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Navigating a toxic workplace is a risky and lengthy process, experts say

Navigating a toxic workplace

In the wake of Julie Payette's resignation from the role of governor general on Thursday after an investigation into harassment allegations, some Canadian workers may find themselves relating to the rank and file at Rideau Hall.

In many cases however, workers who have the courage to complain about mistreatment from their managers find all too often that their boss doesn't face any consequences, notes human resources consultant Janet Candido.

"If it's somebody that nobody likes, or if it's a fairly low-level person, companies are usually much more apt to take action," says Candido, founder of Candido Consulting Group.

"The problem really comes in when the person is very senior, or popular, or a good producer. And then people turn a blind eye."

Candido says that any employee experiencing bullying should take detailed notes about each clash, including the day, time and whether there were any witnesses. Workplaces should focus on anti-harassment training that empowers managers from other departments to step in when they see a fellow manager bully a subordinate, she says.

"Don't expect a subordinate to be able to stand up to their boss and say, 'You are harassing me and haven't stopped,' she says. "They're afraid of being ostracized. They're afraid of their career being finished."

Many workplace policies, however, do exactly that, says Fredericton employment lawyer Dan Leger. Most workplaces are required to have policies to deal with harassment, but many vary in how they define harassment or require employees to start with informal discussions.

"It all starts with confirming to the individual that behaviour is not welcomed," says Leger. "We all know what it looks like, at the far end: If somebody's making a sexual advance to a subordinate employee, that's easy to classify. But what about the employer or the boss or the manager who decides to shun an individual in the copy room?"

Leger says workplace policies are often designed to mediate and diffuse disputes without ever reaching the point where investigators are called in. A good policy, Leger says, includes at least one backup mediator if an employee cannot safely complain to the manager.

"That's not uncommon in workplaces: A boss might have an employee in the management team that they've worked with, that they go camping with, and employees know that," says Leger. "If you can't go to your immediate supervisor, then who is the default after that, and who was the default after that?"

Leger says any workplace policy should also have a clause that protects good-faith complainants from retaliation. If violated, that could be a violation of a work contract — and entitle the employee to monetary damages, Leger says.

Ottawa lawyer Yavar Hameed says more workers have reported feeling isolated and vulnerable to difficult employers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hameed says that there are several different routes of recourse for workers who are being bullied. For example, a unionized workplace may allow an employee to file a grievance.

If an employer request is unlawful, discriminatory or a threat to health and safety, Hameed says that merits workers raising an instant alarm, and can open the door to the province's human rights tribunal or Ministry of Labour. A traumatic workplace incident that ends in a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder means that an employee now has a medical condition that must be accommodated by the employer, Hameed says.

On the other hand, if a workplace is proven to be so toxic that a worker is impeded in carrying out their duties, Hameed says an employee could try to build a legal case for constructive dismissal, sometimes called "quitting with cause."

But each legal option has its risks, Hameed says, as does the option of "going public" with complaints without having a lawyer or union to advocate for you.

"The caveat for all of these kind of interventions is that legal processes are long and drawn out," says Hameed.

"The danger of going public with something is ... you have to have the confidence that then you will be able to weather a vigorous response by the employer."

When harassment is between two co-workers, the worker on the receiving end should make a complaint to management requesting protection, says Hameed.

"The liability of management is triggered when you let management know that this co-worker is harassing you, and they just condone that behaviour," he says.

What's tougher, he said, is when management is accused of abuses. Hameed says workplace complaints are more likely to be investigated if there are multiple employees willing to come forward with similar experiences — which, he admits, is easier said than done.

"Even if there's a group of them, they may still not feel that they have that safety," says Hameed. But, he adds, when it comes to a group complaint, "in most circumstances, it would be highly imprudent of management to just sort of whitewash that or dismiss that."



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Indigenous business coalition leader says Keystone XL denial will hurt communities

An Indigenous setback too

The cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline by U.S. President Joe Biden is a major setback for Canadian Indigenous people, says the leader of a group promoting their participation in oil and gas development as a solution to poverty on reserves.

