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Inflation hovers over shoppers seeking deals on Black Friday

Inflation hovers over deals

Shoppers hunted for the best deals at stores and online as retailers offered new Black Friday discounts to entice consumers eager to start buying holiday gifts but weighed down by inflation.

Due to elevated prices for food, rent, gasoline and other essentials, many people were reluctant to spend unless there was a big sale.

Shoppers were being more selective, selecting cheaper options, dipping more into savings and turning to “buy now, pay later” services that allow payment in installments. Some were also running up their credit cards at a time when the Federal Reserve is hiking rates to cool the U.S. economy.

Sheila Diggs, 55, went to a Walmart in Mount Airy, Maryland early Friday looking for a deal on a coffee maker and to see what else was in the aisles. She said her family is being more cautious about their holiday spending this year. Usually, all the adults in the family would exchange gifts. But this year, everyone is drawing names and selecting one person, because things cost so much more, she said.

“Everything’s going up but your paycheck,” said Diggs, who manages medical records at a local hospital.

This year’s trends are a contrast from a year ago when consumers were buying early out of fear of not getting what they needed amid supply-network clogs. Stores didn’t have to discount much because they were struggling to bring in items.

This year, shoppers are holding out for the best bargains, said Rob Garf, vice president and general manager of retail at Salesforce, which tracks online sales. He said retailers finally responded this week, introducing more attractive deals online after offering mostly lackluster discounts earlier in the season.

Online discounts rates were 31% on Thanksgiving, up 7% from the previous year, according to Salesforce data. The steepest discounts were in home appliances, general apparel, makeup and luxury handbags. Online sales on the holiday rose 9% over last year.

“Retailers have finally stepped up the discounting game and consumers are responding in kind,” Garf said.

Macy’s Herald Square in Manhattan, where discounts included 60% off fashion jewelry and 50% off select shoes, was bustling with shoppers early Friday.

The traffic was “significantly larger” on Black Friday compared to the previous two years because shoppers feel more comfortable in crowds, Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said.

He said that bestsellers from Macy’s online sale, which started last weekend, included 50% off beauty sets. Last year Macy’s, like many other stores, had supply chain issues and some of the gifts didn’t arrive until after Christmas.

“Right now we are set and ready to go, “ he said.

Sophia Rose, 40, a respiratory specialist visiting Manhattan from Albany, New York, was heading into Macy’s with big plans to splurge after scrimping last year when she was still in school. She put herself on a budget for food and gas to cope with inflation but had already spent $2,000 for holiday gifts, and plans to spend a total of $6,000.

“I am going to touch every floor,” she said. “That’s the plan.”

A Best Buy store in Manhattan had TVs stacked up high including Samsung 50-inch TVs marked down to $297, a savings of $82.

Delmarie Quinones, a 30-year-old health home aide from the Bronx, was only there to pick up a laptop and printer she ordered online at $179 — down from $379 — as part of a Black Friday sale.

Quinones said that higher prices on food and other expenses are making her reduce her spending from a year ago, when she had money from government child tax-credit payments.

“I can’t get what I used to get,” said the mother of five children, ages 1 to 13. “Even when it was back to school, getting them essentials was difficult.”

Major retailers including Walmart and Target stuck with their pandemic-era decision to close stores on Thanksgiving Day, moving away from doorbusters and instead pushing discounts on their websites.

But people are still shopping on Thanksgiving — online. Garf said online sales spike in the evening during the holiday, suggesting people went from feasting to phone shopping. And with holiday travel up, he said a greater share of online shopping occurred on mobile devices this year.

“The mobile phone has become the remote control of our daily lives, and this led to an increase in shopping on the couch as consumers settled in after Thanksgiving dinner,” Garf said.

Against today’s economic backdrop, the National Retail Federation — the largest retail trade group — expects holiday sales growth will slow to a range of 6% to 8%, from the blistering 13.5% growth of a year ago. However, these figures, which include online spending, aren’t adjusted for inflation, so real spending could even be down from a year ago.

