Approved oilsands project now awaits pipeline capacity increases: developer

Approved oilsands project now awaits pipeline capacity increases: developer

The developer of a 12,000-barrel-per-day thermal oilsands project approved Thursday by the Alberta government says actually going ahead with construction depends largely on when new pipelines can be in service.

President Serge Bisson of privately held Grizzly Oil Sands ULC says the company will now meet with its owners, Wexford Capital LP with 75 per cent and Gulfport Energy Corp. with 25 per cent, to discuss how to proceed with the May River project, which is estimated to cost more than $200 million to build.

He says he’s encouraged by a ceremony held this week near Edmonton to mark the start of pipeline construction for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Bisson says the approval has been a “long time in the making,” noting an application was filed six years ago with the Alberta Energy Regulator and the project was deemed complete about four years ago.

On its website, Grizzly says the May River property was purchased in 2012 for $225 million and the regulatory application filed in December 2013.

In a news release, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage says the approval shows the province is “open for business.”

The United Conservative government recently approved the 260,000-barrel-per-day, $20.6-billion Frontier oilsands mine proposed by Teck Resources Ltd. It also requires federal approvals to proceed.

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OPEC nations agree to further oil supply cut

OPEC nations agree to further oil supply cut

OPEC and allies led by Russia on Thursday agreed to one of the deepest output cuts this decade to prevent oversupply, in a deal that would apply for the first three months of 2020.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is meeting to discuss policy in Vienna. On Friday, OPEC will meet with Russia and other producers, a group known as OPEC+.

Existing supply curbs of 1.2 million barrels per day, aimed at supporting oil prices and preventing excess supply, are set to expire in March.

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said a panel of energy ministers including Saudi Arabia and Russia had recommended OPEC+ deepen the cuts by a further 500,000 barrels per day. A cut of 1.7 million barrels per day would amount to 1.7 per cent of global supply.

“We really do see some risks of oversupply in the first quarter due to lower seasonal demand for refined products and for crude oil,” Novak said.

He said cuts would last through the first quarter of 2020, a shorter timeframe than suggested by some OPEC ministers, who have called for extending cuts until June or December 2020.

OPEC+ has agreed to voluntary supply cuts since 2017 to counter booming output from the shale fields of the United States, which has become the world’s biggest producer.

Washington has forced an even steeper reduction in supply through sanctions on OPEC members Iran and Venezuela aimed at choking both countries’ oil export revenue.

Saudi IPO colours their stance

Producers face another year of rising output from the United States along with other non-OPEC producers Brazil and Norway.

“With a weaker U.S. dollar, improving economic data and OPEC aggressively managing supply, this should ensure a $60-$65 Brent oil price in the seasonally weak period of next year,” said Gary Ross, founder of Black Gold Investors.

OPEC’s actions have supported oil prices at around $50-$75 per barrel over the past year. Brent crude futures on Thursday extended this week’s gains to trade above $63 per barrel.

Non-OPEC member Russia had previously opposed extending or deepening cuts as its companies are arguing that reducing output during winter months amid low temperatures damages the fields.

Saudi Arabia was more keen on reducing output as the kingdom needs higher oil prices to support its budget revenue and the initial public offering (IPO) of Saudi Aramco.

On Thursday, the state oil giant priced its IPO at the top of its price range, raising $25.6 billion and topping Alibaba’s record $25 billion listing in 2014.

OPEC’s actions in the past have angered Donald Trump, but the U.S. president has said little about OPEC in recent months. That might change if oil and gasoline prices rise ahead of the U.S. presidential election set for November 2020.

OPEC sources have said Riyadh was pressing fellow members Iraq and Nigeria to improve their compliance with quotas, which could provide an additional reduction of up to 400,000 bpd.

“Saudi Arabia is pushing for deeper cuts to try and shore up prices,” said Amrita Sen, co-founder of Energy Aspects. “However, deeper compliance is imperative and hence the deal will last only for one quarter so that they can assess compliance then.”

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Labrador-based bitcoin miner goes bankrupt, owing taxpayers hundreds of thousands

Labrador-based bitcoin miner goes bankrupt, owing taxpayers hundreds of thousands

A company that ran data processing centres in Labrador has gone bankrupt.

