A new scam targets Canadians and food-borne illnesses are set to rise: CBC’s Marketplace consumer cheat sheet

A new scam targets Canadians and food-borne illnesses are set to rise: CBC's Marketplace consumer cheat sheet

Miss something this week? Don’t panic. CBC’s Marketplace rounds up the consumer and health news you need.

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Health Canada stops sale of vaginal detox products following Marketplace investigation

Goddess Vaginal Detox Pearls have been advertised as a product that can be used to rid the body of toxins, ex-boyfriends and even sexual trauma. But after a Marketplace investigation found fault with these claims, Health Canada stepped in and took action by demanding a stop to all sales of the unapproved product in Canada.

Goddess Vaginal Detox Pearls are filled with herbal ingredients, including borneol, a substance that Health Canada issued a warning about in 2002. (Jenny Cowley/CBC)

Scammers are posing as government officials to steal money and gain access to personal information

Canadians across the country have been getting phone calls from scammers claiming to come from several different federal government departments. Some potential victims have been told their social insurance numbers have been compromised, while others have been told they owe the government money and are in legal trouble.

Canada’s telecom companies say they are rolling out new technology to reduce the number of these calls. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

Is climate change to blame for an increase in food-borne illnesses? 

It’s scary to think about, but a Canadian food safety expert says more people are getting sick from their food, and climate change appears to be a culprit. Everything from increased flooding to rising ocean temperatures could be to blame. 

From warming weather that makes it easier for harmful bacteria to grow on food to more powerful and frequent storms that spread contaminants on crops, climate change appears to be making food-borne illnesses even more common. (Shutterstock)

We tested 11 pairs of basketball shoes to find out if price determines performance

So, did it? Our Marketplace investigation revealed that price doesn’t always equal performance. One of the least expensive shoes we tested emerged as one of the strongest overall performers. But to find out the full results, you’ll have to watch our full episode.

Jakari Deer, left, Dave Deer and Linda Chiba are all basketball fans. They say they believe price is a good indicator of how a basketball shoe will perform on the court. (Joe Fiorino/CBC)

We want to hear from you!

Have you delayed vaccinating your kids because you have questions or concerns? We want to hear from you! Email us at caitlin.taylor@cbc.ca.

What else is going on?

Workplace mental health programs deliver healthier bottom linesA new analysis from Deloitte found a median return on investment of $1.62 for every $1 invested in workplace mental health.

‘Don’t take a chance, dump your stash,’ says lawyer after Air Canada flight diverted to U.S.  An Air Canada spokesperson says the company’s cannabis policy states that in the event of a diversion, a passenger refused entry into a country because of cannabis possession is responsible for the consequences, including payment for the return trip home.

Telecom companies moving to block spoofed calls. Scam artists have been “spoofing” the phone numbers of more than a dozen government departments. But they may not be able to do so much longer.

‘What a mess’: McDonald’s customers frustrated as ‘Hamburglar’ hacks more app accounts. The company says incidents are rare and it’s “confident in the security of our app.”

An alternative milk star is born. Oat milk sales are up 250 per cent in Canada over the past year.

The latest in recalls

Are noisy restaurants harmful to your health? With Makda Ghebreslassie 

When you’re out for dinner, do you ever have trouble keeping up with the conversation because it’s too loud? It’s been a topic we’ve been talking about here at Marketplace. Why are restaurants so noisy? And what can be done about all that racket?

So we asked you, our viewers, in an online survey just how much sound bothers you, and which restaurants you think are the noisiest. Then we tested the noise levels at some of the top chain restaurants you told us about. We used an app that measures sound decibels and the results might surprise you.

It got me wondering just how much noise I am exposed to in my life and what it’s doing to my health. So I wore a noise-monitoring meter for a day. It turns out big cities are really noisy places, even if we’re used to it. We took the results to an exposure scientist who explained noise at certain consistent levels can be harmful to our health. Not only can it lead to hearing loss, but in some cases it could increase your risk for heart failure and stroke.

Make sure to tune in to our investigation. We’ll reveal the noisiest restaurant chain in our test, and show you solutions some restaurants are trying to keep customers coming back.  

Catch up on this episode and others on CBC Gem.

