Sunday, January 24, 2016

Canadian businessman of Libyan origin to be tried finally in UAE

Salim Alaradi, a Canadian of Libyan origin, was one of 10 Libya-connected businessmen who were arrested back in the summer of 2014. He has been detained in Abu Dhabi prison ever since.

It is still not clear what the charges will be but the case will be heard behind closed doors on January 18, so the charges should be known soon. The UAE is a strong supporter of CIA-linked Khalifa Haftar, the commander in chief of the Libyan National Army associated with the internationally-recognized House of Representatives (HoR) based in Tobruk. However, it also expresses support for the UN-sponsored Government of National Accord that should soon take over as the sole legitimate government. The role of Haftar in the new government is not yet clear. The UAE shares the anti-Islamist views of Haftar especially concerning the Muslim Brotherhood. The arrest of the 10 business men was probably designed to gain intelligence on the operation of Islamist groups in Libya especially in the areas controlled by the rival government the General National Congress in Tripoli. They may also have been attempting to recruit spies to gather intelligence.
After four months in prison, four of those arrested, including Salim's brother Mohamed, were released and deported to Turkey. He said that they were interrogated about different Libyan political groups. The Alaradi family claims that neither of the two brothers had any political affiliation. They ran an appliance business in Abu Dhabi for years. There is strong evidence that Alaradi was tortured while in prison and that this was known by Canadian authorities,as I discussed in an earlier article. The family also claims Salim has been prevented from communicating with them and has not had access to legal representation. However, he has had consular visits;
Alaradi's family has worked tirelessly to try and have Salim returned to Canada and have hired an Ottawa lawyer to help them out. On the accompanying video, Marwa, Salim's oldest daughter appealed to Justin Trudeau for his aid. The family has expressed cautious optimism that now that at least charges are to be laid and a trial to take place that Salim could possibly be released soon. Marwa said: "I feel happy because this is the first sign of hope that my father's case will come to an end and he will be reunited with our family again...My father has gone through a great injustice. The torture he was subjected to has been seen by the world."
The family claims both Salim and his brother suffered physical and psychological abuse during their time in prison. Both were said to have been hung from the ceiling, electrocuted, and starved. The UN special rapporteur on torture and forced disappearances has put in a request to visit the detainees and to investigate allegations of torture and abuse..
Alex Neve of Amnesty International Canada said Salim's supporters are not only concerned about torture allegations but about the fairness of the impending trial. The trial will be of four detainees including two who are U.S. citizens. Even the U.S. has been unable to gain the release of their citizens. The case will be heard in the State Security Chamber of the UAE Federal Supreme Court. Neve said Canadian officials had now become active on behalf of Aldaradi.
The Security Chamber has a terrible reputation. On multiple occasions it has failed to investigate allegations of torture prior to the trial. In one infamous case, the UAE 94 trial, in 1913, 94 defendants appeared en masse before the Chamber, charged with attempting to overthrow the government. They all pleaded innocence. Both human rights organizations and the UN claimed that defendants incriminated themselves through false confessions obtained through ill treatment and torture. A report on the trial by a number of Arab human rights groups said: "We further believe that the court, having heard the allegations of torture, failed to order any investigation of the allegations or to address them in any way." UAE officials claimed the accused were dealt with in accordance with the law. The group arrested included two prominent human rights lawyers, judges, teachers, and student leaders. The prosecution claimed that they were part of a group linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
UAE justice appears to mimic that in some other Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia by being particularly harsh in its treatment of anyone associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in even the most remote manner. However, the system also appears to be unpredictable as in its release of some of those accused earlier. Perhaps the UAE will see fit to try and improve its relationship with Canada and the US by eventually releasing the two Americans and Salim. On the other hand, it may convict all of the defendants to show the independence of their judiciary from foreign influence.

