B.C. provides $12.9 million in grants for fairs, festivals affected by COVID-19

 

Grants for fairs, festivals

The British Columbia government is spending $12.9 million to make grants available to festivals, fairs and community events affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Melanie Mark, the minister of tourism, arts, culture and sport, says events will be eligible to claim up to $250,000 with applications open until Oct. 1.

The money can go toward operational costs, health and safety measures, venue rental, marketing, wages and promotion.

The provincial government previously announced grants of up to $1 million to help major attractions and tour bus companies cover expenses like payroll, rent and utility costs to restart operations for their gradual reopening as provincial health orders eased.

Mark says the government is committed to helping events and attractions, and no money will be “left on the table.”

Shelley Frost, president and CEO of the Pacific National Exhibition, says the funding provides “tangible” assistance and will help many organizations across the province.

“This funding is a road to recovery, and in some cases it’s a return to sustainability from the financial effects of the pandemic,” she said.

Mark added that the government has given out more than $36 million in grants to what the province describes as “anchor” attractions like the exhibition and other major tourism operations so far.

BC’s Restart is a careful, four-step plan focused on protecting people and safely getting life back to normal. 

BC’s Restart is a careful, four-step plan focused on protecting people and safely getting life back to normal. 


Understand the plan

BC’s Restart is a careful, four-step plan to bring B.C. back together. Getting vaccinated is the most important tool supporting our restart. 

How we move through the steps

To move through the steps, we’re looking for:

  • Declining COVID-19 case counts
  • Increasing vaccination rate in people 18+
  • Declining COVID-19 hospitalizations, including critical care
  • Declining COVID-19 mortality rate

Share the message about staying safe

Download and print these posters to help share the message about staying safe and moving forward at a pace that feels comfortable. Translated versions will be available soon.


Steps 1 and 2: Complete

On May 25, we gradually began to restart our important social connections, businesses and activities. 

The criteria for Step 1 was at least 60% of the 18+ population vaccinated with dose 1, along with stable case counts and COVID-19 hospitalizations. Step 1 went from May 25 to June 14.

 The criteria for Step 2 was at least 65% of the 18+ population vaccinated with dose 1, along with declining case counts and COVID-19 hospitalizations. Step 2 went from June 15 to June 30. 


We are in Step 3

The criteria for Step 3 is at least 70% of the 18+ population vaccinated with dose 1, along with low case counts and declining COVID-19 hospitalizations. In Step 3, all sectors will transition to using communicable disease prevention guidance from WorkSafeBC.

Mask guidance

Masks are recommended in indoor public places for all people 12 and older who are not yet fully vaccinated. The mask mandate order under the Emergency Program Act was lifted July 1.

  • You’re fully vaccinated 14 days after dose 2
  • Masks are optional for children aged 2 to 12
  • Children under 2 should not wear masks
  • Proof of vaccination does not need to be requested by service providers
  • Some people may choose to continue to wear a mask after they’re fully vaccinated and that’s okay

PHO guidance

Activities

New things you can do

Personal gatherings
  • Return to normal for indoor and outdoor personal gatherings
  • Sleepovers
Organized gatherings
Travel
Businesses

Restaurants, bars, pubs and nightclubs

Casinos


Businesses will transition from a COVID-19 Safety Plan to a communicable disease plan. Some safety measures will remain, like physical barriers. 

Offices and workplaces
  • Continued return to the workplace
  • Seminars and bigger meetings allowed

Workplaces will transition from a COVID-19 Safety Plan to a communicable disease plan.

Additional safety precautions required in higher risk workplaces. 

Sports and exercise

Step 4: Earliest start date September 7

The criteria for moving to Step 4 is more than 70% of the 18+ population vaccinated with dose 1, along with low case counts and low COVID-19 hospitalizations. 

The earliest date we move to Step 4 is September 7.

PHO guidance

  • Masks in public indoor settings a personal choice
  • Normal social contact
  • If you or anyone in your family feels sick stay home and get tested immediately

Activities

New things you can do

Personal gatherings
  • Return to normal personal gatherings and social contact
Organized gatherings
  • Increased capacity at large organized gatherings, like a concert
Travel
  • Canada-wide recreational travel
Businesses
  • To operate, businesses will continue to follow communicable disease prevention guidance
Offices and workplaces
  • Workplaces fully reopened
Sports and exercise
  • Return to normal sport competitions when following communicable disease prevention guidance
  • Increased outdoor and indoor spectators
 
 
 
 
 

Penticton businesses finding innovative ways to keep going during the pandemic

Businesses get creative

“Four seasons of fun” is new a collaboration between Castanet and Travel Penticton showcasing what Penticton has to offer all year round. Watch for it every Monday morning.

