TikTok picks Oracle over Microsoft in Trump-forced sales bid

TikTok picks Oracle over Microsoft in Trump-forced sales bid

The owner of TikTok has chosen Oracle over Microsoft as its preferred suitor to buy the popular video-sharing app, according to a source familiar with the deal who was not authorized to speak publicly about it.

Microsoft announced Sunday that its bid to buy TikTok has been rejected, removing a leading suitor for the Chinese-owned app a week before President Donald Trump promises to follow through with a plan to ban it in the U.S.

The Trump administration has threatened to ban TikTok by Sept. 20 and ordered ByteDance to sell its U.S. business, claiming national-security risks due to its Chinese ownership. The government worries about user data being funnelled to Chinese authorities. TikTok denies it is a national-security risk and is suing to stop the administration from the threatened ban.

TikTok declined to comment Sunday. Oracle didn’t return a request for comment but has previously declined comment.

Microsoft said in a Sunday statement that TikTok’s parent company, Bytedance, “let us know today they would not be selling TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft.”

Walmart had planned to partner with Microsoft on the deal. It’s not clear if Walmart was still interested before Microsoft was notified of the rejection Sunday.

Microsoft said Sunday it was “confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests.” The company said it “would have made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety, and combating disinformation.”

Concerns over ByteDance

TikTok, which says it has 100 million U.S. users and about 700 million globally, is known for its fun, goofy videos of dancing, lip-syncing, pranks and jokes. It’s recently become home to more political content such as the comedian Sarah Cooper, who drew a large audience by lip-syncing Trump’s own often-disjointed statements from public appearances.

But the app has also raised concerns because of its Chinese owner, ByteDance. The White House has cracked down on a range of Chinese businesses, including telecom equipment makers Huawei and ZTE and messaging app WeChat, over worries that they would enable Chinese authorities to get U.S. user data. Republican and Democratic lawmakers have also raised concerns about censorship and children’s privacy.

TikTok denies that it has shared user data with the Chinese government or that it would do so if asked. The company says it has not censored videos at the request of Chinese authorities and insists it is not a national-security threat.

WATCH | China slams U.S. over TikTok sale remarks:

A Chinese state media outlet is calling the U.S. ‘a rogue country.’ The rebuke follows comments by President Donald Trump about Microsoft’s interest in buying the popular Chinese video-sharing app. 5:00

TikTok has sued to stop the ban, but not the sale order. The sale situation has been complicated by several factors, including Trump’s repeated demands that the U.S. government should get a “cut” of any deal, a stipulation and role for the president that experts say is unprecedented.

In addition, the Chinese government in late August involved itself in the process by unveiling new regulations that restrict exports of technology that appear to include the system TikTok uses to choose which videos to spool up to its users. That means ByteDance would have to obtain a licence from China to export any restricted technologies to a foreign company.

The deal had come together rapidly after the administration ramped up its threats against TikTok this summer, despite TikTok’s efforts to put distance between its app and its Chinese ownership. It installed former top Disney executive Kevin Mayer as its American CEO, but he resigned in August after just a few months on the job, saying the “political environment has sharply changed.”

Oracle bid ‘doesn’t make any sense’

Both Microsoft and Oracle are known more for their business software offerings than for those intended for consumers.

Oracle primarily makes database software. It competes with tech giants such as Microsoft and Amazon that provide cloud services as well as business-software specialists like Salesforce.

Some analysts see Oracle’s interest in a consumer business as misguided. Oracle should focus on enterprise-market acquisitions and not invest in a consumer app like TikTok that doesn’t fit with the rest of its business, said Jefferies analyst Brent Thill, who compares the idea to Delta Airlines buying a motorcycle company. “It doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

Some analysts see Oracle’s interest in a consumer business as misguided. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

Thill suggested that TikTok competitors like Facebook and Snapchat should be “cheering on Oracle” as a buyer, because Oracle wouldn’t “add a lot of value to the app.”

Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison is unusual among tech executives for his public support of President Donald Trump, hosting a fundraiser for him in February at his Rancho Mirage, California, estate. The company also hired a former top aide to Vice-President Mike Pence; its CEO, Safra Catz, also served on Trump’s transition team.