The decision means fewer jobs in the short term for Indigenous people in constructing the pipeline and supplying goods and services for it, said Dale Swampy, president of the National Coalition of Chiefs.

It also implies more long-term unemployment for those who work in exploring and developing conventional and oilsands projects in Western Canada because it impedes investment in production growth, he said.

"It's quite a blow to the First Nations that are involved right now in working with TC Energy to access employment training and contracting opportunities," said Swampy.

"Within Alberta, First Nations are pretty closely entrenched with all of the activities occurring with the oil and gas industry. Any change, especially a big change like this, really affects our bands' ability to keep our people employed."

The demise of the pipeline means Natural Law Energy, which represents five First Nations in Alberta and Saskatchewan, will no longer be able to make an equity investment of up to $1 billion in Keystone XL, a plan announced by builder TC Energy Corp. in November that was expected to be extended to American Indigenous groups as well.

But the relationship with TC Energy is expected to continue, said executive director Brian Mountain, with Natural Law making investments as a partner in other projects including renewable energy.

"We don't know how many terms Biden is going to be in for, it might be for one or two," he said, adding his group met with TC Energy executives on Friday morning to talk about next steps.

"TC Energy has been around since (the 1950s) and, more importantly, our First Nations people have been around since time immemorial. This is just another point on the timeline in our economic recovery."

He said none of the proposed projects has been confirmed as yet but said the group is confident of getting bank financing for its role.

The impact on Indigenous people goes beyond direct equity investment, Swampy said, noting that four of his five sons normally work in oil and gas but one has been unable to find a job in the current downturn.

Swampy is a former CEO of the Samson band. The coalition he heads was created in 2017 by Indigenous equity partners in the cancelled Northern Gateway pipeline and has a membership of about 80 bands.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, however, said the threat of global climate change is of "paramount importance" and is the reason Biden was elected president.

"I absolutely believe the writing is on the wall for the oil industry. It's going downhill," the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said in an interview.

He suggested that Indigenous people who depend on pipeline or oil production jobs should prepare for the future by getting work in renewable energy.

"Those jobs are transient in nature ... It's a myth that pipelines represent an economic boom for a particular area," he said.

Pipeline contracts for earth-clearing help her employees at Top Notch Oilfield Contracting feed their families, countered Judy Desjarlais, a member of the Blueberry River First Nation in northeastern B.C.

She said Biden's decision is a "kick in the teeth" for Canada and its Indigenous people.

In a report published in December, energy industry labour data firm PetroLMI said about 13,800 self-identified Indigenous people were directly employed in Canada’s oil and gas industry in 2019. That's seven per cent of total industry employment, compared to three per cent in other industries.

TC Energy approved spending US$8 billion in the spring of 2020 to complete Keystone XL after the Alberta government agreed to invest about US$1.1 billion (C$1.5 billion) as equity and guaranteed a US$4.2-billion project loan.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said the province has about $1 billion at risk if the project were killed. Earlier this week, he called on Ottawa to demand talks with the U.S. about the pipeline and, if those prove unfruitful, to impose economic sanctions.

The 1,947-kilometre pipeline is designed to carry 830,000 barrels a day of crude oil from Hardisty, Alta., to Steele City, Neb., where it would connect with the company's existing facilities to reach the U.S. Gulf Coast refining centre.



WestJet grounds Max flight before takeoff after system indicates 'potential fault'

WestJet grounds Max flight

WestJet says a Boeing 737 Max that was scheduled to fly from Calgary to Toronto on Friday returned to the gate before taking off due to a warning in the cockpit.

A WestJet spokeswoman, Lauren Stewart, said that after the plane's engines were started, its monitoring system indicated a "potential fault that needed to be verified and reset."

The process takes time and requires an engine run, which the airline does not perform with passengers on board, Stewart said.

In the interests' of passengers' time, WestJet cancelled the flight and booked passengers on the next available flight to Toronto, Stewart said.

The aircraft has since been cleared by maintenance and will return to service as scheduled on Jan. 24, Stewart said.

The Max was cleared to fly in Canadian airspace on Wednesday after it was grounded for nearly two years following deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.