Adobe Analytics expects online sales to be up 2.5% from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, a slowdown from the 8.6% pace last year, when shoppers were uncertain about returning to physical stores.

Analysts consider the five-day Black Friday weekend, which includes Cyber Monday, a key barometer of shoppers’ willingness to spend, particularly this year. The two-month period between Thanksgiving and Christmas represents about 20% of the retail industry’s annual sales.



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Alberta's famous 'wage premium' rapidly eroding, experts say

Alberta 'premium' eroding

Experts say Alberta businesses are poised to face a reckoning on wages next year because the province has not kept up with the rest of the country when it comes to wage increases.

For years, Alberta workers have been the highest paid in the country thanks to the province's lucrative oil and gas sector.

That hasn't changed, with the most recent data from Statistics Canada showing that workers in Alberta still enjoy the highest average weekly earnings in Canada by a small margin.

But despite tight labour markets, Alberta has seen the weakest wage growth of any province over the last two years.

Nationally, wages are up seven per cent over the last two years, while in Alberta, they’re up less than one per cent. In some industry sectors, Alberta's wages are actually falling, while they're rising in other countries. 

Experts say flat wages mean Alberta households are feeling the impact of inflation more than other regions of the country.



Adidas investigates after ex-workers allege Kanye West misconduct

Adidas investigates Kanye

Adidas says it is investigating allegations of inappropriate workplace conduct by the rapper formerly known as Kanye West that ex-employees made in an anonymous letter also accusing the German sportswear brand of looking the other way.

Adidas, which made his Yeezy line, cut ties with Ye last month over his offensive and antisemitic remarks after facing pressure to follow other brands and companies in ending partnerships with the rapper. It said it expected to take a hit of 250 million euros ($246 million) to its net income this year from the move.

Ye was suspended from Twitter and Instagram over his remarks but has been back tweeting this month.

Rolling Stone has reported that it spoke to more than two dozen former Yeezy and Adidas workers and obtained a letter from several former Yeezy employees to the sportswear company alleging that Ye created a toxic work environment by showing sexual photos and videos in meetings, making vulgar comments and bullying the people who worked for him. All the former employees spoke to the magazine on condition of anonymity.

The letter accused the company of knowing about the problematic behavior and failing to protect employees.

“It is currently not clear whether the accusations made in an anonymous letter are true. However, we take these allegations very seriously and have taken the decision to launch an independent investigation of the matter immediately to address the allegations," Claudia Lange, head of media relations for Adidas, said in a statement Friday.

She said the company was not sharing more details about the investigation for now.

Ye's last known music and personal representatives didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Adidas also addressed Ye's previous remarks that led the company to sever its relationship with him, saying Friday that it “does not tolerate hate speech and offensive behavior and therefore has terminated the adidas Yeezy partnership."

“We have been and continue to be actively engaged in conversations with our employees about the events that lead (sic) to our decision to end the partnership," Lange said in the statement. “They have our full support and as we’re working through the details of the termination."

The company, which named a new CEO this month in a sped-up timeline for a power transfer, said it owns the rights to product designs except for the Yeezy name and is developing plans for what to do with existing inventory.





B.C.’s post-secondary student enrolment numbers stable

Uni enrolment stable

The number of students at B.C.’s largest post-secondary  schools has remained relatively stable, despite a decline in international student enrolment, according to data collected for Business in Vancouver.

Average full-time-equivalent student attendance at the province’s top post-secondary institutions peaked in 2020 at 11,557. It subsequently fell 2.6 per cent in 2021 and remained essentially unchanged in 2022.

The average number of students in B.C. peaked in 2020 despite a massive 53.6 per cent decline in new study permits for inter- national students.

New study permits in Canada fell to 23,460 in 2020 from 50,533 in 2019, according to a 2022 study from education tech company ApplyBoard, which used Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data.

The decline in new-study permits in 2020 was less for British Columbia than the 57 per cent decline experienced by the rest of the country.

In 2021’s first half, new study permits in B.C. jumped to around 39,000. That was 66.5 per cent more than in all of 2020. Almost two-thirds of those new study permits were for college and university programs. The rest were for K-12 and language programs.

