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Three years ago, Chris Nowrouzi’s private charter airline served mainly ultra-wealthy leisure travellers and the upper echelons of the corporate world.
Now, 27 months into a global pandemic that closed borders and battered airlines, his Toronto-based FlyGTA caters to a broader swath of families and groups wary of the health risks and airport hassle of commercial air travel — and who have cash to spare.
“After the pandemic definitely we saw an increase of numbers all across the board,” said Nowrouzi, the company’s CEO and co-owner. “And the major increase that we've seen is families.”
Aiming to more than double its seven-plane fleet over the next few years, FlyGTA is now rolling out service to 20-plus destinations with scheduled charter flights — nearly half in Florida or the Caribbean. Customers can sign up as a group and jet off to West Palm Beach from Toronto for about $25,000 one-way, taxes and fees included — or $3,125 per person in a group of eight, the maximum capacity. That compares to Air Canada fares that currently range from $1,260 to $3,620 for the same trip in a business-class seat in July.
Amid scenes of daily frustration at Canadian airports, FlyGTA is part of a swelling sector of fleet operators and producers that hope to transform a COVID-19-era trend toward mile-high comfort into a long-term upswing for private flight.
While carriers have struggled since March 2020, use of business jets rose by 23 per cent in the United States and 53 per cent in Europe last quarter compared with a year earlier, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and Eurocontrol. Those leaps build on large increases in 2021.
Flight delays and cancellations, wariness of potential COVID exposure and surging wealth among the ultra-rich — the world’s 2,755 billionaires saw their combined wealth rise by US$5 trillion since March 2021, a January report from Oxfam International says — have helped drive demand for private aircraft.
The taste for luxury has seen buyers snap up used business jets as well, leaving the total number for sale at 3.1 per cent of the worldwide fleet as of late February, its lowest level in more than 25 years, according to market data firm Jetnet IQ — and making new products a likelier option, which bodes well for private plane makers like Bombardier Inc.
The Montreal-based company increased its backlog of business aircraft orders by 11 per cent to US$13.5 billion in its first quarter. The "strong bookings" reflect "continued strengthening in the private jet market coming out of the pandemic with activity levels now exceeding 2019," ATB Capital Markets analyst Chris Murray said in a note to clients last month.
Meanwhile airlines captured just 80 per cent of premium travel last year, down from 90 per cent before the pandemic, according to Alton Aviation Consultancy managing director Umang Gupta, indicating private travel now accounts for a larger slice of the market.
“It's a very niche market. But the niche seems to be creeping down the income scales, where you have a lot more options today,” said John Gradek, head of McGill University's aviation management program.
“If you're booking a seat from Toronto to Vancouver on Air Canada on business class, and it's $3,000 or $4,000, you get six or seven of your buddies together to fly and it's cheaper to fly on a private jet than it is on a commercial airliner.”
The growing array of purchase options includes charter, "jet card" loyalty-style programs, full ownership and “fractional ownership.”
Charter flights involve hiring a plane and crew for a custom trip. Jet card programs, which function like a premium charter membership, see customers pay in advance for the privilege of a fixed hourly rate and guaranteed availability, with dozens of companies serving North America.
Full ownership refers to an outright plane purchase by a corporation or individual. And fractional ownership means buying a share of a plane under a multi-year deal that covers costs like crew wages and maintenance, on top of an hourly rate for time on board.
Companies such as Calgary-based AirSprint, Mississauga, Ont.-based Jet-Share and HondaJet’s newly formed Jet It Canada all sell fractional ownership.
In 2020, the relatively affordable fractional and charter flights made up an unprecedented majority of private flight hours in North America, overtaking full ownership, according to an Argus International business aviation report.
Meanwhile, total business jet flight activity surged past 2020 levels by 41 per cent last year and topped pre-pandemic levels by 7.2 per cent.
As well as accessibility, health concerns remain top of mind for many amid the pandemic. “We are hearing that some (corporate) boards are asking their directors to fly private for health reasons,” said Helane Becker, an analyst for banking firm Cowen.
Then there’s the pure convenience and — alluring decadence — of private flight.
“There is no wait time to get on the aircraft,” said Nowrouzi. “Your passports are checked and you get right on the aircraft and you depart.
“On your arrival, customs agents come out to the aircraft,” he added, building a case for the revival of air travel’s bygone glamour.
“Back in the ’70s, when commercial flying was new, people would fly for the experience and the destination. But somewhere along the way the experience kind of went away.”
Even the old-fashioned route of buying a jet outright is more feasible for corporations, leasing companies and the odd individual, with the list price for new HondaJet and Cessna jets starting between US$3 million and US$4 million.
