FortisBC Holdings Inc. signs agreement with First Nation over B.C. LNG project

FortisBC signs LNG deal

FortisBC Holdings Inc. says it has signed a deal with a First Nation in British Columbia over the Tilbury liquefied natural gas expansion projects.

The subsidiary of utilities company FortisInc. says it will collaborate with the Snuneymuxw First Nation on the expansion of the Tilbury LNG facility in Delta, B.C., and related projects.

FortisBC Holdings says it respects Snuneymuxw's rights in relation to the potential effects of the project and is committed to sharing project benefits with the First Nation.

It says Snuneymuxw has committed to supporting the projects and participating in the required regulatory processes. 

The company says the Tilbury LNG facility expansion is intended to help strengthen FortisBC's gas system, while also serving the growing demand for LNG as a marine fuel.

FortisBC says switching from traditional marine fuel to LNG can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships by up to 27 per cent.


Zellers taking its diner on the road with fleet of food trucks

Zellers diner hits the road

There's good news and bad news.

The bad news is that no matter how much Canadians demand the return of Zellers restaurant in-store, the company announced today that it's just not feasible.

The good news is that they're putting the nostalgic diner on wheels and hitting the road.

The affordable retail chain is working to mobilize a fleet of food trucks that will be outside select Zellers locations when they open this spring. Over a series of days, the trucks will serve fan favourites from the Zellers Family Restaurant, a prime eatery to visit with your grandma back in the day.

The best part – we get to pick which dishes they bring back.

Zellers has launched a poll on its social media with 10 menu items (nine from the original diner and one new vegetarian option) and for the next week, people can weigh in on what they want to eat. The top five results will make up the final menu.

The choices are, the Big Z Burger, Fries and Gravy, Hot Chicken Sandwich, Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Onion Rings, Quesadilla, Poutine, Hot Dog, Chicken Fingers, and a new Veggie Burger.

Zellers also teased that if the comeback is successful, the Zellers Diner on wheels will hit the open road and head cross-country on a national food truck tour.

Dates and locations have yet to be announced but the store promises it will be coast to coast.


A post shared by Zellers (@zellersofficial)

BC forests minister defends government stance on value-added access to timber

Lumber stance defended

B.C. Forests Minister Bruce Ralston is defending his government’s plan to allocate 10 per cent of BC Timber Sales fibre available for auction to the value-added forestry sector.

Ralston’s plan and how it relates to secondary wood manufacturers was criticized by Prince George businessman John Brink, who said the new program does not grant sufficient access to fibre and won’t be enough to attract new investment and prevent some value-added companies from going out of business.

“We take exception to the comments made on our new value-added manufacturing program,” said Ralston, in an email to the Citizen, “The 10 per cent dedicated fibre supply for the new program is just a starting point. Government is committed to ensuring additional volume for BC Timber Sales. Like John, we see BCTS as a key component in our move towards value over volume and understand the importance of it to the sector. As this number grows, so too will the dedicated fibre.”

Ralston announced Tuesday the province intends to set aside 600,000 cubic-metres of Crown land timber for value-added secondary manufacturers. That’s out of a total of between six million and eight million cubic metres BCTS annually sells to bidders as stumpage, which gives companies the right to harvest those trees.

“In addition, the value-added sector will be able to bid on Category 1 sales, as they had been able to before,” he said. “Additional fibre can still be acquired by those within the value-added program.”

Brink said B.C. companies in the secondary forest industry should have access to six million cubic metres of standing fibre and that the 600,000 allotment was woefully inadequate, enough to supply just one sawmill.

 “Mr. Brink has advocated that all BC Timber Sales’ fibre supply should be dedicated to the value-added program,” said Ralston. “While I can appreciate his perspective, BCTS supports our market pricing system, ensuring British Columbians get the best value for their resource. This is our key defence in the softwood lumber dispute.”

Brink said he won’t access the Jobs Fund, which he said was designed to help mill workers whose jobs have been affected by current forestry sector conditions.

“It is incorrect to say the new BC Manufacturing Jobs Fund is to help forestry workers transition from layoffs due to mill closures,” said Ralston.