Penticton is home to some pretty creative local business owners who have come up with innovative solutions to continue providing exceptional service (and a sense of normalcy) to customers as the COVID-19 continues into its second wave globally.

Pure Gym & Juicery owner Vanessa Jahnke has had to think of many innovative solutions in order to keep her gym safely running as the province continues to enforce a variety of social distancing guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had been running spin in the east ballroom at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, which was phenomenal,” she said. “The space is 10,000 square feet, so we had 10 feet of space between each bike which was amazing.”

But recent orders enacted by the provincial government which require high-intensity workout classes to cease quickly put an end to that. Luckily, Jahnke knew the solution, having faced a similar situation in March 2020.

“We have such a spin community (here),” she said. “Everyone wanted to continue moving their bodies, so having them at home was a good solution.”

Last year, as the first wave of COVID-19 began to spread globally, Jahnke rented out her spin bikes to class members and launched an online Zoom class for participants to follow along at home.

“It was good. We did it for two months,” she recalled.

Now, well into the second wave of COVID-19, Jahnke has several innovative ways to bring spin classes safely into the home for those who wish to continue, renting out bikes to those interested once again.

“It’s really important for us to stay connected to our community,” she said. “We’re all kind of struggling together to get through this. In March, we did a Facebook group. This second time (now), our software provider created a live streaming portal which is so much better and much better quality.”

Signing up for a membership, she added, is now done completely online, a new feature for Pure Gym & Juicery.

And of course, the gym is still open for day-to-day fitness and low-intensity classes such as yoga, with strict social distancing and cleaning measures in place.

“It’s been interesting, constantly pivoting,” she said. “It’s been wild.”

And getting through it? Jahnke said this past year hasn’t been possible without her biggest, most important asset: the help of her dedicated, hardworking staff.

“We have the most incredible team that has been so constantly rolling with the punches. We could not do it without them,” she said.

It’s a sentiment Tratto Pizzeria co-owner Christopher Royal echoes.

“I’ve got a staff that’s loyal,” he said. “It’s amazing and a blessing.”

The restaurant, well-known in the community for their brick oven baked pizzas and unique wine menu, had to adapt to a world of online ordering, take-out, delivery and pickup shortly after opening in the fall of 2019.

Royal said delivery and takeout hadn’t originally been a plan for the restaurant, since food is enjoyed best within the first 15 minutes. That meant the team had to quickly adapt to the new world of delivery and take out while making a fresh pizza in five minutes not only for those orders, but also for customers inside the restaurant.

“The max we can do is about 50 pizzas an hour,” he said. “That’s pretty quick.”

That’s where the loyal staff comes in, to make it all possible.

And sending a pizza home, he added, means not cutting it into slices since “the integrity of the pie survives better” for the trip home that way, and makes it easier for customers to give the pizza a quick reheat in the oven when they get home.

The team is now working around tweaking the recipe just slightly, in a way where taste and customers’ favourites will not be altered, in order for delivery and take-out to continue well past COVID-19.

The restaurant is also looking into updating its software so online orders can be placed through their own website, since the original software didn’t include that feature as the team never thought they would need it.

“We’re going to adapt,” Royal finished. And similar to what Jahnke said, “it’s pivoting.”

That pivoting in restaurants has also seen the rise in digital menus for customers, with Slackwater Brewing quick to pick up on the new feature to keep customers safe while dining in.

Customers are able to open their camera on their phone and scan a QR code available at each table, which will then launch the restaurant’s menu for the customer to view, eliminating one more surface to have to touch and also cutting down on paper usage.

Of course, menus are still available for those who may have forgotten their phone at home or lost the last percentage of battery upon arrival.

For Freedom Bike Shop on Penticton’s Main Street, shop manager Josh Shulman said he and the team found quite the innovative solution to help solve wait times for customers lining up down the street as the popularity in outdoor sports such as cycling boomed in the South Okanagan.

“The idea came from a few other bike shops we’ve seen around North America,” he said. “We just kind of saw it as an opportunity.”

That opportunity? Take common needed items such as tire tubes, brake pads, water bottles and a variety of other items and make them available in a vending machine outside the shop.

“There’s no sense in waiting in a line for five or ten minutes when you can just tap your card and grab and go,” Shulman said.