Great North Data hosted bitcoin mining operations and processed artificial intelligence algorithms at facilities in Labrador City and Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

According to bankruptcy documents filed late last month, the company listed $13.2 million in liabilities against just $4.6 million in assets.

The federal and provincial governments are owed some of that cash.

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) is an unsecured creditor for $281,675.

The Newfoundland and Labrador government’s Business Investment Corporation is owed $313,718. That amount is secured by Great North Data’s building and land in Labrador City, and machinery and equipment.

Federal, provincial contributions in 2015 and 2016

The company received an infusion of $500,000 from ACOA in late 2015, in the form of an unconditionally repayable contribution.

ACOA officials declined to provide more details, saying specific information related to the terms and conditions of a contribution agreement — including the status of repayments — is subject to client confidentiality. 

In an emailed statement, the federal agency said officials “are in contact with the client and are closely following all developments” involving the company.

Great North Data received another $420,000 from the province between January and August 2016.

Officials in Newfoundland and Labrador’s innovation department haven’t yet provided additional information in response to requests from CBC News.

Website now offline

In 2017, a Hong Kong-based bitcoin mining firm sued Great North Data in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court. That legal dispute remains unresolved.

Great North Data’s website is now offline.

But an archived version notes that the company was founded in 2013, and grew “from a basement startup to a major provider of processing capacity in Atlantic Canada.”

In addition to the federal and provincial funding agencies that are owed money, Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro is listed as an unsecured creditor for another $316,477.

And the Business Development Bank of Canada, a federal Crown corporation, is on the unsecured creditors’ list for $225,000.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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Alberta Energy Regulator weighing ‘further action’ against former executives

Alberta Energy Regulator vows to strengthen public confidence following damning ICORE probes

Alberta’s oil and gas regulator is weighing “further action” against some of its former executives following three provincial probes into a now-defunct international training centre called ICORE.

Bev Yee, interim chair of the Alberta Energy Regulator, told a legislative committee this week the public agency has strengthened its policies in the time since the investigations wrapped up this fall.

Asked whether there was anything in its policies that would allow for further investigation or action against those involved, Yee indicated the AER may not be finished dealing with former staff with ties to ICORE.

“The interim board has opted to retain external counsel, which we have already done, to get some advice around that matter, whether there is further action that we could be taking against those individuals,” she said Tuesday.

“We have yet to receive that advice but we expect to receive that quite shortly.”

Yee did not elaborate on what kind of action might be under consideration.

No one at the AER was available to discuss the matter with CBC News, but the regulator issued a short statement saying its board of directors “is currently using outside counsel to evaluate possible options.”

The Alberta Energy Regulator, which is funded by a levy charged to the energy sector, oversees the province’s oil and gas sector and is expected to ensure safe and environmentally responsible development.

Earlier this year, Alberta’s auditor general, public interest commissioner and ethics commissioner launched probes into the AER’s establishment of the International Centre for Regulatory Excellence, or ICORE, in 2017.

They found resources were wrongfully used to establish the centre outside the AER’s mandate, while its former CEO Jim Ellis displayed “reckless and wilful disregard” for proper management of public funds.

The auditor general’s report said controls to track and monitor expenses related to ICORE activities were at first non-existent and then poorly implemented.

It also reported the tone at the top at AER did not support a strong control environment or compliance with policies and that a “culture of fear” at the AER stifled concerns regarding ICORE activities.

The auditor general estimated the total financial impact of ICORE activities on the AER totalled $5.4 million, though $3.1 million was recouped. The AER is still out of pocket $2.3 million, according to October’s report.

Yee told the committee on Tuesday that the activity related to ICORE was driven by a few key individuals and that those individuals are no longer employed by the AER.

UCP MLA Drew Barnes asked Yee during the meeting whether those individuals received any severance. 

Yee said of the five individuals who were involved, only one received severance, noting the departure occurred prior to the board receiving the results of the ICORE probes and that there was a contractual agreement in place.