“While government did announce $185 million in Budget 2022 to support workers, the newly-announced BC Manufacturing Jobs Fund is being made available to support forestry companies as they drive clean and inclusive growth in rural, remote and Indigenous communities. Examples of eligible projects include adopting innovative processes to manufacture value-added forestry products from biomass or other alternatives or machine upgrades.”

Shopify CTO Allan Leinwand steps down for 'personal reason'

Shopify CTO departing

Shopify Inc. says chief technology officer Allan Leinwand will be departing the company with chief executive Tobi Lütke to take on some of his responsibilities. 

In a statement from Leinwand provided by the Ottawa-based e-commerce giant, he says he is leaving Shopify for an unspecified "personal reason."

Leinwand, once a senior vice-president of engineering at Slack, spent 18 months at Shopify, taking over from Jean-Michel Lemieux, who left in 2021.

A statement from Harley Finkelstein, Shopify's president, says company founder Lütke will now oversee research and development.

Lütke previously stepped in to takeover chief product officer Craig Miller's responsibilities, when he left in 2020. At the time, Lütke said there were no plans to replace Miller.

Leinwand's departure comes after the company parted ways with several key staff including chief financial officer Amy Shapero, chief operating officer Toby Shannan and chief talent officer Brittany Forsyth during the pandemic.

Study: Enough rare earth minerals to fuel green energy shift

Enough minerals to fuel shift

The world has enough rare earth minerals and other critical raw materials to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy to produce electricity and limit global warming, according to a new study that counters concerns about the supply of such minerals.

With a push to get more electricity from solar panels, wind turbines, hydroelectric and nuclear power plants, some people have worried that there won’t be enough key minerals to make the decarbonization switch.

Rare earth minerals, also called rare earth elements, actually aren't that rare. The U.S. Geological Survey describes them as a “relatively abundant.” They're essential for the strong magnets necessary for wind turbines; they also show up in smartphones, computer displays and LED light bulbs. This new study looks at not only those elements but 17 different raw materials required to make electricity that include some downright common resources such as steel, cement and glass.

A team of scientists looked at the materials — many not often mined heavily in the past — and 20 different power sources. They calculated supplies and pollution from mining if green power surged to meet global goals to cut heat-trapping carbon emissions from fossil fuel.

Much more mining is needed, but there are enough minerals to go around and drilling for them will not significantly worsen warming, the study in Friday’s scientific journal Joule concluded.

“Decarbonization is going to be big and messy, but at the same time we can do it,” said study co-author Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at the tech company Stripe and Berkeley Earth. “I’m not worried we’re going to run out of these materials."

Much of the global concern about raw materials for decarbonization has to do with batteries and transportation, especially electric cars that rely on lithium for batteries. This study doesn’t look at that.

Looking at mineral demands for batteries is much more complicated than for electric power and that’s what the team will do next, Hausfather said. The power sector is still about one-third to half of the resource issue, he said.

A lot depends on how fast the world switches to green energy.

There will be short supplies. For example, dysprosium is a mineral used for magnets in wind turbines and a big push for cleaner electricity would require three times as much dysprosium as currently produced, the paper said. But there’s more than 12 times as much dysprosium in reserves than would be needed in that clean energy push.

Another close call is tellurium, which is used in industrial solar farms and where there may be only slightly more estimated resources than what would be required in a big green push. But Hausfather said there are substitutions available in all these materials' cases.

“There are enough materials in reserves. The analysis is robust and this study debunks those (running out of minerals) concerns,” said Daniel Ibarra, an environment professor at Brown University, who wasn’t part of the study but looks at lithium shortages. But he said production capacity has to grow for some “key metals" and one issue is how fast can it grow.

Another concern is whether the mining will add more heat-trapping carbon emissions to the atmosphere. It will, maybe as much as 10 billion metric tons, which is one-quarter of the annual global carbon emissions, Hausfather said. Renewables require more materials per energy output than fossil fuels because they are more decentralized, he said.

But the increase in carbon pollution from more mining will be more than offset by a huge reduction in pollution from heavy carbon emitting fossil fuels, Hausfeather said.

