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News and Opinions Highlights - October

  • Canada-US softwood lumber uncertainty continues – The deadline to reach a new Canada-United States (US) Softwood Lumber agreement expired in October, and it is widely expected that the US industry will pursue countervailing and anti-dumping tariffs which could take effect as early as spring 2017. Restrictive trade measures would hurt the BC forest industry, which has already seen significant mill closures and job losses resulting from the expiration of the previous agreement. The industry has worked to minimize these risks by making gains in other markets, most notably China, and by acquiring US mills.
  • Quark Venture and Chinese firm launch $656 million life sciences fund – Vancouver-based venture capital firm Quark Venture announced in October that it was partnering with GF Securities Company, a Chinese investment bank with a Canadian subsidiary, to launch the Global Health Sciences Venture Fund. The $656 million fund, based in Vancouver, is the largest of its kind in Canada, and plans to invest in a global portfolio of biotechnology and health sciences companies.
  • UBC partners with University of Toronto to help tech startups – The University of British Columbia's (UBC) Sauder School of Business is launching the Western arm of the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL), a seed-stage program based at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Business, to help high-tech ventures driven by university research to maximize their commercial impact and benefit to society. CDL-West will support scaleable startups by providing advice from technical experts, coaching from entrepreneurs, and access to venture capital. The program will serve ventures originating from UBC and other universities across Western Canada.
  • Saskatchewan economy to post modest growth – BMO Financial Group is forecasting Saskatchewan's economy to grow a modest 0.5 percent this year before rebounding to two percent growth in 2017. The forecast is part of BMO's Blue Book, a report on Canada's provincial economies. The oil sector in the province is expected to decline further due to weaker prices impacting business tied to the sector. The outlook for other commodities is mixed, with weakness in potash as production rises but with lower prices, while agriculture is having a strong year, albeit with lower prices.
  • Hylife to invest $95 million – Hylife, a major Manitoba-based pork producer, plans to invest $95 million on the expansion and modernization of their hog-processing plant in Neepawa, a town in south-western Manitoba, over the next three years. Construction is slated to begin in 2017 and is expected to create over 80 local jobs. Hylife currently employs 1,200 people in Neepawa, recently constructed a feed mill in Randolph and owns a restaurant in Tokyo. As Canada's number one fresh-chilled pork exporter to Japan, they are looking to expand their brand presence to capture more of the Japanese pork market.
  • More Job Loss in Manitoba's North – The IGA grocery store in Opaskwayak Cree Nation, near The Pas in northern Manitoba, is set to close in the coming weeks, leaving 47 people unemployed. Sobeys West representative, Keri Scobie, released a statement blaming the current economic situation and the underperformance of the store for the closure. The Pas Mayor Jim Scott is worried this will not be the end of the bad news for the 5,000 people in The Pas and 3,000 living on reserve after previously announced closures at the Tolko paper mill and employment reductions due to reduced rail service to Churchill from The Pas by OmniTRAX.
  • Group seeks funds for machine learning technology – About 200 business and government leaders met in Winnipeg to show support for a not-for-profit Enterprise Machine Intelligence and Learning Initiative (EMILI) that is looking to create a centre of excellence in Winnipeg for research, commercialization and training with respect to machine learning technology. The group is hoping that the federal government will contribute $100 million over five years towards the project. Supporters of EMILI include Brian Pallister, Premier of Manitoba; Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Research in Motion; and other prominent Manitoban entrepreneurs and business leaders.
  • Alberta Surface Rights Board Claims – The Alberta Surface Rights Board (SRB), a quasi-judicial tribunal that resolves compensation disputes between landowners and oil, gas, and coal operators, has experienced a significant increase in claims against oil companies in 2016. In 2015, the SRB received a total of 764 recovery of rental applications under the Surface Rights Act from landowners who had not received payment from oil companies leasing their land. Between January and August 2016, the number of applications totalled 1,501, worth approximately $3 million. In response, the SRB has streamlined its procedures for recurring applications, bringing total processing time down from six months to three. Companies that fail to make payments following two written notices from the SRB are stripped of their rights of entry to the site and the provincial government is then responsible to pay the outstanding amount to the landowner through the General Revenue Fund.