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Adamson Barbecue Owner’s $187K Bill Raises Civil Rights Concerns: Lawyer

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Adam Skelly, owner of Adamson Barbecue, escorts a photographer from his property after defying provincial lockdown orders in Toronto on Nov. 25, 2020.

TORONTO — A civil liberties lawyer says a decision by the City of Toronto to bill a restaurant owner nearly $200,000 to cover the cost of enforcing lockdown regulations raises concerns about people’s constitutionally protected right to protest.

Adam Skelly, the owner of Adamson Barbecue, opened his restaurant for indoor dining in November in violation of COVID-19 public health regulations, drawing dozens of anti-lockdown protesters.

On the weekend, Skelly posted on social media that he had received an invoice from the city for $187,030.56, with the cost of the police response accounting for $165,188.73 of the total.

Cara Zwibel, the director of the fundamental freedoms program with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the idea that individuals should have to pay for the opportunity to exercise their freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly is concerning.

There are significant costs to policing a wide variety of matters, she said, but criminals don’t pay the policing costs associated with those crimes.

“There is a concern that the city is not treating this as part of their normal operations,” Zwibel said.

“But this is what police do, they enforce the law and keep the peace, that’s the cost of doing business as a municipality.” 

A spokesman for the city said businesses that have violated the law and have been ordered to close have remained closed, making Adamson Barbecue an exception.

“There was a significant amount of time that the police and city incurred in dealing with this issue in terms of his opening the establishment and our need to close it under public health orders,” Brad Ross said in an interview.

The invoice was sent to Skelly in December but has not yet been paid, he said, adding that the city is considering launching a civil suit to recoup the money.

Ross said this is the first time the city sends an invoice to someone during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, he said a business or resident was billed for not clearing a sidewalk of snow, leaving the city to do the work — but those cases were not common.

Watch: A look back at a year of COVID-19 in Canada. Story continues below.  

 

Zwibel said there is already a system in place to deal with people who break the law: the justice system.

The “pay-to-protest” issue has come up in the past, she said, especially on university campuses.

If a topic of a planned protest is a hot-button issue and the event is expected to attract a large crowd, universities have tried to have organizers pay for security.

“The universities will sometimes say ’well, there’s going to be a big reaction to that and so we’re going to need security, and so you’re going to have to pay for it,” Zwibel said.

“I would say it’s not appropriate to have to pay to exercise your constitutionally protected right to protest.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021.


Canada Increasing Fossil Fuel Subsidies As U.S. Moves To End Them, Study Finds

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A tar sands upgrader in Fort McMurray, Alta.

Canada tripled its federal subsidies to the oil and gas industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, a sign the country could find itself at odds with the Biden administration on fossil fuels, a climate think tank is warning.

In a new report, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) said the federal government funded oil and gas companies to the tune of $1.9 billion during the pandemic year of 2020, a more than 200-per-cent increase from the previous year.

The report argued that aid to oil and gas works against the government’s policy of carbon pricing.

“As fossil fuel subsidies incent the same consumption and production of fossil fuels that carbon pricing aims to reduce, combining carbon pricing and fossil fuel subsidies is like trying to bail water out of a leaky boat,” the report said.

Watch: One in five premature deaths now linked to carbon emissions. Story continues below.

 

But the federal government disputes the report’s characterization of the funding as “subsidies” to oil and gas, noting that a majority of new spending went to clean-up of orphaned oil and gas wells.

Of the funds the IISD identified, some $1.5 billion went to the clean-up of orphaned oil wells in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, a policy that was announced “after significant lobbying from the oil and gas sector for COVID-19 assistance,” the report said.

Another $300 million went to a program to support Newfoundland’s oil and gas industry, which does not seem to have specified any particular use for the money.

“The reported $1.9 billion in federal fossil fuel subsidies is only part of the picture in Canada since that figure doesn’t encompass the even higher total for subsidies extended at the provincial level,” IISD’s transitions lead, Philip Gass, said in a statement. 

“The increase in fossil fuel support since the pandemic began is mirrored by some provinces as well, so the upward trend is consistent across different levels of government.”

 

Meanwhile, as one of his first actions in January, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an executive order instructing government agencies to end fossil fuel subsidies, putting Canadian policy potentially at odds with the U.S. going forward.

“There are signals they are very serious about (ending) fossil fuel subsidies,” said Vanessa Corkal, an energy policy analyst at IISD and lead author of the report.

Canada will be under increased pressure from its G7 allies to end fossil fuel subsidies as well, she said.