“It’s definitely been seeing some usage. I think it’ll be very busy and very popular when actual riding season hits. People need something on a Sunday or after 5:30, (it’s there).”

And for those concerned, Shulman says not to worry: he’s confident in the safety of the vending machine which features no cash (with a tap feature and Apple pay option only) and is encased in heavy-duty steel with a security camera monitoring it at all times.

“It’s right downtown, so you’re going to have to make a huge ruckus and cause a pretty big scene in order to try and break into it.”

Learn more at www.visitpenticton.com and on social @visitpenticton

Tourism workers can upgrade their skills during 13-week program

TOTA offers training course

Tourism workers who are unemployed or who are barely hanging on to their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic will have a chance to develop their professional skills this spring.

Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association has received funding to deliver a free, 13-week, domestic tourism skills training program. The Canadian Tourism Professional Program will help entry-level seasonal, casual or part-time employees who are interested in growing into full-time tourism employment.

The online course starts on Feb. 8 and will be delivered by industry facilitators, tourism professionals and guest speakers. Participants will learn about tourism and hospitality trends, regional experiences and the delivery of day-to-day guest service, including an overview of Indigenous tourism, accessible tourism and sustainable tourism.

Classes will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday until May 5. The course is open to anyone age 15 and over, and the deadline to apply is Wednesday, Feb. 3.

More information can be found here.

Monitoring COVID: BCREA Develops New Economic Resources

The Economics Impacts Dashboard helps to monitor the progression of COVID-19 and the impacts of the pandemic on the housing, employment and financial sectors in BC. There is also a “Chart of the Week” showcasing a new indicator and/or trend related to the pandemic. The current dashboard shows that the housing sector recovery is well underway, aided by record low mortgage rates, while the labour market is still finding its way back to pre-COVID-19 levels of employment.

The Commercial Leading Indicator (CLI), which BCREA has produced for several years, forecasts changes in broad commercial real estate activity. BCREA’s research shows that the variables composing the CLI reliably forecast BC commercial real estate activity at a lag of two to four quarters. The CLI was down again in the second quarter of 2020 as a result of the pandemic-induced shutdown of the economy. Going forward, it is expected that the environment for  commercial real estate activity will continue to be weak. The next release will be at the end of November.

The BCREA Nowcast, another pre-existing publication, estimates monthly real GDP growth for BC, an important measure of the province’s overall economic performance. The most recent update shows the BC economy is recovering, albeit slowly. The economy is estimated to have contracted about 6 per cent in June, which is an improvement from the worst of the pandemic when the economy contracted an estimated -10.6 per cent in April. Including advance estimates for July, BC continues to see significant year-over-year negative growth, but month-over-month improvements, reflecting the ongoing reopening of the BC economy.

In addition to these resources, BCREA’s Economics department also continues with regular publications, including monthly statistics releases, occasional Market Intelligence Reports, quarterly Mortgage Rate Forecasts and more.

Canada Sees Increased Wealth Concentration Amid COVID-19

Image: Afshin Sadeghi Lavasani / Shutterstock.com

An uptick in Canada’s home prices might seem unlikely amid the COVID-19 crisis, particularly when the economy is facing significant job losses and a record-high number of bankruptcies. But as CBC’s Don Pittis notes in a recent article, nothing about the pandemic’s impact seems straightforward:

“We may be observing a powerful economic force exacerbated by the promise of a long stretch of low-interest loans.”

Basically, while some parts of the Canadian economy are weakening, the effect is not spread equally. Those who were able to keep their jobs and continue to have an income, as well as businesses that are still operating and bring in money, seem to benefit from a short-term budgetary advantage.

Although many small firms are struggling or closing, companies and individuals who have not been as affected by the current economic challenges can take advantage of historically low borrowing rates. This means they’re able to obtain assets that will likely maintain their value post-pandemic.

Real Estate Impact

Although the Canadian Real Estate Association’s (CREA) national figures won’t be released for another week, earlier predications about falling home prices amid COVID-19 haven’t proven to be true for Canada’s hottest markets. It’s an unusual situation, considering recent employment statistics show that 1.3 million Canadian jobs have disappeared since the beginning of the health crisis.

Pittis points to increased sales numbers and prices for homes in two of Canada’s largest cities, Vancouver and Toronto.

According to figures from the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board (TRREB), detached home prices in the region rose more than 25% year-over-year in July. As well, on a preliminary seasonally adjusted basis, home sales rose by 49.5% compared to June 2020. These increases are actually similar to those recorded in previous boom years (2010 to spring of 2017), during the expanding Toronto real estate bubble.

