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Business has eye on smoke

Tourists are still filling golf courses and shops in Kimberley, but the smoke-filled city's unique SunMine solar power project is operating at less than half of capacity as nearby forest fires continue to rage.

Wildfires that have destroyed thousands of hectares of trees and filled the sky with thick smoke have put companies in B.C.'s resource and tourism industries on high alert.

"Our main industry is really tourism, you know, mountain biking and hiking," said Scott Sommerville, chief administrative officer at Kimberley, which issued an evacuation alert late Thursday.

"Downtown has been very busy ... I've heard the golf courses are very busy," he said. "Obviously, that's going to change, we're the No. 1 news story in B.C. today so that might affect tourism a little bit."

The city recently signed a letter of intent to sell the one-megawatt-capacity SunMine power plant to Teck Resources Ltd., the mining company that owns the retired mine on which it was built three years ago. The deal is to go to a referendum in October during the municipal election.

The project, B.C.'s largest solar power plant, was supposed to generate profits for the municipality but last year heavy smoke from fires meant it barely broke even and the results are expected to be the same this year given this summer's smoky conditions, Sommerville said.

About 436,000 hectares of forest have been consumed so far by the fires, said B.C. Wildfire Service chief fire information officer Kevin Skrepnek in an update conference call on Friday afternoon.

A lack of rain in weather forecasts suggest there's little hope that the fire danger will decrease over the weekend, he said.

"There are areas that are obviously curtailed for harvesting (wood) because of the wildfire conditions," said B.C. Forests Minister Doug Donaldson during the same call.

"At this point we haven't seen any curtailments as a direct result of the fire, in mills, but if the fire season persists, we likely will see an impact on log supply until we can make it safe to get back into the woods again."

Industry has been lending equipment and personnel to help build fireguards to fight the fires, he added.

Vancouver-based Conifex Timber announced on Thursday that it was temporarily shutting down operations at its mill in Fort St. James due to an anticipated evacuation order.

In a post on its website, Vancouver-based West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. says it will keep its B.C. lumber, pulp and panel manufacturing mills operating as long as it is safe, but advises employees to make sure their supervisors have up-to-date contact information in case they have to evacuate.

"The most important thing is the health and safety of all our West Fraser employees and their families who have been impacted by the fires in B.C.," said CEO Ted Seraphim on the site.

"This is a challenging time during which I am grateful of all the efforts of our employees who are working to protect our mills, fight forest fires and support each other."

Spokeswoman Tara Knight said all of the company's mills were still operating on Friday afternoon but it is a "dynamic situation" that requires constant monitoring.

B.C. mining operations owned by Teck are also not being impacted by the fires, said spokesman Chad Pederson on Friday, adding the company has response plans in place at all of its operations.



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Tax system favours wealthy

A recent union-sponsored survey suggests an overwhelming majority of federal government auditors believe Canada's tax system unfairly favours the wealthy over average Canadians.

The poll, conducted by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, found nine out of 10 auditors and other tax professionals surveyed agreed that corporations and wealthy Canadians can more easily avoid paying taxes than less well-off individuals.

The survey of more than 1,700 members of the union, which represents tax professionals at the Canada Revenue Agency, also found four of every five respondents think loopholes and tax credits built into the system benefit corporations and the rich.

Some 84 per cent of respondents to the internal online survey said they believe that by better enforcing existing tax laws, the government could capture more tax revenues without raising taxes.

The anonymous survey was sent electronically to nearly 11,600 PIPSC members working for the tax agency between Feb. 20 and March 6.

Of the 2,170 respondents, 1,741 were tax professionals, including 1,384 auditors. The analysis excluded responses from 429 computer-systems employees.

The findings show the difficulties tax auditors face in ensuring Canada's tax system "remains fair in the face of off-shore tax havens and other tax avoidance schemes," said PIPSC president Debi Daviau, who used the findings to further push the Trudeau government to increase CRA funding.