The president said on Aug. 18 that Oracle was “a great company” that “could handle” buying TikTok. He declined to state his preference between Oracle and Microsoft as buyers.



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Court rejects Bell, Rogers appeals of CRTC decision on wholesale internet rates

Court rejects Bell, Rogers appeals of CRTC decision on wholesale internet rates

The Federal Court of Appeal dismissed appeals by Canada’s largest telephone and cable companies Thursday, handing an interim victory to the country’s independent internet providers.

The court also ordered the network owners including Bell, Rogers, Telus and others to pay costs of the appeal to TekSavvy Solutions Inc., which is the largest of Canada’s independent ISPs, and an industry association.

“This is a massive win for Canadians,” said Matt Stein, chair of the Canadian Network Operators Consortium and CEO of Distributel, one of about 30 CNOC members.

He said that the court’s decision ends a “pivotal chapter” in a fight that challenged “Canada’s longstanding practice of appropriate oversight to ensure fair pricing and competition.:”

The court’s 3-0 ruling concluded by saying the award of costs to TekSavvy and CNOC reflects the fact that the appellants were not successful in convincing the three judges on any of the issues they raised.

There were several appeals before the court, including one filed by Bell Canada on behalf of BCE, and another for most of Canada’s largest cable operators, including Rogers, Shaw, Quebecor’s Videotron and Cogeco.

But the Federal Court of Appeal is only one way in which the big network owners have been fighting to prevent the CRTC from reducing the wholesale rates they charge to independent internet providers, which compete for some of the same customers.

The CRTC is also reviewing its own decision, as part of the regulatory process, and the federal government has indicated it could step in at some point if it thinks the arms-length regulator doesn’t strike the right balance.

Coincidentally, BCE’s chief financial officer told an industry conference Thursday that sentiment seems to have shifted in favour of telecommunications network builders since the pandemic

In response to questions in an interview-style session with a Bank of America analyst, BCE chief financial officer Glen LeBlanc said benefit of having strong, reliable wireless and internet networks was recognized during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He pointed to a federal government statement on Aug. 15, issued on the one-year anniversary of the CRTC’s wholesale prices decision, that suggested some errors in its process could undermine investments in Canada’s communications networks, particularly in rural and remote areas.

“On the basis of its review, the (cabinet) considers that the (August 2019) rates do not, in all instances, appropriately balance the policy objectives of the wholesale services framework and is concerned that these rates may undermine investment in high-quality networks, particularly in rural and remote areas,” Industry Minister Navdeep Bains said.

Bains said it was unnecessary to refer the decision back to the CRTC for reconsideration “at this time,” but said that the government will continue to monitor the CRTC proceedings to ensure it establishes the “right incentives”‘ for both investment and competitive choice.

Canada’s small and mid-sized ISPs collectively serve about one million households using infrastructure they either own or rent. Although they have only about one-tenth of the market share, they argue that they provide an important alternative to the bigger carriers.

However, the independent ISPs depend on connecting their equipment to networks built and owned by the “facilities based” carriers.

The main message of the facilities-based carriers is that the CRTC’s proposed wholesale rates, which haven’t been put into effect because of the court appeal, were so low they didn’t cover the cost of providing the services purchased by their wholesale customers.

The independent ISPs argued the interim wholesale prices they’ve been paying since 2016 have always been excessively high and they’ll be able to lower retail rates if the CRTC’s decision is put in place.

The CRTC ordered the facilities-based carriers to cut their wholesale capacity rates by up to 43 per cent and chop their access rates up to 77 per cent.

A statement by VMedia Inc., a Toronto-based CNOC member, says that the appeal court’s decision appears to show the cabinet’s statement last month was “without foundation.”

It also said the threat of reduced investments in network infrastructure is a “staple in all rate-setting hearings” but they’ve not been borne out in previous decisions that went against the network owners-operators.



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Canadian tariffs on U.S. products coming within days

Canadian tariffs on U.S. products coming within days

Canada will retaliate within days against American aluminum tariffs, with plans to announce a series of counter-tariffs early next week.

Officials in Ottawa and at the Canadian embassy in Washington confirmed previously threatened counter-tariffs will proceed by Wednesday.