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U.S. doubles number of 5-year bans on travellers from Canada

U.S. doubles number of 5-year bans on travellers from Canada

The number of travellers from Canada hit with a long-term ban when trying to enter the U.S. has almost doubled, new data shows.

Between October 2018 and September 2019, U.S. border officers issued expedited removals — which “generally” result in a minimum five-year ban — to 616 travellers attempting to enter the U.S. by land from Canada. That’s an almost 100 per cent increase compared with 312 in the previous 12-month period. The statistics were provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

The spike in expedited removals — which are issued without a hearing — comes as no surprise to some immigration lawyers, who say that in their experience, suspect cases that used to result in a simple denied entry can now lead to a five-year ban.

“If they just think you’re being sneaky, that’s all it takes,” said Vancouver-based immigration lawyer Andrew Hayes. “The benefit of the doubt is not being afforded to people.”

CBP offered no explanation for the surge in expedited removals, telling CBC News there have been no recent policy changes. 

Blaine, Wash., immigration lawyer Len Saunders said he’s been swamped with calls from Canadians, distraught and confused over receiving a five-year ban.

But several lawyers told CBC they believe U.S. President Donald Trump’s tough stance on immigration may be influencing U.S. border officers along the northern border. 

“He gives the officers more comfort in issuing expedited removals, that they’ll at least be backed up by the U.S. government,” said immigration lawyer Len Saunders, whose office sits close to the Canadian border in Blaine, Wash.

Canadians residents made 25 million round-trips by vehicle to the U.S. from January to September 2019, a decline of 3.6 per cent from the same period in 2018. 

‘Followed all the rules’

Saunders said he’s been swamped over the past six months with calls from distraught Canadians, questioning why they were issued a five-year ban.

“These aren’t criminals,” he said. “They may have a lack of documentation, they may be naive, but there’s no justification under immigration laws to give a five-year bar to these Canadians.”

He said all his clients fighting five-year bans tried to cross the U.S. border from Alberta or B.C. 

Colle attended university in the U.S. on a track and field scholarship, but now his dreams of working in the country are on hold. (submitted by Stephane Colle)

Saunders’s clients include Stephane Colle, who found his dreams of working in the U.S. on hold after he tried to enter the country from Alberta and got hit with a five-year ban. 

“I don’t think I deserve this,” said Colle who lives in Saint-Eustache, Que. “I followed all the rules.”

The 31-year-old earned two master’s degrees at the University of Idaho while on a track and field scholarship. After finishing school and returning home to Canada in July, Colle received a job offer as an athletic trainer at a university in Iowa.

Armed with documentation from the university, he crossed the border from Alberta to Montana Aug. 2 to request a non-immigrant NAFTA professional (TN) work visa, which can be obtained at the U.S. border. 

Even though “athletic trainer” wasn’t on the list of accepted professions, the university had thought it would be applicable under the category of medical/allied professional.

However, it appears Colle’s prospective job didn’t qualify because CBP declared him an “immigrant without an immigrant visa” and issued him a five-year ban.   

“I tried to apply for a job legally,” said Colle, who feels the ban was unjustified. 

“It’s just hard for me to understand why this would even happen.”

He plans to file for a waiver that would allow him to enter the U.S., but it will cost him close to $4,000 in lawyer and administrative fees, with no guarantees of success.

‘I burst into laughter’

Kyle Kuchirka of Saskatoon is also baffled by his five-year ban. It was issued on Aug. 29 after he tried to cross the U.S. border between B.C. and Washington state to volunteer at an arts festival.

At the time, the 25-year-old actor was temporarily unemployed and didn’t have documents to prove he was only volunteering. U.S. border law says Canadians don’t need a visa to enter the country for volunteer work if they can prove that their work won’t be compensated.

Kuchirka said he didn’t know the rules and doesn’t think his error should result in a five-year ban.

“The border patrol officer even said to me … I believe that you genuinely didn’t know what sort of documentation you should have, but I have to bar you for five years,” he said. 

“I burst into laughter. I was dumbfounded.”

Kyle Kuchirka said he was ‘dumbfounded’ when he got a five-year ban after trying to enter the U.S. A border officer wrote ‘ordered removed’ in his passport. (Jason Warick/CBC)

Saunders said that previously in cases where someone erred with their documentation, U.S. border officer would typically just turn them back.

