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Mexico oil platform on fire, 300 workers forced to leave

Written By doni icha on Rabu, 01 April 2015 | 22.39

Mexican state-run oil company Pemex said on Wednesday it was fighting a fire on oil platform in Campeche Bay on the Gulf of Mexico, home to the country's biggest oil field, and that about 300 workers have been evacuated from the platform.

Campeche Bay

Mexican state-run oil company Pemex said on Wednesday it was fighting a fire on oil platform in Campeche Bay. (Google Maps)

Pemex said on Twitter that a fire had broken out on the Abkatun Permanente platform overnight and eight firefighting boats were tackling the blaze.

Local media reported that 15 people were injured and taken to hospitals. Pemex could not immediately confirm this.

Pemex has suffered a number of accidents in recent years, with at least 37 people killed by a blast at the company's Mexico City headquarters in 2013. Another 26 people were killed at a fire in a Pemex natural gas facility in September 2012.

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Aeroplan membership growing faster than seats available, say members

Two Aeroplan members have decided to Go Public after finding it almost impossible to use their points to book certain flights.

The popular travel rewards program no longer seems to be able keep up with demand. With five million members and counting, is Aeroplan a victim of its success?

Michael Finkelstein of Toronto has been an Aeroplan points collector since 1992. In February, he tried using his Aeroplan miles to book a trip for himself and his wife to Europe.

"Last year we were able to book three months ahead of time," Finkelstein told Go Public. "[But this year] we started in February to try and book for June, July, and couldn't get the space for that.

Go Public Michael Finkelstein Aeroplan

Michael Finkelstein says an Aeroplan manager told him the program is having trouble getting airlines to allocate more seats for members. (CBC)

"Then we went further, we went to July, August and September. All the way until March of 2016. We made 50 attempts to try and book a round-trip flight in business class."

He complained to the company, but was told there was nothing it could do. He said he was told the company has grown exponentially and it can't get the space allocation from airlines.

"That's what one of the supervisors told me," said Finkelstein. "I said to them, 'This is not my problem if you don't have space … I'm very unhappy. This is not what I expected.'"

Additional Air Canada surcharges

Ian Gill from Huntingdon, Que., is another unhappy Aeroplan customer. He tried to book an international flight to India using his travel points.

"I was always under the impression if you wanted to book a business class seat, [you need to] book a year in advance in order to get availability with Air Canada.

"We're planning our trip next January and I started looking in February, and I haven't been able to find anything."

With no availability in business class, Huntingdon decided to try economy. He said that's when he got his second unwelcome surprise.

He says he discovered the taxes and fees that are part of the Aeroplan tickets jumped if an Air Canada flight was part of the trip.

"The difference in price is substantial. It can range in price from $450 to $950 per ticket in addition to the [regular] taxes and fees that Aeroplan charges," Gill said.

Go public aeroplan Ian Gill

Ian Gill found the taxes and fees that are part of Aeroplan tickets jumped if an Air Canada flight was part of the trip. (CBC)

Go Public found that those "carrier surcharges" applied to Air Canada flights are passed on from the airline to Aeroplan and then to travellers. 

"Many times you have no choice — especially if you have fixed dates when you have to travel ... if they actually have an Air Canada flight going. You have no choice, you have to take one," Gill said.

"I think it's a bit of a scam, because you're led to believe that you're going to be getting something for nothing. But when it comes down to it, I guess you don't get anything for nothing."

Canadians love their loyalty programs

Patrick Sojka, the Calgary-based travel blogger behind Rewards Canada, said Canadians are among the biggest users of loyalty programs in the world.

Aeroplan members can collect rewards by using their Aeroplan credit cards and by shopping at certain businesses — everything from hardware stores to car rental companies to gas stations.

Go public Aeroplan Patrick Sojka Rosa Marchitelli

Travel blogger Patrick Sojka told Go Public's Rosa Marchitelli that because so many Canadians have joined Aeroplan, a large number of people are competing for a small number of seats. (CBC)

"We like to join a lot of them. We've seen studies where Canadians carry four loyalty cards in our wallets, [and sometimes] up to 10 in our wallets," Sojka said.

Adding to the problem, he said, is that airlines are tightening up routes, flying fewer flights between cities and ensuring those flights are full — all factors that make it difficult to get a seat using points. 

Sojka said just eight to 10 per cent of Air Canada seats are allocated to Aeroplan.

"To a point they are over-extended. You have so many people competing for so few seats with these mileage options," he said.

Aeroplan offers other rewards

Aeroplan told Go Public it has tried to address the issue by offering collectors other options, like using points to buy merchandise, book hotels or car rentals.