The government had said during the summer that unless the U.S. dropped its latest round of aluminum tariffs, Canada would impose $3.6 billion in countermeasures by then.

The Canadian ambassador to the U.S., Kirsten Hillman, said in an interview Friday that the move is imminent.

“Absent any change in [the U.S.] policy, they will take effect next week,” the ambassador said.

“And they will remain in effect until the U.S. eliminates its tariffs against Canada.”

Canada is responding to a 10 per cent tariff announced by President Donald Trump in August, a move that struck just over half of Canada’s aluminum exports to the U.S.

The aluminum canning operation at Cosmic Eye Brewing on Aug. 21, in Lincoln, Neb. The U.S. has imposed a 10 per cent tariff on Canadian aluminum used in a variety of U.S. products. (Justin Wan/Lincoln Journal Star via AP)

The Trudeau government will reveal its choice of U.S. targets from a preliminary list published in August of more than five dozen potentials.

The government has said it will keep those targets limited to aluminum products, in order to respect a 2019 agreement with the U.S.

The preliminary list included a disproportionate number of products from U.S. swing states that will determine Trump’s fate in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

WATCH | Ambassador says Canada has bipartisan support in U.S. for removal of tariffs imposed by Trump

Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the United States, tells Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos that Canada has bipartisan support in Washington for the removal of tariffs on Canadian aluminum, and that the Canadian government’s response will be “measured” if U.S. President Donald Trump doesn’t remove them. 1:26

A Canada-U.S. trade consultant who used to work for the Canadian government says political calculations clearly play a role in tariff strategy.

“There’s a number of considerations,” said Eric Miller of the Washington firm Rideau Potomac Strategy Group. “One is: How do we not hurt ourselves? Two: How do we persuade [Americans] to remove them?”

But, he said, counter-tariffs are not about trying to damage Trump in swing states, so much as an effort to get the attention of other candidates seeking office in those electorally fertile states.

“They want people running for office to get on the phone [and advocate for removing tariffs],” Miller said.

“That’s really the calculation … It’s not about [hurting] Trump per se.”

Other observers have expressed skepticism there’s any chance the Trump administration might be persuaded to back down on tariffs this close to an election.

Last time Canadian metals faced tariffs it took many months of pressure to get them removed, and it required timely help from powerful U.S. congressional allies, like the Republican chair of the Senate finance committee, Chuck Grassley.

Grassley had threatened to stall Trump’s signature trade agreement — the new NAFTA — unless the tariffs were removed.

That led to the 2019 agreement — which ended across-the-board U.S. tariffs on a wide range of steel and aluminum products.

It also set limits on similar disputes in the future.

The agreement says any future retaliation must target only a metal that’s in dispute, and not expand the fight to other sectors like farm goods — such as the corn in Grassley’s home state of Iowa.

Hillman says the goal of this week’s announcement is to create some political pressure so that the U.S. might drop its tariffs.

“Our objective is to have the strongest possible impact on the United States — while minimizing the impact on Canadians,” she said. 

“We are trying to demonstrate to Americans that this is the wrong path. That’s how we’ll make our choices as to what to put on that list.”





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Guaranteed basic income tops policy priorities for Liberal caucus at upcoming convention

Guaranteed basic income tops policy priorities for Liberal caucus at upcoming convention

A guaranteed basic income for all Canadians has emerged as the top policy choice of Liberal MPs, just as the Trudeau government is crafting its plan to help people weather the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild the ravaged economy.

The Liberal caucus is calling on the government to adopt the idea in a priority policy resolution for consideration at the party’s upcoming national convention.

And MPs consider it so important that they’ve designated it their top resolution, guaranteeing that it will go directly to the Nov. 12-15 convention for debate and a vote.

It is among more than 50 priority resolutions from the governing party’s provincial and territorial organizations and its various commissions that will be the subject, starting Saturday, of a two-week online discussion among registered Liberals.

Liberal MPs are not alone in urging a guaranteed basic income. The 50 resolutions include numerous calls from all corners of the country pressing the government to adopt the idea in one form or another.

