As Edmontonians lined up to buy legal cannabis from retail stores on Wednesday, Elina Childs saw a business opportunity.
The nine-year-old Girl Guide and her father showed up at Nova Cannabis just south of Whyte Avenue, pulling a wagon filled with top-shelf munchies: sandwich cookies and mint thins.
She sold all 30 boxes in less than 45 minutes, earning $120 for Girl Guides.
“It amazed me how quickly they went,” said her dad, Childs. “Even people in cars driving on the avenue there would stop and roll down their window and ask for cookies.”
Elina had to go back to school Thursday, so she couldn’t come to the phone to talk to CBC News. But Seann Childs said his daughter has previously sold cookies door to door in their neighbourhood. People aren’t always home, Childs said, so it’s not always successful. Last year, Elina was bitten by a dog.
Her dad came up with the idea of selling Girl Guides cookies to customers in line for legal cannabis after hearing that Scouts had used similar sales tactics when cannabis was legalized in California.
He asked Elina if she’d want to try, and said she was excited to give it a shot.
Elina has cystic fibrosis, so she usually can’t be around people who are smoking. But Childs said he saw it as an opportunity for her to benefit from smoking for one day — and demystify cannabis legalization.
“We were looking at it as an opportunity to educate her on what marijuana is and the fact that it’s legal in Canada now,” Childs said.
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The pair walked up and down the lineup, which stretched around the block the entire day. Elina got to see that those looking to buy cannabis weren’t just one type of person, Childs said.
They met people of all ages; some with their dogs.
Childs said his daughter has always had an adventurous entrepreneurial spirit.
“Everybody we met was incredibly friendly, it was a great atmosphere and there was not a single thing going on in that line that I saw that I would just say, ‘Oh, my god, I need to shield your eyes from this,'” he said.
“Everybody was respectful, everybody was happy, and she walked away from it as this incredibly positive experience as well as selling out all her Brownie cookies. She can go and be happy that she’d done that and help support the Guides too.”
Former prime minister Brian Mulroney, whose government once introduced legislation to keep marijuana in the same legal category as heroin, hasn’t merely become a born-again weed evangelical — he now says Canada is poised to influence the rest of the world to join the cannabis bandwagon.
“I’m saying the government’s position that was taken yesterday is the way to go,” Mulroney told CBC News Thursday.
“It takes a while for certain people and certain things to catch up with reality and great social advances — as I’ve indicated — come in waves. And this is one of the waves that I think will have Canada showing the way for the rest of the world.”
It was announced yesterday that Mulroney is joining the board of Acreage Holdings, a New York-based marijuana company that also counts former U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner and former Massachusetts governor William Weld among its directors.
It’s a long way from his stance in the early 1990s, when Mulroney’s government introduced Bill C-85 — which would have entrenched marijuana in the same legal category as LSD and heroin.
Mulroney is not the first high-profile political figure to switch sides in the cannabis debate and take advantage of the commercial opportunities legalization offers.
Julian Fantino, Toronto’s former chief of police and a Conservative cabinet minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper, has become chairman of the board for 48North, a medicinal marijuana company.
That’s a significant course correction for a longtime opponent of marijuana legalization who told the Toronto Sun in 2004 that legalization would not cut down on crime.
“I guess we can legalize murder too and then we won’t have a murder case,” Fantino said at the the time. “We can’t go that way.”
Fantino is following in the footsteps of another former cabinet minister — Liberal Herb Dhaliwal, who served in former prime minister Jean Chrétien’s cabinet. Dhaliwal founded cannabis producer National Green Biomed Ltd., based in the Fraser Valley.
If it’s a trend — political foes of legal recreational cannabis getting involved in the market once they’re out of politics — it’s one that doesn’t sit well with many, including current Liberal MP (and longtime legalization proponent) Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.
“I mean, there are lots of different words to describe that, and certainly, they’re adults and can make their own decisions, but one word that comes to mind is ‘hypocrisy’,” Erskine-Smith said Thursday.