“The benchmark for progressive action on climate is considerably higher than it was … years ago, and any action the Canadian government takes should be equally ambitious,” she said.

Booming resources sector

The report comes as Canada’s oil and gas sector is set for a rebound after a major slump in 2020. The price of Western Canadian Select oil has shot up to above US$50 per barrel in recent days, the highest sustained price level for Canadian oil since late 2014.

That has also put upward pressure on the loonie, which shot up to just shy of 80 cents U.S. on Thursday, its highest level in two years.

The IISD report urges Canada to commit to a moratorium on new fossil fuel subsidies and develop a roadmap to ending them altogether by 2025. 

That should happen along with new policies that will allow oil and gas workers to transition to new jobs, the report argued.

“We need clearer support for workers to be able to move away from the carbon economy, things like pension bridging programs and worker training opportunities,” Corkal said.

She urged a “tripartite approach” where the industry, labour groups and government work together to transition communities to renewable-energy economies.

“We are in a good position, we have the resources to do this,” she said. “We can chart a green recovery, but it requires political will and strong ambition.”

Low-Income Canadians Face 'Abusive' Lending Rates Even In Pandemic

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Donna Borden, an ACORN member, advocates for stricter regulations of lenders selling high interest instalment and payday loans.

A single mother working the front desks at both a hospital and a nursing home, Donna Borden watched her debts grow.  

On top of Toronto’s cost of living, Borden was juggling bills left behind when her mother died, plus helping her son buy university textbooks. 

“I was trying to keep a roof over our heads,” Borden told HuffPost Canada. 

Her bank refused to consolidate her debts and recommended she use the lender Fairstone Financial, then called CitiFinancial, Borden said. She took out an instalment loan in 2008 — $10,000 to be paid back over five years with about 40 per cent interest. 

That was the beginning of a demoralizing six-year slog that left Borden feeling like she’d never get ahead, despite her best efforts. 

“It made me very depressed. I felt like I was useless,” Borden said. “I couldn’t believe I had gotten myself into this position. I felt stupid.”

Borden made regular payments and managed her money through a debt program, but her loan ballooned. Fairstone renewed Borden’s loan at least twice and tacked on insurance fees without her consent, she said. The monthly due date would change but she said she wouldn’t be notified and missed payments, which resulted in late fees. 

These people were calling me a deadbeat, calling me names. They’d be telling me, ‘You’re just a terrible person.'Donna Borden

Fairstone provides instalment loans to customers who typically don’t qualify for a bank loan. Vice-president Fiona Story told HuffPost the lender does not apply “delinquency rates,” “ancillary fees,” or interest rates above 40 per cent a year, and provides “easy to understand” information to customers about their loan, including insurance. 

“No adjustments to the terms of the loan contract can be made without notifying the customer or without the customer’s written consent,” Story said in a statement. 

“As with any credit product, customers who miss payments will accrue interest (non-compounding) on unpaid balances which is why we work to help our customers stay on top of their payment schedule.” 

Borden said Fairstone staff would call her repeatedly throughout the day, demanding repayment. They also called her emergency contacts, her father and aunt, and told them about her debt in an attempt to pressure her to pay back more.

“These people were calling me a deadbeat, calling me names. They’d be telling me, ‘You’re just a terrible person,’” Borden said. “They’d just call me constantly. There were some days I had to unplug the phone because I didn’t have the energy.”

Borden said she had paid Fairstone $25,000 by 2015 — $15,000 more than she borrowed.

Watch: Tips for growing savings on a low income. Story continues below.


Borden’s story is familiar to the advocacy group for low-income Canadians, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), of which she is a member. 

ACORN Canada recently surveyed 376 members for a study on high interest loans from companies or institutions that are not regular banks or credit unions. Almost all respondents reported annual income below $40,000. 

Seventy per cent of respondents said they had taken a short-term “payday” loan less than $1,500, a larger long-term instalment loan or car title loan. The vast majority used the loans to pay for essentials like rent, electricity or food and only after they were turned away from traditional banks because of low credit scores.

Thirteen per cent of respondents said they had to take out a high interest loan for reasons related to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Money Mart, CashMoney, Easy Financial and Fairstone Financial are all commonly used lenders in Canada. 

A recent CBC Marketplace investigation found CashMoney was charging almost 47 per cent annual interest on a three-year $6,000 loan. 

Meanwhile, Bank of Canada interest rates are at a historic low — below one per cent. 