“Show me the violation,” he said. “Just because you don’t have proper documents does not justify an expedited removal, but that’s how they’re using it.”

CBP wouldn’t comment directly on Colle’s or Kauchirka’s case. It said that border officers make decisions on a case-by-case basis given the evidence at the time. Non-U.S. citizens “bear the burden of proof” to show that they’re eligible to enter the U.S., said spokesperson Stephanie Malin in an email. 

Lawyer Hayes said he’s concerned the surge in five-year bans could inspire people to lie at the border to avoid raising any suspicions.

“By sometimes penalizing people that are honest — but get it wrong — it encourages other people to be dishonest.”

Saunders said he hopes the U.S. re-examines its stance on issuing expedited removals at the northern border.

“It definitely is a black eye for the Americans, when you’re looking at [it] from a Canadian standpoint.”

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Alberta Energy Regulator vows to strengthen public confidence following damning ICORE probes

Alberta Energy Regulator vows to strengthen public confidence following damning ICORE probes

The interim chair of the Alberta Energy Regulator is pledging to strengthen public confidence in the agency following a series of damning reports on an international centre it had created.

The AER has been under scrutiny since Alberta’s auditor general, public interest commissioner and ethics commissioner launched probes this year into the now-defunct International Centre for Regulatory Excellence, or ICORE.

They found resources were wrongfully used to establish the centre outside the AER’s mandate, while its former CEO Jim Ellis displayed “reckless and wilful disregard” for proper management of public funds.

On Tuesday, the regulator’s new interim chair, Bev Yee, outlined for MLAs what steps the AER has taken in the weeks since the reports’ findings were released in October.

She told members of the legislature’s public accounts committee the board has updated the AER’s whistleblower policy, revised the travel and expenditure review policies, and made changes to the AER’s internal code of conduct. 

She said those steps, and others, are aimed at improving internal controls and oversight.

“Through these steps we will strengthen confidence in the AER,” Yee said.

For one, she said its whistleblower policy now has process for escalating complaints to the board level if the CEO or a member of the executive leadership team is alleged to be involved.

Alberta Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler, left, Public Interest Commissioner Marianne Ryan, centre, and Auditor General Doug Wylie speak in Edmonton on Oct. 4, sharing their findings from their respective independent investigations into the activities related to the International Centre of Regulatory Excellence (ICORE). (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

The travel and training policy has also been updated to ensure funding for training requests is connected to the AER’s mandated work and has the appropriate levels of executive approvals for any travel.

Yee told the committee the activity related to ICORE was driven by a few key individuals and that those individuals are no longer employed by the AER.

In his report last fall, Auditor General Doug Wylie said controls to track and monitor expenses related to ICORE activities were at first non-existent and then poorly implemented.

He also reported the tone at the top at AER did not support a strong control environment or compliance with policies and that a “culture of fear” at the AER stifled concerns regarding ICORE activities.

Yee said the board is reaching out to its employees to try to address concerns about that culture and reassure staff it is safe for them to talk about difficult issues.

“This culture of fear has come up to us repeatedly, and it seems that it’s not just from the top, it seems to be at many levels in the organization,” Yee said.

NDP MLA Shannon Phillips suggested it will important for the regulator to demonstrate publicly exactly how it is addressing those concerns.

The AER, funded by a levy charged to the energy sector, oversees the oil and gas industry and is expected to ensure the safe and environmentally responsible development.

During a press conference in September, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said the government would review the Alberta Energy Regulator through a variety of avenues. (Helen Pike)

Yee told the committee “at no time” did the actions related to ICORE detract from the delivery of the AER’s regulatory responsibilities.

Still, during Tuesday’s meeting, UCP MLA Jordan Walker called the ICORE matter a “debacle.”

His colleague, Searle Turton, asked Yee what steps the regulator has taken to address the governance and oversight issues at the regulator so that a situation like ICORE doesn’t happen again.

She said the interim board has financial, regulatory and industry expertise and is capable of asking tough questions. She said the board is also reviewing its mandate and rules document and looking for ways to enhance accountability. 