— Makda and the Marketplace Team

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‘Truly Canadian’? American-owned RONA removes signs after ad complaint

'Truly Canadian'? American-owned RONA removes signs after ad complaint

Founded 80 years ago by two Quebec entrepreneurs, home improvement chain RONA has long considered itself a Canadian icon.

The retailer went so far as to paste the words “Truly Canadian” and “Proudly Canadian” in large letters on many of its storefronts.

But RONA — which was acquired by American retail giant Lowe’s in 2016 — has reluctantly removed those signs after Canada’s Ad Standards council found they “conveyed an inaccurate general impression” given the company’s new ownership.

According to a copy of the decision published on the council’s website, RONA fought the ruling by tracing “the Canadian roots of RONA, its many Canadian connections, and the number of high-level employees in RONA’s Canadian operations, who are Canadian.”

But the council’s decision said that “did not alter the fact that RONA is not owned and controlled by a ‘Truly Canadian’ entity.”

‘RONA’S entire history is rooted in Canada’

The Ad Standards council made an initial ruling on the advertising last January after receiving two complaints from members of the public. RONA appealed the decision, which was upheld by a second council.

In a statement to the CBC, the company said that although it “strongly disagrees” with the decision, the signs have been removed from stores across the country “out of respect for the process.”

“RONA’S entire history is rooted in Canada,” the company said.

American-owned retail giant Lowe’s bought RONA in 2016 for $3.2 billion. As a result, the Ad Standards council decided RONA can’t advertise itself as ‘Truly Canadian.’ (Alan Diaz/Associated Press)

“It is incorporated in Quebec under Quebec law. Its head office is located in Boucherville (Quebec), where strategic and operational decisions regarding the company’s activities are made by RONA’s executive team, which is composed exclusively of Canadians. All RONA employees are employed in Canada.”

RONA began in 1939 as an alliance of independent hardware stores self-styled as “Les Marchands en Quincaillerie,” which roughly translates into “The Merchants of Hardware.”

The name changed to RONA in 1960 using the first-name letters of founders Rolland Dansereau and Napoleon Piotte.

Lowe’s bought RONA for $3.2 billion Cdn in 2016 and maintains a network of more than 400 stores across the country.

‘Where does the ownership lie?’

Marketing expert Alan Middleton says the rules are fairly clear-cut around corporate Canadian-ness.

“Where does the ownership lie?” said Middleton, with York University’s Schulich School of Business.

“And if the majority ownership and the decision-making around that ownership and the profits lie out of Canada, then they legitimately cannot say they are Canadian.”

RONA says it has taken down signs, like this one in Richmond, B.C., in order to comply with a finding from the Ad Standards council about the now American-owned company. (Google Maps)

Canadians are not driven to make consumer decisions based on patriotism in the same way that many Americans are, Middleton says, but it can be a preference.

“The interesting thing I find about this is they want to keep saying they’re Canadian-owned,” he said. “So they obviously see not so much an advantage in that, but a disadvantage with not being able to say it. And it will affect a number of their customers.”

Middleton pointed to competition within the home hardware industry from both Home Depot, which is American-owned and Home Hardware, which is Canadian-owned and franchise-based.

“[Home Hardware] is not only Canadian, but very locally Canadian, owned by franchisees in local communities,” Middleton said. “It could be used as a weapon against them.”

‘An active Canadian corporate citizen’

By comparison, Middleton points to Tim Hortons: The coffee chain is majority-owned by Brazil-based 3G Capital, but structured in a way that allows the company to say it is Canadian.

“You still may have foreign shareholders and you send out money, but that decision and the accounts and the income statement are approved in Canada by an auditor in Canada,” he said.

The Ad Standards council does not discuss details of its deliberations, which happen before panels which are generally made up of seven people — four from the industry and three from the general public.

“RONA has deep connections to, and participated in, Canadian business and industry groups,” the company said.

“Finally, RONA is an active Canadian corporate citizen, supporting over 260 local not-for-profit organizations and public schools across the country in communities where it is present.”

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Saudi Aramco targets sale of 0.5% of state oil giant to retail investors, sources say

Saudi Aramco targets sale of 0.5% of state oil giant to retail investors, sources say

Saudi Aramco is looking to sell up to 0.5 per cent of the state oil giant to retail investors in its planned initial public offering (IPO), three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

The Saudi oil group has not yet revealed the size of its planned IPO or what proportion of the company it will float, although sources have previously said this could be one to two per cent.