Independent Sen. Pierrette Ringuette called this current lending situation “dire,” especially in the middle of the pandemic when some families are at their most vulnerable financially. She’s been pushing the federal government to change the criminal code to clamp down on what she calls “abusive” interest rates. 

Ringuette said in the past few months, she’s been hearing from hundreds of Canadians who are in a “vicious cycle of debt repayment” often because they were caught in an emergency situation, needed money quickly and resorted to high interest instalment or payday loans. 

Under federal law, lenders are allowed to charge anywhere below 60 per cent in interest on loans over $1,500 — a rule from the 1980s when the Bank of Canada’s interest rate was at 21 per cent. 

If the same logic was applied at the current national overnight  interest rate of 0.25 per cent, interest rates would be capped at 0.75 per cent. 

Sen. Pierrette Ringuette with Sen. Rene Cormier, centre, and Sen. Peter Harder before being sworn in on Nov. 15, 2016 in Ottawa.

Interest rates for smaller loans from payday lenders are regulated provincially. Ringuette said the average interest rate is close to 400 per cent. 

Ringuette wants to see interest rates capped at 20 per cent above the Bank of Canada’s interest rate and will likely put forward a private members bill in the senate this spring, her third attempt since 2013. 

“I wish for fairness in these loan products for all Canadians,” she said. “It is not right that you would have an abusive institution to our most vulnerable at any time but particularly at this time of real hardship for most Canadians.” 

Borden now lives completely debt free, working at a Toronto long-term care home throughout the pandemic and advocating for more financial protections for Canadians. 

She remains in a kind of “limbo” however, not knowing if the old debt will one day resurface, sometimes referred to as “zombie debt.” 

Even after Borden paid $25,000 for her instalment loan, the lender claimed she still owed $7,000 and sold that debt to a third party collector, she said. The collector attempted to take her to court, but didn’t pursue the case once she made it clear she was going to fight it. 

Borden doesn’t know if that debt was written off after it passed the statute of limitations (two years in Ontario) or if it was sold to another collector that will eventually “terrorize” her into paying more, she said.  

ACORN is calling on the federal government to make banking more accessible to low- and moderate-income Canadians, including requiring banks to provide: 

  • Low-interest credit for emergencies;
  • Low-interest overdraft protection; 
  • No holds on cheques so people can access funds quickly;
  • And $10 rather than $45 fees for non-sufficient funds.

It also wants the federal government to create a fund to support credit products geared to low- and moderate-income Canadians and a national database for high interest loan customers to track their debts.

“The whole thing is not right,” Borden said of the high interest loan industry. “It just has to stop.” 

Canadian Immigration May Not ‘Return To Normal’ For A Long Time: Economists

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Migrant workers from Mexico maintain social distancing as they wait to be transported to Quebec farms after arriving at Trudeau Airport Tuesday April 14, 2020 in Montreal.

Canada is unlikely to meet its ambitious immigration target this year, and even after the pandemic ends, migration patterns may not return to what they were before COVID-19 hit, economic forecasts say.

That could hold back the country’s recovery, as well as the recoveries of other developed countries whose economies depend on migrants, recent economic reports warned.

In an effort to make up for lost time in the pandemic, the federal government increased its target to 401,000 immigrants for 2021, the highest level on record. But two new reports ― one from Royal Bank of Canada, the other from Capital Economics ― cast doubt on that goal.

Border restrictions will “remain in effect into the foreseeable future,” and coupled with quarantine measures, “travelling to Canada may not be feasible for many potential immigrants,” RBC economist Andrew Agopsowicz wrote.

For that reason, Agopsowicz expects 275,000 landed immigrants in Canada this year, and that’s only if “things return to normal” in the second half of the year.

Watch: Canada seeks immigration increase for post-pandemic recovery. Story continues below.

 

In 2020, Canada took in 184,000 new permanent residents, little more than half the target of 341,000, the RBC economist noted.

“Given lag times, we should expect this decline to impact levels at least into 2022,” Agopsowicz wrote in an email to HuffPost Canada.

For its part, the federal government remains confident it will meet its targets for the coming several years.

“In January 2021, we welcomed nearly 10 per cent more new permanent residents than in January 2020, when there was no pandemic,” a spokesperson for Immigration Canada said in an email exchange with HuffPost.

“Global migration has been upended by the pandemic. … Yet we’ve taken quick action and come a long way since the onset of the pandemic – providing additional resources where they are needed most, streamlining our processes and ramping systems back up. Thanks to these new measures… the volume of final decisions is approaching pre-pandemic levels.”

Immigration not what it used to be

But even past the pandemic, immigration may look different than it did before.

