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GM saves 2,700 jobs

General Motors' plans to lay off 14,000 salaried and blue-collar workers might not be as bad as originally projected.

The company said Friday that 2,700 out of the 3,300 U.S. factory jobs slated for elimination will now be saved. Blue-collar workers will still lose jobs at four U.S. plants slated for closure next year, but most will be able to find employment at other GM factories where jobs are being added. Some would have to relocate.

GM still plans to lay off about 8,000 white-collar workers and another 2,600 factory workers in Canada.

In November, the company announced plans to end production at the U.S. factories and one in Ontario as part of a major restructuring designed to cut costs and divert resources to development and manufacturing of trucks, SUVs and electric and autonomous vehicles.

Legislators and President Donald Trump have hammered GM over the moves.

While some of the 3,300 U.S. factory workers will retire, most of the rest will be offered one of 2,700 jobs the company plans to add at factories where production will increase, GM announced on Friday. Some would have to move to other cities for jobs.

"Our focus remains on providing interested employees options to transition including job opportunities at other GM plants," CEO Mary Barra said about the factory workers in a statement Friday.

That still leaves the majority of the cuts hitting white-collar workers. A small number will be able to transfer to other openings, and those who can't will get help in finding work elsewhere, the company said.

Since the announcement, GM has faced withering criticism from Trump, legislators from affected states and the United Auto Workers union, largely over the plant closure plans. Trump has focused on a plant in Lordstown, Ohio, that's slated to stop making compact cars on March 1. He has promised to return factory jobs to the U.S. and Ohio, a key state in his 2020 re-election campaign.

GM is cutting six car models as buyers have dramatically shifted their preferences to SUVs and trucks, which will account for about 70 per cent of new-vehicle sales this year. Just six years ago, that number was 51 per cent, so now GM has too many factories making cars.

The automaker's attempt to close the factories still has to be negotiated with the United Auto Workers union, which has promised to fight back. Other factories that could go are assembly plants in Detroit and Oshawa, Ontario, and transmission plants in Warren, Michigan, and near Baltimore.

Patrick Morrissey, a GM spokesman, said Friday's job announcement had nothing to do with the criticism the company has been facing. The automaker, he said, knew some of the laid-off workers would be placed at other plants, but it didn't know the number of jobs available until this week.

"We have opportunities for just about everybody who wants them," Morrissey said.

Tommy Wolikow, 36, who was laid off from the Lordstown factory in January of 2017, said he would be interested in openings at a factory in Toledo, Ohio, and a plant in Tennessee. But he's not happy about the prospect of moving. "I want to go back to Lordstown," he said. "The last thing I want to do is uproot my family and leave my parents."

Under GM's contract with the union, more senior active workers at the four factories targeted for closure will get first crack at transferring to another plant. There may not be enough jobs for workers with less seniority. Of the 3,300 factory workers slated to lose their jobs, 2,800 are active and 500 are on leave. In addition, there are about 830 who were laid off previously at the Lordstown and Detroit plants.

Morrissey said the number of workers placed in new posts depends a lot on how many senior factory workers decide to retire. About 1,200 are eligible.

Some workers also could decide they don't want to relocate because of the distance. For instance, Toledo is the closest plant to Lordstown with jobs available, but it's about 160 miles away.

GM said jobs will be added mainly at truck and SUV plants including about 1,000 at a Flint, Michigan, factory that makes heavy-duty pickup trucks. The company wouldn't release exact numbers but said several hundred will be added at each of four other assembly plants in Arlington, Texas; Bowling Green, Kentucky; Spring Hill, Tennessee; and Lansing, Michigan. In addition, jobs will be added at a transmission plant in Toledo, Ohio. Another 50 will be added at a casting plant in Bedford, Indiana.



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Mill slowdowns extended

Canfor Corp. says it is extending the temporary curtailment of sawmill operations in British Columbia announced in November, and will cut operating hours at some sawmills throughout the first quarter of 2019.

The Vancouver-based company says the decision is due to declining lumber prices, high log costs and log supply constraints.

The changes are expected to reduce Canfor's production output by an additional 55 million board feet in the first quarter.

The sawmills are scheduled to resume production on Jan. 7.

Canfor has 13 sawmills in Canada, with a total annual capacity of about 3.8 billion board feet.

Conifex Timber Inc. and West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. have also announced temporary curtailments in B.C.



Shame shoplifters or not?

A Newfoundland sex store's social-media shaming of an alleged shoplifter has raised ethical questions around retailers who display security footage in a bid to catch thieves.