There are also multiple resolutions, including one from the caucus, calling on the government to develop enforceable national standards for long-term care homes — and to provide provinces with the funding needed to meet those standards. Long-term care facilities have borne the brunt of the more than 9,000 COVID-19-related deaths in Canada.

Pandemic identified gaps in social safety net

The pressure for an overhaul of Canada’s social safety net comes just as the Liberal government is preparing for a throne speech on Sept. 23 laying out its plan for protecting Canadians during the pandemic, which is heating up again after a bit of a summer lull, and for reviving the economy.

The pandemic has exposed holes in Canada’s social safety net, particularly the employment insurance program that proved incapable of helping the millions of Canadians left abruptly without incomes when businesses were shuttered in March to help curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The government hastily introduced the $2,000-per-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit to fill the void, which the caucus resolution calls a “progressive and transformative program” that supported 8.5 million Canadians and proved to be “both effective and popular.”

Advocates had called for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit to transition into a basic income program, but the CERB is being replaced with an expanded employment insurance program. (Jesse Johnston/The Canadian Press)

Advocates had hoped that the CERB would eventually evolve into a permanent guaranteed basic income, but the program is now winding down, to be replaced by more generous and flexible employment insurance.

And while some ministers had initially suggested that the CERB could pave the way for a basic income, government insiders now suggest that kind of major reform is not in the cards while the pandemic continues to rage.

However, the caucus resolution argues the pandemic has created “a unique opportunity to rethink the Canada of tomorrow.” It further argues that a guaranteed basic income would simplify benefit applications for Canadians in need and reduce administrative costs for the government while providing Canadians with income stability that is “key to equality of opportunity, well-being and dignity.”

More than 500 resolutions proposed

The convention is slated to take place in Ottawa. The party has yet to decide whether it will be a virtual convention or a hybrid of small in-person sessions with other Liberals participating electronically.

The policy process has been entirely online.

Liberal riding associations and the party’s various commissions, representing seniors, women, youth and Indigenous people, came up with more than 500 proposed resolutions, according to party spokesperson Braeden Caley. Thousands of grassroots Liberals then voted on their top three priorities within each region and commission, he said.

After the two-week discussion period, those resolutions will be whittled down again through another online vote to just 30, which will be sent on for debate at the convention. Each region and commission, as well as the caucus, has also chosen one top resolution to go directly to the convention.

The resolutions demonstrate some of the conflicting internal pressures on the Liberal government, particularly with respect to its goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

One from Newfoundland and Labrador calls for “world-leading incentives and benefits” for that province’s offshore oil and gas industry in order to attract “sustainable exploration and production” and fuel the economic recovery.

But a Quebec resolution calls on the government to end support for both the fossil fuel and nuclear components of the energy industry. And a youth commission resolution calls for an economic recovery plan that “promotes investment in the environmental infrastructure projects and divestment from the oil industry.”



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Canadians are paying down debt during COVID-19 — but a ‘tsunami’ of bankruptcies could be coming

Tax the rich and give us more services, Canadians say in OECD survey

The ratio of what Canadians owe versus their ability to pay it back went down in the first three months of COVID-19, but that unexpectedly brighter debt picture could be hiding a wave of bankruptcies waiting to emerge.

Statistics Canada reported Friday that the debt to disposable income ratio fell to 158.2 per cent in the three months between April and June, compared with a reading of 175.4 per cent in the first three months of the year.

That means that Canadian households owed $1.58 for every dollar they had to spend as of the end of June. That ratio peaked at 177 per cent in 2017 and has held steady in the 170 range up until the sudden drop this year. 

While it’s encouraging to think that Canadians are managing to pay down their debt loads during the pandemic, insolvency trustee Scott Terrio with Hoyes & Michalos says that number can mislead about what’s happening beneath the surface.

Prior to the pandemic’s start in March, consumer insolvencies had been growing at a double-digit pace since the start of 2019 as the system worked through a decade of debt fuelled by a low rate that Terrio said people “binged” on “and kicked the can down the road.”

Most of Canada’s household debt comes in the form of mortgages, but Canadians also owed $779.4 billion on things like credit cards at the end of June. (Getty Images)

Then like almost everything else, insolvencies came to a screeching halt starting in March. Part of that was because courts shut down, making it hard for debtors to take legal action to get their money back.