The UCP government launched a review of the AER in September, saying there were questions about “operational efficiencies, executive oversight and budgetary spending practices” at the public agency.

Reviewing the AER was a part of the UCP provincial election platform. 

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Trump says China trade deal might have to wait until after 2020 election

Trump says China trade deal might have to wait until after 2020 election

U.S. President Donald Trump said a trade agreement with China might have to wait until after the presidential election in November 2020, denting hopes of a quick resolution to the dispute that has weighed on the world economy.

“I have no deadline, no. In some ways I think I think it’s better to wait until after the election with China,” Trump told reporters in London, where he was due to attend a meeting of NATO leaders.

“But they want to make a deal now, and we’ll see whether or not the deal’s going to be right, it’s got to be right.”

European share prices and the Chinese yuan currency fell on Trump’s comments.

Investors have been hoping the United States and China can avert an escalation of their trade tensions, which have slowed global economic growth.

Washington and Beijing have yet to ink a so-called “Phase 1” agreement announced in October, which had raised hopes of a de-escalation in their prolonged trade war.

Trump said a deal with China would only happen if he wanted it to, and he thought he was doing well in the talks.

“I’m doing very well on a deal with China, if I want to make it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s up to if they want to make it, it’s if I want to make it. We’ll see what happens. … they’re going to find out pretty soon.”

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CFIA cancels licences of 3 companies in massive meat recall

CFIA cancels licences of 3 companies in massive meat recall

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says it has cancelled the licenses of three companies tied to a massive meat recall that ensnared nearly 900 beef and veal products.

The CFIA says in a statement it cancelled the Safe Food for Canadians licenses of Ryding-Regency Meat Packers Ltd, as well as two others operating under St. Ann’s Foods Inc.: Canadian Select Meats Inc. and The Beef Boutique Ltd.

The agency says these companies are no longer able to slaughter food animals or prepare meat products, including to export or send to other provinces or territories.

The CFIA says it made the decision after an investigation identified the licence holders provided false or misleading information to the agency about E. coli lab results.

The agency launched the investigation in September to look into possible E. coli contamination of some beef and veal products sold by the companies.

A spokesman for Ryding-Regency did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while the publicly listed number for St. Ann’s was not in service.

The CFIA previously suspended the licenses for all three holders in September while it conducted its investigation.

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Catalyst Capital Group extends key deadline for HBC offer

Catalyst Capital Group extends key deadline for HBC offer

Catalyst Capital Group Inc. has extended a deadline for the board of Hudson’s Bay Co. to formally accept its offer letter until 5 p.m. ET today.

The investment firm has made an unsolicited offer of $11 per share in cash for HBC, topping a friendly offer of $10.30 made by a group of investors led by HBC executive chairman Richard Baker.

Catalyst says it extended the deadline, which was to expire Nov. 29, at the request of a special committee of the board at HBC because of what it called “indications of positive progress.”

The special committee has said it would review the offer in consultation with its independent financial and legal advisers.

The Baker-led offer requires support from a majority of the HBC shareholders, excluding the shareholders behind the bid and their affiliates, as well as approval by a 75 per cent majority vote at a special meeting of shareholders.

Catalyst said in October that it and other minority shareholders that together control a 28.24 per cent stake of the company’s common shares plan to vote against the offer by the Baker-led group.

“We have granted the extension requested by the HBC special committee based on indications of positive progress and we look forward to working with them to complete a transaction based on our superior offer in a timely manner,” said Gabriel de Alba, managing director and partner of Catalyst.

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Often cited as a ‘gold mine’ for alternative work, Alberta’s tech sector now faces uncertain future

Often cited as a 'gold mine' for alternative work, Alberta's tech sector now faces uncertain future

It wasn’t so long ago that Calgary’s burgeoning tech sector was being held up as a potential case study in diversification, a lighthouse to chart a course toward in a province rocked from oil-and-gas downturns.

Six months ago, many technology companies even said they had multiple positions left unfilled, citing the high skill levels required of any potential hires.

But changes introduced in Alberta’s provincial budget — including the elimination of grants many tech companies relied on — have forced Calgary’s tech sector to wrestle with a very different future.