Aramco declined to comment.

It is expected to release more details about the company in an IPO prospectus document later on Saturday.

Assuming Aramco achieves a total valuation of $2 trillion US, the retail tranche could be worth around $10 billion US, the sources said on Saturday.

Aramco fired the starting gun on the domestic IPO last week after a series of false starts. It did not give details on how much would be sold, or when the listing would happen, while expert valuations vary from $1.2 to $2.3 trillion US.

A man reads Aramco’s Twitter page at a coffee shop in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Nov. 3. (Amr Nabil/The Associated Press)

A government committee has met in the past few months with dozens of wealthy Saudi individuals to secure pre-sale agreements, sources told Reuters last month.

And the government has encouraged investors to repatriate cash held overseas to buy into the IPO to avoid draining too much liquidity from the Saudi banking system, they said.

Reuters reported last month that Aramco can take advantage of new market rules that allow issuers the flexibility to sell more shares to retail investors, likely exceeding the usual 10 per cent seen in recent IPOs.

“Local demand is strong,” a second source said on Saturday, adding that this would lead institutional investors to think that up to 75 per cent of the IPO would be available for them.

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Wells Fargo ordered to pay $14M US over unfair foreign exchange trade

Wells Fargo ordered to pay $14M US over unfair foreign exchange trade

The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) ordered Wells Fargo & Co to pay more than $14 million US to settle charges it provided “misinformation” when conducting a large foreign exchange trade with a counterparty, the agency said in a statement on Friday.

The CFTC said it ordered Wells Fargo Bank NA to pay a civil monetary penalty of $10 million and restitution of $4.475 million, and required the bank to cease and desist violating the CFTC’s business conduct standards.

In a statement, Wells Fargo said it cooperated with the CFTC and was pleased to have resolved the matter.

Specifically, the CFTC said that Wells Fargo failed to properly price a $4 billion foreign exchange forward contract with an unnamed counterparty from 2014.

Rather than calculate an agreed upon weighted average price for the deal, the bank simply picked a rate it thought would be in the average range and acceptable to the counterparty, according to the regulator.

The CFTC said the bank provided a spreadsheet to the counterparty that supposedly showed how that average was calculated, even though the bank lacked the ability to track the trades that would provide the basis for the calculation.

The CFTC said the bank lacked adequate supervisory policies to ensure counterparties did not receive inaccurate information regarding such trades, and those shortcomings were not fixed until 2018.

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Alphabet board investigates company’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations

Alphabet board investigates company's handling of sexual misconduct allegations

The board of Google parent company Alphabet Inc. is investigating executives’ handling of sexual harassment and other misconduct claims, and expects to complete its probe by early December, according to a recent court filing.

CNBC first reported the investigation on Wednesday, citing unspecified materials that added that the board had retained an unnamed law firm to assist with the investigation.

Alphabet’s board formed a special litigation committee this spring after shareholders filed a lawsuit alleging that company directors played direct roles in covering up sexual misconduct by top executives, according to a filing in the lawsuit from last month. The committee is working with law firm Cravath Swaine & Moore, the filing said.

It is unclear whether Cravath or the special litigation committee have interviewed any alleged victims, witnesses or accused executives, some of whom are no longer at Alphabet.

Alphabet spokeswoman Heather Dickinson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Board investigations include looking into the behaviour of Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond, seen in this 2014 file photo, who is accused of having relationships with employees. (Eric Piermont/AFP via Getty Images)

The board investigation includes looking into the behaviour of David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, who has been accused of having relationships with employees, CNBC said.

Drummond has acknowledged some mistakes with a relationship he had with a colleague, but said he has not started a relationship with any co-workers since then.

The shareholders who sued Alphabet leadership are awaiting the results of the internal investigation as they decide how to proceed with the case. They have called for various governance reforms at the company, including reducing executives’ voting control and adding more independent directors.

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Vanishing act: Ghosting moves from the dating world to the job market

Vanishing act: Ghosting moves from the dating world to the job market

Canada’s hot job market is proving a challenge for employers and recruiters alike, as finding staff has become an increasingly difficult task in some sectors.