But the massive wave of support programs rolled out by governments across the country seem to have had their designed effect of keeping peoples’ heads above water, too.

While the record number of layoffs made a dent in incomes, many people who were in trouble before COVID-19 got some relief simply because they weren’t spending as much.

As daycares shut down and parents moved to work from home en masse, “all of a sudden, people weren’t paying $2,000 a month in daycare for five months,” Terrio said. 

In addition to government stimulus, roughly one out of every six Canadian homeowners with a mortgage applied for programs that banks offered to defer all or part of payments for up to six months this spring. But those programs are slated to end in the coming weeks, and those bills have to be paid.

Insolvency trustee Scott Terrio is expecting a wave of bankruptcies and insolvencies to start this fall and winter. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

“The ones I’m worried about are the ones who had significant debt and then one of the spouses stopped working,” he said. 

“They’ve taken advantage of deferrals and benefits [but] that ride is gonna end.”

Savings up sharply, too

All told, Canadians owed $2.3 trillion at the end of June, which consists of $1.5 trillion worth of mortgages, and $779.4 billion worth of consumer debt such as credit cards.

“The Statscan numbers show the debt picture is uneven across different income groups. The lowest 20 per cent had a debt to income ratio of 281.7 per cent at the end of 2019, meaning they owed almost $3 for every dollar they had on hand to spend. Those in the top 20 per cent, meanwhile, owed just $1.38 for every dollar of disposable income they had.

Those imbalances are part of why Terrio predicts that insolvencies are going to come back “with a vengeance ” in the coming months.

“Once the courts open you’ll find out how much your bank loves you,” he said.

‘Delinquency tsunami’

TD Bank economist Ksenia Bushmeneva found reasons for optimism in the numbers. 

“One of the major risks heading into this pandemic-induced recession was the high level of household indebtedness in Canada, which could greatly amplify the hit to the economy and slow the subsequent recovery,” she said.

“So far, it appears that the consumer side of the economy has held up better than might have been expected at the start of the crisis.”

Bushmeneva was especially heartened by the fact that the debt service ratio — the  amount of money spent on servicing debt loads — fell by its highest amount on record, to 12.4 per cent from 14.54 per cent, largely because of lower rates. 

In addition, she noticed that the household savings rate — the percentage of disposable income that households manage to save — soared from 3.9 per cent at the end of 2019 to 28.2 per cent in June, a level she described as “eye popping.”

But she is also worried about what could be coming down the pipeline.

“The unprecedented federal government income support programs and payment deferrals by financial institutions have been paramount for averting a delinquency tsunami and protecting household finances,” she said. “However, more challenging times are likely ahead.

“Delinquencies and consumer insolvencies will likely begin to rise at the end of this year and into 2021.”



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Teksavvy refuses to pay Bell or Rogers until it’s paid millions it says it is owed

Teksavvy refuses to pay Bell or Rogers until it's paid millions it says it is owed

TekSavvy Solutions Inc. says it’s owed tens of millions of dollars in rebates from excessive wholesale internet fees and won’t pay more to Bell or Rogers until the balance is settled.

TekSavvy’s announcement comes a day after the Federal Court of Appeal ruled against Bell, Rogers and several other carriers that sought to overturn a 2019 regulator’s order for them to slash wholesale internet rates retroactively and refund excess amounts collected over several years.

The CRTC’s order was stayed last September by the appeal court, meaning the rates charged to independent internet service providers (ISPs) didn’t change and the big carriers weren’t required to pay the rebates.

TekSavvy is the largest of Canada’s independent ISPs, which collectively share about 10 per cent of the market.

The company is based in Chatham, Ont., and its largest base of customers in Ontario, where Bell and Rogers are the largest ISPs.

The carriers have mounted several challenges to the CRTC’s rate decision, including court appeals filed by Bell Canada and five of Canada’s largest cable operators: Rogers, Shaw, Quebecor’s Videotron, Cogeco and Eastlink.