Five tax credits — including the Alberta Investor Tax Credit (AITC) and the Capital Investment Tax Credit — were axed in the budget, and are expected to save $400 million by 2022-23, according to the government.

Speaking at a Calgary Chamber of Commerce luncheon in October, Finance Minister Travis Toews said returning Alberta’s budget to balance was “job No. 1,” and that diversification of revenues was a “luxury.”

Justin Brattinga, a spokesperson for the minister of economic development, trade and tourism, wrote in a statement that the tax credits were “administratively heavy and limited in scope.”

“We are redirecting resources into an investment attraction strategy as part of budget 2020,” he wrote. “This strategy will support growing sectors such as tech, data and telecom while also supporting the pillars of Alberta’s economy such as energy and agriculture.

“We look forward to gathering input from the tech sector on the best way to attract investment across Alberta.”

It’s not all bleak — some, including ZayZoon CEO Darcy Tuer, believe that Alberta’s desirability and livability will help to continue to draw talent to the province. Saturday, some of Calgary’s biggest tech companies like Benevity and Showpass hosted a hiring fair as part of what’s being called Tech West Collective.

But the new reality also means many smaller tech companies will have to find new ways forward — which, so far, has meant many have had to lay off employees and others have had to consider whether they have a future in the province at all.

‘A shift away from innovation’

Chad Saunders, an assistant professor at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, said the provincial budget seemed to indicate the government was looking to rely on larger companies.

“They’ve reduced the corporate tax burden, and that seems to be the current strategy. That’s certainly good, that will definitely benefit the business community,” Saunders said. “But when you look at the small companies, especially the small tech companies, often they don’t really hit that burden anyway, because they’re not making money yet. They’re still early stage.”

The Alberta budget slashes the corporate tax rate from 12 to eight per cent by 2022-23. However, that tax rate only applies to businesses making over $500,000 per year in profit.

There will certainly be some short-term financial gains in terms of cost savings, but it potentially is at the expense of long-term competitiveness.– Chad Saunders, University of Calgary professor

Saunders said the elimination of the AITC would particularly impact small tech companies, as that program provided seed money for startups.

“These small startup companies in the tech sector really rely upon [the AITC]. This is the money that the angel investors that seed these businesses, this is the kind of incentive they’re looking for,” he said. “It’s not going to probably stop these folks from investing, but it’ll give them a moment of pause, for sure.”

The AITC offered a 30 per cent tax credit to investors who provided equity capital to small businesses in Alberta working with new technology and products. An additional five per cent tax credit was added in February for investments in companies that met diversity criteria.

“So [that was] really to incentivize people to invest in companies with more gender diversity, Indigenous, visible minorities and so on,” Saunders said. 

Chad Saunders, an assistant professor at the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary, said the most recent provincial budget indicated a strategy to move away from innovation in small business. (CBC)

While some Albertans might feel companies should not be relying on government programs to stay afloat, Saunders said risk comes inherent within innovative sectors.

“Consequently, that’s why most jurisdictions help them get started early on, because they need that helping hand to begin with,” he said. “If the tax credits are gone, and they’ve already made their plans and this change has been imposed, then that’s definitely going to lead to negative consequences like reducing investment and layoffs … they’re going to have second thoughts.

“They’ll think about not doing it at all, or doing it in a jurisdiction where it will be more favourable.”

And while cutting the tax credits are expected to save the government $400 million by 2022-23, Saunders said innovations in the tech sector — though initially niche in their early stages — often become more broad-based and applicable years down the line, including in the energy sector.

“To me, it’s not really clear that this is not going to have long-term impacts, even on the sectors [the government] is trying to support,” Saunders said. “A lot of innovation comes from these small companies, and if you don’t have that regular infusion of these ideas in innovation, then this sort of permeates fairly quickly across the entire economy.

“There will certainly be some short-term financial gains in terms of cost savings, but it potentially is at the expense of long-term competitiveness.”

Feeling the shift

The elimination of those tax credits has had a direct impact already on many local technology companies.