“Those airplanes will fly Montreal-Miami nonstop,” Gradek said.
A couple of clouds mark the horizon.
One is the price of jet fuel, which is poised to remain high this year in lockstep with oil costs.
“And then there's the Greta Thunberg factor” — a growing awareness of aviation’s carbon footprint and the attendant “flygskam,” Swedish for flight shame, which pressures would-be flyers to think twice about heading skyward — Gradek said.
But with the pandemic and airport chaos raging, going private may seem all the easier to rationalize, said former Air Canada chief operating officer Duncan Dee.
“For folks that can afford it — high net worth individuals and corporate clients — that becomes an alternative that is much more justifiable.”
A commodities and tech led rally propelled Canada's main stock index to its best performance in six weeks as it ended a wild week that was positive for the first time since early June.
U.S. markets were even stronger as sentiment was buoyed by comments from a Federal Reserve member and a report that ignited hopes that perhaps inflation has peaked.
Fed chairman Jerome Powell told Congress earlier this week that the risks of a recession were possible as the central bank is focused on reducing inflation. But St. Louis Fed president Jim Bullard, one of the most hawkish members of the bank, said Friday that worries about a U.S. recession were overblown.
"So that was one thing that I think led to a lot of the rallying we're seeing today," said Crystal Maloney, head of equity research at CIBC Asset Management.
A University of Michigan report on consumer inflation expectations also gave investors some hope that central banks will be less pressured to hike interest rates.
Consumer sentiment hit a record low reading of 50 in June, according to the survey released Friday. It showed consumers’ expectations for inflation over the long run moderated to 3.1 per cent from a mid-month reading of 3.3 per cent. That’s crucial for the Fed because expectations for higher inflation in the future can trigger buying activity that inflames inflation further in a self-fulfilling, vicious cycle.
"These types of readings are being taken as potential signs that perhaps inflation is topping out," she said in an interview.
Powell had referred to the Michigan data when the bank recently increased its interest rates by three-quarters of a percentage point, its largest hike in nearly three decades.
"So now people are taking a closer look at this type of metric and that is helping sentiment."
While market volatility should continue as the Fed and Bank of Canada are both expected to hike rates by another 75 basis points, Maloney said investors may be thinking that the pace of increases may slow or the total amount of rate hikes could be less.
The S&P/TSX composite index closed up 345.79 points to 19,062.91.
In New York, the S&P 500 index was up 116.01 points or 3.1 per cent at 3,911.74 for its biggest gain in two years. It also rose 6.4 per cent for the week for only its second winning week in the last 12.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 823.32 points at 31,500.68, while the Nasdaq composite was up 375.43 points or 3.3 per cent at 11,607.62.
Financials were a key driver of U.S. markets as bank shares moved higher after they passed a stress test.
Canada's heavyweight financials sector rose by less than one per cent on recession concerns and what that could mean for loan losses, said Maloney.
"While I believe it's still premature to be calling for a recession, a lot of these risks are getting priced into the financial sector," she said.
All 11 major sectors of the TSX were higher Friday, with six increasing by more than two per cent.
Health care led, climbing 6.0 per cent as Bausch Health Cos. Inc. surged 19.4 per cent following the announcement that hedge fund manager John Paulson has been named chairperson of its board of directors, replacing Joseph Papa.
Technology increased 3.7 per cent as shares of BlackBerry Ltd. were up 5.9 per cent while Shopify Inc. was 5.3 per cent higher.
Energy rose 3.3 per cent as higher crude oil prices pushed Baytex Energy Corp. up 9.6 per cent and Meg Energy Corp. up 7.2 per cent.
The August crude contract was up US$3.35 at US$107.62 per barrel and the August natural gas contract was down slightly at US$6.28 per mmBTU.
The Canadian dollar traded for 77.32 cents US compared with 77.03 cents US on Thursday.
The materials sector, which includes miners, forestry producers and fertilizer companies, was up even though metals prices were flat with shares of First Quantum Minerals Ltd. increasing 11.5 per cent.
The August gold contract was up 50 cents at US$1,830.30 an ounce and the July copper contract was essentially flat at US$3.74 a pound.
Maloney said investors should expect short-term volatility to remain elevated because of uncertainties such as when central banks will stop hiking rates.
"It's still premature to call for a recession, but there's that risk that central banks go too far and the market's reacting pretty violently to every little comment coming out of central banks."
Rogers Communications Inc., Shaw Communications Inc. and the Competition Bureau have agreed to participate in a mediation process next month regarding the companies' $26-billion merger.
The first scheduled mediation period is July 4 and 5, according to the Competition Tribunal. Public hearings before the tribunal were previously scheduled to begin this fall.