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Canadians have deferred $1B a month worth of mortgage payments since pandemic began

Royal Bank cuts 5-year fixed mortgage rate, others likely to follow suit

More than three-quarters of a million Canadian homeowners have either deferred or skipped a mortgage payment during the COVID-19 pandemic began, to the tune of about $1 billion a month, Canada’s national housing agency says.

In a report on Thursday, the Canada Mortgage And Housing Corporation looked at the state of the mortgage market in Canada. The report is annual and typically looks at broad trends in the industry, but this year’s numbers, as is the case with just about everything else, are viewed through the prism of COVID-19.

The report underlines just how significant the pandemic’s impact on Canadian mortgages has been.

Early on, in March and April, Canada’s big banks announced sweeping mortgage deferral programs that would allow borrowers to skip some payments on their mortgages. While the move gave borrowers some breathing room at a time when incomes were falling, those payments must be made in full at some point down the line. And the CMHC report showed just how big the wave of deferred payments is.

Roughly 760,000 Canadians applied for some sort of mortgage deferral from a chartered bank since the pandemic began. Canada’s big banks control about two-thirds of the mortgage market, so that figure suggests that one out of every six people with a mortgage has opted to defer at least one mortgage payment since COVID-19 began.

The CMHC calculated that on average, that means Canadians deferred about $1 billion in mortgage debt every month since the pandemic began. But most of those deferral programs were for six months at most, which means those who applied early are due to start making up those payments now or soon.

“Given that many financial institutions have offered payment accommodations to their mortgage clients for up to six months, there continues to be a risk that a significant increase in mortgage delinquency will be observed in the third or fourth quarter of this year as these deferral agreements come to an end,” the CMHC said.

Defaults still low

Those arrangements with banks are a big reason why the default rate — the number of people who are at least three months behind on payments — has remained low so far at just 0.28 per cent of all loans on the books at the big banks. But as those deferral programs expire this fall, that number could rise.

The Bank of Canada said earlier this year it expects the mortgage arrears rate could spike to twice as high as it hit in the depths of the financial crisis in 2009.

All that deferred debt means that in the aggregate, fewer and fewer Canadians are likely to get ahead of their payments this year. In last year’s report, the CMHC said that two-thirds of Canadian homeowners planned to make an extra scheduled payment on their mortgages in 2020. 

This year, only one in five borrowers expect to be able to do so.

Existing mortgages are getting more payments tacked on to them, and there’s even been a surge in new mortgage debt, too, the CMHC said. The number of new loans grew by 14 per cent in the first quarter of 2020 compared to 2019.

“We observed a surge in outstanding residential mortgage credit in the first five months of 2020,” said Tania Bourassa-Ochoa, the CMHC’s senior specialist in housing research. “This mortgage credit acceleration is a result of an increase in newly extended mortgages, given residential property sales were up late last year and early this year, and a record number of homeowners deferring their mortgage payments from impacts of pandemic-related economic shutdowns.”



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Amazon accused of price gouging on essential items in early days of pandemic

Amazon accused of price gouging on essential items in early days of pandemic

An American consumer advocacy group is accusing Amazon of price gouging on items such as soap, face masks and toilet paper in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the e-commerce giant claimed to be cracking down on third-party sellers on its platform who were doing the same thing.

A report by Washington-based Public Citizen claims that Amazon hiked prices on many essential items in March and April, adding mark-ups of up to 1,000 per cent on some basic items.

“Amazon has fundamentally misled the public, law enforcement and policymakers about price increases during the pandemic,” said Alex Harman, the consumer policy advocate for the group which says it lobbies lawmakers for legislative changes to protect consumers.

The group tracked a sample of items to monitor their price and availability. Among the price changes the group said it observed were:

  • A pack of 50 disposable face masks increased by 1,000 per cent.
  • Dial liquid antibacterial hand soap increased by 470 per cent.
  • A pack of 100 disposable hand gloves increased by 336 per cent.
  • A pack of eight 1,000-sheet toilet paper rolls increased by 528 per cent.
  • A pack of eight Brawny paper towels increased by 303 per cent.
  • A five-pound bag of unbleached flour increased by 425 per cent.

In a statement to CBC News, Amazon strongly refutes the claims and says it is in favour of legislation that would forbid price gouging in all forms.