The union said the agency continues to struggle with a $500 million shortfall compared with the budget it had in 2012 before the former Harper government slashed spending.

A spokesperson for the CRA said the Liberal government has tried to rebuild the agency over the last three budgets, and is focusing resources "to target high areas of risk."

"Those investments are allowing the CRA to deliver better data, approaches and results for Canadians," Etienne Biram said in an emailed statement.

"Our 6,300 auditors have an array of tools at their disposal and we will continue to explore ways to provide them with additional tools and resources to assist them in their challenging and important work."



Airfare creeps skyward

Rising fuel costs drove a 28 per cent year-over-year rise in the price of airfare and helped push inflation to its highest level since 2011.

The leap in airfares — which moved in rough alignment with a 25-per-cent increase in the price of gasoline — tacked on 0.3 percentage points to overall price growth of 3.0 per cent over the past year, said TD Economics senior economist James Marple.

"It's not surprising to see that eventually being passed on to consumers."

The heads of Air Canada and WestJet Airlines Ltd. recently warned that costlier jet fuel would be offset with higher fares.

Air Canada shelled out 32 per cent more on fuel in the first half of 2018 — $1.79 billion — compared with the same period last year. Its Calgary-based competitor spent $583 million on jet fuel in the first six months of 2018, 27 per cent more than its fuel costs in the first two quarters of 2017.

However, gas isn't the only reason passengers may feel gouged at the gate.

Statistics Canada analyst Taylor Mitchell pointed to a jump in demand for flights to Europe and Asia last month, which may have pushed airfares higher.

"We noticed that that coincides with the World Cup," Mitchell said. The soccer competition was held in Russia and ran through mid-July.

Mitchell also noted that a StatsCan methodology change last March skews year-over-year comparisons, with the agency now using more data to capture the extent of peak travel.

James Marple called the inflation ramp-up a "one-off" that reflects the impact of higher fuel and labour costs on the airline industry.

"The size of the gain in July can't have been just a fuel cost thing," the economist said.

The updraft in fares occurred in spite of the recent rise of ultra-low-price upstarts such as Edmonton-based Flair Airlines and WestJet offshoot Swoop, as well as Air Canada's six-year-old Rouge unit.

"If it wasn't for all this competition in a lot of these big marketplaces, the impact of rising fuel prices or general upward pressure on labour rates in a highly unionized sector might make the price go up more than they did," said Robert Kokonis, president of Toronto-based consulting firm AirTrav Inc.



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Get rid of that pesky hair

It's a hairy subject, but you don't have to put up with unwanted hair – anywhere.

With summer, that means many may want to get some of that stuff removed.

Hair removal technology has come a long way, and is now able to work with all skin tones. And, you don't have to wait if you have a tan.

It's also decreased in pain as well, CVTV's Leanne Allen discovers as she talks to laser technician Tara Graves about the new Venus technology, at Healthpoint Laser.



Tim Hortons takes on China

The president of Tim Hortons says a plan to conquer a crowded Chinese coffee market hinges on tailoring its menu to local habits and tastes — including offering congee and matcha alongside signature items like double doubles.

Alex Macedo believes the coffee chain's plan to open 1,500 stores in Asia over the next decade will face lofty competition from a slew of companies who have dominated the market as the continent warms to drinking coffee.

"We are late to the game for sure," Macedo said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

He's made regular trips to Asia to observe the operations of rival coffee purveyors, including U.S. heavyweights Starbucks, McDonald's, and Dunkin' Donuts; Beijing-based start-up Luckin Coffee; and U.K. chain Costa Coffee.

"They created an atmosphere that is almost get in and get out, and it is very fast paced," he said, noting the tables and ambience differ from that in Canadian and U.S. cafes, where patrons tend to sit and linger with their cup of java.

China's coffeehouse atmosphere contrasts against the "home-y" feeling that Macedo wants to build to encourage customers to spend as much as time as they'd like at Tim Hortons Asian locations, a custom popular with many Canadian Tims regulars.