The mediation announcement comes just one week after Rogers announced it would sell Shaw-owned Freedom Mobile to Montreal-based Quebecor Inc. for $2.85 billion in an attempt to ease the Competition Bureau's concerns about the combination of Rogers and Shaw.
The competition watchdog has been trying to block the deal, arguing that it would ultimately result in less choice in the telecom market and lead to higher bills for consumers.
Rogers, Shaw and Quebecor argue the Freedom deal would keep alive a "strong and sustainable" fourth wireless carrier in Canada.
The Rogers-Shaw transaction already has approval from shareholders and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, but remains subject to review by the Competition Bureau and the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.
Roots Corp. has been doing collaborations since before they were cool.
Just ask Karl Kowalewski, head of the Canadian brand’s leather factory since the company was founded nearly 50 years ago.
He’s designed shoes for Richard Gere and Eugene Levy, a leather goods collection with writer and visual artist Douglas Coupland and more recently a varsity jacket with The Weeknd and the XO brand.
Some of the collaborations were commercialized. Most weren’t.
“We’ve always been passionate about human connection and building relationships,” Roots president and CEO Meghan Roach said during a recent interview. “It’s been part of the ethos since day one.”
“We’ve always been passionate about human connection and building relationships,” Roots president and CEO Meghan Roach said during a recent interview. “It’s been part of the ethos since day one.”
What started organically for retailers like Roots is now a massive part of the industry’s product innovation and brand marketing strategy.
Canadian retail heavyweights like Lululemon Athletica, Canada Goose and Aritzia have all introduced collections created through collaborations. The limited-time products often generate hype and sell out quickly.
Newcomers on Canada’s retail stage, like upscale outerwear company Moose Knuckles, are even hiring executives specifically to head up collaborations.
"Every time you do a collaboration you create something new that's never been done before," said Julia Yu, senior director of collaborations for Moose Knuckles.
"Collaborations let us leverage other people's creativity by allowing them to play around with our iconic outerwearpieces."
The partnerships often involve established companies teaming up with up-and-coming brands or famous celebrities like musicians or athletes.
Unlike a simple endorsement, where a celebrity might wear a clothing item or feature a product on social media, creative collaborations involve a coming together of minds, retail experts say.
The idea is for two brands, or individuals, to develop something that's greater than the sum of its parts.
The appeal for established retailers is to stay relevant with existing customers while attracting new generations. For new brands, teaming up with a bigger player can help them reach a wider customer base.
While some partnerships are a true creative collaboration or involve a cause or charity, many boil down to money and marketing, retail expert Bruce Winder said.
"Money is a big part of collaborations," he said. "Some of these partnerships are absolute home runs and generate a ton of profit. That's why we're seeing so many of them."
Sometimes collaborations see high fashion designers merge with mass market brands, like Balenciaga pairing up with foam clog maker Crocs.
At other times, musical artists join forces with apparel companies, such as Drake and his clothing brand October's Very Own, or OVO, partnering with luxury parka maker Canada Goose.
"The perfect collaboration is achieved when two brands working together create products that neither partner could build independently," said Woody Blackford, chief product officer with Canada Goose.
"Working with new collaborators allows us to use fresh and distinct perspectives, inspiration and skills with the creative minds of our internal design team."
While collaborations are now proliferating throughout the retail marketplace, the approach has been around for decades.
Classic collaborations involve an apparel heavyweight teaming up with an athlete superstars like Nike and Serena Williams.
"These types of collaborations are mutually beneficial and strengthen each other's brands," said Charles de Brabant, executive director of the Bensadoun School of Retail Management at McGill University.
Some of the "tie ups" are short term, like when two apparel companies come together to offer a limited-time "capsule collection," he said.
The novelty aspect of the collaboration helps drive interest and sales, de Brabant said.
At other times, like when a sports brand signs an athlete, the partnership can last decades, he said.
"Tie ups with individuals can last a long time," de Brabant said. "That's why whenever you collaborate, you want to ensure the values align."
The proliferation of collaborations in the marketplace makes finding the right partner essential, said Tamara Szames, Canadian retail industry adviser with The NPD Group, in an interview.
A collaboration that lacks a clear vision or cohesion between brands can leave consumers feeling jaded, she said.
"That's why authenticity is crucial for a successful collaboration," Szames said. "When a legacy brand is trying to chase what's trendy and it's not authentic to their DNA, the consumer can read through that."
But when it works, a successful collaboration can "cut through the clutter," Winder said.
"Collabs can be a really powerful way of increasing your exposure as a brand," he said. "It's also a way for some brands to reach younger people."
Tim Hortons’ collaboration with Justin Bieber has largely been credited with bringing a younger demographic to the coffee and doughnut chain.
