Shell Canada spokeswoman Tara Lemay says the joint venture behind the project will now make a decision by the end of the year.

"The LNG Canada joint venture partners have agreed that due to market conditions, it makes sense to shift the final investment decision to late 2016. In the meantime, the joint venture will continue to work on the competitiveness of the project," Lemay said in a statement.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, speaking at an energy conference in Ottawa, said she was reassured to see the 2016 commitment.

"What I was pleased to see was Shell reconfirm its intention to make a final investment decision this year," said Clark.

"Even in these very uncertain times, which I acknowledge, that's affected their timeline .... they've reconfirmed the fact they want to go ahead with this project, which is going to mean tremendous growth for all of Canada."

Andy Calitz, chief executive of the LNG Canada joint venture, said he was pleased that a decision would be made this year given the turmoil in global energy markets, but he left open the possibility of further delays.

"Can you and I conjure up a set of conditions that could make a positive decision difficult? Yes. But could I also see that they are working to take that decision in the fourth quarter, absolutely," Calitz said from Ottawa.

Shell reported a 44 per cent drop in fourth-quarter earnings to $1.8 billion as low oil and gas prices hit its bottom line. The company has responded by delaying projects in Canada and Nigeria and withdrawing from a project in the United Arab Emirates.

Dirk Lever, an analyst at Altacorp Capital, says the delay by Shell because of capital costs and other headwinds increases the likelihood that Petronas could delay an investment decision on the Pacific Northwest LNG project as well.

"Let's just say the odds are higher today than they were yesterday that they will postpone," said Lever.

The LNG Canada project already has conditional federal and provincial environmental approvals and was awarded a 40-year export licence in January.

The project is expected to cost upwards of US$40 billion and involve hiring between 4,500 and 7,500 workers.

Shell owns a 50 per cent stake in the project, which is being developed with partners Korea Gas Corp., Mitsubishi Corp., and PetroChina Co. Ltd.



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