Provincial privacy commissioner Donovan Molloy has reportedly encouraged businesses to take such footage to police, rather than share images of people who have not been found guilty of a crime.

A downtown adult shop in St. John's, N.L., shared images of a woman on social media this week, requesting the public's help in identifying her.

"A Christmas dildo bandit has struck, Harry & Marv style, and we need your help to identify this sticky bandit," the post read.

"The individual pictured decided to help herself to some of our Christmas toys, and we need your help to find her!"

The post was later updated saying the woman had been identified, but the photos had quickly spread with commenters poking fun at the alleged thief's appearance and the humorous nature of the stolen object.

The episode raised questions about the ethics and legality of sharing photos from security footage that implicate people in crimes.

Molloy gave several media interviews commenting on the practice, saying retailers who post footage to catch suspected thieves are sharing information in a way that conflicts with federal law, and that it often does more harm than good.

A spokesperson from Molloy's office told The Canadian Press on Friday he was no longer taking media interviews on the topic because the issue falls under federal and not provincial jurisdiction.

In order for there to be legal consequences for public shaming through security footage, someone would have to complain to the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

A spokesperson said in an email that the office has received "a handful" of such complaints over the last few years, including one case study posted to the commissioner's website.

In 2015, an unidentified store stopped posting bulletin board pictures of suspected shoplifters after the commissioner found the practice "not permissible" under the federal Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, according to the commissioner's web site.

"The major lesson learned here is that publicly displaying, without consent, photographs of individuals recorded on a business' video surveillance system for the purposes of identifying alleged shoplifters is not permissible under PIPEDA," the email read.

Privacy lawyer David Fraser said Friday reasonable, ethical judgement should be used in these cases, especially online where images can spread quickly.

Even if a retailer could argue they disclosed footage for a reasonable purpose, the nature of the acts captured on camera could have unintended negative effects on the person once they spread online.

"If you have a store that exclusively sells adult products that shows someone sneaking away with a sex toy, I can certainly see that there is a potential element of stigmatization and shaming," Fraser said from Halifax.

Fraser said taking footage to law enforcement is probably legally safer than posting it online, so Crime Stoppers or police can consider whether sharing the image would actually advance an investigation.

"I'm not sure necessarily that a mad merchant, an upset merchant is best placed to make that judgement call because they may have more emotional investment in it than police would," he said. "Best to leave it to the police to make that call."

But Fraser pointed out police can also get caught up in the grey area.

A woman recently sued the Ottawa Police Services Board and Ottawa Capital Area Crime Stoppers for defamation and negligence over shared mall security footage alleging she "stole" a purse when she had actually walked off-camera and taken it to a lost and found.

This included a video posted online showing the woman's face with the caption “Ottawa: Purse Snatching in Downtown Mall."

The woman told Crime Stoppers she was seeking compensation after the "traumatic experience" tarnished her reputation and resulted in a suspension at her workplace.



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Trade mission still a success

Delegates from B.C.'s forest industry have concluded what they characterize as a successful trade mission to Asia despite tensions over the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada.

Forests Minister Doug Donaldson visited Korea and Japan with the delegates but pulled out of the China leg of the tour this week.

He said it wouldn't be prudent for a government representative to travel to the country.

The BC Council of Forest Industries says in a news release that delegates spent Wednesday through Friday in China and focused throughout the Asia trip on new opportunities to advance wood construction.

Council CEO Susan Yurkovich says the mission was an opportunity to strengthen trade relationships with Korea, Japan and China, where B.C.'s renewable forest products continue to be in demand.

Meng was arrested at Vancouver's airport on Dec. 1 at the request of United States authorities, who allege she committed fraud in an attempt to circumvent sanctions against Iran.

She was released on $10 million bail this week.

Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor and former diplomat Michael Kovrig were detained in Beijing this week over accusations that they engaged in activities that endangered China's national security.



Suncor to increase output

Suncor Energy Inc. is planning to grow production by about 10 per cent, even after Alberta's mandatory production curtailments.

The company says it expects average upstream production of 780,000 to 820,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, up from about 730,000 boepd this year.

Suncor says its guidance assumes the curtailments are in place for three months before falling to 30 per cent of initial levels for the remainder of 2019, in line with the provincial announcement.

The production guidance came as Suncor says it is planning between $4.9 billion and $5.6 billion in capital spending next year, roughly in line with this year.

The Alberta government has announced a mandatory cut to oil production which amounts to 8.7 per cent of overall output in a bid to reduce a glut of oil and help boost low prices.

Western Canadian crude had been trading at a steep discount to the North American benchmark prices, however that gap has narrowed since the Alberta announcement.