According to Christa Poole, senior external communications manager at Aimia Inc, the company that owns Aeroplan, approximately 2.7 million rewards were issued to members in 2014, including 1.9 million flights on Air Canada and other Aeroplan carriers.

Asked for specific numbers on how fast the program is growing, Poole wouldn't offer details. 

She said space is only restricted for what the company calls "Classic Flight rewards," the option that requires the least number of points. 

Aeroplan launched Market Fare Flight Rewards in January 2014, which allows members to book any available seat.

However, those seats usually require more points and are only available on Air Canada flights, so travellers have to pay the additional Air Canada carrier surcharge.

After their most recent experience with Aeroplan, both Finkelstein and Gill said they wonder if it's time for a change.

"I thought I was being treated like — not even a third-class citizen," said Finkelstein. "I was being treated like they don't appreciate my business."

Read Aeroplan's response to Go Public in full

CBC is not responsible for 3rd party content

Submit your story ideas

Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.

We tell your stories and hold the powers that be accountable.

We want to hear from people across the country with stories they want to make public.

Submit your story ideas to Kathy Tomlinson at Go Public.

Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter.

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Tim Hortons will test out new third coffee variety in 5 test markets

Colombian offering will be chain's first single-origin coffee product yet

The Canadian Press Posted: Apr 01, 2015 8:50 AM ET Last Updated: Apr 01, 2015 9:24 AM ET

Tim Hortons is pouring a new cup of joe starting today as it looks to attract coffee connoisseurs from some of its competitors.

The Canadian chain says it will begin testing its first single-origin coffee in five markets across select parts of the country.

The flavour is called Three Peaks Colombian, and it's being sourced from Cauca, Colombia.

Tim Hortons has traditionally served a coffee blend of beans from serveral sources in different countries.

Last year the company rolled out a dark roast in an effort to give customers more options.

The company says it will test the new coffee in five markets across the country for eight weeks:

  • Sudbury, Ont.
  • North Bay, Ont. 
  • Saint John, N.B.
  • Moncton, N.B
  • Abitibi, Que.

Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

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Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.

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Travelodge in Canada sold by Holloway REIT for $21M

Halifax-based Holloway Lodging Corp. has sold its Travelodge franchise business for $21 million.

It owned Travelodge, with about 90 franchise hotels, for less than a year as it was part of its purchase last year of Royal Host Inc.

Travelodge logo

Holloway Lodging sold its Travelodge franchise business in Canada for $21 million. (Travelodge)

It paid $157 million in cash and shares last year to take control of Royal Host, which owned all the Canadian franchise business of Travelodge. It sold a Toronto Travelodge in February for $13 million.

Holloway said it expects to record a $6.4-million gain from the sale, which will be used to pay down a loan it took out to pay for Royal Host.

"While the franchise business was a solid asset within Holloway's portfolio, it was not a core asset for us," said Holloway chair Michael Rapps. "The sale of this business will allow management to focus on our core business of owning and operating hotels."

Rapps said the sale helps to unlock value for shareholders. 

Holloway did not name the buyer, which will tender $16 million in cash and $5 million in subordinated secured notes.

Holloway owns and operates 35 hotels with 3,967 rooms.

The company has substantial holdings in Western Canada, but in its most recent financial reports, for the last quarter of 2014, it was unwilling to speculate how much impact it would feel from diminished business caused by the slowdown in the oilpatch.

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Automakers didn't invest in new Canadian capacity in 2014

Not a single automaker announced new capacity investments in Canada last year, according to a report prepared at the University of Windsor.

The report measures only investments in new assembly plants or money spent to increase capacity at existing plants. Upgrades to plants that have no effect on capacity are not included.

Canada has not received new capacity investments in four of the last five years. Over a four-year period from 2011 to 2014, Canada has received $180 million, or 0.2 per cent, of all global new capacity investment announcements.

The Annual Major Automotive Assembler Investment Announcements Report, prepared by the Office of Automotive & Vehicle Research at the Odette School of Business, University of Windsor, and the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association, reports that $24.1 billion in auto assembler new capacity investments were announced globally in 2014.

That's a 36.9 per cent increase from the $17.6 billion reported in 2013.

China, the world's largest automotive market, led the way in new capacity in 2014 with a 52.7-per-cent increase worth $12.7 billion.  

The U.S. was a distant second last year, with new capacity investment announcements of $4.2 billion, up substantially from 2013.

Nearly 60 per cent of all new capacity investment announcements made over the past four years — a total of $48.7 billion — have been in China.