The University of British Columbia had the largest five-year increase in the number of full-time equivalent students of the institutions on BIV’s list. It was up nine per cent to 61,906 in 2022 from 56,804 in 2018.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University had the largest one- year enrolment growth among B.C.’s five largest post-secondary institutions, growing 7.2 per cent to 13,117.7 in 2022 from 12,239.5 in 2021.

Victoria’s Royal Roads University had the largest one-year enrolment growth. It increased 32.8 per cent to 2,710 in 2022 from 2,040 in 2021.



Musk plans to relaunch Twitter premium service, again

Musk to relaunch premium

Elon Musk said Friday that Twitter plans to relaunch its premium service that will offer different coloured check marks to accounts next week, in a fresh move to revamp the service after a previous attempt backfired.

It's the latest change to the social media platform that the billionaire Tesla CEO bought last month for $44 billion, coming a day after Musk said he would grant “amnesty” for suspended accounts and causing yet more uncertainty for users.

Twitter previously suspended the premium service, which under Musk granted blue-check labels to anyone paying $8 a month, because of a wave of imposter accounts. Originally, the blue check was given to government entities, corporations, celebrities and journalists verified by the platform to prevent impersonation.

In the latest version, companies will get a gold check, governments will get a gray check, and individuals who pay for the service, whether or not they're celebrities, will get a blue check, Musk said Friday.

“All verified accounts will be manually authenticated before check activates," he said, adding it was “Painful, but necessary" and promising a “longer explanation” next week. He said the service was “tentatively launching" Dec. 2.

Twitter had put the revamped premium service on hold days after its launch earlier this month after accounts impersonated companies including pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co., Nintendo, Lockheed Martin, and even Musk’s own businesses Tesla and SpaceX, along with various professional sports and political figures.

It was just one change in the past two days. On Thursday, Musk said he would grant “amnesty” for suspended accounts, following the results of an online poll he conducted on whether accounts that have not “broken the law or engaged in egregious spam” should be reinstated.

The yes vote was 72%. Such online polls are anything but scientific and can easily be influenced by bots. Musk also used one before restoring former U.S. President Donald Trump's account.

“The people have spoken. Amnesty begins next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk tweeted Thursday using a Latin phrase meaning “the voice of the people, the voice of God.”

Online safety experts predict the move would spur a rise in harassment, hate speech and misinformation. It's also likely to put the company on a crash course with European regulators seeking to clamp down on harmful online content with tough new rules.

Zach Meyers, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform think tank, said giving blanket amnesty based on an online poll is an “arbitrary approach" that's “hard to reconcile with the Digital Services Act," a new EU law that will start applying to the biggest online platforms by mid-2023.

The law is aimed at protecting internet users from illegal content and reducing the spread of harmful but legal content. It requires big social media platforms to be “diligent and objective" in enforcing restrictions, which must be spelled out clearly in the fine print for users when signing up, Meyers said.

Britain also is working on its own online safety law.

“Unless Musk quickly moves from a ‘move fast and break things' approach to a more sober management style, he will be on a collision course with Brussels and London regulators," Meyers said.

European Union officials took to social media to highlight their worries. The 27-nation bloc's executive Commission published a report Thursday that found Twitter took longer to review hateful content and removed less of it this year compared with 2021.

The report was based on data collected over the spring — before Musk acquired Twitter — as part of an annual evaluation of online platforms’ compliance with the bloc’s voluntary code of conduct on disinformation. It found that Twitter assessed just over half of the notifications it received about illegal hate speech within 24 hours, down from 82% in 2021.

The numbers may yet worsen. Since taking over, Musk has l aid off half the company’s 7,500-person workforce along with an untold number of contractors responsible for content moderation. Many others have resigned, including the company's head of trust and safety.

Recent layoffs at Twitter and results of the EU's review “are a source of concern,” the bloc's commissioner for justice, Didier Reynders tweeted Thursday evening after meeting with Twitter executives at the company's European headquarters in Dublin.