"We want our team members to be the most welcoming staff in China," said Macedo. "We want people to be able to sit in our restaurants for 10 hours if they want to with only one cup of coffee if they want to or not ordering a cup of coffee at all."

The company's coffee has already proven popular in early overseas testing, he said, as have the brand's iced cappuccino drinks.

They will be featured on the menu alongside products featuring matcha — a tea-based powder that comes in a bright green hue and is a perennial favourite in Asia.

The food selection will reflect local taste preferences, he said, adding the company has noticed Chinese consumers don't eat baked goods or doughnuts as frequently as Canadians.

A completely local breakfast and lunch menu will feature Asian-style rice porridge called congee.

"A lot of (Asian) coffee shops will sell a piece of cake or whatever, but they don't have a kitchen like we do, so that is where we are spending most of our time, trying to figure out what to serve for breakfast and lunch," he said.

Despite some of the adjustments the brand will have to make, food industry expert Robert Carter thinks the expansion makes sense because China's growing middle class is willing to spend their increased wealth on eating out, and more people are starting to drink coffee over tea.



Happy birthday, Boler

Angela Durand sits outside her camper which is decorated to look just like the yellow submarine in the well-known song by The Beatles.

In a lawn chair beside the blue-and-yellow 1968 camper painted with pictures of John, Paul, George and Ringo — a little yellow propeller attached to the back — Durand strums her ukulele and sings about the community that's developed around the small moulded fibreglass Boler.

"I bought it. Then I did research on the Boler. Then I became addicted to Bolers," she said. "I love it."

Hundreds of the unique trailers have descended on Winnipeg to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Manitoba invention.

The Boler camper became famous on highways throughout North America as the "egg on wheels," said event organizer Ian Giles. About 10,000 of the ultralight fibreglass trailers were manufactured and sold between 1968 and 1988.

Giles describes it like two bathtubs joined together to form a hollow container.

"What is unique about them is most of them have no wood inside of them at all, so there is nothing to rot. They have no seams, so there is no possibility of leaks," he said.

"They are like a boat — a fibreglass boat — so you can repair them. That is why so many of them are still around today."

Giles said it's not just the way the camper is built that makes it special. It's the community it inspires.

He picked up his Boler, named Buttercup, eight years ago because it fit his and his wife's camping needs. He wanted to make a couple of changes to his camper, but struggled finding fixes online or anywhere in Calgary where he lives.

Giles created a website to share what he'd learned about modifying his Boler and soon enthusiasts from across North America were reaching out with tips or asking questions. It quickly became a large and entertaining online community. A plan hatched to get together.

"When you buy one of these trailers, you are almost joining a sorority," he said.

All of the 450 campers parked at Red River Exhibition Park for the weekend are either an original Boler or a trailer inspired by the Boler's design. Some still have the original paint job but others have been redesigned with bright colours and flowers.



Inflation rate jumps

Statistics Canada says higher gasoline prices helped push the country's annual inflation rate in July to its highest reading since September 2011.

The federal agency says the consumer price index for July was up 3.0 per cent on a year-over-year basis compared with a 2.5 per cent increase in June.

Economists had expected a year-over-year inflation rate of 2.5 per cent, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon.

Consumer prices for gasoline were up 25.4 per cent, while the cost of air transportation was up 28.2 per cent compared with a year ago.

The result put inflation at the upper end of the Bank of Canada's target range of one to three per cent. Earlier this summer, the Bank of Canada predicted inflation to move as high as 2.5 per cent — due to temporary factors like higher gas prices — before it settles back down to two per cent late next year.

The average of Canada's three measures of core inflation, which leave out more-volatile data like pump prices and are closely watched by the central bank, rose last month to 2.0 per cent compared with 1.96 per cent in June.



Pipeline construction to start

The National Energy Board says Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC can start construction on sections of its pipeline expansion between Alberta and British Columbia.