Mulroney said he took policy positions while in office that did not single out cannabis, but rather were focused on curbing the use and spread of “lethal drugs” that were “floating around Canada big time, way back in the mid-’80s.”
The former prime minister said there has been a “sea change in attitudes in the reality of the use of cannabis” since his time in office — and his thinking has evolved as well.
Will the U.S. follow?
“You know, if you had told me … when I was in office 30 years ago that same-sex marriage would be on everybody’s radar screen today, I would have said, ‘That’s a bit of a stretch.’ But it is and that’s the way social advance occurs,” Mulroney said. “In the fullness of time, all of these important matters become accepted.”
Mulroney said he supports the federal government’s plan to offer pardons quickly, and free of charge, to people convicted of simple possession of cannabis; some of those people would have been convicted during his time as prime minister.
Going forward, Mulroney said he expects to see Canada’s example followed by our allies, and perhaps even by our neighbour to the south.
“Well, I don’t know if anything is imminent in the United States because the politics there are more complicated than in a parliamentary democracy like ours,” he said.
“But obviously, the good ideas over the last 200 years that have come from the U.S. usually find their way into Canada and other countries, and the same thing is true of Canada.”
Other politicians chasing the green
Here are some of the more high-profile former politicos in the marijuana trade now — and one whose move into the market didn’t quite work out.
Julian Fantino: After a long career in policing, Fantino became a Conservative MP and a cabinet minister under Stephen Harper. He is chairman of the board for Aleafia Inc., a medicinal cannabis company.
Martin Cauchon: A former Liberal MP and cabinet minister under Jean Chrétien, Cauchon was justice minister in 2003 when the government introduced a bill to decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis. He is chairman of the board for 48North, a medicinal marijuana company.
Terry Lake: The ex-mayor of Kamloops and former B.C. Liberal health minister is vice-president of corporate and social responsibility for HEXO Corp, a cannabis producer. The co-founder of the company is Adam Miron, who was once on the national board of directors for the Liberal Party of Canada.
Mike Harcourt: The former B.C. NDP premier has been chairman of the board for True Leaf Medicine International Ltd., which oversees two divisions — one for medicinal marijuana, the other for hemp-based products for pets.
Ernie Eves: The former Tory premier of Ontario is chairman of the board for Timeless Herbal Care, a Jamaican medicinal marijuana company, and Asterion BioMed Inc., a health company that also provides medicinal cannabis services.
Chuck Rifici: A one-time Liberal Party of Canada chief financial officer — he served as treasurer for five years until June 2016 — Rifici heads the private equity firm Nesta Holdings Co., which invests in cannabis companies.
John Turner: In 2014, Mulroney’s Liberal foe backed a bid by a company called Muileboom Organics to turn into a medicinal cannabis grower. Locals weren’t interested, the project didn’t go ahead and Turner backed out.
A majority of first-time homebuyers say they maxed out their budgets when they bought their homes, according to a survey released today by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.
The federal housing agency says its annual mortgage consumer study found that 85 per cent of first-time buyers reported spending the most they could afford on their property.
Despite this, 76 per cent say they were still confident that they would still be able to make their monthly mortgage payments.
CMHC says housing affordability continues to be the most important factor among first-time homebuyers, when compared to other factors such as neighbourhood, proximity to work and the condition of a home.
More than half of those concerned say they worried that they paid too much for their home, while one third say they worry about rising interest rates and qualifying for a mortgage.
The online survey, which was conducted in April, polled more than 4,000 Canadians who became mortgage consumers in the last year.
Homeowners with variable-rate mortgages have seen their rates rise over the past year as the Bank of Canada has raised its key interest rate target four times.
And now, with economists expecting the central bank to raise its target interest rate again next week, those who have continued to stick with the variable-rate option may again be thinking about converting to a fixed-rate mortgage.
Scott Evans, a financial planner at BlueShore Financial in North Vancouver, B.C., says you should ask yourself why you decided to choose a variable-rate mortgage in the first place and if anything has changed.
“Was it something that you really thought about or was it something that you just chose because it was the lower rate at the time,” he said.