In the meeting, Reynders said he “underlined that we expect Twitter to deliver on their voluntary commitments and comply with EU rules,” including the Digital Services Act and the bloc's strict privacy regulations known as General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR.

Another EU commissioner, Vera Jourova, tweeted Thursday evening that she was concerned about news reports that a “vast amount" of Twitter's European staff were fired.

“If you want to effectively detect and take action against #disinformation & propaganda, this requires resources," Jourova said. “Especially in the context of Russian disinformation warfare.”



Black Friday off to quiet start as deals spread over weeks, offers matched online

Quiet start to Black Friday

Black Friday is off to a quiet start at some stores in Canada, with fewer pre-dawn lineups that once epitomized the spending event.

Retailers have increasingly stretched deals over several weeks and offered similar discounts online, taking some of the urgency out of the early morning shopping trips.

Retail analyst Bruce Winder says this "dilution" of Black Friday has spread promotions out over a longer period with many retailers offering the same discount over an entire week or more.

He says a Toronto-area retail strip mall showed little early morning activity, with only a few people gathered outside a Walmart before it opened at 6 a.m.

Winder says the parking lot of a local Best Buy — once the epicentre of pre-dawn Black Friday crowds as consumers sought deep discounts on electronics — was quiet a little over an hour before its 8 a.m. opening.

Still, he says overall Black Friday sales will likely be strong, with shopping malls expected to become crowded later in the morning.



'We’re going to be packed': World Cup brings traffic boost to restaurants and bars

World Cup business boost

The FIFA World Cup is bringing a welcome surge in traffic to restaurants and bars.

Rocco Mastrangelo Jr., a co-owner of Cafe Diplomatico in the heart of Toronto’s Little Italy neighbourhood, said the restaurant kicked into high gear for the World Cup despite the cold, setting up tents in the road next to its covered, heated patio and hiring live music for Canada’s first game.

Though the Wednesday game didn’t end with a win, Mastrangelo Jr. is still excited for the World Cup matches to come, saying he expects traffic to pick up for certain games.

Cafe Diplomatico is already fully booked for Sunday's matchup of Canada and Croatia, he said.

On Wednesday, fans packed the Glebe Central Pub in Ottawa, even standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the patio in the cold, said general manager Dave Hania, and they stayed into the evening once the game was over.

“It was a really good game,” he said.

Hania said holiday bookings are already picking up, and it feels like “business as usual” compared to the past pandemic holiday seasons, so the World Cup has him extra busy.

Because of the time difference, the World Cup games are all earlier in the day, which means the pub is getting a double whammy of daytime and evening traffic on game days, said Hania.

Balraj Jutla, co-owner of Lost Craft Brewery and High Park Brewery, agreed the morning timing of the games is an “added benefit.”

He expects Sunday, which is fully booked, to be “incredible” for fans and restaurateurs alike, based on Canada’s exciting performance Wednesday.

“We’re all in,” he said.

It’s a welcome extra boost after the past two years, Hania said, noting that it’s not just Canada’s games people are flocking to bars to watch — he’s expecting a lot of traffic when England plays, too.

On Sunday morning, “We’re going to be packed,” said Hania.

Cafe Diplomatico will have another street-party setup for the final game of the 2022 World Cup on Dec. 18.

“We've always done a street party for the final match," said Mastrangelo Jr.

Game-day traffic for this World Cup might not hit the same levels it would with nicer weather, but it’s going to bring a nice boost, said Mastrangelo Jr., as the chilly weather sets in and the holiday season approaches.

“It does definitely give us a boost to sales when ... we probably would be a little bit slower.”

Payment provider Moneris said it predicts the World Cup will kick off a surge in spending for bars and restaurants.

In 2018, the last World Cup, bars in Toronto’s Little Portugal and Little Italy saw spending volume rise by more than 15 per cent, while volumes rose just under 10 per cent citywide, said Moneris — and that year Canada didn’t even qualify.

And it’s not only soccer. The Toronto Blue Jays’ wild-card series this year brought sales up by more than 50 per cent for Toronto bars and restaurants near the stadium.