The NEB says in a statement that Trans Mountain has met all applicable pre-construction condition requirements for so-called segments one to four from the Edmonton terminal to its Darfield pump station near Kamloops.

The board says it has approved more than 96 per cent of the detailed route for these pipeline segments.

The NEB says Trans Mountain can begin construction, including clearing right of way — subject to other government permits and regulations.

It says two active hearings remain for these segments and construction for work that relates to the hearings is not permitted while they're pending.

The NEB says 72 per cent of the entire detailed route has been approved for the pipeline, and hearings for the final segment are scheduled to begin in Chilliwack in October.



AirCan exec jumps to KLM

Air Canada's chief operating officer Ben Smith has been named the new CEO of Air France-KLM.

The longtime No. 2 at Air Canada will be the first non-French national to helm the Franco-Dutch carrier.

Smith will replace former Air France CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac, who quit more than three months ago when staff turned down his offer of a pay deal aimed at halting a wave of strikes.

Smith, who has shepherded Air Canada through multiple labour talks with pilots, flight attendants and machinists, will come on board amidst growing competition and labour turbulence overseas.

"I am well aware of the competitive challenges the Air France-KLM Group is currently facing and I am convinced that the airlines' teams have all the strengths to succeed in the global airline market," Smith said in a release.

Walter Spracklin, an analyst with RBC Dominion Securities Inc., said Smith's departure was a setback for Air Canada, "but not irreparable."

"We had considered Mr. Smith to be the airline's next CEO and therefore his departure leaves a gap in terms of succession," Spracklin said.

Air Canada shares remained relatively stable this week, closing at $23.87 Thursday.

The Air France board of directors approved Smith's hiring at a board meeting Thursday.

He will leave Air Canada on Aug. 31 and take up his duties as CEO on Sept. 30.

Smith joined Air Canada's executive committee in 2007, just before rising fuel prices and the financial crisis saw the airline cut 2,000 jobs and struggle through a tepid growth.

Labour strife with flight attendants and pilots in 2011 and 2012, respectively, preceded a period of relative calm, with 10-year collective agreements signed between the company and both groups in the last four years.

"He was a very integral part of ensuring labour peace," said Robert Kokonis, president of Toronto-based consulting firm AirTrav Inc.

Recent tweaks to a collective agreement with pilots at Air Canada's low-cost Rouge unit allowed the carrier to use more narrow-body planes for the subsidiary, a "weapon" Air Canada can now use to compete against ultra-low-fare upstarts such as WestJet Airlines Ltd.'s Swoop and Edmonton-based Flair Airlines, Kokonis said.

The narrow-body aircraft operate at a lower cost and could replace smaller regional aircraft operated by airline partners like Jazz on some routes.

Challenges await Smith abroad, where full-service, partially subsidized Gulf carriers and low-cost European airlines threaten to squeeze flag carriers, Kokonis said.

Meanwhile labour turmoil on the European tarmac continues. Pilots at Air France, Brussels Airlines and Ryanair have all staged work stoppages in recent months.

"We’ve had strikes in Canada, but we’ve never had the same level of militancy in any of our airline union ranks, arguably, compared to the circus in France,” Kokonis said, referring to a 13-day walkout by Air Canada pilots in 1998.



Tesla sues Ontario gov't

The Canadian arm of Tesla, Inc., is taking the Ontario government to court, claiming it has been treated unfairly in the cancellation of a program providing rebates to residents who bought electric vehicles.

In an application for judicial review, Tesla Motors Canada says the decision by Premier Doug Ford's government to halt the program in July left hundreds of its customers no longer eligible for rebates they expected to get when they ordered their vehicles.

It claims that Tesla was left out of a program that allows purchasers of other brands to still get rebates during a transition period.

"The decision has already inflicted substantial harm on Tesla Canada in the form of lost sales and the creation of an impression among Ontarians that Tesla Canada may be singled out for future arbitrary treatment under the law," says the statement filed Aug. 10.