In fact, some workers have adopted the practice of ghosting, usually used to sever social ties with someone without any explanation, to manage their careers.

“I can book appointments for five people to come and have an interview and out of those five, three could be no-shows,” said Cathline James of Wise Bites, a snack-maker in Richmond B.C.

James employs 10 people to make bars, cookies and muffins free of the most common food allergens like dairy, nuts and wheat.

Already stocked in more than 400 stores across Canada, James says the demand for allergen-free products is making it hard to keep up with a growing list of orders.

She urgently needs a production supervisor so she can spend less time baking and more time on business. She also needs to hire another two workers as soon as possible, and predicts she’ll need even more help in January.

Wise Bites is struggling to hire staff and keep up with growth. In this photo, worker Hani Balkhair handles the company’s quinoa triple fudge bars. (Chris Corday/CBC)


Her job ads online haven’t been a recipe for success. In addition to the no-show candidates who don’t return calls or messages, James has been ghosted in an even more mysterious way.

Twice she’s had candidates come in for a trial shift and be paid the same day. Both workers performed well, claimed they liked the job and would return the next morning.

Then they vanished.

“No call, no reason,” James said.  “So you’re wondering what happened.”

Ghost stories coming from office towers, too

James isn’t the only person wondering what’s up with job candidates who disappear.

Workplace ghosting is happening in cities across North America.

It’s been noticed by the economists at the U.S Federal Reserve, and been covered by business school podcasts, NPRthe Wall Street Journal, Fast Company and others.

In the information technology world, ghosting can be especially acute for companies trying to fill specialized technical roles.

According to multiple recruitment firms contacted by CBC News, the problem has increased over the past 12 to 18 months and is also being seen for positions in accounting, financial services, insurance, law, marketing and sales.

“It’s exponentially increased,” said Mark Rouse, a partner at Toronto-based recruitment firm IQ Partners. “We believe we’re in what’s called the candidates’ market right now. Where there’s a high demand for qualified people, and a limited supply.”

Throughout 2019, numbers from Statistics Canada have confirmed the country is facing a labour shortage. A recent report highlighted that the employment rate is growing nearly twice as fast as the overall economy.   

One recruiting firm told CBC that for some jobs, about 20 to 25 per cent of candidates could drop out of an active hiring process without explanation, even after receiving a verbal offer of employment.    

A pricey problem

As Rouse explains, when a candidate ghosts out of the interview process or doesn’t show up for work, it costs both the recruiter and the employer time and money.    

“It’s a massive, massive inconvenience to us,” he said.

The disappearance of a promising prospect can also take another toll on those doing the hiring.

“People get, you know, invested in a number of ways,” he said. “Emotionally, not the least of it.”

Mark Rouse of the Toronto-based recruitment firm IQ Partners, says workplace ghosting has ‘exponentially increased’ in the past 12 to 18 months. (Oliver Walters/CBC )

The emotional sting comes with a kind of embarrassment. Few employers are willing to admit being ghosted, because it could hurt their reputation. 

Companies that are seen as so-called destination employers, such as Amazon, Apple, Disney, Ernst and Young, Johnson & Johnson, Nike and Siemens, all have plenty of candidates willing to work for them.

Lesser-known companies are less of a draw. That makes them extremely protective of their “employment brand,” Rouse said. 

If candidates are dropping out of the interview process, a company that may have spent years building an employment brand is left “worrying about what might happen to it,” he said.  

Who are the ghosts and why do they do it?

While there’s no hard data on ghosting, recruiters in Calgary, Toronto and Montreal contacted by CBC News indicated that candidates who ghost most often tend to be younger workers in the first five to 10 years of their career.  

For Katie Dolgin, the co-founder of Toronto recruitment firm Found People Inc., ghosting has increased from a rare occurrence a few years ago to something that affects 15 to 20 per cent of client job postings.    

Candidates, especially in technology, feel like they’re wanted, they’re hot commodities and they can just do that.– Katie Dolgin, Found People Inc.


“Candidates, especially in technology, feel like they’re wanted, they’re hot commodities and they can just do that,” she said.

Several recruiters told CBC that strong candidates may get multiple offers, which some will leverage against each other, and leave would-be employers dangling with no response.

While some recruiters think people who ghost don’t reply because they feel awkward about communicating bad news or rejecting an offer, Dolgin disagrees.