When the limited-edition Timbiebs Timbits were rolled out, Tim Hortons' chief marketing officer said there were lineups outside of restaurants.
"Kids would go on their lunch hour from school and be lined up around the building," Hope Bagozzi said in a recent interview.
Part of the reason the collaboration worked so well was its authenticity, Winder said.
The Stratford, Ont.-raised pop star said he "grew up on Tim Hortons" and was reportedly deeply involved in product brainstorming, testing samples and choosing the final recipes for both Timbiebs and Biebs Brew.
"The collaboration between Justin Bieber and Tim Hortons worked because it feels credible," Winder said. "I'm sure he was well paid for it but it felt authentic."
A day after endorsing Ukraine's candidacy to join the European Union, the bloc's leaders turned their attention Friday to the severe economic turbulence looming over the coming months as the full impact of Russia’s war sinks in and the threat of recession rises.
The EU's 27 leaders gathered in Brussels to grapple with surging inflation, energy shocks, dwindling business and consumer confidence, and growing budget pressures.
The leaders also will have to contend with higher borrowing costs as the European Central Bank prepares to raise interest rates for the first time in 11 years to counter runaway price increases. ECB President Christine Lagarde, who plans to raise rates next month and again in September, joined the EU summit to discuss the darkening economic outlook.
“We are in a difficult situation,” Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on her way into the summit. “It’s very important that we have this discussion.”
The EU has spent the previous decade battling a series of crises, ranging from Greece’s financial woes and transatlantic trade disruptions under former U.S. President Donald Trump to Britain’s departure from the bloc and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The EU's executive arm, the European Commission, on Friday announced plans to issue 50 billion euros ($52.7 billion) of EU bonds to aid member countries between July and December as part of its flagship economic recovery program.
With no end in sight to the war in Ukraine and the EU committed to stepping up sanctions against Russia as punishment, the bloc must battle economic threats on multiple fronts.
Energy poses a major challenge for the EU, which for years has relied heavily on Russian oil, natural gas and coal to help power cars, factories, heating systems and electricity plants.
Under pressure to keep pace with American and British penalties against Russia, the EU since April has expanded what were already unprecedented sanctions by targeting Russian fuels. A ban on imports of Russian coal will start in August and an embargo on most oil from Russia will be phased in over the coming eight months.
Meanwhile, Moscow itself is disrupting natural gas deliveries, which the EU didn’t include in its own sanctions for fear of seriously harming the European economy. Before the war, the bloc got about 40% of its gas from Russia.
“It’s very likely that Russia will use gas and energy as a blackmail toward European Union countries,” Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said. “Russia will use it as a tool, as a weapon against us, so we have to help each other.”
Moscow has reduced gas supplies to five EU countries, including heavy importers Germany and Italy, and cut off deliveries to six member states, such as Finland.
Germany on Thursday triggered the second phase of a three-stage emergency plan for gas supplies, saying the country faces a “crisis.” Weaknesses in Germany, Europe’s largest economy, risk having a broad spillover effect and making the EU’s latest economic growth forecasts look too rosy.
“The impact will be enormous for Germany but also for all the other European countries,” Belgian Premier Alexander De Croo said.
In May, the European Commission said the EU’s economic output would expand 2.7% this year and 2.3% in 2023 after 5.4% growth in 2021. Other forecasts have already downgraded growth prospects. As this year began, the bloc was still facing effects — including higher budget deficits — from the pandemic, which caused the economy to shrink 5.9% in 2020.
The ECB has pledged to create a market backstop to protect the 19 countries that share the euro currency from market turmoil as it tackles record inflation of 8.1%. A selloff in the bonds of some euro nations was a central feature of the debt crisis a decade ago.
“The next few months will be very difficult,” said European Parliament President Roberta Metsola, who attended the first day of the summit Thursday.
Shares were higher in Europe and Asia on Friday despite data suggesting some economies are slowing.
U.S. futures also advanced after a rally Thursday on Wall Street, where the market is headed for its first weekly gain after three weeks of punishing losses.
Market players are looking ahead to U.S. inflation data due next week and hoping that the moderation in prices of oil and some other commodities this week is a sign inflation might be abating.
“We will soon find out if the inflation trade is pausing or cracking. Pain levels are raising with the ‘recession rotation’ in full swing as the narrative shifts from supply chain concerns to demand destruction,” Stephen Innes of SPI Asset Management said in a commentary.
Britain’s FTSE 100 added 1.1% to 7,097.20 after Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered a double blow as voters rejected his Conservative Party in two special elections dominated by questions about his leadership and ethics.
The electoral tests came as Britain faces its worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, with Russia’s war in Ukraine squeezing supplies of energy and food staples at a time of soaring consumer demand while the coronavirus pandemic recedes.