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US home sales rose during 2020 to highest level in 14 years

US home sales hit high

Sales of existing homes in the United States rose 0.7% in December, pushing the entirety of 2020 to a pace not seen in 14 years and providing one of the few bright spots for a U.S. economy mired in a global pandemic.

Rising sales in the final month of the year lifted activity to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.76 million units, the National Association of Realtors reported Friday.

Sales rose to 6.48 million in 2020, the highest level since 2006 at the height of the housing boom.

The median sales prices was $309,800 in December, up 12.9% from a year ago.



'Almost non-existent' cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

Cold season evaporates

A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an "almost non-existent" cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions.

Island Abbey Foods says sales of its Honibe cough and cold lozenges have declined in the first two quarters of 2021.

The Charlottetown company says in a statement it made the difficult decision to eliminate 30 temporary positions from its production operation.

Island Abbey Foods says 2020 was a tremendous year and it increased its headcount significantly in anticipation of ongoing higher demand.

The P.E.I. firm says it has continuously adapted to the ever-changing business realities of COVID-19, and has seen substantial gains with its digital retail strategy.

But it says online sales have not replaced the volume the company projected for a regular cold and cough season.



Retail sales rise 1.3 per cent to $55.2 billion in November as online shopping surges

Retail sales surge online

Statistics Canada says retail sales climbed 1.3 per cent to $55.2 billion in November, rising for the seventh straight month as Black Friday boosted online shopping.

But the agency's unofficial early estimate suggests that retailers saw sales fall 2.6 per cent in December, at the height of the holiday shopping season.

Statistics Canada says shoppers began gift buying early online to avoid shipping delays and take advantage of Black Friday promotions.

The agency says retail e-commerce sales for November were up 75.9 per cent from the same month a year earlier.

Food and beverage store sales were also up 5.9 per cent in November, even as about three per cent of all retailers were closed at some point in the month as restrictions tightened amid a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

Sales at auto parts dealers fell in November for the first time since April, as truck sales declined four per cent from November 2019, and passenger car sales tumbled 20.5 per cent compared with the same month last year.



First passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service

Max passengers unfazed

Passengers aboard the first Boeing 737 Max flight in Canadian airspace in nearly two years weren't overly concerned about the plane's safety, saying they trusted that regulators had addressed any issues with the aircraft.

Four people travelling on WestJet’s Thursday morning flight from Calgary to Vancouver said they had no issues boarding the Max, which was grounded worldwide in March 2019 after two deadly crashes that were found to be caused by a faulty sensor.

“It’s interesting to be the first one on it, but I’m not too concerned,” said Chloe Marshall, who wasn’t aware in advance that she would be flying on the aircraft. “I think they have protocol in place and they know what they’re doing, so I just trust the process."

As it returns the aircraft to service, WestJet has sought to ease customers' concerns about the plane by notifying passengers in advance if they are scheduled to fly on a Max and implementing flexible policies for those who wish to rebook on another flight.

Three other passengers on Thursday’s flight to Vancouver said they had been notified of the aircraft type ahead of time. Passenger Lowell Van Zuiden pointed to the lengthy review process in explaining why he had no concerns about boarding.

"I suspect that they’ve probably gone through about as much certification, checking, and everything else as they possibly can, so I’m not worried about that," Van Zuiden said.

WestJet flight 115 landed at Vancouver International Airport at 8:12 a.m. local time, carrying 71 passengers. Starting tomorrow, WestJet is set to begin flying the Max three times a week between Calgary and Toronto.

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace on Wednesday, as long as operators made changes to the design of the aircraft, including allowing pilots to disable an alarm system found to be central to both crashes. Pilots will also have to undergo specialized training in flight simulators.

Upon WestJet flight 115's arrival in Vancouver, WestJet executives held a press conference in which they celebrated the milestone and emphasized the design changes made to the aircraft since it was grounded by Transport Canada in March 2019.

“The return of WestJet’s Max aircraft marks an operational milestone after 22 months of intense review and considerable learning,” WestJet president and CEO Ed Sims said during the press conference.