Similarly, REBGV’s numbers show that 3,128 Vancouver homes were sold last month, up from 2,443 in June 2020 (a 28% sales increase) and up from 2,557 in July 2019. Home prices in the region hit a benchmark of $1,031,400, 4.5% higher on a year-over-year basis. Colette Gerber, chair of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver (REBGV), stated:

“We’re seeing the results today of pent-up activity, from both homebuyers and sellers, that had been accumulating in our market throughout the year. Low interest rates and limited overall supply are also increasing competition across our market.”

While mortgage brokers noted there are tighter requirements for bank loans, eligible customers can snap up five-year fixed mortgages at 2% or lower. While in theory, these low rates should help those who need them most, Pittis says they actually help people who need them least, namely buyers who are able to pay back their loans. Additionally, this isn’t just happening in the housing sectors, as it seems to be occurring in the corporate world too.

Impact on Businesses

While mergers and acquisitions (aka company takeovers) slowed down early in the pandemic, they appear to have picked up again more recently. As some companies struggle financially, others that have stronger cash flow or more money to draw from step in and buy them in full or partially, hoping to benefit from these purchases post-pandemic.

Much like the housing market, low interest rates often benefit more stable companies, as banks and other lenders are less likely to want to back companies that are struggling with debt.

Despite early speculation that the pandemic would cause a shift away from wealth polarization, it seems that attractive interest rates often aid those who need less help. While this keeps the real estate industry moving forward short-term, it will be important to have some longer-term solutions in place to ensure those struggling financially are still able to purchase property in the future.

Source: CBC

Dine out to help Beirut

Restaurant owners in Vancouver are doing what they can to help traumatized residents of Beirut, Lebanon, in the aftermath of the explosion which killed at least 150 people.

Thousands were injured in the Aug. 4 explosion of a warehouse, and more than 300,000 people lost their homes.

Vancouver’s Aleph Eatery owner Haitham El Khatib had always planned to launch his new brunch menu this past weekend, but never planned on making it into a fundraiser for his homeland, reports CTV News Vancouver.

El Khatib, who grew up in a refugee camp in Beirut, says he wanted to find a way to help those who are in desperate need of assistance.

“We felt a call to do something to help. Our family is there, our friends are there … so we thought, how about we give all the proceeds from this brunch and donate it to people on the ground who are helping with cleaning, rebuilding and finding homes for people who are homeless?

“Honestly, the response from the community in Vancouver has been amazing. Literally yesterday someone just came to the door when we were closed, he pulled me out and said, ‘Here’s $100.’”

El Khatib has family members living in Beirut who were significantly affected by the explosion.

“I have a sister. Her house was pretty destroyed. Not fully, but really damaged. Her husband got injured and her kids really got traumatized in the experience,” he says. “Thankfully, they are alive.”

Money raised at Aleph Eatery will be sent directly to two aid organizations working on the ground – Beit El Baraja and Impact Lebanon.

Restaurant Nuba is also holding a fundraiser this weekend at four Vancouver locations.

The federal government announced this week it will match private donations to several humanitarian organizations in Lebanon.

– With files from CTV News Vancouver

Sutherland Salvation Army thrift store closing permanently

Sally Ann thrift store closes

The impact of COVID-19 has claimed another business, this time closing down The Sutherland Salvation Army Thrift Store.

According to their website, their ’boutique’ location at 1511 Sutherland Avenue has permanently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These are not easy decisions, and this closure was nowhere on our radar prior to COVID-19” states Captain Darryl Burry, executive director for the Kelowna Salvation Army. “We want to ensure the safety of our staff, volunteers, donors and customers, so given the new realities, we must take this step.”

“We will continue to seek out new opportunities and locations for future operations, but in the meantime will continue to provide service via our Rutland Thrift Store.”

Rutland hosts Kelowna’s main Salvation Army Thrift Store, which will remain open and staff from the Sutherland store will be transferred to that location at 200 Rutland Rd. South.

They also have a Facebook shop which has items not found in store.

Funds raised at the Salvation Army Thrift Store support local programs and services such as:

  • Supportive community food bank
  • Back to school supplies for children and youth
  • Daily meal programs for the homeless
  • Provision of clothing and household goods to those in need
  • Emergency disaster services
  • Support programs for children, youth and seniors
  • Christmas food and toy program for families

Rising House Prices And Tanking Rental Market Show Pandemic’s Economic Divide

But the weakness in the rental market risks infecting the housing market.