The Bank of Canada has raised its key interest rate target by a quarter of a percentage point four times since July 2017, increasing it by a total of one percentage point to 1.5 per cent.
Those moves by the central bank have prompted the country’s big banks to raise their prime lending rates, taking the amount charged on variable rate mortgages higher.
“Historically, you’ve been better off in a variable rate as far as rates go, but rates do fluctuate and if you see rates go up more of your payment will be going toward interest rather than principal,” Evans said.
“If that’s something that keeps you up at night then I think, yes, you should be looking at a fixed.”
Omar Abouzaher, regional vice-president at Bank of Montreal, says the majority of the bank’s customers go for fixed-rate mortgages, opting for the certainty they provide over the term of the loan.
“We are in a rising interest rate environment and it is always good to have a pulse check basically and have a mortgage review with your bank just to review where you are and assess your options,” he said.
Abouzaher said switching to a fixed-rate mortgage can give you peace of mind because you will know what the interest rate you will be charged for the term of your loan.
“You are not subjected to any fluctuations or surprises,” he said.
But converting to a fixed-rate mortgage does not come without down sides.
A fixed-rate mortgage will have a higher rate than you are currently playing. The savings come if rates continue to rise, but if you lock in and rates don’t continue to rise or even reverse course, you could end up paying more in interest than you would have if you stuck with the variable-rate loan.
The penalty to break a fixed-rate mortgage before it is up is also generally higher than the cost to get out of a variable-rate loan early.
“If you’re planning on selling your house and you’re planning on purchasing a new property, if you want to get out of your mortgage and break your mortgage, definitely the penalties are a bit cheaper on variable mortgages,” he said.
Evans, who locked his own mortgage in last year, noted that a lot of people locked in at the time in part because the difference between variable and fixed-rate mortgages as quite narrow.
“As rates have climbed we’ve seen that spread grow a little bit,” he said.
But Evans says you shouldn’t try to predict where interest rates are going to go because even the experts get it wrong.
“You shouldn’t be making your decision based on the outlook for interest rates that you’re reading in the newspaper, you should be making it on your own situation, your own personality, how it works with your overall financial plan.”
According to a new Senate report, what Canada needs is for its rich people to get richer.
Of course that’s not what it says in so many words, but in calling on the Canadian government to follow the U.S. in cutting corporate taxes, that is effectively what it is asking for.
Perhaps it’s simply a matter of bad timing, but the Senate banking committee report titled Canada: Still Open for Business?, obviously in the works for a while, has hit the media just as two serious flaws in the U.S. tax-cutting strategy made headlines in the U.S.
Of the six recommendations listed in the report, five are hard to argue with in principle.
Whether a three-year-long royal commission is the way to go about it, a study of Canada’s taxation system, looking for efficiencies and examining its competitiveness, is a reasonable part of government housekeeping to keep the country’s revenue policy current.
Cutting red tape, helping companies develop and preserve their intellectual property, encouraging trade efficiency and expanding exports to the world’s fast-growing economies, including China and India, seem like ideas worthy of cross-party support.
But recommendation No. 2, the one that has attracted the headlines, could turn out to be more controversial.
It suggests “the federal government act immediately to implement measures that would encourage companies to continue to invest in Canada, such as reducing the corporate income tax rate and temporarily allowing the full and immediate deduction of capital expenditures.”
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At a question-and-answer session in Toronto yesterday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the government is already examining ways of using tax reform to encourage Canadian businesses to invest in Canada rather than chasing lower taxes south of the border.
“What we’re trying to achieve is to make sure that Canadian businesses have the opportunity to invest in a way that is competitive with their potential investments in the United States,” Morneau said.
“We have to think about how we get there.”
The U.S. tax-cut advantage
As he considers his options, Morneau will have to consider two recent developments that may colour the advantages or disadvantages of following the tax-cutting strategies of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Last week, George Athanassakos, a professor at Western University’s Ivey Business School, wrote a column that blamed high taxes, regulations and red tape — what he called the “Trudeau Effect” — for Canada’s lagging stock prices.