Goodwill suddenly shutters 16 Toronto area stores amid employee protests

Workers at Goodwill in the Toronto area are furious after the abrupt closure of 16 stores, 10 donation centers and two offices this Sunday.

David Williams is an example of an employee who chose to work for Goodwill when he could have stayed on disability due to suffering from scoliosis since the age of 12. He could just have stayed home and watched TV as he put. Instead, he has worked at Goodwill for the last 19 years. Just as the 80-year old charity intended, it provided him with an identity and purpose. He said of his colleagues at Goodwill Scarborough: "We're a family."
Dozens of employees gathered at the Scarborough site demanding that the CEO of Goodwill Industries Toronto Keiko Nakamura resign. Closure of the stores left more than 430 workers without a job. Among them was Len Trumble, who after 26 years with Goodwill earns $13.90 an hour. Older workers such as Raymond Chalmers, who worked at Goodwill for 30 years, doesn't know how he will find another job at 66. Shane Clark, who worked at Goodwill for 16 years, could not understand why the stores were closing as there was plenty of stock left on the shelves. The apparent financial crisis that caused the shutdown came on without notice to the employees.
Nakumara announced by email:“Despite our best efforts, employees will not be paid on Friday as part of the regular pay cycle. However, Goodwill will be in a position to update all employees about the date of payroll deposits and the issuance of records of employments on Monday January 25, 2016."Not everyone will lose their job: Although the organization’s board has resigned, Nakamura — who was fired from her role as head of Toronto Community Housing after a spending scandal in 2011 — said Monday she would stay on as its head.In explaining why she stayed on Nakamura said: "I have a duty as the CEO for this organization to ensure I do the diligence in the best interest of this organization." Nakamura earns quite a bit more than the average Goodwill worker even though the workers are unionized:Nakamura’s annual salary is over $200,000 a year and the organization receives more than $4 million a year in government assistance.
Nakamura claims that the stores had to be closed because of a cash flow crisis. Trucker Shane Clarke wondered how there could be such as sudden cash flow crisis when their products were donated. Since the company has not officially closed down or declared bankruptcy, the workers have no idea about severance or termination pay and workers have received no record of employment, so they cannot claim unemployment insurance.
A lawyer for Goodwill workers' union, Dennis Ellickson, said that according to the contract with Goodwill, the company must give the workers 30 to 60 days notice before closing any stores. While the union had asked for "transparency" from the company, the company has not complied. Closed outlets are not just in Toronto itself but also Brampton, Newmarket, Barrie, Orillia, and Brockville. While not officially closed, Nakamura said the stores would remain shuttered "until further notice."
Sunday night, Goodwill employees' union representatives met with Nakamura to discuss the situation. She said the union was encouraged that the company would continue working with stakeholders and various levels of government to find a solution to the cash flow problems. The union itself was appealing to the government and stakeholders to help find a solution and get their workers back to work as soon as possible. The union said it had not advance notice of the closures. Artan Milaj, vice-president of the union said: "The 450 workers are now suddenly without jobs, which is devastating on its own. But Goodwill stores also help a lot of low-income people with community programming and affordable shopping. We need to get these stores open and our members back on the job."
Goodwill Industries operates 165 independent community-based organizations in Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, Panama, Uruguay, the US, Canada, and eight other countries. In 2014 it had $5.37 billion U.S. in revenues.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Canadian stock market indices and loonie both take a dive

Stock markets declined around the globe on concerns about China and slumping oil prices. At close Friday, the Dow Jones dropped 390.97 points, the S&P 500 fell 41.55 and the Nasdaq slid 126.58 points.