The next three leading countries in new capacity investments over the past four years were:

  • Mexico — $9.3 billion
  • U.S. — $7.7 billion
  • Brazil —$7.6 billion

North American light vehicle assembly will likely establish an all-time high by 2016, the report says. But the majority of new vehicle assembly capacity in North America will be going to the southern U.S. and Mexico and will be added by the Japanese, South Korean and European assemblers.  

Future assembly growth from the Detroit Three will be coming outside of North America, much like it did last year.  New capacity growing announcements from the Detroit 3 in 2014 were made for China, Brazil, Russia and the United States.

While new capacity wasn't increased in Canada in 2014, assembly was up 4.8 per cent, to nearly 2.5 million units.

The report also says automotive jobs in Canada remain below the levels reached before the downturn of 2009.

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100 former students at U.S. Everest College owner go on 'debt strike'

Written By doni icha on Selasa, 31 Maret 2015 | 22.39

Sarah Dieffenbacher is on a debt strike. She's refusing to make payments on the more than $100,000 in federal and private loans she says she owes for studies at a for-profit college that she now considers so worthless she doesn't include it on her resume.

The "debt strike" sentiment is catching on.

Calling themselves the "Corinthian 100" - named for the troubled Corinthian Colleges, Inc., which operated Everest College, Heald College and WyoTech before agreeing last summer to sell or close its 100-plus campuses - about 100 current and former students are refusing to pay back their loans, according to the Debt Collective group behind the strike.

They're meeting Tuesday with officials from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent government agency that already has asked the courts to grant relief to Corinthian students who collectively have taken out more than $500 million in private student loans.

The Education Department is the group's primary target, because they want the department to discharge their loans. A senior department official is scheduled to attend the meeting.

Denise Horn, an Education Department spokeswoman, said the department has taken steps to help Corinthian students, but is urging them to make payments to avoid default. The department has income-based repayment options.

By not paying back their loans, the former Corinthian students potentially face a host of financial problems, such as poor credit ratings and greater debt because of interest accrued.

The former students argue that the department should have done a better job regulating the schools and informing students that they were under investigation.

"I would like to see them have to answer for why they allowed these schools to continue to take federal loans out when they were under investigation for the fraudulent activity they were doing," said Dieffenbacher, 37.

Dieffenbacher said she received an associate's degree in paralegal studies from Everest College in Ontario, California, and later went back for a bachelor's in criminal justice before later dropping out. She said she left school with about $80,000 in federal loans and $30,000 in private loans, but when she went to apply for jobs at law firms she was told her studies didn't count for anything.

Dieffenbacher, who works in collections for a property management company, said she was allowed at first to defer her loan payments, but now should be paying about $1,500 a month that she can't afford.

Makenzie Vasquez, of Santa Cruz, California, said she left an eight-month program to become a medical assistant at Everest College in San Jose after six months because she couldn't afford the monthly fees. She said she owes about $31,000 and went into default in November because she hasn't started repayment.

"I just turned 22 and I have this much debt and I have nothing to show for it," said Vasquez, a server at an Italian restaurant.

Many of Corinthian's troubles came to light last year after it was placed by the Education Department on heightened cash monitoring with a 21-day waiting period for federal funds. That was after the department said it failed to provide adequate paperwork and comply with requests to address concerns about the company's practices, which included allegations of falsifying job placement data used in marketing claims and of altered grades and attendance records.

On Tuesday, the Education Department released a list of 560 institutions - including for-profit, private and public colleges - that had been placed on heightened cash monitoring, meaning the department's Federal Student Aid Office is providing additional oversight of the schools for financial or compliance issues. The department said the effort was done to "increase transparency and accountability."

The administration has taken other steps to crack down on the for-profit college industry, such as announcing a new rule last year that would require career training programs to show that students can earn enough money after graduation to pay off their loans. The rule has been challenged in court by the for-profit education sector.

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U.S. to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 28% as part of new treaty

The United States pledged Tuesday to cut its greenhouse gas emissions up to 28 per cent as part of a global treaty aimed at preventing the worst effects of climate change, the White House said.

The Obama administration's contribution to the treaty, which world leaders expect to finalize in December, codifies a commitment President Barack Obama first made late last year in Beijing, when he announced a joint U.S.-China climate deal that raised global hopes that developed and developing nations can come together to fight climate change.

The U.S. proposal has drawn intense interest around the world. Most nations will miss Tuesday's informal deadline to convey their contributions to the UN — only the EU, Switzerland and Mexico unveiled their pledges before the U.S. By announcing its commitment early, the U.S. hopes to dial up the political pressure on other countries to take equally ambitious steps to cut emissions.