His timing was inopportune. The same day his column came out, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 830 points, a decline of more than three per cent, and New York’s Nasdaq index was off four per cent.
A screen above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shows the closing number of the Dow Jones industrial Average last Wednesday. The Dow plunged more than 800 points, its worst drop in eight months, led by sharp declines in technology stocks. (Richard Drew/Associated Press)
Clearly, the “Trudeau Effect” was heading south.
Low and behold, Toronto’s stock market index was down as well, but by a lot less. Widespread analysis from the U.S. blamed the Dow and Nasdaq’s precipitous decline on their precipitous rise following the U.S. tax cuts. Companies had been taking their tax gains and buying back their own stock, creating what may have been excessive exuberance and a temporary spike in prices.
In what some described as a sugar high, the U.S. economy and stocks were surging for the wrong reasons. Fear of a trade war with China meant buyers were stocking up on imports before losing access. Meanwhile the tax cuts, which profited stocks and their shareholders when they were introduced, had done much less to stimulate productive investment and the more lasting benefits that come with it.
Hot, but maybe too hot
And there were other consequences of using stimulus to push an already strong economy into overdrive.
Lower taxes, when unemployment was already low and just as the economy was being juiced by low interest rates and government spending, meant Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell had little choice but to begin a series of interest rate increases to prevent inflation from getting out of hand. That, in turn, destabilized the bond market.
Critics argued the tax cuts were little more than a way of transferring money from government coffers to wealthy, stock-owning Americans.
Au contraire, said supporters, cutting taxes for the rich would end up generating more revenue in the long run.
But a second story this week shot holes in that argument. The U.S. deficit has soared under Trump, up 17 per cent to the highest level since 2012, when the U.S. was still suffering the effects of the Great Recession.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell says a 17 per cent increase in the deficit under the Trump administration was not due to tax cuts, but because social services cost too much. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
The way out of that problem? According to U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, it’s to chop spending on social programs that disproportionately benefit the poor such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Many critics, including our own foreign affairs minister, Chrystia Freeland, have warned that world governments are being taken over by the rich and powerful. And there is plenty of evidence that making the rich richer and the poor poorer is not in the long-term benefit of Canadians or Canadian business.
Successful businesses need customers who are rich enough to buy their products. Successful businesses need a highly educated, healthy population, where everyone feels like a valued member of society, capable of participating in and helping to create the next stage of a dynamic economy.
While Morneau thinks about how to keep Canadian business investment at home, he will no doubt be considering whether the U.S. game plan is ultimately the best one. He may decide that a more moderate strategy, one that doesn’t make the rich richer and the poor poorer, will ultimately be better for Canadian business in the long term.
As oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan continues to sell at record discounts, American refineries are enjoying lucrative profit margins at the expense of Canadian oil producers.
The sharp drop in oil prices began in late September and is expected to continue for roughly another month.
The culprit is limited export pipeline space and refinery maintenance outages in the U.S. Midwest. Until those refineries are back up and running, oil prices in Western Canada will languish and so, too, will company revenues and government royalties.
It’s like you’re walking down the stairs blindfolded — you don’t really know exactly when you’re going to get to the end of it. And that’s kind of what volatility is like when prices are low like this.– Samir Kayande , RS Energy Group
The refineries, including BP’s Whiting, Phillips’ Wood River, and Marathon’s Detroit facility, each consume large volumes of Canadian heavy oil. That’s why the impact on prices has been substantial.
Zachary Rogers, a Houston-based refining analyst with Wood Mackenize, said much of the refinery capacity should be back online soon — if the maintenance work follows typical timelines.
“There is some conflicting data in that realm,” Rogers said.
“However, if you look at this from a historical trends perspective and usual time it takes for refineries to turn around their units, it’s likely the majority of that refining capacity in the Midwest will be back online within the next few weeks.”
The difference between heavy oil prices in Alberta and benchmark prices in the U.S. is about $50 US per barrel. That figure, comparing Western Canada Select (WCS) and West Texas Intermediate (WTI), is expected to narrow by mid-November as shutdown refineries begin processing oil again.