“There are strong signs that mobility will not return to previous levels for some time,” the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said in a migration outlook last fall.

“This is due to weaker labour demand, persistent severe travel restrictions as well as the widespread use of teleworking among high-skilled workers and remote learning by students.”

Permanent residency applications to Canada dropped by more than 50 per cent in 2020, and while part of that has to do with the shutdown of visa processing centres around the world, it also has to do with “declining economic conditions in Canada,” Agopsowicz said.

Some economists ― such as Mikal Skuterud of the University of Waterloo ― have questioned whether a high immigration target makes sense at a time when Canada has lost a net 850,000 jobs over the past year. They fear the new arrivals will swell the ranks of the unemployed in the post-pandemic period.

Data shows migrants have taken some of the largest hits from the pandemic-related shutdowns.

“In all countries for which data are available, immigrants’ unemployment increased more, compared to their native-born peers,” the OECD wrote. 

“The largest increases for immigrants were observed in Canada, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the United States. In Sweden, almost 60 per cent of the initial increase in unemployment fell on immigrants.”

The report notes that these migrants are often on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic effort. Among the 37 developed and developing member countries of the OECD, which includes Canada, migrants account for one in four doctors and one in six nurses.

Stunted growth

The decline in migration during the pandemic threatens the wellbeing not only of migrants, but of people in developing countries who depend on those migrants’ cash remittances. And it could have longer-term effects on the growth of developed countries, like Canada, which rely heavily on migrants.

In a report issued in December, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated that, five years from now, the working-age population of Australia will be 2 per cent smaller than it otherwise would be because of the decline in immigration during the pandemic. 

For Australia, which relies on immigration for economic growth much like Canada, that will mean an economy that is 1.2 to 1.7 per cent smaller, the IMF said. 

That could have an impact particularly on things like government debt, which is easier to pay off if you have a growing population, and therefore a growing tax base.

Governments may have to shift their economic strategies to deal with the shortfall, the IMF report said.

“In addition to tackling the effects of a deep near-term recession, policymakers should swiftly embrace the challenging task of boosting potential output in the medium-term while ensuring that the recovery is inclusive and protects those most impacted by the crisis.”

Liberal MP Says Some Cabinet Ministers ‘Very Supportive’ Of Basic Income

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Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan, left to right, Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller, and Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages Melanie Joly and staff leave on the third and final day of the Liberal cabinet retreat in Ottawa on Sept. 16, 2020.

OTTAWA — Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz says her push for basic income has traction among her caucus colleagues, including a number of cabinet ministers. 

Dzerowicz introduced a private members’ bill this week, Bill C-273, which calls on the federal finance minister to study guaranteed basic income models and develop a national strategy to evaluate how a program could be implemented in Canada. 

“I will tell you that I do know that there’s cabinet ministers that are very supportive of basic income,” the Toronto MP told HuffPost Canada during a virtual meeting availability to discuss her bill Thursday.

There’s a “broad swath” of Liberal caucus members who support the idea, Dzerowicz said. “I don’t want to give you the number, but it’s quite a few.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously signaled that he isn’t in a hurry to endorse basic income yet. The government is still due to unveil details of promised new national programs, such as a child-care system and pharmacare.

Trudeau told Liberal party supporters in a virtual town hall back in December that basic income is “not something that we see a path to moving forward with right now.”

Watch: Trudeau says COVID-19 benefits will be scrapped for some. Story continues below video.

 

The realities of work are changing faster than ever, Dzerowicz said, adding an observation that more workers are shifting to the gig economy, making temporary short-term work increasingly common. Future job security is also being threatened by automation and artificial intelligence. 

“There’s already strong and substantial existing information that supports the effectiveness of basic income,” Dzerowicz said. “But there is much less information on the best ways and models to deliver basic income.”

The term guaranteed basic income is sometimes used interchangeably with guaranteed livable income or a guaranteed annual income to mean a social-assistance program designed to help the lowest income-earners in society live above the poverty line by ensuring they have enough money to afford basic necessities of life such as food, clothing and shelter.

Universal basic income is another term that’s used by advocates. This term is synonymous with “demogrant,” which encapsulates a model where everyone is eligible for a cheque. Income-tested benefits are another model, as well as a negative income tax.

Bill will bring about ‘concrete evidence,’ says Liberal MP

Liberal MP Annie Koutrakis said if there’s anything to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that there’s a need for a basic income program. 

Wayne Easter, Liberal chair of the House of Commons finance committee, said he would welcome a pilot project in his home province of Prince Edward Island. The province has asked Ottawa for nearly two years to pitch in with funding to help launch a pilot.