She sees a sense of entitlement among “ghosters.”

In her view, some young workers believe they should be advancing very quickly, and so they job hop for promotions they feel they deserve.

While that’s not a new motivation to change jobs, with companies desperate to fill positions in today’s job market, Dolgin believes there’s so much opportunity that the people who ghost feel no need to be transparent or considerate.

What goes around comes around

For companies and recruiters to complain about being ghosted by job-seekers is a bit rich for some people.

“This is something that employers have done for a long time” said Kate Rowbotham, a professor with the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.

“Not getting feedback from interviews, not responding to applications, you know, doing things like that, like just no contact.”

Kate Rowbotham, a business professor at Queen’s University, believes criticism of individuals who ghost is a double standard, because ‘ghosting is something that employers have done for a long time.’ (Joe Fiorino/CBC)

Rowbotham believes all parties should treat each other with respect in the hiring process, and that the criticism of individuals who ghost employers is a double standard.

Her take is some of that criticism could reflect corporate unease with the increasing power of workers in a strong job market.

However, she agrees with recruiters who say ghosting is a risky behaviour that could come back to haunt job-seekers in the future.

For example, Dolgin had a candidate who ghosted one job posting, only to get back in touch to express interest in another. The recruiter shot back a ghost-busting “you’re off my list” reply.

There’s also the classic big city/small world reality of the business community in many parts of Canada to consider.

“The person you’re ghosting today could end up at your company,” Rouse said. “Or five years from now, they could be at a company where you want a job, but they will remember.”   

Canada’s labour shortage is severe enough that some companies trying to expand are buying smaller businesses, in part to get the staff.

For those companies trying to attract new workers and worried about being ghosted, recruiters recommend streamlining the hiring process to as few steps as possible and making sure the salary you offer is competitive in your market.

Back in Richmond, B.C., Cathline James has taken those steps.

Wise Bites has also turned to an agency to help find the production supervisor the company has needed for almost a year.

James is hopeful it will work.

“For us, that’s a really big deal.”   

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Juul halts sales of mint in U.S., its top-selling e-cigarette flavour

Juul halts sales of mint in U.S., its top-selling e-cigarette flavour

Juul Labs said Thursday it will halt sales of its bestselling, mint-flavoured electronic cigarettes as it struggles to survive a nationwide backlash against vaping.

The voluntary step comes days after new government research showed that Juul is the top brand among high schoolers who use e-cigarettes and that many prefer mint.

“These results are unacceptable and that is why we must reset the vapour category in the U.S.,” said the company’s CEO K.C. Crosthwaite, in a statement.

Underage vaping has reached what health officials call epidemic levels. In the latest government survey, 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month, despite federal law banning sales to those under 18.

Under fire for its alleged role in sparking the vaping trend among teens, Juul has made a series of concessions to try and weather a crackdown from local, state and federal officials. It stopped selling popular fruit and dessert flavours in stores last year, and last month, stopped selling them online, too.

Earlier, the company replaced its CEO and pledged to stop advertising its products.

After halting mint sales, Juul will only sell menthol and tobacco flavours. Mint and menthol accounted for nearly 60 per cent of the company’s retail sales in the past year, according to data compiled by Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog.

Fruit, candy, dessert and other flavoured e-cigarettes have been targeted because of their appeal to underage users. Federal health officials are expected to soon release plans for removing most vaping flavours from the market.

In September, President Donald Trump said the flavour ban would include mint and menthol flavours. However, no details have yet been released, leading anti-vaping advocates to worry that the administration is backing away from its original plan.

Flavours are banned for traditional cigarettes in the U.S., except for menthol. In Canada, its product selection is limited but it still offers mint, mango and vanilla flavoured tobacco pods.

Juul is the bestselling e-cigarette brand in the U.S., but has been besieged by legal troubles, including multiple investigations by Congress, federal agencies and several state attorneys general. The company is also being sued by adults and underage Juul users who claim they became addicted to nicotine through the company’s products.

E-cigarettes typically heat a solution that contains nicotine, which makes cigarettes and e-cigarettes addictive. They have been sold in the U.S. for more than a decade and are often pitched as a lower-risk nicotine source for adult smokers.