The Toronto Stock Exchange S&P/TSX dropped 263 points or a full 2.13 percent to 12,073.46. This is the TSX's lowest level since June 2013. Over the week, the drop will be over 3 percent. The TSX decline was partly due to the sustained drop in oil prices, which made conditions worse for Canada's already depressed energy sector. The price of crude dropped below the crucial $30 level. Canadian oil sands oil, Western Canada Select(WCS) is at its lowest level ever at just under $17 per barrel.
As often happens, the Canadian dollar, the loonie, dropped in tandem with the price of oil. The loonie dropped below 70 cents, to 68.8 cents, its lowest level since 2003. While this may help some exporters, it will increase Canadian prices for imported fruit and vegetables and other items from the United States, as the U.S. dollar remains strong. There is speculation the Bank of Canada may again reduce interest rates to stimulate the economy.
As well as energy stocks, financials also moved the TSX lower. RBC fell 2..7 percent on the day to $67.70. Overall, the energy stocks lost 4.7 percent, while the financials declined by 2.3 percent. One minor bright spot in the resource sector is Vitality Air of Edmonton which is exporting fresh air from near Banff to China. You can apparently get about 100 hits from a bottle that costs between $10 and $20.
According to BNN, an empty oil barrel costs about U.S. $78.39 on Amazon. If producers have any spare empty barrels they can help their dismal cash flow situation by selling them off rather than filling them with $17 dollar a barrel oil from the Oil Sands. To make some return from their use of the barrels, oil producers would be better off selling them filled with fresh water at a value of about $66.55 US for a 55 gallon barrel. Even better, they could fill it with fresh air from Banff and ship it to China.
Markets also declined in Europe and the Shanghai Composite wiped out recent gains. Gold prices surged the most in six weeks. Yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes dipped below 2 percent as investors sought safe havens and doubts grow that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Canadian military aspires to be global Orwellian Big Brother

Canada's military wants to monitor social media streams 24/7 on popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, but not in Canada — only from "non-democratic" states outside of Canada.

While the military wants to monitor these social media, it does not want anyone knowing that it is doing so. Kamran Bokhari, a lecturer on national security and intelligence at the University of Ottawa, sees the new Internet-monitoring platform of the military as part of a larger push by the military to enlarge its intelligence gathering capacities.
The Canadian Department of National Defence research wing, Defence Research and Development Canada, are looking for a new Internet-monitoring platform that can analyze and also filter material from social media posts. Part of a document posted on line reads: “At an operational and tactical level, social data can provide information on events as they unfold, key influencers, sentiment of local populations, and even help to geo-locate people of interest.Given the reactive and long-term nature of DND intelligence operations, access to this information is essential to maintaining situational awareness and achieving our global mandate.”As well as the most popular social media websites, the platform would monitor material from blogs, message boards, Reddit, and also comment sections on news sites. The monitoring will require as many as 40 intelligence officers. Big Brother is a great job creator. In spite of all this snooping, the Department of National Defense (DND) insists it is not directed at Canadians and it would comply with Canadian privacy laws.
The platform is said to be directed at "non-democratic states" but no hint is given as to which countries are the intended target of the monitoring. The platform will be required to monitor data in English in French, but also be able to process languages such as Arabic, Chinese, and Russian. The tender calls for analysis and filtering of historical as well as real time data. Note that the development of the platform is being outsourced to the private sector allowing for more integration between the private sector and the military and further enlarging the military-industrial complex.
The documents said:“Restrictive governments are and will continue to develop more nuanced, insidious and effective mechanisms for exploiting social media while maintaining already pervasive control over traditional media sources. Social media, and specifically Twitter, could be used to help understand populations and governments in countries of interest as a novel sensor for instability.”Naturally, the DND does not want the target governments to know what is going on. The platform should not be directly attributable to the Canadian military. Data must be stored on secure servers in Canada. As Bokhari notes, these types of programs are being mounted by all major powers: “And Canada is not alone. Pretty much any major power in the world that’s concerned about terrorism, cybercrime, cyberattacks from hostile countries, they have to be looking into this.”
Some analysts such as Christopher Parsons, a Toronto researcher, question how the DND project can minimize incidental collection about Canadians:“They might try to exclude Canada itself, but of course Canadians travel all around the world. So if you’re targeting people or monitoring social media in certain regions of the world, you can be guaranteed that there are Canadians travelling there for business or pleasure or what have you.”Given that Canada is a member of the Five Eyes, any information that Canada wants about Canadians can be obtained from one of the four other eyes who collect information on Canadians: Documents leaked by Snowden in 2013 revealed that the FVEY have been spying on one another's citizens and sharing the collected information with each other in order to circumvent restrictive domestic regulations on surveillance of citizens.[7][8][9][10]
Global News was able to contact Captain Travis Smyth at DND who said of the program:“Social media monitoring and analysis for the purpose of defence intelligence collection may provide new and unique information of intelligence value, that can be used to corroborate, refute or substantiate existing information from other collection sources. It will also allow Canadian Forces Intelligence Command to adapt to developing social media technologies with the safety and security of Canadians in mind.”In case you think that encryption will enable you to subvert the snoopers the really Big Brothers such as NSA and the UK GCHQ are working on blocking that route.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Canada ignores Saudi executions in favor of $15 billion military contract