Easter seconded Dzerowicz’s bill and called it one step forward in collecting “concrete evidence” on what can be done. 

The veteran MP and former Jean Chrétien cabinet minister said that though private member’s bills may not always get through the system to achieve royal assent, there are other avenues by which the policy can be implemented, such as by a federal budget.

Private member’s bills are limited in scope because only government bills are allowed to propose how public funds should be spent.

Dzerowicz called her bill Canada’s first-ever proposed legislation on a guaranteed basic income but some critics say people need help now, not more studies.

NDP MP Leah Gazan told HuffPost there’s a “dangerous” flaw in the bill because it leaves the door open for vital social assistance programs to be cut and replaced.

Gazan, her party’s critic for children, families, and social development, also said it’s repetitive of work that’s already been done.

“It’s yet another pilot project,” the Winnipeg Centre MP said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s not a strategy, it’s not an implementation strategy, it’s another study to assess an implementation strategy.” 

The part of Bill C-273 that has Gazan alarmed is a subsection that stipulates for each basic income model tested, data and analyses be collected to measure its impact on government. This should include, the bill states, examining “the efficiency, flexibility, cost, continuity and responsiveness of program and service delivery models” and “the potential of a guaranteed basic income program to reduce the complexity of or replace existing social programs, to alleviate poverty and to support economic growth.”

Gazan said existing social programs need to be expanded to be more inclusive rather than be replaced entirely with something new, and that any basic income program must be implemented in addition to current and future government services, she said.

“We cannot afford cutbacks to our social safety net,” Gazan said. “Otherwise we run the risk of making people poorer.”

Gazan tabled a motion in August that asked the government to table legislation, and to work with the provinces and territories, as well as Indigenous peoples, to create a flexible basic income program reflective of regional differences in living costs. 

New momentum for old idea

Basic income is an idea that goes back 500 years, premised on the notion that giving money to those living in poverty would be a more effective way to prevent crime than by punishing individuals.

“The cost savings of the criminal-legal system, the health-care system, are immense,” said Sen. Kim Pate about the link that continues to exist between poverty and crime during a virtual discussion about guaranteed basic income with Green Party Leader Annamie Paul on Monday.

An analysis of the “Mincome” project from the ’70s found that hospitalization rates in Dauphin, Man. fell among those who received supplementary basic income cheques.

The concept of basic income has circulated at the federal level for around 50 years after late senator David Croll called poverty the “social issue of our time” and proposed a basic income model as a potential tool to alleviate it.

Pate joined Dzerowicz on Thursday and suggested, “like so many issues,” that apathy is part of the reason why actions have been limited in recent decades.

“One of my Māori friends says, sometimes when you’re dealing with institutions that are predominantly male, pale, and stale, you’re stuck in those kinds of economic policies, and I think that’s a bit of what we’re dealing with as well.”

Recent reports written by expert panels assembled in British Columbia and Quebec to explore the viability of basic income recommended targeted reforms to strengthen existing social assistance programs may be a more preferential first step. 

“The needs of people in this society are too diverse to be effectively answered simply with a cheque from the government,” read the B.C. expert panel report published in December.

According to the report, the province’s system of social programs comprises “120 provincial programs scattered across 12 ministries through 23 different points of access.” 

The federal government plays a role with providing “72 programs through eight departments or agencies through 12 different points of access,” the report stated.  

“Many gaps and inconsistencies remain, hampering the ability of the committed resources to provide the self-respect and social respect associated with a just society.”

‘Every crisis is a trend, accelerated’

Floyd Marinescu is founder of UBI Works, a non-profit group that advocates support for a universal basic income. Joining Dzerowicz’s press conference, he said basic-income models need to be studied in real life, not just their impact on recipients but to the wider community as well.

Pandemic recovery has so far been “uneven” and subject to polarization, he said Thursday.

“Every crisis is a trend, accelerated. And what COVID has shown us, in fast motion, might have taken five to 10 years in terms of the impacts of technological advancement on the labour market — which benefits some, but hurts many others.”

Watch: Vancouver’s $7,500 universal basic income experiment. Story continues below video.

 

According to a new report by the National Advisory Council on Poverty, one in nine Canadians experience poverty. Despite that statistic, some remain hesitant about the upfront costs to a potential basic income program.

An analysis by the Parliamentary Budget Officer found that a federal basic income, modelled after the parameters of Ontario’s scrapped pilot, would cost $76 billion in its first year, then level off to $44 billion annually thereafter.