“There is no place for price gouging on Amazon and that includes products offered directly by Amazon,” the company said Thursday. “Our systems are designed to offer customers the best available online price and if we see an error, we work quickly to fix it.”

Amazon has published blog posts in favour of establishing a nationwide law against price gouging, and another saying that it has “no place in our stores.” 

PPE in short supply

Items such as hand sanitizer, toilet paper, flour and other sudden essentials were hard to come by in March and April across the U.S. and Canada, as reports of massive price hikes and supply shortages were rampant.

CBC News reported at the time that Amazon’s Canadian website was selling a small, 60-millilitre bottle of hand sanitizer for $184. Amazon blamed third-party sellers, and vowed to crack down on any similar instances.

But the Public Citizen report says Amazon was also hiking prices on many items at the time. “Amazon has publicly blamed third-party sellers for price increases while continuing to raise prices on its own products and allowing those sellers to increase their prices,” Harman said. “Amazon is not a victim in the price gouging on its marketplace — it is a perpetrator.”

Consumers had a hard time finding many essential items on store shelves in the early days of the pandemic. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Basic supply and demand

Farla Efros, president of retail consultancy HRC Advisory, said in an interview with CBC News on Thursday that any price hikes for in-demand items just boil down to simple supply and demand issues.

“Given the fact they were able to service their customers, I think that [consumers] will be forgiving,” she said.

Efros added that prices went up elsewhere. “You saw the same thing in the grocery stores,” she said, noting high-profile examples of retailers who were shamed in the media, including high-end Toronto grocery store Pusateri’s, which at one point was selling sanitizing wipes for $30 a can

And a couple in B.C. went viral for buying up the entire supply of sanitizing wipes at multiple Costcos in and around Vancouver and then reselling them at an exorbitant markup on Amazon, before Amazon banned them.

Efros says consumers are mostly grateful to be able to get their hands on those items at all, which wasn’t the case at most in-person stores. “Consumers were so desperate to get their hands on anything and everything that they didn’t pay as much attention as they would normally.”

But another retail expert thinks Amazon may have taken a hit to its reputation with consumers. Doug Stephens, founder and CEO of The Retail Prophet, says the secret weapon in Amazon’s growth as a retailer is the trust that consumers have in its prices and reliability.

“You felt pretty confident that you weren’t going to be gouged, so something like this is really damaging,” Stephens said in an interview. Coming on the heels of other revelations about labour violations and health concerns in warehouses, and a Competition Bureau probe into whether Amazon gives preferential treatment to its own products, Stephens says the company may have hurt itself a little in this pandemic, despite their booming sales.

“It takes a long time to build trust but it takes a little time to lose it,” he said.



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Citibank names Jane Fraser as next CEO, first woman to hold top job at major U.S. bank

Citibank names Jane Fraser as next CEO, first woman to hold top job at major U.S. bank

Citibank has named Jane Fraser to be its next CEO, the first woman to hold the top job at a major bank on Wall Street.

The U.S. bank said Thursday that current CEO Michael Corbat will retire in February. And Citi has named Jane Fraser, the current head of the bank’s consumer unit, to replace him.

Corbat, who has been with Citi for 37 years including the last eight as CEO, was one of seven bank CEOs who testified to the U.S. House of Representatives Financial Services Committee last year on proposed changes to bank regulations.

In one high profile exchange, Democratic lawmaker Al Green of Texas asked the all-white and all-male panel of CEOs if they thought a woman or a person of colour would succeed them. None of the bank CEOs said they thought that would happen.

Fraser has been with the bank for the last 16 years, and was named the bank’s president last year, fuelling speculation that she may be on deck for the CEO job, since the two titles are often held by the same person.

“I have worked with Jane for many years and am proud to have her succeed me,” Corbat said. “With her leadership, experience and values, I know she will make an outstanding CEO.”

John Dugan, the chair of the bank’s board of directors, was just as effusive. “We believe Jane is the right person to build on Mike’s record and take Citi to the next level. She has deep experience across our lines of business and regions and we are highly confident in her. Jane’s ability to think strategically and also operate a business are a unique combination that will serve our company well.”