Germany's DAX rose 0.6% to 12,985.33 and the CAC 40 in Paris jumped 1.4% to 5,966.79. The future for the S&P 500 was up 0.7% while that for the Dow industrials gained 0.6%.
Results of surveys of manufacturers for “several developed economies came in lower-than-expected in both the manufacturing and services sector, which points to a broad-based moderation in economic activities,” Jun Rong Yeap of IG said in a commentary.
Tokyo's Nikkei 225 index added 1.2% to 26,491.97 and the Kospi in Seoul jumped 2.3% to 2,366.60. Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 2.1% to 21,719.06 and the Shanghai Composite index added 0.9% to 3,349.75.
In Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.8% to 6,578.70. Shares also rose in India and Taiwan.
A report Friday showed inflation in Japan remained at 2.1% in May, pushed higher by energy costs and a weaker currency. However, underlying core inflation, which excludes volatile costs for energy and fresh foods, remained at 0.8% and the central bank is unlikely to follow the example of the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks in raising interest rates, analysts said.
The Bank of Japan “isn’t convinced that this will be sustainable because wage growth remains soft and higher energy costs are weighing on corporate profits and consumer sentiment," Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics said in a report.
Trading Thursday on Wall Street was dominated by another round of testimony before Congress by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, who told a House committee the Fed hopes to rein in the worst inflation in four decades without knocking the economy into a recession.
But he acknowledged “that path has gotten more and more challenging.”
The S&P 500 ended 1% higher and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.6%. The Nasdaq gained 1.6%, while the Russell 2000 rose 1.3%.
Trading has been turbulent in recent weeks as investors try to determine whether a recession is looming. The benchmark S&P 500 is currently in a bear market. That means it has dropped more than 20% from its most recent high, which was in January. The index has fallen for 10 of the last 11 weeks.
Powell spoke to Congress a week after the Fed raised its benchmark interest rate by three quarters of a percentage point, its biggest hike in nearly three decades.
As higher prices stretch their budgets, consumers are shifting spending from big ticket items like electronics to necessities. The pressure has been worsened by record-high gasoline prices that show no sign of abating.
Early Friday, U.S. benchmark crude oil was up 81 cents at $105.08 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the basis for pricing for international trading, picked up 60 cents to $107.06 per barrel.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which helps set mortgage rates, fell to 3.08 per cent from 3.15 per cent late Wednesday.
The U.S. dollar weakened to 134.91 Japanese yen from 134.94 yen. The euro rose to $1.0543 from $1.0524.
Statistics Canada says the number of job vacancies at the beginning of April hit just over one million, up more than 40 per cent compared with a year earlier.
The agency says employers in Canada were actively seeking to fill 1,001,100 vacant positions, up 23,300 from March and a gain of 308,000 compared with April 2021.
It says the job vacancy rate, which measures the number of vacant positions as a proportion of all positions, was 5.8 per cent in April compared with 4.4 per cent in the same month last year.
The number of job vacancies hit a record high in several sectors including construction which saw the number of job vacancies hit 89,900 in April, up 12,000 from March and up 27,200 from April 2021.
The number of vacancies were also at a record high for professional, scientific and technical services; transportation and warehousing; finance and insurance; arts, entertainment and recreation; and real estate and rental and leasing.
The health care and social assistance sector saw the number of job vacancies fall to 125,200 in April from a peak of 147,500 in March, however they were still up 21.3 per cent compared with a year earlier.
Imperial Oil Ltd. has signed a deal to help advance a lithium project in Alberta's historic Leduc oilfield.
The agreement will see Imperial invest $6.35 million in E3 Lithium, a Calgary-based junior resource company that has developed a technology to extract the naturally occurring lithium (a light metal that is a key component in the batteries used in electric vehicles) from oilfield brines.
Imperial has also agreed to provide technical and development support for E3's Clearwater project, which includes drilling lithium evaluation wells and developing a field pilot project before moving onto the commercialization stage.
"This is a commercial opportunity to us," said Imperial's director of commercial business development, Jason Iwanika, in an interview.
"When you look at Canada’s growing critical minerals industry, there's been some encouraging support from government as well as just the general market. If you look at the growth in batteries, both stationary and electric vehicles, that’s an interesting market to us."
The Leduc oilfield,where E3's Clearwater project is based, was the site of Leduc No. 1, the historic gusher struck by Imperial in 1947 that launched Alberta's oil and gas industry and changed the course of the province's economy.
It has also long been known as the site of one of Canada's largest lithium resources, though there was little interest in developing a lithium industry in Alberta until the recent growth of electric vehicles and an exponential rise in demand for lithium ion batteries.