Support for basic income gained additional momentum during the pandemic with the federal government’s deployment of the $2,000-per-month Canada Emergency Recovery Benefit (CERB) as a vehicle to get money to Canadians whose livelihoods were suddenly impacted by COVID-19.

That program, which was delivered through both the Canada Revenue Agency and the Employment Insurance system, paid out $81.6 million to 8.9 million people between March 15 to Oct. 3, according to government data.  

Canadians living with disabilities experience higher costs of living. Those who rely on disability benefits to cover those costs found themselves ineligible for CERB, leaving them reliant on making end’s meet with social assistance cheques lower than the CERB payments deposited into millions of Canadians’ bank accounts.

The government later unveiled a benefit top-up for people living with disabilities: a one-time payment of up to $600.  

Everything You Need To Know About Canada’s Hard Butter Situation

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Have you noticed anything strange about your butter lately? 

Many Canadians are reporting that their Canadian-made butter is actually harder than normal, or displays a strange watery or rubbery texture, even a room temperature.

It’s not the frigid February temperatures to blame. There actually might be a scientific explanation for what many Canadians are calling “buttergate.” On Thursday, the Dairy Farmers of Canada officially asked members to consider using alternatives to palm oil supplements in their dairy feed pending further investigation.

But how might palm oil in cow feed be connected to the firm butter in your fridge? Here’s what you need to know.

What’s up with the butter?

The issue took off on Twitter when Calgary-based food writer Julie Van Rosendaal tweeted about her own butter problems. 

Other Canadians have reported firm, watery or rubbery butter for months. While many speculated that cold temperatures or humidity could have something to do with it, the real cause traces all the way back to the cow’s diet.

Van Rosendaal posited several theories on Twitter as to why the butter was harder, from changes in policies and practices to Canada’s tariff rate quota and targeted changes in feeding dairy cows i to improve yield or make the butter more stable. 

It appears the latter is most likely. 

Dalhousie University food researcher Sylvain Charlebois also tweeted about the hard butter back in December, and has since concluded that palm oil in cow feed is to blame.

Dairy cows are seen at a farm, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 in Sainte-Marie-Madelaine, Que.

“Palm oil given to dairy cows increases the proportion of saturated fat in milk compared to unsaturated fat, thus increasing the melting point of butter,” Charlebois wrote in a recent op-ed.  “This explains why butter made from cows fed with palm oil remains difficult to spread at room temperature.”

Both Charlebois and Van Rosendaal have linked the emergence of palm oil in dairy cow feed to the pandemic. According to the Dairy Farmers of Canada, Canadian demand for butter went up by 12.4 per cent in 2020, much of it linked to a wave of home bakers stuck at home with nothing better to do.

In the op-ed, Charlebois says dairy farmers responded to increased demand by adding more palm oil to their cow feed to increase yield. 

Van Rosendaal’s investigation also came to the same conclusion. In a piece for the Globe and Mail, she also ended up on the palm oil hypothesis.

“It turns out that palm fats and its byproducts are in fact widely used in livestock feed, not only in Canada but around the world. And palm supplements, often delivered in pellet, flake and micropill form, are marketed to dairy farmers for their ability to boost output and, more importantly, increase fat content in the resulting milk and cream,” she wrote. 

Still, not everyone agrees on the palm oil theory.

Alejandro Marangoni, a food science professor at University of Guelph, told the Canadian Press that in the absence of solid data, he’s skeptical of claims about a sector-wide stiffening of butter.

“You have a sensationalist statement that is completely based on zero data, just some feelings,” Marangoni said. “And now the dairy industry is launching an investigation, for what? It might not be true.”

What is palm oil?

Palm oil contains highly saturated edible fats derived from the fruit of the African oil palm, as well as its seeds. It’s found all across a range of processed foods because it makes them taste good and holds shelf stability for a long time. You can also find palm fats in a range of other products, from shampoo to biodiesel fuel.

WATCH: Investigation reveals abuse of women who work in palm oil industry. Story continues below. 

 

Palm oil and fats are a tricky subject, because their product is linked to the heavy deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia that threatens animal habitats. The World Wildlife Fund has launched a campaign to spread awareness around ethical palm oil production. 

The World Health Organization has also linked palm oil to several adverse health effects in humans. 

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said palm oil is an approved ingredient for livestock feeds in Canada.

What are dairy farmers saying?

As buttergate ballooned, Dairy Farmers of Canada initially acknowledged natural shifts in feed production could have an impact on butter consistency.

