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More Albertans file for bankruptcy as oil-and-gas sector struggles, expert says





The difficulties in Alberta’s oil-and-gas market are likely pushing more people to file for insolvency, a bankruptcy expert says.

In the past year, nearly 11,000 more Albertans filed either a consumer proposal or bankruptcy, up 8.4 per cent over the year before, according to new figures from the federal Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy.

The statistics measure insolvencies over the year ending in November 2018. Data shows these recent figures are more stark than the year before, which recorded a 2.3 per cent increase in Alberta’s personal insolvencies.

This past year’s increase overall, of personal and business insolvencies, placed Alberta as the second-highest among Canadian provinces at 8.3 per cent, beaten only by Newfoundland and Labrador. The oil-producing eastern province saw an increase of near 12 per cent.

To find out what contributed to this change, Calgary Eyeopener radio host David Gray spoke with David Lewis, an executive board member of the Canadian Association of Insolvency and Restructuring Professionals.

Here’s a portion of their conversation Monday.

Q: What can you glean from these numbers in terms of why?

A: A large portion of why is our price differential that we see for our oil and gas market. People are struggling to find work that was paying similar to what they were earning, and their debt level hasn’t changed. We’ve seen a levelling off of home prices increasing, and they’ve started to actually decrease in most places, and then we’ve seen the prime rate increase 125 basis points in the last year — all which add stress to people who are trying to manage their debt level. 

Q: How much of this is about mortgages and the size of mortgages Albertans are carrying? 

A: I think it’s more the size of unsecured debt that they’re carrying more than it is the mortgage themselves. Mortgages, yes, they’re a big percentage of that.

As Statistics Canada’s reported, we don’t have a historic number of people defaulting on their mortgages. They’re not three months behind but it’s not helping, right? If you’ve got to make a mortgage payment or make a credit card payment, you’re going to make your mortgage payment first. 

Q: You’re talking about levels of personal debt. But what about business insolvencies?

A: So business insolvencies in Alberta have been up [2.6] per cent, and we’re second in the country with 198 filings year-to-date, November 2018, compared with 193 last year.

The problem with business filings that we don’t see is there’s lots of businesses that will close down and not file a formal filing because they don’t have the funds or their assets don’t allow for such a filing to occur.

So such things as your local restaurant that was opened Friday may be closed Saturday because they just can’t afford to be opened anymore and they’ve made that decision but they’re not making a bankruptcy filing. They’re just shutting their doors. 

Q: What you’re saying, I’ll be blunt, sounds pretty grim. Is this just that? Is this a short-term thing? Is this what happens after we’ve had several bad years in this province after so many good years in this province? Or is this something that you can project into the future as something set to continue?

A: Unless we see changes in the oil and gas market such as a pipeline being being built and approved or some more economic certainty, I think we’re going to see this go into the future for quite some time.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


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Future of Ottawa: Coffee with Francis Bueckert





Francis Bueckert: When it comes to the current landscape of coffee-roasting companies and independent cafes in Ottawa, I think we are at a really interesting moment in time. There are more local roasters that are doing artisanal small-batch production—with more attention to the quality and origin of the beans.

With larger corporations such as Starbucks closing locations, it has opened a bit of space for local players to grow. We have been lucky to work with many folks in the coffee-roasting community, and we have found that there is a willingness to collaborate among different coffee roasters. For example, when Cloudforest started back in 2014, we were roasting our coffee at Happy Goat and it was the expertise of their head roaster Hans that helped me learn how to roast. Other companies such as Brown Bag Coffee have also lent a hand when we needed extra roasting capacity. There are others, such as Lulo, Mighty Valley Coffee, Bluebarn, The Artery, and Little Victories that are also part of the growing local coffee community. It’s small roasters like these who have shown me what a coffee community can look like, and that we can help to elevate each other, rather than being locked in competition.

If you care to make a prediction… What’s happening to the local café industry in 2021?

We believe that there is hope and that 2021 can be a big pivot year for small roasters and cafes.

This year will not be ideal from a business point of view. However, it could create a shift in people’s attitude toward where they get their coffee. We are holding out hope that people will support the roasters and cafes that are local to help them economically survive what is in all reality a very difficult time.

It all depends on where consumers decide to go this year. People are starting to recognize that supporting large corporations at this moment will be at the cost of the local roasters and cafes. There is the growing realization that a future where there is only Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks would be pretty bleak. So we have an opportunity this year to support the kind of local businesses that we want to see thrive.

In your wildest dreams, what will the landscape for local coffee roasters and cafés look like in your lifetime?