Although Canada has strongly condemned the mass execution of 47 people by Saudi Arabia, the Liberal government has no intention of canceling a $15 billion contract to supply armored fighting vehicles to the kingdom.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion issued a statement condemning the mass execution on January 2nd and urged the Saudis to respect peaceful dissent and human rights. A prominent Shi'ite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was one of those executed. His execution sparked protests in many places and the Saudi embassy in Tehran was attacked and burned causing the Saudis to break off relations with Iran.
The contract for the armored vehicles is expected to create about 3,000 jobs for up to 14 years. Adam Barratt, director of communications for Dion said: "A private company is delivering the goods according to a signed contract with the government of Saudi Arabia. The government of Canada has no intention of cancelling that contract."Given the unwillingness of the Liberal government to cancel the sale of the vehicles to Saudi Arabia, Cesar Jaramillo of Project Ploughshares, an anti-war group that keeps track of arms sales, said:"Canada's condemnation of the most recent gross human-rights violations by the Saudi regime rings somewhat hollow against the backdrop of the $15-billion worth of Canadian military exports that this very regime is set to receive with Ottawa’s blessing."
Dion said in a statement on the official government website::“Canada opposes the death penalty and decries the execution of 47 individuals in Saudi Arabia on January 2, 2016...In the wake of these executions, we reiterate our call to the Government of Saudi Arabia to protect human rights, respect peaceful expressions of dissent and ensure fairness in judicial proceedings. Canada is particularly concerned that the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr could further inflame sectarian tensions in the region. We urge Saudi Arabian authorities and local and regional leaders, including those in Iran, to work with all communities to defuse these tensions and promote reconciliation.”
Conservative MP Tony Clement, claimed the Harper government had conducted a review to ensure that the vehicles were being used to "fight the bad guys, fight terrorism or aggressive nations that Saudi Arabia was facing in the Middle East. It was specifically designed to make sure they weren’t using the equipment against their own people." An article in the Globe and Mail claims that Liberal policy in Saudi Arabia is the same as that of the Conservatives and the first rule of chess to protect the king —in this case, the Saudi king and his royal family.
The article points out that the armoured vehicles (LAVs) are not intended to be used by the regular Saudi armed forces but for the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), which is tasked with internal security as well as protecting the royal family. The SANG already has LAVs they bought in the 1990s. Jacqueline Lapour, a research assistant at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, noted that these vehicles have been deployed in Shia areas to intimidate Shia protesters. In 2011 they were deployed during Shia protests in Bahrain.
While not disturbing the Harper government contract with the Saudis, the Liberals are making plans to expand their diplomatic relations with Iran. This could include reopening the Canadian embassy.Tony Clement, who is foreign affairs critics for the Conservatives called on the Liberals not to establish further relations with Iran saying: "Iran continues to be a dangerous state sponsor of terrorist groups around the world. When Iran moves away from its terrorist activities, Canada should then act to restore relations."