With files from CBC News

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From oat field to coffee shop: The latest non-dairy star is grown in Canada

From oat field to coffee shop: The latest non-dairy star is grown in Canada

The latest star among non-dairy milk products comes from one of Canada’s most underrated crops: oats. 

Canadians are consuming about 20 per cent less dairy milk than they were a decade ago, according to Statistics Canada. In that time, people have turned to many non-dairy, or plant-based, milk alternatives: soy, almond, coconut, cashew, even rice.

Now, oat milk appears to be having a moment.

It started in Sweden with a brand called Oatly, which was introduced to the Canadian market about two years ago. In the last year alone, sales of oat milk have increased more than 250 per cent, while sales of soy, coconut and rice milk have gone down. Oat milk now claims three per cent of refrigerated non-dairy beverage sales. 

A variety of different oat milks hit Canadian store shelves about two years ago. Vancouver company Happy Planet/Earth’s Own makes about 99 per cent of the oat milk sold in Canada. (Renée Suen/File photo)

If you drink a glass of oat milk, chances are it contains oats grown in Saskatchewan. The province is the largest producer of oats in Canada, which is the largest exporter of oats in the world. And people are starting to take pride in it. 

“I don’t think that being a milk farmer is something that’s really been considered by a lot of oat producers before,” said Chris Rundel, who grows oats on about half of his land near Foam Lake, Sask.

“But as the market grows and that demand increases, and as the market figures out exactly what it wants out of oat milk, then producers in Saskatchewan and all oat producers will find the tools that we need to produce the product that people are looking for.”

Rundel, who is a board member with the Prairie Oat Growers Association, isn’t surprised that the product has caught on. But he said it’s “kind of exciting to see it being a little bit more in the spotlight as a trendy food product or alternative.”

‘We say it ticks all the boxes’

Oat milk is traditionally made by soaking oats and blending the oats with water. Then, the mixture is strained to separate the milk from the oats.

The big brands use an enzymatic process to cook the oats, and they say that results in a sweeter milk with more protein and fibre.

Oat milk hit Canadian stores in 2017 and sales have skyrocketed, claiming three per cent of the non-dairy beverage market. Sales of soy, coconut and rice milk have all declined. (Charlie Brockman/CBC)

Vancouver company Happy Planet makes about 99 per cent of the oat milk sold in Canada: $7.1 million worth in 2018. You can find it as Earth’s Own in grocery stores.

Company president Rex Sheehy said people who aren’t interested in drinking pea or soy milk are more open to oats because they are already on their breakfast table. 

“Oats is something that they eat, they consume every day, they know it’s healthy and, for us, it was an opportunity to also get a product that was very nutritious and healthy and tasted fantastic,” said Sheehy. “So we say it ticks all the boxes.”

Oat milk’s toughest competitor is almond milk. Out of the $216 million worth of chilled non-dairy milks sold in Canada in the past year, $137 million was almond milk.

But oat milk is more environmentally friendly than its counterparts on most points. 

According to researchers Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemece from Oxford University, it takes 628 litres of water to create one litre of cow’s milk. Almond milk takes about half that, while one litre of oat milk requires only 48 litres of water. 

It takes 628 litres of water to create one litre of milk. Almond milk takes less, but the nuts are grown in California, where there’s been a drought for eight years. In comparison, one litre of oat milk only takes 48 litres of water. (Charlie Brockman/CBC)

Each litre of oat milk also uses 10 times less land than the production of dairy milk. 

According to Poore and Nemece’s research, switching to oat milk cuts down on emissions. Its production creates 72 per cent less greenhouse gas than cow’s milk, but a bit more than almond milk.

‘It’s way more sustainable’

Oat milk is also billed as local. Many oats are milled in Saskatchewan and then turned into milk at the Earth’s Own plant in Quebec. 

“We’re looking to make sure there are no air miles, or as little as we can get on the products,” said Sheehy. “We want to support local — it’s way more sustainable.”

If you drink a glass of oat milk, it probably contains oats grown in Saskatchewan. The province is the largest producer of oats in Canada. (Grain Millers/Facebook)

Grain Millers Canada Corp., a company based in Yorkton, Sask., supplies milled oats to both Earth’s Own and Oatly for use in making milk. Bill Liska, sales manager of oats at Grain Millers, said the company is now building a new oat milling facility in Yorkton, pushed by demand across North America.