In my wildest dreams, all of the coffee roasters and cafés would be locally owned and independent. They would all be focused on direct trade and artisanal coffee. Each different coffee roaster and café would know exactly where their coffee came from. Ideally, each company would be a partnership between the farmers who grow the beans and the people here selling them. There would be a focus on how to cooperate and collaborate with the farmers in the countries of origin to share the benefits around. We would all work together and share orders of cups, lids, and other packaging so that we could get better bulk pricing. In this way, we would make our local coffee community so efficient that the large corporate coffee companies wouldn’t even be able to compete.

We would also like to see people use coffee as a way to create social good. For example, we started Cloudforest as a way of helping support farmers in Ecuador who were taking a stand against large mining companies. This remote community stood up to protect their environment, so that they could have clean drinking water and soil for the next generation. They started an organic coffee cooperative to help show that there are other models of development, and we are doing our part year after year to help support their vision. They have a vision of development that does not include mass deforestation and contamination, and organic coffee is a key (among others) to show that another way forward is possible.

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Special events in the Ottawa Valley dominate annual OVTA tourism awards





The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association hopes that its annual tourism awards will provide a little sunshine during what is a dark time for local tourism operators because of the pandemic.

The Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards are presented annually by the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association (OVTA) to individuals, businesses, and events that recognize the importance of working together for the growth of the local tourism industry, as well as offering exceptional visitor experiences.

“After a year that saw a lot of businesses in the hospitality and tourism industry being challenged like never before, the annual Ottawa Valley Tourism Awards represent a bit of light on the horizon” said Chris Hinsperger, co-owner of the Bonnechere Caves.

The Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s (OVTA) Awards Committee co-chairpersons, Meghan James and Chris Hinsperger, said they were very pleased with the recent nominations received, especially in the Special Events category. Submissions were received for The Farm to Fork Dinner Series at the Whitewater Inn; Light up the Valley; The Eganville Curling Clubs’ Rock the Rings; The Ontario Festival of Small Halls ; The Bonnechere Caves On-line Underground Concert Series; The Opeongo Nordic Ski Clubs’ Ski Loppet; The Tour de Bonnechere — Ghost de Tour 2020; and The Bonnechere Caves Rock ‘n Roll Parking Lot Picnic.

“During a time when communities were challenged, it is nice to see that people still made an effort to get together and celebrate, albeit under certain conditions. It just shows the creativity and resiliency of our tourism Community here in the valley” said Meghan James, director of sales at the Pembroke Best Western.

There are three Award categories: The Marilyn Alexander Tourism Champion Award, The Business of Distinction and The Special Event of the Year.

Hinsperger, is excited about this year’s awards.

“During this pandemic the hospitality and tourism industry was the first to be hit, was the hardest hit and will be the last of our industries to fully recover. As Valley entrepreneurs we owe it to ourselves, to our businesses and to our communities to be an active part of that recovery. Our livelihood and economic recovery depends on our efforts. And we will get back to welcoming people from all over the world to share a little bit of the place we are privileged to call home. This awards process leaves myself and others fully optimistic about our positive outcomes.”

Award winners will be announced at the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association’s virtual annual general meeting on Monday, May 31.

The OVTA is the destination marketing organization for the Upper Ottawa Valley and proudly represents more than 200 tourism businesses, comprised of attractions and outfitters, accommodation, food, beverage and retail establishments, artists and galleries, municipalities, as well as media and industry suppliers. The OVTA is supported by the County of Renfrew, Renfrew County municipalities and the City of Pembroke.

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Future of Ottawa: Farming with Jeremy Colbeck





Jeremy Colbeck: Well first, let’s talk about what we mean by farming. Although farms, and farming as an occupation, are in decline across Canada, they are still a major part of our rural landscape. That’s even more true for a strange city like Ottawa which includes a LOT of rural areas and whose urban boundary takes, what, three hours to cross? About 40 per cent of the rural land in Ottawa is farmland. Most of that farming is corn and soybean cash-crop, as well as some dairy and livestock farming. That’s mostly conventional farming (the kind that is profitable but not exactly where you take your kids on a Saturday).

There are also a lot of agri-tourism businesses in Ottawa, which give you that oh-so-good Saturday spot for family donkey-petting and apple-picking. And it’s totally understandable from a business perspective, but sometimes surprising to find out, that even though they grow some of the Christmas trees they sell, they might also be reselling some that come from much larger farms far away. The farmland around Ottawa is also inflated in price because of its proximity to the city, where it is in demand by would-be hobby farmers—folks who want to do some farming on their property in their spare time but make their money (to subsidize their small-scale farming habit) elsewhere. Unfortunately, many of these properties will have large mansions built on them, which will then make them completely unaffordable for the average farmer

There’s also a segment of small-to-medium-sized Ottawa farms that grow “premium” (artisanal, unique, extra-fresh, ecologically- or organically-grown etc…) products that they sell directly to local eaters via farmers’ markets or other direct marketing channels, including on-farm stores and farm stands. That’s where BeetBox fits in.

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