White House senior adviser Brian Deese said Tuesday that, along with the U.S. pledge, countries that account for more than half of total carbon pollution from the energy sector have submitted or announced what they will do to combat climate change beginning after 2020.

Canada greenhouse gas reductions

Canada is among those nations that have not revealed the level of commitment they are willing to make as part of the treaty. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

"That's a big deal, because truly global challenges demand global solutions," Deese said on the White House blog. "Climate change is real, it is being driven by human activity, and it is not a problem any one country can solve on its own."

In the works for years, the treaty is set to be finalized in Paris in December. If successful, it will mark the first time all nations — not just wealthier ones like the U.S. — will have agreed to do something about climate change.

As part of its proposal, known to climate negotiators as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, the U.S. is also asserting that its contribution is both ambitious and fair,

It was unclear what metrics the U.S. would use to back up that claim. But the proposal is expected to emphasize that the Obama administration has accelerated the rate of emissions reductions nearly twofold. Early in his presidency, Obama committed to cut U.S. emissions 17 per cent by 2020; his subsequent goal for 2025 pushes it to between 26 per cent and 28 per cent.

How will the U.S. meet its goal? The Obama administration has avoided putting hard numbers on the size of emissions reductions it expects from specific steps it is taking. In its submission, the EU listed specific economic sectors — such as transportation, energy and manufacturing — where it expects major reductions, and named the specific greenhouse gases it plans to cut.

In contrast, the U.S. is expected to point broadly to the steps Obama is taking through executive action, such as pollution limits on power plants, stricter vehicle emissions limits, and initiatives targeting specific gases like methane and hydrofluorocarbons.

Many of those steps face major legal challenges and intense political opposition, raising the risk that they could be undermined or even discarded once Obama leaves office in 2017.

"Considering that two-thirds of the U.S. federal government hasn't even signed off on the Clean Power Plan and 13 states have already pledged to fight it, our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican.

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Amazon tests delivery drones at a secret site in Canada — here's why

If your Amazon order gets delivered by a drone sometime in the near future, you'll know Canada helped make that happen.

Seattle-based Amazon wants to deliver packages of under 2.3 kilograms (five pounds) in 30 minutes or less using its Amazon Prime Air autonomous drones in the near future.

'I think the [U.S.] rules make it difficult for companies to fully develop their technology.'— Diana Cooper, lawyer

But in the company's home country, it's had a hard time getting approval to do the tests it needs to make that a reality. U.S. rules on drone testing are restrictive and waits for approval are long.

So Amazon is conducting outdoor flight tests in Canada instead, something that many companies dealing in drones are starting to get interested in.

Amazon spokeswoman Kristen Kish confirmed in an email to CBC News that Amazon is doing controlled flight tests of drone prototypes in multiple international locations, including outdoors at a rural test site in Canada.

"We are rapidly experimenting and iterating on Amazon Prime Air, working to make it a reality," she said.

According to Transport Canada, the testing licence given to the Canadian-owned arm of Amazon went into effect on Dec. 17 and is good for a year. It specifies the drones' maximum altitude, minimum distances from people and property, operating areas and requirements for co-ordinating with air traffic services.

Amazon's secret Canadian test site is located in B.C., close to the U.S. border, reports the Guardian in the U.K.

The Federal Aviation Authority — the U.S. aviation regulator — announced earlier this month that it had granted Amazon approval to do outdoor testing of its delivery drones at a site in rural Washington.

Slow U.S. approval meant approved drone 'obsolete'

However, the approval had taken so long — six months — that the approved model was "obsolete," Paul Misener, Amazon's vice-president for global public policy, told the U.S. Senate committee on commerce, science and transportation a few days later.

"The permission the FAA granted is more restrictive than are the rules and approvals by which we conduct outdoor testing in the U.K. and elsewhere," he added, noting that in most countries, approval takes just weeks. Transport Canada says it aims to process applications within 20 working days.

Diana Cooper, an Ottawa-based lawyer who specializes in drone regulation, said the problem is that in the U.S., commercial drones are generally prohibited. In order to be able to test drones, a company must get an exemption from the ban.

Amazon drone

Amazon hopes to deliver packages of under 2.3 kilograms in 30 minutes or less using its Amazon Prime Air autonomous drones. (Amazon)

While Canada has been giving out permits for commercial drones on a case-by-case basis for nearly a decade, the U.S. just started last fall and has only given out a few dozen, said Cooper, head of the unmanned aerial systems and robotics practice group at the law firm LaBarge Weinstein LLP.

"They're very difficult to get, take months to get, and they're not very permissive," she said.