ACH-DP VIA GETTY IMAGES
High-rise condo towers at Humber Bay Park in the Toronto borough of Etobicoke. House prices in many parts of Canada are rising amid the pandemic, even as rental rates drop.

MONTREAL ― The COVID-19 lockdowns have exposed a divide in Canada’s job market, with low-income earners getting hit much harder than high-income earners in the wave of layoffs that has taken place since March.

Now that divide is making itself felt in the housing market. As those on the lower rungs of the income ladder struggle to make rent, middle and higher-income Canadians are jumping back into the housing market.

The result? Rental rates rates are falling steeply across Canada, even as the housing market shows signs of life, with prices even rising in some markets.

Rental rates across Canada have fallen for three straight months and are down 7.8 per cent, on average, from before the pandemic, rental site Rentals.ca reported this week.

“Tenants have been more dramatically impacted by pandemic-related job loss than homeowners, and are not currently looking for apartments or other rental accommodation,” Bullpen Research president Ben Myers said in a statement. “This sharp drop in demand has resulted in landlords dropping their asking rents in most major markets across the country.”

RENTALS.CA
Rental rates have come down in many municipalities, according to this chart from Rentals.ca, with Victoria, B.C., and suburban cities in Greater Toronto leading the way.

Larger cities have been hit particularly hard. Rents per square foot have dropped steeply in Toronto since the pandemic and are now 9.5 per cent below their levels from a year ago, Rentals.ca reported.

Average asking rents jumped 3.8 per cent in May in Vancouver in May, but on a per square foot basis, condo rents fell 2.4 per cent in May, and are 5.4 per cent lower than a year ago, Rentals.ca said.

House prices rising in many markets

It’s a different story in the housing market, where real estate agents say they are seeing a sharp pick-up in activity since lockdowns started lifting. Buyers and sellers have become more comfortable with virtual tours and with social distancing measures taken during viewings, they note.

Many people pulled their houses off the market during the lockdowns, and as buyers come back, pressure is building on the market.

“The story lately has been a lack of overall inventory,” Toronto real estate Doug Vukasovic wrote in a recent report looking at the local housing market.

“For the year to date, a downward trend in pricing has already been corrected. … Even now, most properties are ripe for bidding wars, and many are getting snatched up within a few days of their being listed.”

Will the barrier break?

But the divide between the rental and housing markets could soon break down. That’s because a significant chunk of Canada’s homes, particularly condos, is in the hands of investors who rely on the rental market to pay their mortgages.

That could be a problem, especially for those investors who bought their properties in recent years at high prices. A recent report from TorontoRentals.com found that units in many of Toronto’s new condo buildings are losing money at current rental rates.

Some experts have warned that if this continues long enough, it could lead to forced selling in the housing market, driving up the supply and pushing down prices.

That could also happen if tourists don’t return to Canada’s cities, economists at National Bank of Canada wrote in a report at the end of May.

“Tourism is likely to be slow for some time, and the possibility cannot be excluded that lodgings currently marketed to tourists on short-term-rental platforms such as Airbnb will be put up for sale for lack of revenue,” economists Matthieu Arseneau and Alexandra Ducharme wrote.

Arseneau and Ducharme are forecasting a 10-per-cent drop in the Teranet house price index over the next year, which would make it the steepest one-year drop in Canadian house prices in decades.

NATIONAL BANK FINANCIAL
Economists at National Bank of Canada predict a steeper house price decline in this downturn than in the previous three recessions.

Among major cities, the National Bank economists predict that Toronto will see the steepest price decline, with its price index dropping 13 per cent.

House prices will also fall in Vancouver (down 12 per cent), Calgary (down 10 per cent) and Montreal (down 7 per cent), they forecast.

However, prices could fall more than that if immigration to Canada comes in below expectations after the pandemic, Arseneau and Ducharme wrote. Immigration has fallen after three of the past four recessions, they noted.

They also noted that prices could fall further than expected if Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. (CMHC) tightens standards for mortgage insurance.

Days after the report came out, CMHC did just that, tightening the standards for the maximum amount of debt borrowers of insured mortgages can carry.

Experts estimate the change will reduce the maximum purchase price for a home with an insured mortgage by up to 12 per cent. Canada’s two privately-run mortgage insurers, Genworth and Canada Guaranty, have said they will not follow the CMHC’s move.