However, the organization took the step to formally advise dairy farmers against using it in their feed Thursday. The organization has established a working group to investigate the impact of palm acids in dairy feed.

“It is essential that decisions be made on a factual basis and that science guide our sector,” Dairy Farmers of Canada said in a statement. “Notwithstanding this announcement, we stress that all milk produced in Canada is as safe as always to consume and is subject to Canada’s robust health and safety standards.”

Regional dairy associations have expressed support for the investigation.

“Canadian dairy are going to do better,” Alberta Milk chair Stuart Boeve said in a statement Thursday.

With files from the Canadian Press.

CPPIB CEO Mark Machin Resigns After Receiving Vaccine During Trip To Dubai

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Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Tues. Nov. 1, 2016.

TORONTO ― The head of the fund managing Canada Pension Plan investments is the latest high-profile Canadian to draw criticism for their behaviour during the pandemic after he travelled outside the country and received a COVID-19 vaccination despite a government advisory against any non-essential travel.

Mark Machin resigned his position as president and CEO of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board after disclosing in a memo to staff that he travelled to the United Arab Emirates, where he received a COVID-19 vaccination.

In the memo viewed by The Canadian Press and sent to CPP Investments staff Thursday evening, Machin said that he remains in Dubai with his partner “for many reasons, some of which are deeply personal” and that he followed all travel protocols related to his job.

“This was a very personal trip and was undertaken after careful consideration and consultation,” the memo reads. 

Watch: Covid-19 vaccine holiday packages spark controversy. Story continues below.

 

CPP Investments didn’t respond to a query asking why Machin travelled or whether the board had approved of the trip in advance as part of the consultation process.

It has not offered any comment on the situation beyond a press release noting Machin’s resignation after discussions with the board and the resulting appointment of John Graham as CEO.

The federal government’s advisory asking Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel outside the country has been in place for almost a year. This month, Ottawa implemented stricter quarantine measures for those returning from international destinations.

The advisories and measures, however, have not stopped several prominent Canadians from heading abroad or making special trips to secure a vaccine ahead of schedule.

Former Great Canadian Gaming Corp. chief executive Rodney Baker and his wife Ekaterina Baker allegedly chartered a plane to the small community of Beaver Creek, Yukon in January and posed as local motel workers to receive COVID-19 shots at a mobile clinic.

They were ticketed for violating the territory’s Civil Emergency Measures Act, which carries fines of up to $1,000, plus fees.

Great Canadian gaming announced Baker’s departure a few days after the alleged incident.

Incidents such as these have led companies to create policies that require board permission for executives to travel or even removing to locations beyond corporate headquarters, said Richard Leblanc, a professor of governance, law and ethics at York University.

Machin alluded to CPP Investments policies in his message to staff but the fund did not respond to a question about its policies around executive travel.

Executives are closely associated with the brand of an organization even when they’re not at work, so Leblanc said they have to manage reputational risk for the company and its board of directors at all times.

“You shouldn’t have to say to a CEO, ‘We can’t jump the queue (for the vaccine),’ but certainly, you need to come to the board when you have any non-essential travel requests,” he said.

“That’s not inappropriate because ... you have a succession issue if you have to fire your current CEO and boards don’t want to get caught flat-footed.”

The move to appoint Graham, previously CPP Investment’s global head of credit investments, as chief executive ― was made swiftly and on a permanent basis, which Leblanc said shows the fund was well-prepared.

What Machin, who is in his mid-fifties, did isn’t illegal, but is “troubling” because Canada is focusing on vaccinating the most elderly and at risk people first, added Leblanc.

There doesn’t appear to be a compelling reason for Machin to get the vaccine early, said Leblanc.

“In other words, he’s not a front-line worker, he doesn’t appear to be at risk.”

Also, there are plenty of recent examples of the professional troubles that can result from travelling amid a pandemic that should have acted as a deterrent, said Leblanc.

The former CEO of the London Health Sciences Centre, for example, is now embroiled in litigation after his travel to the U.S. prompted the hospital to terminate his contract.

Former Ontario finance minister Rod Phillips faced a storm of criticism when he took a personal trip to St. Barts in December and eventually resigned from his post.

A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said that while CPPIB is an independent organization, the Machin revelation is “very troubling.”

“The federal government has been clear with Canadians that now is not the time to travel abroad,″ Katherine Cuplinskas said in an emailed statement.

“We were not made aware of this travel and further questions should be directed to the CPPIB on this matter.”

CPP Investments, which had $475.7 billion in assets under management as of Dec. 31, invests money on behalf of retired and active employees covered by the Canada Pension Plan.