Brett Colvin is the CEO of Goodlawyer, an online marketplace for micro-legal services. Colvin, a former lawyer, said the company had raised just more than $450,000 under the tax credit and received more grants from Alberta Innovates.

“When they froze the credit, that was definitely some wind out of our sails,” Colvin said. “It’s definitely going to have a huge impact for my company going forward and many other startup companies and companies in the technology space.”

From left: Parker Smith, Brett Colvin, Tom Alvarez and Steve Bodi are part of the team at Goodlawyer, an online legal services marketplace, founded in Calgary. As an early-stage tech company, Colvin said the provincial budget seemed to deliver a message: “we don’t really care about you.” (Submitted)

Considering similar tax credits are still in place in other Canadian provinces, including Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, Colvin said he had to give real thought to where the Goodlawyer headquarters would be located long-term.

There’s definitely a real possibility that we’ll have to leave Calgary.– Brett Colvin, CEO of Goodlawyer

“You just can’t raise capital from your own local network the same as you can in these other prairie provinces,” he said. “We were able to raise a bit more money under the credit before it was gone, so we’ve got a good amount of runway for 2020.

“But when I start thinking beyond 2020, there’s definitely a real possibility that we’ll have to leave Calgary, just because it will be easier to raise money as a Saskatchewan-based company or a Manitoba-based company.”

‘Investors are bearish’

Rena Tabata is the CEO of Think Tank Innovation, the team behind ShareSmart, a platform developed to allow secure mobile communication in health care.

She said though she recognized the need for some austerity in Alberta’s budget, she was disappointed to see a shift in support away from knowledge and tech sector jobs. 

“I think every time there’s an oil and gas bust, our lack of preemptive diversification will continue to rear its ugly head,” she said.

The Calgary-based Think Tank Innovation specializes in communication solutions for healthcare and the defense sector and have been in the market since 2015. (Rena Tabata)

Despite the elimination of the tax credits, Tabata said Calgary still had a pool of talented and technically-oriented workers, which could prove to be an asset given the continued downturn.

“Given the economic climate, there are a lot of people that want to jump the fence from the oil and gas sector and try their share in the tech sector,” she said.

And much as her company has had global aspirations for her platform from day one, Tabata said local tech companies may also have to look elsewhere on their finances after the budget release.

“People who have traditionally had appetites to invest in Alberta are bearish about how companies in Alberta are going to fare. There’s no longer sweetener to really favour Alberta companies over companies anywhere else in the world,” she said. “So our strategies need to be globally-oriented, and that will become more and more important until there’s clarity as to what replacement programs might look like for the tech sector.”

Road ahead

ZayZoon is a local financial technology company that allows employees to access their wages early by utilizing an online platform on smartphones and computers.

“I’d say there are some great things about the Calgary tech scene and there are some challenging things,” Tuer said.

Tuer cited Calgary’s livability, availability of desirable office space, and groundswell of excitement around tech startups as being reason to be optimistic about the local tech scene. 

“Startup Calgary had their Launch Event a few weeks ago … they had a 100 per cent increase in attendance. I think there is a tremendous amount of excitement around Calgary and all these tech startups and the opportunity for people to start to diversify their experience and careers into industries outside, or one degree removed, from oil and gas,” Tuer said.

I think people think of diversification as, well, we’re building technology that’s totally independent of oil and gas. I think that’s wrong. – Darcy Tuer, ZayZoon CEO

Though Tuer said ZayZoon was able to raise approximately $15 million in seed financing locally, scale capital effectively “doesn’t exist” in Calgary.

“Outside of super angel investors, there’s a very, very sparse group of organizations or individuals,” he said. “So companies like ZayZoon, we have to go elsewhere … that’s a real challenge here locally that we need to address.”

Though not every company that accessed AITC would prosper, Tuer said a few of them would, and likely go on to become “$100-million-plus” companies.

“I think there’s some shortsightedness [in the provincial budget]. I think people think of diversification as, well, we’re building technology that’s totally dependent on oil and gas, and I think that’s wrong,” he said. “I think we need to recognize that we can’t solely depend on the backbone of today, because that backbone today may not be our backbone 10 years from now.

“I think we need to create opportunity for other industries to emerge.”

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