"I’m excited from the perspective that there’s room to be a first mover," Iwanika said, adding Imperial is open to potentially increasing its involvement with E3 in the future.
"Today the announcement and the agreement is a collaboration — it’s a starting point. We need to work through piloting new technology. But that relationship and that collaboration can certainly grow to something that is commercial."
Having a giant like Imperial working with his company in exploring the redevelopment of Leduc into a world-class source of lithium is an "exciting new chapter," E3 chief executive Chris Doornbos said in an interview.
"This is Imperial coming back into this aquifer and looking at it from a lithium perspective. For us, that’s huge, because it demonstrates their belief in this aquifer," Doornbos said. "They know, probably better than any other company out there, how it can produce as a resource."
Under the agreement, E3 will remain the operator of the Clearwater project but receive support from Imperial in areas such as water and reservoir management. The agreement also includes access for E3 to freehold lands in the area, which are operated by Imperial.
Drilling on the first of three evaluation wells, the first lithium wells ever drilled in Alberta, will begin immediately, Doornbos said. Work will also focus on scaling up E3's proprietary technology, which brings the brine to the surface where the lithium is removed and concentrated and then returns the liquid underground as part of a closed-loop system.
Canada has identified lithium as a focus of its $3.8-billion, eight-year critical minerals strategy. The aim is to increase extraction and production of Canadian lithium, as well as cobalt, copper, titanium, zinc and other minerals that are used as components in electric vehicles and their batteries.
The goal is to create a domestic supply chain for electric vehicles, and in doing so, boost the economy while tackling greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.
In the federal budget in April, the government announced a new 30 per cent tax credit for exploration projects related to critical minerals such as lithium.
The Canadian Transportation Agency says the total number of complaints it faced about air travel rose last year, boosted by a backlog of issues carried over from the previous year.
The agency says there were 28,673 complaints in total for the year up to March 31, 2022, up from 26,742 from a year earlier.
The year's total includes 12,158 new complaints, for about an eight per cent drop from the previous year, plus the carry-over of 16,515 reports from the prior year.
The agency says it processed 15,264 complaints, up from 10,227 the previous year, with about half of resolutions processed through the airline financial aid package.
The CTA says it was left with 13,409 complaints still in progress at the end of the year, a drop from the year earlier and in line with the total for the year ending March 31, 2020.
Complaints spiked starting in 2019 in part due to the passenger rights charter implemented that year, as well as problems from Air Canada's booking system, while early issues with pandemic cancellations also contributed.
As energy prices soar and consumers look for ways to save on their utility bills, experts say Canadians should consider whether installing a heat pump could be part of the solution.
A heat pump is an electrically driven device that looks a bit like an air conditioner and can be used for both heating and cooling.
In the winter, an air-source heat pump extracts heat from the outside (there is always some heat in the air, even on a cold day) and "pumps" it inside. In summer, the cycle is reversed and the heat pump takes heat out of the indoor air and moves it outside.
The technology, which has been around for a long time, can make for an energy-efficient alternative to other types of home heating systems, such as a natural gas furnace or electric baseboards.
It can also eliminate the need for a conventional air conditioner and reduce your household's environmental footprint if you're replacing a heating unit that uses natural gas, propane or furnace oil.
"Heat pumps are great because they provide that year-round, efficient cooling in the summer and heating in the winter," said Susie Rieder, a spokeswoman for BC Hydro who uses a heat pump at her own Burnaby, B.C. townhouse.
Rieder, who relied on electric baseboards before getting a heat pump, says her heating bills have declined about 40 per cent since making the switch. In addition, her heat pump negates the need for a separate air conditioning system.
"The summers are getting hotter," Rieder said. “Especially in places like the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, you see a lot of people using those portable air conditioners – which can be pretty inefficient and costly. So getting a heat pump installed can really be helpful there as well."
Many public utilities, such as BC Hydro, are encouraging heat pump adoption as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and many homeowners who have made the switch say they'll never go back.
But in general, Canadian adoption has been slow. According to Natural Resources Canada, there are only about 700,000 installed air-source heat pumps in this country. By contrast, 35 per cent of Canadian households, or 5.1 million homes, are currently heated with natural gas furnaces.
A recent survey by BC Hydro found a general lack of knowledge among homeowners about heat pumps, with almost a quarter of British Columbians saying they are unlikely to consider installing a heat pump and 30 per cent of those respondents saying the reason is because they do not know enough about the devices.
Part of the problem is that earlier iterations of heat pumps weren't necessarily compatible with the Canadian climate. Because the ability of a heat pump to extract heat from the air declines as the temperature falls, having a backup heat source for harsh winters was often a necessity.