Oxford's Aussie acquisition

Oxford Properties Group has acquired the Investa Office Fund, a portfolio of 19 properties in Australia, for $3.3 billion.

The deal includes office buildings in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Canberra.

The companies say Oxford and Investa will jointly manage the portfolio.

Oxford plans to sell a number of non-core properties and has initiated select sale processes to reposition the portfolio and fund future growth.

It's the real estate investment firm's second major investment in Australia following the lease of the Port of Melbourne as part of a consortium in 2016.

Oxford is the real estate arm of OMERS, one of Canada's largest pension plans.



Debt ratio ticks higher

The amount Canadians owe relative to their income ticked higher in third quarter.

Statistics Canada says household credit market debt as a proportion of disposable income was 177.5 per cent in the third quarter on a seasonally-adjusted basis. That compared with 177.4 per cent in the second quarter.

In other words, Canadians owed nearly $1.78 in credit market debt, which includes consumer credit and mortgage and non-mortgage loans, for every dollar of household disposable income in the third quarter.

Total credit market borrowing slowed for the third consecutive quarter as households borrowed $18.3 billion, down from $20.0 billion in the previous quarter.

Mortgages posted a third consecutive quarterly decline as they decreased by $1.2 billion. Demand for consumer credit also fell by $500 million, while non-mortgage loans decreased by $100 million.

The household debt service ratio, measured as total obligated payments of principal and interest as a proportion of disposable income, was 14.5 per cent in the third quarter, relatively unchanged from the previous quarter.



SNC-Lavalin cuts 100 jobs

SNC-Lavalin Inc. is eliminating about 100 positions in Canada at the same time as the Quebec engineering firm is being described by political leaders as being vulnerable to a foreign takeover.

The Montreal-based firm says the workforce reduction is attributable to the completion of various projects across the country.

"We are hiring employees based on the needs of our current projects and adjusting when they come to an end. This strategy is crucial to remain competitive," said spokesman Nicolas Ryan.

The eliminated positions represent a fraction of the 8,700 Canadian workforce.

SNC-Lavalin is preparing to open a new office next year in London, the former headquarters of WS Atkins, acquired in 2017 for $3.5 billion. Ryan said no positions from the Montreal head office would be transferred to the British capital.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault told a Montreal radio station Thursday that the government's investment agency may have to get involved to protect the company from a foreign takeover.

"In the future, when it comes time to protect head offices, I would like the leader to be Investissement Quebec," he said in an interview.

Montreal's La Presse reported this week that the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec — which was already SNC-Lavalin's largest shareholder — had increased its stake since the spring to about 20 per cent, valued at about $1.6 billion.

SNC-Lavalin's share price has dropped about 10 per cent since October, when federal prosecutors refused to set aside criminal charges against the company by approving a deferred prosecution agreement.

The RCMP charged the company in 2015 with fraud and corruption for alleged actions in Libya. It has pleaded not guilty but could be excluded from federal tenders for up to 10 years if convicted.

Some analysts have suggested that the current situation could result in the sale of some company assets or make it vulnerable to a takeover offer.

"It puts the company in a difficult situation," said Legault. "There is no controlling shareholder."

He added that other investors could be approached to ensure that any outside offer is blocked.



Tilray adds political heft

Pot producer Tilray Inc. has added some political heft to its international advisory board, including former foreign affairs ministers from around the world and former chairmen of the U.S. Democratic and Republican national committees.

The inaugural members announced by the cannabis grower include former Canadian minister of foreign affairs Lloyd Axworthy as well as Australia's former minister Alexander John Gosse Downer and Germany's Joschka Fischer.

The Nanaimo-based company also named former U.S. Democratic Party chairman and former Vermont governor Howard Dean along with Michael Steele, the former head of the U.S. Republican Party and ex Maryland lieutenant governor.

Tilray's chief executive Brendan Kennedy says its international advisory board will guide the company on its rapidly expanding global business.

Many former politicians and political operatives have made a foray into the legal pot industry, with former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney recently joining prominent former U.S. politicians on the board of New York-based cannabis company Acreage Holdings.

Meanwhile, the number of countries legalizing pot for medical use continues to grow, with South Korea among the latest to give cannabis the green light.



Transat adding hotel arm

Rising fuel costs and fluctuating exchange rates buffeted Transat A.T.'s profit margins last quarter, prompting a 54 per cent plunge in adjusted operating income to $35.9 million.

Chief executive Jean-Marc Eustache said on a conference call with investors Thursday that earnings were "not as satisfying" as in the fourth quarter last year, "reflecting the price of jet fuel."