“While of course this is a very different operating environment than any of us would wish due to COVID-19, we use today as a milestone to look forward to days ahead when all 13 of our Boeing Max 8 aircraft are once again connecting Canadians across the length and breadth of our wonderful country," Sims said.

WestJet will offer additional flexibility in its change and cancellation policies to customers scheduled to fly on the Max, with different conditions depending on how far in advance a passenger wants to change the itinerary.

The policies granting extra flexibility will be applicable until Feb. 28, the website says, but a WestJet spokeswoman said the company has no plans to change or remove the policies after that date.

On its website, WestJet says passengers booked on a Max who are looking to change their flight more than a day from departure can book on a different flight within 24 hours of the original flight at no additional cost. They can also book on a flight outside the 24-hour window with no change fee.



Loss of Keystone XL pipeline expected to hurt future oilpatch growth: experts

Loss of Keystone XL will hurt

Western Canada's oil producers will likely cope better with Joe Biden's cancelling of the Keystone XL presidential permit than they did with the same move by ex-president Barack Obama in 2015, an industry analyst says.

But Phil Skolnick, a New York-based analyst for Eight Capital, agreed with other observers that the end of the pipeline will stifle investment and production growth for years in the Canadian oilpatch.

Shortly after being inaugurated on Wednesday, President Biden, who was Obama's vice-president, fulfilled a campaign promise and again took away the pipeline permit that former president Donald Trump gave back to builder TC Energy Corp. in 2019.

The difference between now and five years ago is that producers have two promising alternative pipelines -- the Line 3 replacement and the Trans Mountain expansion, together providing nearly one million barrels a day of export capacity -- to pin their hopes on, said Skolnick.

And, he added, after more than five years of poor oil prices and a lack of access to capital markets to raise money, their expectations for growing their oil production have been greatly diminished.

"It was worse when it happened in 2015 .. that was bad back then because we didn't have the big rail buildout and we really didn't have Line 3, no one really knew about that," said Skolnick.

"This is bad because (the government of) Alberta spent the money on it but, looking through the lens of the producers, not as big of a deal as some people might think."

Incremental capacity additions to pipelines, technology that makes oil transport more efficient and crude-by-rail capacity that hit a record of 412,000 bpd last February mean the system will be "pipe neutral" — with capacity matching demand — in the first half of this year, he said.

TC Energy approved spending US$8 billion in the spring of 2020 to complete Keystone XL after the Alberta government agreed to invest about US$1.1 billion (C$1.5 billion) as equity and guaranteed a US$4.2-billion project loan.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said the province has about $1 billion at risk if the project is killed.

The 1,947-kilometre pipeline is designed to carry 830,000 barrels a day of crude oil from Hardisty, Alta., to Steele City, Neb., where it connects with the company's existing facilities to reach the U.S. Gulf Coast refining centre.

The two other export pipelines will provide enough capacity to allow oil production to grow into the second half of this decade, said Richard Masson, an executive fellow and energy expert at the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy.

But uncertainty about future capacity make it impossible for producers to make decisions about new multibillion-dollar oilsands projects, which could take five years or more to plan and build, despite growing demand for heavy oil from U.S. refiners seeing dwindling imports from Venezuela and Mexico.

"It puts a damper on investment expectations," Masson said, noting that Canadian oil and gas capital spending fell from more than $80 billion in 2014 to about $24 billion last year, a factor in the economic slump gripping the Calgary and Alberta economies.

"For something to be started up after 2025, you really have to start working on it today."

Excess space in the oil transport system is vital to provide optionality, energy security and stable pricing, said Canadian Energy Pipeline Association CEO Chris Bloomer, who agreed Keystone XL is needed to ensure future growth rather than short-term demand.

"We want to be somewhat long in takeaway capacity and access to markets rather than short, which creates (price) discounting," he said.

On Wednesday, Kenney warned that Biden's decision to cancel Keystone XL after construction had already started sets a "precedent" that could put existing pipelines at risk of "retroactive" shutdowns.