Stanford University’s Rob Jackson, who wasn’t part of the study, said while multiple lines of evidence show there are enough rare earth minerals, balance is needed: “Along with mining more, we should be using less."

US senators call for trade crackdown on Canada over dairy quotas, digital policies

US crackdown on dairy?

A pair of senior U.S. senators is urging the Biden administration to get tough with Canada for "flouting" obligations to its North American trade partners. 

Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Sen. Mike Crapo lay out their concerns in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. 

The letter says American dairy producers still aren't getting the access to the Canadian market they're entitled to under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. 

It also describes Canada's planned digital services tax as discriminatory and raises similar concerns about new legislation to regulate online streaming and news. 

All three, the senators say, would give preferential treatment to Canadian content and deny U.S. tech companies fair access to the market north of the border. 

The letter comes after meetings this week in San Diego between U.S., Canadian and Mexican trade emissaries, as well as the North American Leaders' Summit in Mexico City earlier this month. 

The USMCA, referred to in Canada as CUSMA, has been at the centre of a number of bilateral and trilateral disputes since it went into effect in the summer of 2020. 

"Three years later, it is disappointing that Canada and Mexico have failed to come into full compliance with the agreement — and, in some cases, have flouted their obligations," the senators write. 

"USTR must take decisive action to ensure full compliance with the agreement and with dispute settlement panel findings. It is critical to ensure that every chapter of USMCA is fully and timely enforced."

Canada and Mexico have their own issues with how the U.S. is interpreting the deal, which was signed in 2018 after protracted trilateral efforts to replace NAFTA. 

As the Mexico City summit wrapped up, a dispute panel ruled against the U.S. over how it interprets the rules that determine the origin of core automotive components. 

It remains unclear whether the U.S. plans to comply with that decision.   

US inflation and consumer spending cooled in December

US inflation, spending cool

The U.S. Federal Reserve's preferred inflation gauge eased further in December, and consumer spending fell — the latest evidence that the Fed's series of interest rate hikes are slowing the economy.

Friday’s report from the Commerce Department showed that prices rose 5% last month from a year earlier, down from a 5.5% year-over-year increase in November. It was the third straight drop.

Consumer spending fell 0.2% from November to December and was revised lower to show a drop of 0.1% from October to November. Last year's holiday sales were sluggish for many retailers, and the overall spending figures for the final two months of 2022 were the weakest in two years.

The pullback in consumer spending will likely be welcomed by Fed officials, who are seeking to cool the economy by making lending increasingly expensive. Still, the decline in year-over-year inflation matches the Fed's outlook and isn't likely to alter expectations that the central bank will raise its key rate by a quarter-point next week.

On a monthly basis, inflation ticked up just 0.1% from November to December for a second straight month. Energy prices plunged 5.1%, and the overall cost of goods also fell.

“Core” prices, which exclude volatile food and energy costs, rose 0.3% from November to December and 4.4% from a year earlier. The year-over-year figure was down from 4.7% in November, though still well above the Fed's 2% target.

Friday's figures are separate from the better-known inflation data that comes from the consumer price index. The CPI, which was released earlier this month, has also shown a steady deceleration.

The Fed has been seeking to slow spending, growth and the surging prices that have bedeviled the nation for nearly two years. Its key rate, which affects many consumer and business loans, is now in a range of 4.25% to 4.5%, up from near zero last March. Though inflation has been decelerating, most economists say they think the Fed's harsh medicine will tip the economy into a recession sometime this year.

The Fed is in an increasingly delicate position. Chair Jerome Powell has emphasized that the central bank plans to keep boosting its key rate and to keep it elevated, potentially until the end of the year. Yet that policy may become untenable if a sharp recession takes hold.

Friday’s data may heighten concerns that the economy’s primary driver, the American consumer’s willingness to keep spending freely, is starting to crack under the weight of higher prices and interest rates.

On Thursday, the government reported that the economy grew at a healthy clip in the final three months of last year but with much of the expansion driven by one-time factors: Companies restocked their depleted inventories as supply chain snarls unraveled, and the nation’s trade deficit shrank.