Friday, January 8, 2016

Canadian imprisoned in UAE since 2014 appears to have been tortured

A Canadian businessman Salim Alaradi imprisoned in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) since August of 2014 appears to have been tortured. Canadian officials saw the evidence of the torture during a consular visit in January of 2015.

Alaradi has been imprisoned without charge in the UAE since being arrested in August of 2014. The family shared the evidence that Alaradi was tortured with Amnesty International. The evidence viewed by The Globe and Mail showed torture marks on Alaradi's body that were apparently observed and documented during the January 2014 Canadian consular visit. Alex Neve of Amnesty International said:
 “We’ve now seen evidence that makes it very clear that Salim has indeed been subjected to torture. It gives rise to a very strong indication that Canadian officials have been aware of the torture and ill treatment he’s been through since [last] January.”
The Alaradi family said consular officials did inform them about general health concerns they had about Alaradi but they made no mention of torture. While the family wished to bring the case to public attention they did not want to go into details due to fear for Alaradi's safety. There is a website on Facebook devoted to having Alaradi freed.
Alaradi has now been in custody 17 months without being charged. His family live in Windsor, Ontario. In September, they hired Ottawa lawyer Paul Champ to assist them in having Alaradi released and returned to Canada.Champ claims that the Canadian government knew that Alaradi was tortured but did not tell the family until he became involved in the case. Champ said:
"In some cases, the Department [of Foreign Affairs] will try to suggest that there's privacy issues, but this isn't the kind of information that they should be withholding, in my opinion. Although it's very difficult information, it's information that, in my opinion, a family deserves to know."
The Globe and Mail reported that a representative of the Department of Foreign Affairs acknowledged Alaradi's case but would not comment on whether the torture allegations were credible.
Alaradi was one of 10 businessmen of Libya origin who were arrested between August and September of 2014 by officers of UAE state security. The UAE is a strong supporter of the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) government in eastern Libya and of their CIA-linked armed forces commander General Khalifa Haftar. They oppose the rival government in Tripoli. The UAE may have been trying to recruit business people with connections to the Tripoli-controlled area as spies. Recently, a UAE national was arrested by the Tripoli government on charges of spying. Alaradi was not the only Canadian arrested.
Refat Hadagha, a 47-year-old former resident of Surrey, B.C. claims also to have been detained. In an interview from Istanbul Turkey by phone he said: “I don’t know why I was kidnapped, why I was tortured, why I was released.” He said judging by his own experiences Alaradi was also probably tortured.
Alaradi and his brother Mohamed ran a home-appliance business in Dubai. On being arrested they were interrogated about different Libyan political groups. The Alaradi family claims their father does not belong to any political group. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Forced Disappearance has asked to visit Libyan detainees and investigate accusations of torture.
Alaradi's brother Mohamed along with Hadagha and 2 others began to speak out about their mistreatment after they were arbitrarily released from Abu Dhabi prison. They were released and deported to Turkey without any explanation in December of 2014. Mohamed said: “I could hear my brother’s screams. UAE Security would say, ‘Do you hear these sounds? We’re beating your brother while he’s hanging from the ceiling.’”Mohamed was held in solitary confinement for months and claims he was tortured. He has been working along with his brother's family to secure Salim's freedom. Mohamed thinks that he and the others were released because their torture marks were healed and virtually disappeared.
Mohamed and three others were released and deported to Turkey for reasons unknown in December, 2014. No charges were ever laid. In an interview, Mohamed said he suspects they were released because their torture marks had healed and disappeared by that point, leaving no evidence of the abuse. Alex Neve of Amnesty International was critical of the Canadian government: “Given the amount of time that has passed and the direct information Canadian officials had, this case should have been lodged at the highest levels of the Canadian government and become a preoccupying concern for the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister."
The family lawyer, Paul Champ, said that consular visits have gone from three during the first year of Alaradi's incarceration to almost weekly since mid-October.The website of Canada's embassy to the UAE claims that Canada's excellent relations with the UAE are "founded upon substantial commercial ties and mutual goals of peace and prosperity". What's a little torture here and there compared to the importance of maintaining trade and good relations?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Six-year old Markham Ontario boy on Canadian no-fly list