It asks the Ontario Superior Court to quash the "arbitrary and entirely unreasonable" decision, adding that the government has given it no reason for its exclusion from the rebate extension.

None of Tesla's claims has been proven in court. The company said it would not provide further comment.

A spokesman for the Ontario Transportation Ministry said Thursday it would not comment on the situation because the matter is before the court.

In July, the government announced the cancellation of the rebate program but said that incentives would be honoured for vehicles ordered through a dealership if they are delivered and registered by Sept. 10.

Tesla sells vehicles directly to customers rather than through a dealership, making its vehicles ineligible for the incentives under the new rules.

Customers who have been waiting for Tesla Model 3 cars to be delivered say the Ontario government move has them rethinking their purchase.

Toronto teacher Kurtis Evans, 38, said he was planning to sell his current vehicle — and was counting on receiving the maximum $14,000 rebate — to be able to afford the $71,000 price of the car he ordered in June.

"My wife and I are still not sure if we are going to take delivery without the rebate ... we are not millionaires," he said, adding he fears losing a $4,200 non-refundable deposit if he cancels the order.

However, Matthew Cheung of Mississauga, Ont., said the Tesla he helped his father order in June has already been cancelled because it would not have been affordable without the rebate.

He added Tesla has agreed to provide a refund of the deposit.

Dealers who handle brands other than Tesla are also unhappy with the sudden cancellation of the rebate program and the brief extension to September, said David Adams, president of the Global Automakers of Canada.

"Our view would be that it really shouldn't matter when the vehicle is delivered if the consumer ordered the vehicle prior to the government cancelling the program," he said, adding Tesla is not a member in his organization.

Subsidies are generally frowned upon by his members because they distort the marketplace, but the rebates for electric vehicles are seen as providing a balance for the substantial difference in price versus fossil-fuel powered cars, Adams said.



Musk proposes new tunnel

Traffic-weary baseball fans could someday travel to and from Dodger Stadium on a public transportation system underneath Los Angeles — if Elon Musk's latest bold plan comes to fruition.

The billionaire's Boring Company tweeted Wednesday a proposal for autonomous, zero-emissions electric sleds that would run through a tunnel between the stadium and a location in the city's Hollywood area.

The company says the so-called Dugout Loop system would be privately funded and not require tax money.

Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted that it's exciting to see innovative ideas aimed at reducing traffic on LA roads.

A proposal to build a gondola from Union Station to Dodger Stadium was announced in April.

Musk is currently building a test tunnel from his SpaceX rocket plant to a point near Los Angeles International Airport.



Working to pay the man

If you're like most Canadians, you paid more in taxes last year than you did on housing, food and clothing.

The average Canadian family paid $37,058 in taxes, according to a new study by the Fraser Institute. That's more than food, housing and clothes combined – and accounts for 43 per cent of total income.

“Many Canadians will be surprised to learn that taxes –and not life’s basic necessities, including housing – is the biggest household expense,” said report co-author Charles Lammam.

Last year, the average Canadian family earned $85,883 and paid $37,058 in total taxes compared to $30,597 on necessities. The total tax bill includes visible and hidden taxes paid to federal, provincial and local governments including income, payroll, sales, property, carbon, health, fuel and alcohol taxes, and more.

The average Canadian family paid more than twice as much in taxes (43.1 per cent) as it did for housing (20.8 per cent). The basic necessities amounted to just 35.6 per cent of income.

This represents a marked shift since 1961, when the average Canadian family spent much less on taxes (33.5 per cent) than on food, clothing and housing (56.5 per cent).

Since 1961, the average tax bill has increased by a staggering 2,112 per cent, dwarfing increases in annual housing costs (1,480 per cent), clothing (732 per cent), and food (625 per cent).

“With 43 per cent of their income going to taxes, Canadians might ask whether they’re getting the best value for their tax dollars," said Lammam.



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