The 53-year-old Fraser has degrees from Cambridge and Harvard, and prior to becoming president, she had senior roles with the bank’s Latin American unit, the mortgage division, and a stint in mergers and acquisitions.

JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon has had women as his second-in-command for years, but shows no signs of stepping down from the CEO role.

No woman has thus far ever held the top job at any of Canada’s five big banks.

 

 



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Trudeau announces new loan program for Black entrepreneurs as Singh calls for action against systemic racism

Trudeau announces new loan program for Black entrepreneurs as Singh calls for action against systemic racism

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced a new multi-million dollar program to help Black Canadians get business loans with national banks and said his government is looking at measures to tackle systemic racism in Canada.

The $221-million program will receive about $93 million from the federal government over the next four years and $128 million from eight financial institutions.

Ottawa is deploying close to $33 million — along with funds from RBC, BMO Financial Group, Scotiabank, CIBC, National Bank, TD, Vancity, and Alterna Savings — to create a new Black entrepreneurship loan program which will provide Black entrepreneurs with loans between $25,000 and $250,000. 

Another $53 million from the federal government will go toward helping entrepreneurs access funding, capital, mentorship, financial planning services and business training, while $6.5 million will go support collecting data on the state of Black entrepreneurship in Canada.

“We’ve heard very clearly from the Black community that economic empowerment is an essential step toward breaking down those barriers and creating true success, not just for the Black community but for our country,” Trudeau said when questioned by reporters about his government’s anti-racism strategy.

“I recognize there’s much more to do on the justice system, much more to do on public safety and working with police and we will have more things to talk about.”

‘A good start,’ says business owner 

Nadine Spencer, president of the Black Business and Professional Association, called Wednesday’s announcement a “game changer” for Black business owners who have struggled for access to capital and loans.

“I always say that the biggest challenge Black business owners face is that the owners are Black,” she told CBC News in an interview.

“Systemic racism, that is is the biggest factor when we walk into a bank. There is something different for Black businesses than for mainstream businesses.”

Meryl Afrika, president of the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals, said it’s reassuring to see a promise come with a price tag.

“It’s better than what we’ve had in the past. So I think I think it’s a good start and it’s a good way to gauge whether or not it is going to be enough,” she said. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with Black entrepreneurs as he unveils plans for greater support for Black businesses, at HXOUSE in Toronto, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. (Cole Burston/Canadian Press)

“I think it all comes down to data. At the end of the day, we want to be able to look at this, you know, three years from now, five years from now — even if the government changes — to know that there’s actual measures being tracked and that we can then hold our government accountable if they’re not being successful in deploying the funding to these businesses. That’s great.”

Support for Black-run businesses was one of the requests in a letter drafted by the Parliamentary Black Caucus back in June. The letter called on governments across Canada to immediately address systemic racism.

“We’re listening to that document. We’re also engaging directly with the Black community and hearing the challenges, the issues, the impediments, the barriers that we need to tackle,” said Trudeau while making the announcement at HXOUSE in Toronto, which describes itself as a “think centre.”

“But there are many other elements, whether it’s our justice system, whether it’s around public security, whether it’s around community supports, that we’re going to continue to work on.”

Trudeau criticized by Singh

In July, as “Black Lives Matter” protests swept North America, Trudeau announced his cabinet had created a summer work plan to draft policies to tackle systemic racism in Canada and to help eliminate barriers facing Indigenous and racialized people and those with disabilities.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks during a news conference, Wednesday, July 8, 2020 in Ottawa. Singh says the federal government needs to make systemic changes to policing. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

At the time, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused the prime minister of not acting to eliminate systemic racism and criticized him for kneeling at an Ottawa protest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis instead of making legislative changes.

Singh said today’s announcement is helpful but added marginalized communities are waiting for systemic changes to policing in Canada, including a ban on the police practice of “carding”.

“There’s a lack of priority to the real concrete changes that are needed to tackle the problems Indigenous, Black and racialized people are facing,” he said Wednesday in Brampton, Ont.

As part of the cabinet’s plan, Justice Minister David Lametti has been asked to examine possible reforms to the legal system, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough and Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino are looking at improvements to the temporary foreign worker program and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair is looking into “modernizing policing structures and updating standards regarding the use of force.”

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.



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