While many Canadian oil companies “can’t seem to catch a break,” said Rogers, many American refineries are enjoying a “substantial margin uplift.”
“For certain refineries, it’s certainly quite the heyday, if you will, if you’re actually online at the moment,” he said.
Not only are heavy oil prices selling at a heavy discount, but light oil in Alberta has also taken a hit as pipeline and rail transportation space is limited.
The Western Canadian oil industry is losing at least $100 million every day and that’s a conservative estimate, according to GMP FirstEnergy analyst Michael Dunn.
Some Canadian companies also own refineries in North America and have secured pipeline space to other markets, which is helping to offset the oil price shock.
Oil backlog building
Samir Kayande, an analyst with RS Energy Group, said the fundamental, structural issue behind the gulf in prices is a tight transportation market that affects more than just Alberta.
“Oil that’s produced in Western Canada and North Dakota has limited opportunities to get onto a pipeline in order to get it to market,” said Kayande.
“We get kind of stuck sometimes looking at just Western Canadian production. But, in fact, there’s a resurgence in production volumes in North Dakota as well and that may be starting to impact the system a little bit.”
Oil production keeps rising in Alberta, driven largely by oilsands development. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)
Combined with maintenance on a number of refineries, Alberta oil needs to go into storage, which is already quite full, Kayande said.
“And in that kind of scenario, where there’s not a temporary place to put oil for a short period of time, that’s when prices can move a lot,” he said.
Railways will start moving more oil in the next few months, but he said what’s really needed is more transportation capacity, like the completion of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline project.
But Line 3 isn’t expected to be up and running until late 2019.
In the meantime, expect the volatility to continue.
“It’s like you’re walking down the stairs blindfolded — you don’t really know exactly when you’re going to get to the end of it. And that’s kind of what volatility is like when prices are low like this,” Kayande said.
“You have very small changes at the margin that send prices moving both up and down by big dollar amounts. And we’ve seen a lot of that this year.”
Alberta royalty hit
Kent Fellows, an energy economist at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, said the discount on WCS could have a significant impact on provincial royalties if it goes on too long.
The impact on corporate revenues in the oilpatch also affects the federal government in terms of taxes.
“Over the longer term, an increase in WTI should be good news, but it’s not as good news as we would like if we had better pipeline transportation,” Fellows said.
Mike Brown, a spokesman for Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci, wouldn’t speculate on the impact of the differential on provincial coffers ahead of the government’s fiscal update next month.
“The differential is just one of a number of factors taken into account when making a budget,” he said in an email to CBC News last week.
According to the government, Alberta produces just over 3.5 million barrels per day of crude oil — about half of that is heavy, diluted bitumen and the other half is light crude oil.
Inside the province, there are four refineries that process roughly 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude — both light and heavy. The remaining three million bpd is exported out of Alberta: roughly two-thirds is heavy, one-third is light.
Last month, when the gap between WCS and WTI was around $35, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the increasing price differential could cost the provincial government about $300 million per year instead of the $210 million they initially expected.
Uber may put forth an initial public offering early next year that values the ride-hailing business at as much as $120 billion US, according to a media report.
The Wall Street Journal said Tuesday that Uber Technologies Inc. received valuation proposals from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley last month. There is no guarantee Uber will fetch that valuation, or go public soon.
If it does, and at that price, the company would be worth more than Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles combined.
The ride-hailing company’s most recent valuation was pegged at $76 billion US, following a $500-million investment from Toyota Motor Corp in August.
There are hurdles for Uber, past and present. In addition to a series of scandals including workplace sexual harassment, theft of intellectual property and the ouster of its co-founder, the company is facing increasing competition.
Uber and smaller rival Lyft have been actively preparing to go public next year, and the Journal reported that Lyft has picked underwriters for a public offering expected in early 2019.
While Lyft has hired IPO advisory firm Class V Group LLC, Uber is behind in its preparations. Lyft was valued at $15.1 billion US earlier this year.