But neither Skolnick nor Masson agreed shutting operating pipelines is a likely scenario given the potential damage that could result for oil consumers in the U.S.

Bloomer said that's not something his members are worried about.

"Existing operating pipelines? The economy would come to a grinding halt and there would be massive devastating economic impacts if that were to happen," he said.

In early 2016, TC Energy (then called TransCanada) launched legal action against the U.S. seeking US$15 billion in damages under the North American Free Trade Agreement. The claim was withdrawn after Trump was elected.

In a report on Thursday, analysts with Tudor Pickering Holt and Co. said they expect the company to make a similar trade appeal this time, but with damages of US$17 billion to account for spending on the project since then.

The report also suggests TC Energy will likely look to recover some of its losses on the pipeline from the shippers who signed agreements to guarantee space on the line.

The company warned Wednesday it will likely post "substantive'' mostly non-cash writedowns in its first-quarter financial results.

Earlier Thursday, TC Energy said it planned to eliminate more than 1,000 construction jobs related to its decision to halt work on Keystone XL.

The company had previously warned that blocking the project would lead to thousands of job losses.



Godiva to close 128 stores in North America, including 11 in Canada by end of March

Godiva to close 128 stores

COVID-19 has been far from sweet for Godiva, which has decided to sell or close its stores across North America.

The luxury chocolatier says 128 brick and mortar locations, including 11 in Canada, will shut by the end of March.

The company declined to say how many jobs will be affected by the decision.

Godiva will maintain retail operations across Europe, the Middle East and China.

The closures mark a reversal from its strategy announced in 2019 to open 2,000 cafe locations worldwide, including more than 400 in North America.

It says a key part of its moves has been to focus on retail food and pharmacy locations as well as online.

It noted that in-person shopping at its own stores has waned because of the pandemic and changes in consumer shopping behaviour.

“Godiva is already available in many retailers in North America and we will continue to increase our presence there while always upholding the premium quality, taste, and innovation that we have been renowned for since we were founded in Brussels in 1926,” stated CEO Nurtac Afridi.



W-shaped recovery would be 'very severe' without government assistance: CMHC

W-shaped recovery danger

A W-shaped recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic could trigger a nearly 50 per cent drop in housing prices and a peak unemployment rate of 25 per cent, if the government doesn't offer relief, says the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

A W-shaped recovery is when an economy begins to rebound from a recession quickly but then rapidly falls into another period of downturn before recovering again.

"That scenario is very severe and implausible in nature, but it's very important to understand," said CMHC’s chief risk officer Nadine LeBlanc in a Thursday media briefing.

The scenarios LeBlanc discussed are not meant to be predictions or forecasts tied to what CMHC sees headed for the country as it continues to grapple with COVID-19, but the agency runs the tests anyway to help with risk mitigation and offer transparency for Canadians.

It began the tests at the onset of the pandemic, giving them a more realistic feel, but in past years has studied its ability to cope with sustained low oil prices, a global trade war, earthquakes, major volcanic eruptions and cyberattacks on financial institutions.

Of all the scenarios CMHC looked at this year, the W-shaped recovery without government support is the most implausible, but likely to cause the severest impacts, LeBlanc said.

She predicted CMHC's solvency and capitalization would likely be challenged in a W-shaped recovery where the government doesn't step in to offer relief.

CMHC found that a W-shaped recovery with government support would curtail the severity, be more manageable and only cause a roughly 32 per cent drop in home prices and a 24 per cent unemployment rate.

If the W-shaped recovery with government support was coupled with a severe cyberattack targeting the country's whole financial industry, CMHC stress test results show a 37 per cent decrease in home prices and a 24 per cent unemployment rate would be likely.

In that scenario, cumulative insurance claim losses would reach $8.4 billion — roughly half the amount CMHC said the country would see in a W-shaped recovery with no government assistance.

CMHC also looked at a U-shaped recovery, where a recession gradually improves.

In that scenario, they found house prices would fall by almost 34 per cent, the peak unemployment rate would be nearly 15 per cent and cumulative insurance claim losses would reach $9.6 billion.