Similar events like the Canadian Grand Prix and hockey's Battle of Alberta playoff series brought a rush of spending into local bars and restaurants, Moneris said.



Canada-Belgium World Cup game attracts much Proline interest

Canada-Belgium, big bets

TORONTO — The Canada-Belgium World Cup soccer game garnered plenty of attention on the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp.'s Proline betting service.

The OLG said Thursday the World Cup contest was Proline's highest overall wagered event Wednesday of any sport. It has also so far been the highest wagered game of the World Cup and did more volume than the day's other three games combined.

Belgium defeated the Canadian team 1-0. Canada is appearing in only its second World Cup and first since '86.

According the OLG, 46 per cent of the wagers were placed on Canada to win, while 36 per cent were placed on the Belgians. A draw was favoured by 19 per cent of betters.

Belgium came into the World Cup ranked second in the world while Canada was at No. 41 globally.

The over/under betting was very one-sided with 85 per cent of wagers coming in on the over 2.5 goals.     

The any-time goal-scorer market saw the most money on Canada’s best player, Alphonso Davies with 31 per cent of all bets (among 30 players). Michy Batshuayi, who had the game's only goal, had six per cent all bets. 

 This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.



Musk says granting 'amnesty' to suspended Twitter accounts

Musk granting 'amnesty'

New Twitter owner Elon Musk said Thursday that he is granting "amnesty” for suspended accounts, which online safety experts predict will spur a rise in harassment, hate speech and misinformation.

The billionaire's announcement came after he asked in a poll posted to his timeline to vote on reinstatements for accounts that have not “broken the law or engaged in egregious spam.” The yes vote was 72%.

“The people have spoken. Amnesty begins next week. Vox Populi, Vox Dei,” Musk tweeted using a Latin phrase meaning “the voice of the people, the voice of God.”

Musk used the same Latin phrase after posting a similar poll last last weekend before reinstating the account of former President Donald Trump, which Twitter had banned for encouraging the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection. Trump has said he won’t return to Twitter but has not deleted his account.

Such online polls are anything but scientific and can easily be influenced by bots.

In the month since Musk took over Twitter, groups that monitor the platform for racist, anti-Semitic and other toxic speech say it’s been on the rise on the world’s de facto public square. That has included a surge in racist abuse of World Cup soccer players that Twitter is allegedly failing to act on.

The uptick in harmful content is in large part due to the disorder following Musk’s decision to lay off half the company’s 7,500-person workforce, fire top executives, and then institute a series of ultimatums that prompted hundreds more to quit. Also let go were an untold number of contractors responsible for content moderation. Among those resigning over a lack of faith in Musk’s willingness to keep Twitter from devolving into a chaos of uncontrolled speech were Twitter’s head of trust and safety, Yoel Roth.

Major advertisers have also abandoned the platform.

On Oct. 28, the day after he took control, Musk tweeted that no suspended accounts would be reinstated until Twitter formed a “content moderation council” with diverse viewpoints that would consider the cases.

On Tuesday, he said he was reneging on that promise because he’d agreed to at the insistence of “a large coalition of political-social activists groups” who later ”broke the deal” by urging that advertisers at least temporarily stop giving Twitter their business.

A day earlier, Twitter reinstated the personal account of far-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, which was banned in January for violating the platform’s COVID misinformation policies.

Musk, meanwhile, has been getting increasingly chummy on Twitter with right-wing figures. Before this month’s U.S. midterm elections he urged “independent-minded” people to vote Republican.



Government and air sector meet to discuss summer mistakes ahead of winter travel

Summer mistakes discussed

Canada's Transport Minister Omar Alghabra met with members of the air transport sector to discuss measures to modernize and digitize the industry and to learn from the mistakes that led to major travel disruptions this summer.

Alghabra, alongside minister Randy Boissonnault and parliamentary secretary Annie Koutrakis, led a national summit on the recovery of the air sector Thursday to discuss improvements to Canada's air transportation, including transparency, accountability and passenger rights.

Alghabra says that after the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, last summer the air industry faced a new crisis of congestion and delays.