However, that's changed in recent years as heat pump technology has advanced. Geoff Sharman, residential product manager, HVAC, for Mitsubishi Electric Canada, said certain types of heat pumps can now work in temperatures as low as -30 C. (Consumers can also choose ground-source heat pumps, which are more efficient in Canada because they take advantage of warmer and more stable ground temperatures, Natural Resources Canada says.)
"The heat pump market is growing," Sharman said. "Really, (heat pumps) can provide heating for almost any-sized structure in Canada now. And as natural gas prices may rise in the future ... a heat pump can be a good way to go.”
The upfront cost of a heat pump can be intimidating, with the average cost to buy and install a system being about $7,000 for small homes and about $16,000 for larger homes, according to BC Hydro. Experts say the exact type and size of heat pump you'll need will depend on the size of your home, the climate where you live, how well your home is insulated and other factors.
In the same way, how much you might expect to save on your energy bills also varies depending on your local climate, what type of heating/cooling system you currently use, and what size and type of heat pump you buy. There are many online calculators, including one on the Natural Resources Canada website, that can help you estimate your potential cost savings.
Homeowners who make the switch to an electric heat pump from fossil fuel heating (natural gas, propane or oil) can also be eligible for rebates from the federal government, their local utility or province, or their municipality.
BC Hydro, for example, offers up to $3,000 in rebates for switching from a fossil fuel-based system, which can be combined with provincial and federal rebates for a total savings of up to $11,000 on heat pump cost and installation.
"You do need to get a professional involved," Sharman said. “With all the rebates, you may end up paying only 15 to 20 per cent of what your system is worth. Who knows? But you do need that professional to go in there, size it all up, and tell you what programs are applicable to the product you're looking at."
Edmonton homeowner Shelly Robichaud, who replaced her gas furnace with an electric heat pump a couple of years ago, made the decision largely out of a desire to get her house off of natural gas.
She and her husband also have solar panels on their roof and produce their own electricity, with the result being that they're marginally "net positive" on their yearly heating and electricity bills. (Last year, they actually made a $300 profit by selling the excess electricity they generate back onto the grid).
“I have been an environmentalist for as long as I can remember, so honestly that was the major factor in doing this," Robichaud said. "You can come out ahead (financially), though."
“I think with heat pumps, like everything else, people are afraid of new technology," Robichaud added. "It takes the early adopters to go ahead with it first, and then others follow.”
Alexandria Gilles and Eric Thang had their hearts set on marrying at a local golf course they booked more than a year in advance.
Instead, the Newmarket, Ont. couple will celebrate their fall nuptials at a community hall — a location they moved their big day to because of costs.
"We were taking on a second job. My sister, my maid of honor, she put out a GoFundMe page, but it wasn't enough no matter what we did," Gilles said.
"We finally sat down and were just like, 'we've got to be real here. That's our dream wedding, but right now it's not going to happen.'"
The 80-person, golf course wedding would have cost at least $30,000, including $16,000 for food. The hall, however, costs $400 to rent and a local vendor will charge $4,000 for the meal.
The couple’s experience is a lot like others marrying this year and discovering the already competitive and pricey wedding industry exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, 30-year high inflation, supply chain challenges and labour shortages.
A study of 19,993 couples from The Knot, Wedding Wire and Bodas.net found the average Canadian wedding cost roughly US$29,450 in 2018 — a total omitting honeymoons, rings and other jewelry.
This year, Shannon Kennedy is advising clients to budget at least 30 per cent more than usual and warning of "a wedding boom.”
"It's forecasted to be the largest number of weddings taking place worldwide, more than any other given time in history," said the owner of Ottawa-based Kennedy Event Planning.
"You have people who have postponed from 2020 and 2021 and then beautiful couples who just always intended to get married this year, so there's twice as many people at the same number of venues and suppliers."
For those keen on cutting costs, she recommends reducing the guest list, celebrating on a weekday or even next year, when some believe the boom will dissipate.
Toronto couple Lauren Datta and Steven Braithwaite, who will wed in July 2023, are hoping that advice holds up.
"We decided to just have a bit of a longer engagement, save up more for the wedding," said Datta.
Others are still forging ahead with 2022 ceremonies, but keeping an eye on prices.
Jess Murray, the Halifax planner behind Wedding Whisperer, estimates half the nuptials she is co-ordinating this year are scheduled on Wednesday and Thursday because of “sticker shock” and availability.
Weekday clients usually save on locations and catering because venues often set a minimum spend based on how much money they would earn if you weren't having your wedding then, she said.
Weekday wedding hosts also have more choice of photographers, makeup artists and hair stylists and avoid Fridays or Saturday premiums, she said.