Expenditures on fuel for the entire year shot up by 39 per cent to $499 million in 2018 versus 2017.

Eustache has said he plans to spend his final year with the company he co-founded in 1987 putting together a network of hotels he hopes will better position the holiday tour operator against heightened competition from Canadian rivals.

Transat, under the watch of his replacement and chief operating officer Annick Guerard, aims to own or manage 5,000 rooms in Mexico and the Caribbean by 2024, in a bid to defend its turf against Air Canada Rouge, WestJet Vacations and Sunwing.

In October 2017, the Montreal-based travel company sold its 35 per cent stake in its Ocean Hotels joint venture for $186 million. The next month, Transat signed a deal to sell its Jonview Canada subsidiary to a Japanese company for $44 million.

The company plans to build a beach resort on a newly purchased parcel of land in the village of Puerto Morelos, less than 40 kilometres from Cancun in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

"This is a major step in the development of our hotel division," Eustache said.

Transat said it earned $7.8 million in its latest quarter, down from a year ago when its results were boosted by the sale of its interest in Ocean Hotels.

Its fourth-quarter profit amounted to 21 cents per share for the quarter ended Oct. 31, compared with a profit of $148.1 million or $3.97 per share a year ago.

On an adjusted basis, Transat says it earned 45 cents per share in its most recent quarter, compared with an adjusted profit of $1.24 per share in the same quarter last year.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of 41 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon.

Revenue totalled $668.3 million, down from $698.6 million.



Aurora investing $10M

Aurora Cannabis Inc. has signed a deal to invest $10 million in High Tide Inc., a privately held company with cannabis and cannabis accessory retail stores.

Under the agreement, Aurora will hold debentures that will bear an annual interest rate of 8.5 per cent.

The debentures will also be convertible into shares of High Tide at a price of 75 cents per share.

High Tide has four cannabis retail stores in Alberta under the Canna Cabana banner, and a majority stake in KushBar Inc.

It also has plans to open more stores in Alberta as well as expand into Ontario and B.C.

In addition to the retail side, High Tide has two wholesale businesses — Famous Brandz and RGR Canada — and 19 Smoker's Corner retail locations.



TO, Van most 'vulnerable'

Canadians living in two of the country's largest cities may find themselves more "vulnerable" to interest rate increases as personal debt levels in Toronto and Vancouver continue to hit record-levels, warns a report by Canada Mortgage Housing Corp.

The housing agency says the debt-to-income (DTI) ratio for those living in Vancouver climbed to 242 per cent in the second quarter, which ended June 30.

That means that for every $1 of disposable income, $2.42 is owed. It was similarly high in Toronto, where the DTI is at 208 per cent.

This is the highest ratio recorded for both cities for any second quarter since 2015. Nationally, the DTI ratio is 171 per cent.

A major contributor to increasing levels of indebtedness is mortgage debt, which accounts for two-thirds of all outstanding household debt in Canada.

CMHC says those with elevated debt levels could see their budgets stretched if interest rates continue to rise.

"While households may be able to service their debt during periods of low interest rates, some may face challenges when rates rise," it said in the report. "Highly indebted households have usually few debt consolidation options to respond to increasing debt service costs."

The report noted that higher interest rates means that households could see an increase in the amount required for debt repayment, which could exceed their original budgets.

"The increased debt payment burden may come at the cost of reduced consumption, decreased savings or opting to make lower repayments on the principal," it warned. "Some households might even default on their loans if their incomes are not sufficient to cover higher expenses and credit charges."

CMHC says this could lead to a ripple effect if households begin defaulting on their loans, and banks begin scaling back on the loans they give out.

"These negative effects could then impact other areas of the economy," it said. "Research has shown that recessions in highly indebted countries tend to exhibit a greater loss in output, higher unemployment, and last longer compared to countries with lower debt levels."

The report, which was based on an analysis with data from credit monitoring firm Equifax, Statistics Canada and the Conference Board of Canada, also noted that household debt levels vary widely, and have in fact, gone down in some of Canada's largest cities.

The DTI ratio have decreased in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, Halifax, and Sherbrooke, Que. It is the lowest in Saint John, N.B., where it declined to 106 per cent in the second quarter.

Household debt has been identified as a key vulnerability for the financial system by the Bank of Canada, which has raised its key interest rate five times since July 2017. The rate currently sits at 1.75 per cent, with expectations that there will be another hike next year.

Since the Great Recession, the central bank has kept interest rates low to help stimulate the economy but that has also helped fuel hot housing markets in undersupplied regions such as Toronto and Vancouver.



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