By contrast, consumer spending in the October-December quarter as a whole weakened from the previous quarter, and business investment dropped off sharply. Overall, the economy expanded at a 2.9% annual rate in the October-December quarter, down slightly from a 3.2% pace in the previous quarter.

If consumers remain less willing to boost their spending, companies’ profit margins will shrink, and many may cut expenses. That trend could lead eventually to waves of layoffs. Economists at Bank of America have forecast that the economy will grow slightly in the first three months of this year — but then shrink in the following three quarters.

More frugal consumers would threaten to send the economy into a recession. But they can also help reduce inflation. Companies can’t keep raising prices if Americans won’t pay the higher costs.

Last week, the Federal Reserve’s beige book, a gathering of anecdotal reports from businesses around the country, said: “Many retailers noted increased difficulty in passing through cost increases, suggesting greater price sensitivity on the part of consumers.”

A raft of big companies, mostly in the technology sector, have announced sweeping layoffs in recent months, fueling concerns that a recession might be nearing. But those job cuts haven’t yet been enough to raise the unemployment rate, which remains at a half-century low.

In fact, the number of people seeking unemployment benefits — a proxy for layoffs — declined last week to 186,000, a very low level historically. And Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, said it would raise its minimum wage, from $12 to $14 an hour, to help it keep and attract workers.

Group forms to build small modular nuclear reactor in Ontario

Group plans small reactor

Ontario Power Generation, GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. and Aecon Group Inc. are joining forces to build a small modular nuclear reactor in Ontario.

The group wants to build the reactor at the Darlington site, east of Toronto.

Under the agreement, OPG will be the license holder and have overall responsibility for the project.

GE Hitachi will be the technology developer, responsible for design, procurement of major components, and engineering and support.

Meanwhile, SNC-Lavalin will provide design, engineering and procurement support and Aecon will be the builder.

Construction of the project is expected to be complete by late 2028.

B.C.’s housing market nears ‘cyclical bottom:’ RBC

Housing nears bottom

Canada’s housing market is inching closer to its “cyclical bottom,” and British Columbia is following suit, with home resale activity in the province gradually stabilizing, according to a recent housing market update from the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC).

This has implications for the rest of B.C.’s economy. Activity levels in the resale market tend to lead the rest of the economy, according to Brendon Ogmundson, chief economist with the British Columbia Real Estate Association.

“If we’re in an economy that’s potentially headed for a recession in 2023, the pattern that you see throughout history is that sales decline well in advance of the recession, and then bottom out and start to recover one to four months or so into a recession,” Ogmundson said.

Currently, home sales in the Vancouver market, he said, are roughly 25 per cent below normal levels and are “about as low as they can get,” he added.

According to Robert Hogue, assistant chief economist at RBC, activity in the Lower Mainland and Victoria is levelling off.

“Recent declines have slowed quite considerably, and we’re probably not that far off from the bottom. But that being said, the level of activity, even in B.C., is historically low right now. Things are quiet,” he said.

In the coming months, Hogue said he expects to see home prices depreciate further. The Multiple Listing Service (MLS) Home Price Index for B.C. has declined 10 per cent from its February 2022 peak, with the index for Vancouver dropping eight per cent, according to RBC’s market update.

Despite the bottom being “imminent,” as described by Hogue, he predicts that recovery will be a “large muted affair at first.”

“Higher interest rates and stretched affordability will continue to be huge issues for buyers throughout 2023 and possibly beyond. This is poised to keep activity quiet and limit any price gains,” Hogue said in the update. 

Metro Vancouver home listings on MLS reached 53,865 in 2022, a 13.5 per cent decrease compared to the 62,265 homes listed in 2021, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.

“It’s not hard to see a situation where the sales are rebounding into a market that is still under-supplied,” Ogmundson said.

Ogmundson said that even if B.C. hits its cyclical bottom, recovery will be slow throughout 2023, but strong in 2024.

“What we’ve seen throughout history is that the year after a recession, the home sales in the province rise anywhere between 25 and 40 per cent. But, that really relies on interest rates coming down,” he said. 

Canfor closure of Chetwynd mill 'a kick in the gut'

Closure 'a kick in the gut'

Canfor is closing another set of mills in northern B.C., this time in Chetwynd and Houston.