Payments technology company Square found demand for dresses, including bridal and wedding gowns, was up 95 per cent from last year as of May, while those selling wedding products like cupcakes, travel packages and makeup found demand was seven times what it was in the same period last year and 20 times the demand seen in 2020.
Nearly every vendor Murray encounters is facing trouble sourcing products, so orders need to be placed even earlier.
The latest woe she experienced is trouble sourcing helium for balloons, while Kennedy noticed some flower costs soar by 600 per cent because growers are struggling to keep up with demand.
"The cost of what is a very common wedding rose that would have been $2 or $3 is now, in some cases, $16 to $23 for a single flower," she said.
Payments processor Moneris recently found what Canada spent on bands and orchestras this April was up 344 per cent from last year, while catering rose by 136 per cent, followed by beauty and barbershops at 67 per cent.
Some of the most common price increases are on menus.
"Chicken is up quite a bit, anything that contains flour is up and we get daily notices of price increases," said Mark Pruger, owner of White Table Catering Co. in Abbotsford, B.C.
The cost of chicken was up 5.6 per cent between April 2021 and 2022, fresh vegetables increased by 8.2 per cent and fruit and nuts climbed by 6.4 per cent, Statistics Canada said.
The average transaction size among caterers is up 41 per cent year over year, the Square report said.
Shortages are also common and its become more expensive to recruit support staff like dishwashers, severs and prep cooks, so Pruger's team often turns to alternative suppliers and presses couples to think far ahead.
"We booked out this year...very quickly, and we can't take any more," he said.
"For 2023, events are coming in very, very quickly, and we have people calling to see if we know of a venue that's available because things are getting harder to get."
The federal government now stands to lose money from its investment in the Trans Mountain pipeline, according to a new report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer.
The latest analysis, released Wednesday, shows the net present value of the pipeline is negative $600 million, leaving it worth about $1.2 billion less than the PBO's estimate in December 2020.
The new financial analysis takes into account new developments such as the budget overruns disclosed in February that peg the current cost of the Trans Mountain expansion at $21.4 billion, a 70 per cent increase from an earlier estimate of $12.6 billion.
The new PBO report also reflects the fact that the pipeline's projected completion date has been pushed back to the third quarter of 2023.
The 1,150-km Trans Mountain pipeline carries 300,000 barrels of oil per day, and is Canada's only pipeline system transporting oil from Alberta to the West Coast.
Its expansion, for which construction is currently underway, will essentially twin the existing pipeline, raising daily output to 890,000 barrels to support Canadian crude oil production growth and ensure access to global energy markets.
The Trans Mountain project was bought by the federal government for $4.5 billion in 2018, after previous owner Kinder Morgan Canada Inc. threatened to scrap the pipeline's planned expansion project in the face of environmentalist opposition.
On Wednesday, Adrienne Vaupshas — press secretary for federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland — said independent analyses from both BMO Capital Markets and TD Securities have found that the Trans Mountain pipeline project remains commercially viable.
"The Trans Mountain Expansion Project is in the national interest and will make Canada and the Canadian economy more sovereign and more resilient," Vaupshas said in an email, adding the federal government still plans to launch a divestment process after the project is further derisked and after negotiations with Indigenous groups have progressed.
A number of Indigenous-led initiatives have previously stated their intentions to pursue an equity stake in the pipeline.
Environmental groups were quick to point to the PBO's report Wednesday as proof that the federal government should never have purchased Trans Mountain in the first place.
"The federal government is losing money on the pipeline whose profits they promised would pay for green energy," said Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist for Greenpeace Canada.
"Rather than pouring billions more into a money-losing, climate-destroying pipeline that only benefits oil company bottom lines, let’s spend it directly on green energy solutions that help Canadians avoid pain at the pump while fighting climate change."
In its report, the PBO also looked at what would happen if the federal government were to stop construction this month and cancel the Trans Mountain project indefinitely, suggesting that such a move would require the government to write off over $14 billion in assets.
There has been no indication that the Trudeau government has any intention of cancelling the pipeline project.
In February, Freeland said Trans Mountain Corp. — a federal Crown corporation — will need to secure third-party funding to complete the project, either through banks or public debt markets.
However, the federal government has agreed to sign a $10-billion loan guarantee for the project.
Part of the reason why the value of Trans Mountain is declining as the project costs soar is due to the way oil companies pay for the use of the pipeline through tolling arrangements.
Due to Trans Mountain's existing long-term contractual agreements with oil shippers, only 20 to 25 per cent of the increased capital costs of the project can be passed on to oil companies in the form of increased tolls.
That means that about $7 billion in cost overruns must be absorbed by Trans Mountain itself, ultimately eroding the project’s returns.
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