Liska lives in Minneapolis and has witnessed the rapid growth of oat milk, which hit the U.S. market earlier. Its popularity has led to line extensions including oat milk creamer, yogurt and even ice cream. Some cafés have sold out of the product and customers have paid up to four times the sales price for cartons online.

Liska said he didn’t predict the oat milk craze, and even thought the idea was a bit far-fetched. But his mind changed when he tasted it. 

“Some people may think it’s just another alternative to soy or almond or various nuts or flax, but once you’ve tried oat milk, you’re going to try it again,” Liska said.

To cater to cafés, multiple oat milk brands have launched barista blends, designed to mimic the properties of whole fat milk.

Victoria Bohay, longtime barista and manager of the Naked Bean Espresso Bar and Cafe in Regina, said oat milk is much easier to use than almond milk, coconut and soy. 

“It’s the best alternative that I’ve found here for coffee. It’s nice and thick. It’s creamy,” Bohay said. “It froths really nice, gives you that foam that you want on a latte or even makes a nice cappuccino.”

Bohay, who is allergic to dairy, turned to a completely plant-based lifestyle five years ago and said she has tried many other alternatives. She said she initially brought oat milk into her café when she found out that it was relatively environmentally friendly. 

“I’ve converted a lot of people into drinking oat milk at this point. I’m an oat milk pusher,” said Bohay. “I make everybody try it. I always tell them I’ll remake their drink if they don’t like it, and I’ve never had to remake a drink, so I guess that says a bit about it. They just keep ordering it again and again.”

Assessing the health benefits

But is oat milk healthy?

It has half as much protein as cow’s milk, so it doesn’t serve as a direct replacement. Nutrients such as calcium are not naturally occurring in oats, so the milk is fortified. 

Oat milk has half as much protein as cow’s milk and it’s fortified with calcium and other nutrients. But it has fewer carbs and less sugar, fat and saturated fat than dairy milk, and contains zero cholesterol. (Charlie Brockman/CBC)

Melanie Rozwadowski, a registered dietitian and University of Saskatchewan professor, said that oat milk should be considered a refreshing beverage, not a “milk.”

“If a person is believing that it’s replacing milk, whether it’s for themselves or their children … then they should be aware that the product should be fortified with these nutrients of concern: B12, calcium vitamin D and, perhaps, depending on the rest of the diet, protein as well,” Rozawadowski said.

“Depending on the rest of the diet, that might be irrelevant, or it could make the difference.” 

Like many other unsweetened non-dairy milks, oat milk is lower in carbs, sugar and saturated fat than cow’s milk, and contains zero cholesterol. 

From Foam Lake, Rundel has been following the research and development around oat milk products, and he’s excited by what he’s seeing. 

Chris Rundel farms near Foam Lake, Sask., and is a board member with the Prairie Oat Growers Association. He says the demand for oats has increased, and farmers are working to adapt. (Alex Soloducha/CBC)

“It’s a really viable alternative to cow’s milk,” he said. “And there’s lots more that can be done with that. I think we’re really just kind of starting to scratch the surface of the options for it.”

He’s equally thrilled by his potential role in this new trend.

“It feels good to be producing something that’s genuinely needed and that can generally help people in our country and all over the world,” said Rundel. “Because products from Saskatchewan … go all over the world. It’s really exciting to be a part of that.”

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Airbnb to bring in new hotline and review policy for ‘high-risk reservations’

Airbnb to bring in new hotline and review policy for 'high-risk reservations'

Short-term home rental company Airbnb said Wednesday it will introduce new safety measures in response to a fatal Halloween shooting in California last week, including a 24/7 hot line and review of “high risk reservations.”

Speaking at a conference, Airbnb co-founder and chief executive Brian Chesky said the company would make a “significant investment” in the new measures and that it would not have an impact on plans to go public next year.

“We are making the most significant change to our platform to increase the amount of trust in our platform,” Chesky said at the New York Times DealBook Conference.

San Francisco-based Airbnb has already banned “party houses” after the shooting last week, where five people were killed at a large Halloween gathering inside a rental home.

Airbnb will now expand manual screening of high-risk reservations from Dec. 15 to identify suspicious reservations and start a verification process for all the listings on its platforms, the company said.