Syed Adam Ahmed is a six-year old boy from Markham near Toronto, Ontario. Since he was a toddler he has been flagged as a travel risk.
Ralph Goodale

Canada has it very own no-fly list. Of course this title is too crass and unfriendly to describe the list which has the comforting name of Passenger Protect Program. The program has been criticized since it was first proposed and implemented in 2007 notably by Lawyer Faisal Kutty. Although the actual numbers of names on the Canadian no-fly list remain secret, Wikipedia lists the number as between 500 and 2,000. Canadian Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault, is challenging the government's refusal to disclose the information to a Montreal journalist who asked for it under the Access to Information Act. The government claims releasing the information could help plot a catastrophic attack on an airliner. How this could be is not explained. The government also warns that divulging the numbers could hurt relations with allies such as the United States.
Ahmed's family try to shield him from the process in which the family often has to provide extra identification to show that his name is triggering a false positive response from the data base. His mother Khadija Cajee told CBC:
"We try to keep him protected from all this stuff, because we don't want him to feel singled out and stigmatized."
Both she and her husband Sulemaan Ahmed say they never received a straight answer from Staff at the Transportation and Public Safety departments as to what list their son could be on or whether he was actually on any list.
Cajee praises the response of airline agents:"Every agent has been really sympathetic to our situation. There are always eye rolls, they're always in disbelief. A lot of times they think it's my husband so they look at him, but he always says to them, 'No, it's the little guy down there.'"Airline officials suggest that getting an Aeroplan card might help. It works some times but not others. They even suggested changing his name. Why should someone need to change their name when they have done nothing wrong?
The name issue was dramatically illustrated for the U.S. no-fly list when 60 Minutes brought together 12 men named Robert Johnson — they all had travel troubles and delays. Probably, it is because a Robert Johnson had been convicted of plotting to bomb a movie theater and a Hindu temple in Toronto. Even Senator Ted Kennedy had problems that took several weeks of direct contact with top officials to sort out. T. Kennedy is apparently an alias of a suspected terrorist.
Syed is a great fan of the Montreal Canadians or Habs. When his father tried to take him to the Winter Classic game on New Year's Day in Boston, the same old hassle began. Ahmed was able to take a photo of the screen shot of the computer showing Ahmed flagged on the Deemed High Profile list. He tweeted the photo asking Air Canada why the boy was targeted. Hockey news media picked up the story: You wouldn’t think that a 6-year-old boy wearing a Canadiens sweater en route to the NHL Winter Classic in Boston would be deemed a security risk when trying to board an airplane. But that was the case for Syed Adam Ahmed on New Year’s Eve when the boy and his father — who was also wearing a Habs jersey — were about to board an Air Canada Flight in Toronto. And it’s not the first time this has happened.“It happens every time we cross the border by air or land,” Sulemaan Ahmed said about his son, who goes by his middle name, Adam.
With the message retweeted more than 160 times, Ahmed soon heard from his local MP Jane Philpott and also Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. During the recent election campaign the Liberals promise to review the no-fly list. Goodale said this is already happening and there will soon be a public consultation.Goodale told CBC news:"The reports of Mr. Ahmed and his son, Adam's, experience during their recent travel to Boston is certainly cause for concern and I will be reviewing the specifics of their case with officials in the coming days."Perhaps, the Liberals could start the process by releasing the number of names that are on the list. As the appended video shows American six year olds can make it to the US no-fly list as well.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2015 was a dismal year for oil prices, the loonie, and Canadian stock markets

On the final trading day of the 2015 on Thursday, the S&P/TSX composite in Toronto was at 13,009, a loss of 132 on the day and off 11 percent from a year ago. This is the worst performance since 2011.