That scenario was the most plausible and would likely generate the most moderate impacts, LeBlanc said.

Many economists have been predicting Canada will see a K-shaped recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

It wasn't on CMHC's radar when it started looking at stress testing last March, but there is some interest in it, LeBlanc hinted.

"We're obviously not out of this crisis and so CMHC continues right now running stress testing and one that's looking very interesting to us is the K-shaped scenario."



WestJet reintroduces Boeing 737 Max in flight from Calgary to Vancouver

Max back in the sky

Nearly two years after being grounded following two deadly crashes, Boeing's 737 Max aircraft returned to Canadian airspace Thursday morning.

WestJet flight 115 left Calgary International Airport at 7:43 a.m. local time, bound for Vancouver. Passengers preparing to board the flight said they weren't overly concerned about travelling on the plane.

It's the first commercial flight on a 737 Max in Canada since the aircraft was grounded in March 2019 after deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that investigators said was caused by a faulty sensor system.

Transport Canada lifted its grounding order for the Max on Wednesday after approving design changes to the plane and requiring pilots to undergo additional training.

Three passengers on the flight said they had been emailed by WestJet notifying them that they would be flying on the Max, while one didn't know ahead of time.

None of the four was overly concerned, saying they trusted that the plane had been properly tested.

“It’s interesting to be the first one on it, but I’m not too concerned,” said Chloe Marshall, who wasn’t aware in advance that she would be flying on the Max. “I think they have protocol in place and they know what they’re doing, so I just trust the process."

Lowell Van Zuiden pointed to the lengthy review process.

"I suspect that they’ve probably gone through about as much certification, checking, and everything else as they possibly can, so I’m not worried about that," he said.

WestJet executives will hold a press conference after the morning flight, which is set to arrive in Vancouver around 8:30 a.m. local time.

The event is part of a campaign to reintroduce the Max to service while assuring the public that the plane's safety issues have been addressed.

WestJet will temporarily offer additional flexibility in its change and cancellation policies to customers scheduled to fly on the Max, with different conditions depending on how far in advance a passenger wants to change the itinerary.

The policies granting extra flexibility will be applicable until Feb. 28.

On its website, WestJet says passengers booked on a Max who are looking to change their flight more than a day from departure can book on a different flight within 24 hours of the original flight at no additional cost. They can also book on a flight outside the 24-hour window with no change fee.

Passengers will be able to cancel their trip until one day before the flight to receive a travel credit.

The airline does not address fees for passengers looking to change flights less than a day in advance, but invites them to contact the airline to manage the booking.

Air Canada is expected to follow WestJet in returning the Max to commercial service on Feb. 1. Sunwing, which also flies the Max, has not yet announced when it plans to return the plane to service.

Like WestJet, Air Canada plans to give passengers booked on a Max special options for changes to their trip, including the option of changing their flight at no extra charge.

Carriers in the U.S. that have started flying the Max have rolled out similar policies, including announcing the type of aircraft during boarding, in an effort to be transparent with passengers.

Transport Canada, which conducted a nearly two-year review of the aircraft, has said Canadians should feel confident that the design changes the agency required of the Max will ensure its safety.



TC Energy cutting more than 1,000 Keystone XL construction jobs as work halted

TC to cut 1,000 XL jobs

Calgary's TC Energy Corp. is planning to eliminate more than 1,000 construction jobs related to its decision to halt work on its Keystone XL pipeline expansion project.

The company suspended work on the project Wednesday as U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled a key presidential permit for the pipeline border crossing.

TC Energy had earlier warned that blocking the project would lead to the layoffs of thousands of union workers building the pipeline.

The 1,947-kilometre pipeline is designed to carry 830,000 barrels a day of crude oil from Hardisty, Alta., to Steele City, Neb.

Some 200 kilometres of pipe have already been installed for the expansion, including across the Canada-U.S. border, and construction has begun on pump stations in Alberta and several U.S. states.

TC Energy announced a plan Sunday to eliminate the impact of greenhouse gas emissions from Keystone XL's operations, even as its future appeared in doubt.



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