U.S. permits have requirements that don't exist in Canada. For example, in the U.S., the drone operator must have a pilot's licence. They also ban operation of a drone that the pilot can't see directly at all times, something that Amazon deems essential to automated drone delivery.

"I think the rules make it difficult for companies to fully develop their technology."

In Canada, there are ways to test drones that aren't within the direct line of sight of operators. For example, Cooper said, Amazon obtained its own private, restricted airspace in B.C.

Amazon isn't alone with its difficulty getting drones approved in the U.S.

Other drone testers coming to Canada

Angela Schoellig, a drone researcher at the University of Toronto, said she and her collaborators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tried in two different ways to get licences to conduct drone tests for research in the U.S. and weren't successful.

"And that's pretty standard," she said.

Mike Peasgood, Steffen Lindner middle and Dave Kroetsch

Mike Peasgood, Steffen Lindner, and Dave Kroetsch, co-founders of Waterloo, Ont.-based Aeryon Labs, pose with one of their SkyRanger drones. Kroetsch thinks it will be years before Amazon can prove its drones are safe enough to deliver packages. (Aeryon Labs)

The researchers ended up doing outdoor tests in Canada.

"In Canada, it's mostly about safety," she said. "If you show that you know what you are doing, it's very likely that you'll get a licence."

That's drawing many companies like Amazon to do their drone testing in Canada. Cooper said she's been getting a lot of inquiries from prospective clients in the U.S. and Europe who are wondering how they can set up testing here and what kind of testing they can do.

She added, "It's a great win for Canada."

Dave Kroetsch, president and CEO of Aeryon Labs, a Waterloo, Ont.-based drone maker, said that the U.S. rules may seem restrictive for a company like Amazon, but they are broad enough for most other applications, such as inspecting roofs and reconstructing vehicle collisions.

However, he said, it's fantastic that Amazon is pushing new limits and able to move to Canada to develop its technology.

Kroestch warned, though, that it will be years before Amazon's technology can be deployed on a large scale.

"It's going to take quite awhile to prove that one of these things is safe to fly above the highway," he said. "Imagine it crashed on the 401. You could cause a 30-car pileup if it didn't work out well."

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Canada's economy shrank 0.1% in January

Canada's gross domestic product shrank by 0.1 per cent in January, a weak showing, but better than what economists had been expecting.

Statistics Canada said Monday the service sector declined by 0.3 per cent even as the goods-producing industry rose by 0.3 per cent.

'This is better than expected.'- Scotiabank's take on the weak GDP showing

After shrinking in December, oil and gas production actually increased 2.6 per cent in January as Canada's oil producers kept pumping oil despite low prices.

"Scratching under the surface, not all is well in the oil and gas segment (of course)," Scotiabank said in a research note after the data came out. "Support activities for mining, oil and gas fell by two per cent month over month [and] activity in traditional oil and gas extraction fell." 

All the growth came from non-conventional oil and gas extraction (such as oilsands oil), which can be more volatile.

David Madani at Capital Economics said the 0.1 per cent contraction was better than he was expecting, but he doubts it is sustainable. "We still think that the sharp drop in oil prices will be more negative for Canadian economic growth and underlying inflation than the [Bank of Canada] is hoping for. Accordingly, we still expect another 25 basis point rate cut at some point soon," he said in a note to clients.

On the services side, just about everything was smaller, but the data agency attributed the drop to decreases in wholesale and retail trade and — to a lesser extent — in transportation and warehousing services, accommodation and food services.​

Still, the overall 0.1 per cent contraction was better than the consensus of expectations, which was for a 0.2 per cent contraction.

"This is better than expected," Scotiabank said. "Sometimes bad news (today's negative GDP print) can be good news (it wasn't worse)."

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Cineplex Entertainment expands screening program for people with autism

Screenings include increased lighting, lower volumes and smaller crowds

The Canadian Press Posted: Mar 31, 2015 10:34 AM ET Last Updated: Mar 31, 2015 10:34 AM ET

Cineplex Entertainment is expanding its special screening program for people with autism spectrum disorder and their families.

The Canadian movie theatre company says its sensory friendly screenings will now include 17 additional theatres, for a total of 29.

The screenings include 2D projection, increased auditorium lighting, lower speaker volumes and smaller crowds.

Theatres also allow families to bring in outside food and take a break from screenings in a nearby "calm zone."

The screenings launched last month and take place on select Saturdays at 10:30 a.m., before theatres open to the general public.

The next one is on April 4 and will feature Cinderella.

The program was developed in concert with Autism Speaks Canada.

Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.

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