Uber hired Nelson Chai as its chief financial officer in August, filling a long-standing vacancy and clearing the way for its much-anticipated IPO.
Uber declined to comment on the Wall Street Journal report.
Shares in most Canadian marijuana companies were lower on Wednesday, a sign that the volatility that has characterized the space as an investment isn’t going to go away now that the drug has been made legal for recreational use.
Cash registers are ringing up sales, in person and online, but the reaction from investors in Canadian cannabis companies was soundly underwhelming on the first day of legal weed.
Shares in Canopy Growth Corp. fell out of the gate before see-sawing through the day. By the time the Toronto Stock Exchange closed on Friday, Canopy’s shares were off by more than four per cent at $65.60.
Edmonton-based Aurora Cannabis was off by as much as 10 per cent at one point before rebounding to close down almost three per cent at $13.55.
Leamington, Ont.-based Aphria Inc. also slumped at market open before closing up almost four per cent at $19.34.
Most of the smaller names were also down on Tuesday, marking a counter-intuitive two-day slide for pot companies just as their product became legal in Canada.
Lots of volatility
To analyst David Kideckel, managing director at investment firm AltaCorp., the selling off makes perfect sense in the short term.
“The cannabis stocks have been highly volatile over the last little bit so this isn’t really taking me by surprise that we’re trending down today and facing some downward pressure,” he said.
He’s still a big believer in the sector over the long term, but after a meteoric rise over the past year he says it’s to be expected for the market to take a breather.
“It’s really going to take time for the markets to see who the winners and losers are,” he said.
He suspects investors will give all the companies “a pass” on turning their hype into actual profits for the rest of 2018, but by 2019 they will demand results and anyone who falls short of sky-high expectations will be punished for it. “We haven’t really been through a full cycle yet or a full quarter to see if there are companies going to actually meet their their forecasts.”
Others are a little gloomier on the sector.
Chris Damas, editor of investment newsletter the BCMI Cannabis Report, was laying out the bearish case to his subscribers on Tuesday, and that was before Wednesday’s selloff.
“Some of the simplistic justifications for a half-trillion dollar market for cannabis worldwide are just that — simplistic,” he said.
Market leader Canopy Growth showing weakness is “a signal that we are at or near a market top in the sector,” Damas said.
In recent months, big alcohol companies have moved to link up with many of the big cannabis names, in particular Constellation Brands’ $5-billion investment in Canopy, and rumoured interest from companies like Coca-Cola and Molson Coors in other pot names. But Damas thinks those deals won’t prove particularly lucrative in the long run.
“I would continue to bet on medical cannabis being a successful program in Canada, with export potential,” Damas said. “But not at these stock prices.”
Analyst Stuart Rolfe at Veritas Investment Research Corp. is the only analyst to have a “sell” rating on all the major companies, which means he thinks their stocks are way too high and due for a fall.
In a recent note to clients, Rolfe said he thinks the industry is over-estimating demand for its product, and making the flawed assumption that the black market the legal companies want to compete with will simply disappear. “All of these factors lead us to conclude that Canadian cannabis valuations are at risk of falling precipitously,” he said.
“The tail end of the cannabis rainbow may be approaching much faster than investors realize.”
Shopify Inc. says the Canadian online cannabis stores powered by its e-commerce software are seeing more than 100 orders per minute.
The Ottawa-based company’s vice president says the government-operated websites and private retailer portals powered by Shopify have processed “hundreds of thousands” of orders since cannabis was legalized at the stroke of midnight.
Loren Padelford added that these websites have seen millions of visitors from Canada and around the world in the hours since they went live at 12:01 a.m. local time.
He noted that these “strong” volumes were expected and Shopify did not see any technical issues or problems.
Legal pot only available online in some provinces
Padelford said the visitor and order volumes are higher than the average shopping day in Canada, but would be less than on a typical Black Friday.
Shopify’s software was chosen for several government cannabis stores across the country, including in Ontario where OCS.ca is the only way to buy legal recreational cannabis in the province until next year.