The TSX peaked on April 15 at 15,524 but since then has dropped 16 percent. The Canadian economy has struggled with output flat or even down some months. In the U.S. stock markets performed better than in Canada but turned in a mixed performance. The Dow Jones dropped 2.2 percent over the year, and the S&P 500 less than one percent. The Nasdaq actually gained 5.7 percent.
Oil has suffered an even more dramatic decline in price. A barrel of West Texas intermediate dropped by 38.6 percent during 2015. This is the worst performance since the financial crisis back in 2009. At the close, the price was up marginally at $37.05. For some producers, oil prices are already below the "marginal cost of supply." With producing giants such as Saudi Arabia refusing to cut back production, higher-cost producers will cease expanding production and in some cases even stop production. The situation is ripe for takeovers by larger companies with cash to buy companies struggling to survive and starved for cash. While no one knows how low oil prices could go, Goldman Sachs made headlines by suggesting last week that WTI could go as low as $20 a barrel. Many analysts see this as an overly pessimistic estimate and see the price as close to a bottom now with demand beginning to increase. A year and a half ago oil was priced at over a $100 a barrel. Oil and gas revenue for 2015 was expected to be about $91 billion about 40 percent below 2014.
In May of 2015 oil surplus hit two million barrels each day. In August oil storage reached a level not seen in 80 years. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers(CAPP) reported that there had been layoffs of 35,000 in Alberta.
Suncor CEO Steve Williams said:"There is not a sudden moment when we realized prices were going to be lower for longer. There is consensus now that prices are going to be low and for much longer than people anticipated."Some auction houses in Alberta are seeing their business boom as companies sell off equipment to keep cash flowing.
Scotiabank Economics has lowered its price forecast for oil prices next year after the recent OPEC meeting that failed to announce any production cut. The prediction is for WTI to be from $40 to $45 a barrel for 2016 and only $45 to $50 for 2017. Scotiabank said that in the short term WTI could fall as low as $30 dollars a barrel. Common forecasts put the price as flat until rising demand and falling output will raise prices. A long term forecast by the International Energy Agency puts the price of oil back at about $80 a barrel by 2020.
The loonie dives in tandem with oil prices as it dropped 16 percent relative to the US dollar over the year. This is close to the 18.6 percent the loonie lost during 2008. On Thursday the loonie was trading at 72.34 cents on the U.S. dollar. While the lower loonie may help some of our export businesses especially to US markets, it has resulted in higher prices for goods imported from the US such as fresh fruit and vegetables. Canadian tourists and snowbirds will find it will cost them more Canadian dollars on their journeys.
One area where prices are on the rise is in the housing market, especially "hot" areas such as Vancouver and Toronto. Also rising are Canadian household debt levels. As interest rates remain low, Canadians are often enticed into buying while they are still able to afford monthly payments. It is quite possible that 2016 could see a property value crash, especially in overheated markets. In areas hit by low oil prices some realtors are already closing up shop.
In 2016, the Canadian Real Estate Association forecast home prices to increase by 1.4 percent compared to the 7 percent in 2015. However, larger price increases are expected to continue in areas such as Vancouver and Toronto. One factor is that the low loonie makes these properties attractive to foreign buyers. Job growth has been relatively strong in these cities and demand for housing increases as workers migrate away from provinces such as Alberta. The inflow of immigrants will also increase demand.
Low interest rates may entice more Canadians to take on more debt, even though the ratio of household debt to income is now 164 percent compared to about 100 percent in the late 1990s. Over the past year household debt in Canada rose to $1.88 trillion. Mortgage debt rose by $74.7 billion or 5.9 percent. If jobs are lost or interest rates increase many households will find it impossible to cope with their debt loads. The enclosed video is from March of this year.