Five people were killed and several others wounded in a Halloween night party shooting at a large rental home in a wealthy San Francisco Bay Area community. ((Ray Chavez/East Bay Times/The Associated Press)

It will also set up a hot line for neighbours of Airbnb properties with concerns, and offer a “guest guarantee” whereby customers who are unhappy with a listing can rebook at another property or get a full refund.

Chesky said Airbnb was profitable in 2017 and 2018, and that the company has more money in its coffers than the $3.2 billion US that it had raised through fundraising.

Airbnb is leaning toward going public through a direct listing, rather than an initial public offering, Reuters has reported. In an IPO, shares are sold by a company to raise money. In a direct listing, however, no new shares are sold, rather existing investors are given the opportunity to sell shares.

Asked about how Airbnb was approaching going public through an IPO or a direct listing, Chesky said, “I certainly don’t have any news to make except to say that we also don’t need to raise new money.”

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Calgary-based Houston Oil & Gas ceases operations, leaving almost 1,300 wells needing cleanup

Calgary-based Houston Oil & Gas ceases operations, leaving almost 1,300 wells needing cleanup

Another Alberta oil and gas company has closed its doors, leaving more than $80 million in estimated costs to cleanup its remaining wells, pipelines and facilities.

Calgary-based Houston Oil & Gas told the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) last month that it was ceasing operations and no longer has any employees, according to court documents. Houston entered receivership last week.

The company is focused primarily in southeast Alberta and predominantly produces natural gas, according to its web site.

“I feel bad for them,” said Marc Raedschelders, who has a Houston natural gas well on his property near Pincher Creek in the southwest corner of the province. 

Raedschelders said he’s not surprised the company is no longer operating, since Houston’s surface rights payments to him were often delayed. He’s unsure whether the well on his property will be sold to a different company or be decommissioned.

“I don’t know what my options are,” he said.

Houston has 1,264 wells, 41 facilities and 251 pipelines, according to documents.

An oilfield service crew decommissions a natural gas well near Stettler, Alta. The sector faces challenges including lower capital flows and weaker prices. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

The court documents say some of the wells have already been transferred to the Orphan Well Association (OWA) to be decommissioned. The OWA is an industry-funded organization that cleans up old oil and gas infrastructure when companies goes bankrupt and the assets cannot be sold.

“If all of Houston’s wells are ultimately designated as orphans, the orphan inventory of wells requiring [decommissioning] will increase by nearly 30 per cent,” according to a court submission by the OWA. In that event, the AER estimates the price tag at $81.5 million. 

Houston is the latest oil and gas company in Alberta to fail. 

Last month, Bellatrix Exploration entered creditor protection and is still looking for a buyer.

In May, Trident Exploration shut down, which put 94 people out of work and left approximately 3,650 wells without an owner.

While there is no official list of how many firms have declared bankruptcy since the oil price crash in late 2014, many others have declared bankruptcy or entered creditor protection. 

Some small and mid-sized companies are fairing better than others, according to Patrick O’Rourke, an analyst with Calgary-based AltaCorp Capital.

A sign is located near a Trident Exploration natural gas well near the community of Didsbury, Alta. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

“Everybody is facing headwinds here on a number of fronts,” he said, pointing to “lower capital flows, less investor interest and weaker prices.”

Big or small, the more successful companies are focused on oil properties or natural gas wells that are “liquid,” meaning they also produce higher valued commodities such as ethane, propane, butane, isobutane, and pentane.

Companies primarily focused just on natural gas, seem to struggle the most.

“Gas prices have been extremely challenging, specifically in Alberta,” said O’Rourke. “We’ve seen some strengthening in October with low storage levels and the weather out the window here being pretty cold, but generally, the producers who have pursued that liquids strategy have faired better than some junior gas producers.”

According to Houston’s web site, the company formed in 2002 and began production in 2015.

“Houston Oil & Gas Ltd. is steadfast in the management of its end-of-life liabilities. The company invests on a monthly basis, addressing the down hole abandonment of wells, decommissioning of facilities, infrastructure and reclamation of wells that are non-productive,” according to its web site.

Hardie and Kelly Inc. has been appointed to ensure Houston’s wells are properly maintained and to look at possibly selling some of the assets.

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