He says government officials and air transport actors discussed plans to improve ahead of the winter travel surge including modernizing the security screening process and digitizing the sharing of information.

Over the summer, high traveller volumes and inadequate staffing levels contributed to lost baggage and flight disruptions, and Toronto's Pearson Airport had the world's worst record of delayed flights.

A spokeswoman for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, Tori Gass, says has worked closely with airline and government partners and Pearson has seen significant improvements since the summer.



Jordan Bitove will take full ownership of Torstar, reports say

Bitove buys Torstar

Toronto Star publisher Jordan Bitove will take sole control of the newspaper's parent company as part of an arbitration deal with co-owner Paul Rivett, according to media reports citing unnamed sources, bringing to a close a tense dispute between the former partners.

Torstar Corp. also owns the Metroland newspaper group and local newspapers including the Hamilton Spectator.

Bitove will also retain a significant stake in VerticalScope Holdings Inc., a tech company that owns 1,200 specialty websites.

The settlement comes two months after Bitove's business partner Paul Rivett filed an application to the Ontario Superior Court seeking a court order dissolve NordStar Capital Inc., which purchased Torstar in 2020 for $60 million.

In the court application, Rivett cited "irreparable" damage to his relationship with Bitove and said the pair could no longer work together.

After the application became public, the pair agreed to move their legal dispute to mediation-arbitration.

Rivett claimed Bitove changed his mind about previously agreed-upon plans, failed to provide a budget for the Toronto Star, ignored proper corporate governance and disregarded his responsibilities.

Rivett also asked the court to appoint PricewaterhouseCoopers to manage an asset sale to resolve the "impasse" between the two men.

The two men were equal partners in NordStar, which also owns online news site iPolitics and sportsbook NorthStar Gaming Inc. NordStar also has investments in The Canadian Press and Blue Ant Media Inc and is a VerticalScope Inc. shareholder.

Before teaming up with Bitove, who was part of the ownership consortium that built the SkyDome, now the Rogers Centre, Rivett was previously president at Fairfax Financial.



B.C. Ferries seeking shipyards to build up to four Island-class ferries

4 new ferries sought

B.C. Ferries is preparing to order up to four new Island-class ferries to help alleviate pressure on busy inter-island routes.

On Wednesday, the company issued a request for pre-qualifications so that B.C. Ferries can create a short list of shipyards. Yards have until Dec. 22 to respond.

“As per our usual practice, the RFPQ will be open to British Columbian, national and international companies,” said B.C. Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall.

The capital plan calls for the new ferries to enter service from 2024 to 2028, she said.

This call-out to shipyards comes as Gulf Islands communities are crying out for more capacity on ferries.

Residents and businesses complain of multi-sailing waits as existing small ferries and their crews try to meet the growing demand fuelled by population growth on the islands and a building boom.

Heavy trucks filled with construction materials such as aggregate are taking up significant amounts of weight allowances on many sailings.

Four new Island-class ferries vessels would add to the six already delivered, bringing the total to 10. Each 265-foot-long ferry can carry 47 vehicles and up to 300 passengers and crew members.

All six Island-class ferries were built by Netherlands-based Damen Shipyards in Romania.

In mid-January, two-ship service will come into effect on the Campbell River-Quadra Island route now that B.C. Ferries has secured sufficient crew, Marshall said.

“These ships will replace the Powell River Queen and will provide more capacity and more frequent service for our customers, like the service we introduced on the Gabriola route in the spring of 2022.”

The first two Island-class ferries, Island Discovery and Island Aurora, were brought to Victoria via a semi-submersible heavy-lift vessel in 2019 and went into service on the Powell River-Texada Island route and the Port McNeill-Alert Bay-Sointula Island route. Other Island-class ferries sailed to Victoria.

Mark Collins, B.C. Ferries president at the time, said in summer 2021 that the six Island-class ferries represented a total investment of $300 million. He said another six to eight Island-class ferries would be needed by 2032.

As well, $150 million was estimated in 2021 to be the cost of installing charging infrastructure at nine terminals to allow ferries to run on electricity, he said. That project has yet to be funded.



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