The company said Wednesday it was permanently closing its sawmill and pellet operations in Chetwynd, where about 200 jobs are expected to be lost.

The company also announced a temporary closure of its Houston sawmill for "a major redevelopment" on the site, affecting close to 300 workers.

"We recognize that today’s announcement will have both temporary and permanent impacts on employees, families, contractors and communities. That’s why we are putting in place a comprehensive set of support mechanisms to help minimize the impacts of this transition," said company president and CEO Don Kayne in a statement.

"In addition, we will be working with our industry partners and Indigenous Nations to ensure that fibre currently processed at the Chetwynd facility is utilized to support other local and regional manufacturing facilities, helping them to be more sustainable and to keep people working in the Peace Region."

The Chetwynd closure comes after an extension of holiday production curtailments to Jan. 23. And it follows on the heels of a Jan. 11 announcement that Canfor was permanently closing the pulp line at its Prince George Pulp and Paper Mill, where 300 jobs will be lost.

Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier called the news “devastating.”

“Anytime you have an announcement like this it’s heartbreaking for the families that are affected,” said Bernier, also the Opposition critic for forestry. “For a community like Chetwynd, this is a huge loss to the community.”

Brian O'Rourke, president of the United Steelworkers Local 1-2017, which represents around 135 Canfor workers in Chetwynd and 280 in Houston, described the news as “a kick in the gut," and "very troubling news for two small communities.”

“These folks just returned from a five-week curtailment just Monday this week,” he said of the Chetwynd closure. "Everybody was quite happy they returned on a five-day work week, they’ve been on fours in the past."

Canfor says it expects operations at both Chetwynd and Houston facilities to be wound down by the second quarter of 2023. The closures will remove approximately 750 million board feet of annual production capacity, the company said.

In Houston, the company said it "intends to build a new, modern, globally competitive manufacturing facility that employs state of the art technology to produce high value products from the sustainable timber supply in the region."

"Project planning, scoping, preliminary engineering and budgeting are underway," the company said, with a final investment decision also expected by the end of the second quarter.

"The Houston investment would represent another significant commitment and be amongst the largest capital expenditures in a new wood products manufacturing facility in B.C.’s interior in two decades," said Kayne.

Even if the Houston mill redevelopment proceeds, O'Rourke says the temporary closure there could last up to two years before it gets up and running.

“That’s going to depend on everything from markets to equipment being available, you name it,” he said, adding the union will be meeting with the company to put transition committees in place to address the fallout of the closures.

“Hopefully people are able to move, whether they can transfer to other Canfor operations,” O'Rourke said. “Obviously, we’ll definitely be in touch with the government trying to leverage whatever training dollars, or whatever money is available, to help ease the pressure for these folks.”

Bernier says Canfor still has a business case to operate the Houston mill, which he says was designed and built to deal with the pine beetle epidemic. But companies across the province, including in the Peace region, are struggling to secure long-term tenures for fibre supply, he said.

He blamed the provincial government for being reactionary in its response to the mounting pressures in B.C's forestry sector, despite what he says is still an abundance of supply in the province.

"It’s not that the timber's not there, they can’t get permits, they can’t get agreement from government that they can access that timber, so they can’t continue to work in that environment," Bernier said.

“You watch the NDP in the last week have been making a flurry of announcements to say that they care about forestry but that’s like a band-aid on a major artery that’s burst," he said.

Regarding the immediate future of affected workers, Bernier said, “Right now, we got to think of what we’re going to do about these hundreds of people that are going to lose their jobs, where are they going to go, how are they going to feed their families?”

“The last thing we want to see is people moving away from the Peace region. We got a lot of opportunity here if we can make it happen,” he said.

But Bernier says leaders in the Peace region will also have to work together to push the government to provide certainty for industry.

“We saw this play out and we saw this discussion take place over the last few years with the caribou, when government came in and started saying we’re going to shut down areas of the Peace region where you can’t go anymore, you can’t log, you can’t access,” he said. “Anytime you start taking away areas from these companies, it weakens their business case to operate in the area. We knew that, we warned government."