Canadian Banks Urged To Cut Rates, Suspend Payments As Profits Soar

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The headquarters of CIBC in downtown Toronto, with a TD Canada Trust tower and the RBC complex on the right.

Canada’s major banks are making bigger profits today than they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, and some consumer advocates say they should be carrying more of the cost of supporting struggling households and businesses.

They are calling on Canada to follow Australia and Britain’s lead in charging “excess profit” taxes on banks, while urging lenders to cut their customers a break in a time of crisis.

As of midday Friday, nearly 80,000 people had signed a petition organized by Democracy Watch calling on the banks to halve their interest rates to consumers and suspend debt repayments for anyone who needs it. 

The petition also calls for a cap on bank CEOs’ salaries, and for independent audits of banks’ books to see how much profit they charge in each section of their business ― a move consumer advocates say would expose “gouging” where it exists.

Watch: Canada’s banking industry ‘not motivated to innovate.’ Story continues below.

 

Credit card interest rates are “so obviously an area of gouging,” said Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch. “The (banks’) prime lending rate has gone down by almost seven percentage points since 2010, and credit card rates have dropped zero percentage points.”

Canada’s big six banks raked up a total $13.9 billion in profit in the first quarter of fiscal 2021, which ended Jan. 31, up some 14 per cent from the same period a year earlier, before pandemic lockdowns had begun.

Each of the Big Six saw their profits rise, led by CIBC (up 34 per cent) and Bank of Montreal (up 27 per cent).

Much of that increase came from trading ― thanks to a booming stock market ― and from much lower provisions for loan losses. Retail banking ― the part of banks’ business that deals with regular consumers ― showed little growth over the year.

Some progressive voices, such as the NDP, have suggested a temporary “excess profit tax” on businesses that see a windfall during the pandemic. Conacher would like to see a permanent new tax on banks, similar to the ones the U.K. and Australia have instituted in recent years.

The U.K charges an 8-per-cent surcharge on bank profits, while Australia in 2017 launched an additional tax on the total amount of lending on the books of its big four banks, amounting to about 10 per cent of their profits.

Laws like that are “a way of recognizing that the banks have enormous market share and are gouging,” Conacher said.

You go around Toronto, a lot of the Money Marts are in former bank branch locations. They just stepped right in. It’s just ridiculous.Duff Conacher, Democracy Watch

Rather than an arbitrary cap on credit card interest rates, as some U.S. states have done, Conacher would rather have the banks submit to independent audits of their books that would show exactly how much money they make in each section of their business, something they don’t need to do under current reporting laws.

“If an auditor-general released a report showing a 2,000-per-cent profit margin (in some part of a bank’s business), people would be outraged. Interest rates would come down the next day,” Conacher told HuffPost Canada.

Canada’s lenders offered some emergency support to their retail customers at the start of the pandemic, dropping credit card rates to around 11 per cent, from their regular 20-per-cent range, for customers in financial trouble. 

They also allowed deferrals of up to six months on mortgage payments, which 15 per cent of mortgage borrowers took advantage of at the peak last summer. But interest continued to accrue on those mortgages, meaning those borrowers will end up paying more than they otherwise would. 

Discrimination in lending

Democracy Watch is also calling on Ottawa to catch up with the U.S. on laws against discriminatory lending practices. 

The group is calling for audits of banks to reveal lending according to race, gender and neighbourhood.

If that happens, “I think we’ll find discriminatory patterns of lending based on race, including (against) Indigneous people, and based on gender,” Conacher said.

“And you’ll see that banks essentially do take money out of some neighbourhoods and don’t lend back to them.”

Conacher notes Canada has no equivalent to the U.S. Community Reinvestment Act, a 1977 law that requires banks to reveal how much lending they do in low-income neighbourhoods, and to rectify the situation if they are not reinvesting in certain communities where they have customers.

Conacher is calling on the federal government to require banks to reopen branches in low-income neighbourhoods, which they were allowed to close in the 1990s under then-Finance Minister Paul Martin.

Those bank branches were often replaced by predatory payday lenders, Conacher said.

“You go around Toronto, a lot of the Money Marts are in former bank branch locations. They just stepped right in. It’s just ridiculous.”

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

The federal Liberals have taken some flak from the left on the issue of banks, with the NDP last summer saying the government has done little to stop banks from “profiteering” amid the pandemic.

“During the Second World War, there were laws against profiteering,” NDP Finance Critic Peter Julian said. “We need similar leadership from the federal government at this critical time.”