"In the Peace region, we’re seeing continual lack of understanding from Victoria on what happens up here,” he said. “They seem to have no problem trying to protect land but forget that comes at a price of people losing their jobs and communities being negatively affected.”

In a joint statement, forests minister Bruce Ralston and jobs minister Brenda Bailey said community support teams will help workers access any services they need.

They also touted the recently announced $90-million BC Manufacturing Jobs Fund, which they said includes $50 million to increase fibre supply as well as dedicated timber access for valued-added forestry manufacturers.

“Our government is committed to supporting forestry workers impacted by closures and also to support good, long-term jobs in the sector,” the statement read.

"Forestry is and will remain a foundation of the B.C. economy. Our government has made recent investments as part of our ongoing work and commitment to ensure that forestry remains a strong and sustainable industry in British Columbia.”

Three new B.C. mines aim to pour first gold in 2024

BC's new gold rush

There are currently eight new mines or mine expansions in the queue in B.C. worth a total investment of $6.6 billion, according to Premier David Eby, who spoke Monday at the Association of Mineral Exploration (AME) Roundup conference.

Two of those new mines are aiming to be in production in a little over a year from now, and one is unique in that it will be the first mine to be built on Nisga’a Nation treaty land.

The most advanced project is the Ascot Resources (TSX:AOT) Premier Gold mine, located in northwestern B.C. on Nisga’a Nation treaty land. The company recently raised $200 million to finance its construction, which is now underway. The company is aiming to pour first gold in early 2024.

Next in the queue is the Artemis Gold Inc. (TSX-V:ARTG) Blackwater Gold mine. The company has begun earthworks and expects a Mines Act permit this quarter. The company is aiming to start major construction in the first quarter of 2023 and be in production by the second half of 2024.

One project of note that is nearing the advanced development stage is Cariboo gold project. Formally known as Barkerville Gold, the mine’s owners, Osisko Development Corp. (TSX,NYSE:ODV), recently produced a new feasibility study that estimates a low initial capital cost of $137 million and projects annual gold production of 72,501 ounces of gold per year in the first stage. Osisko is taking a phased approach to the mine’s development and is aiming for first production in 2024.

Most new mines or mine expansions in the queue in B.C. are either gold mines or copper-gold projects. But one new mine in late stage development is a silica mine.

Site preparation is now underway Sinova Global’s Horse Creek Silica project southeast of Golden, B.C. The mine will produce 400,000 tonnes of silica per year, which is used to make solar panels, according to a presentation Monday at Roundup.

The biggest new mine proposal in B.C. is the Seabridge Gold (TSX:SEA) KSM project in northwest B.C. This gold, copper, silver and molybdenum deposit would be mined in three distinct open pit operations, with some underground mining as well.

Seabridge recently produced a new feasibility study and preliminary economic assessment plan for its KSM project. It envisions a 33-year open pit operation and an additional 39 years of underground mining. The company plans to spend $225 million this year on early stage construction.

“If they get the capex to get that started, that’s a going to be a huge mining operation in British Columbia,” said Gordon Clarke, director of the B.C. Mineral Development Office.

Other projects of note include the Skeena Resources (TSX,NYSE:SKE) Eskay Creek gold-silver mine. Eskay Creek is a former operating gold mine.  A recent feasibility study estimates the mine would have average gold production of 431,000 ounces a year or gold and silver. Skeena is aiming to begin construction in 2025 and be in production in 2026.

Statistics Canada says job vacancies down 2.4% in November

Job vacancies dip

Statistics Canada says the number of job vacancies fell by 2.4 per cent in November to their lowest level since August 2021.

The agency says the number of job vacancies across all sectors was down 20,700 at 850,300 for the month.

The job vacancy rate — which measures the number of vacant positions as a proportion of total labour demand — was 4.8 per cent in November, the lowest rate since June 2021.

Statistics Canada says the number of job vacancies fell in the professional, scientific and technical services category by 18.1 per cent, while health care and social assistance vacancies dropped 12.8 per cent.

The number of vacancies in construction rose 16.6 per cent.

There were 1.2 unemployed people for every job vacancy in November, up from the low of 1.0 in June.

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