Sears Canada offers refunds after SHS closes

WATCH (above): After intense media pressure, Sears Canada has agreed to help those who were left out to dry by Sears Home Services. Rumina Daya has more.

Sears Canada is offering to refund customers, or ensure renovations are completed, after its partner SHS Services Management Inc. went into receivership.

The independent installation company, which provided services licensed under the Sears banner, has been liquidating its assets since the filing late last year.

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That has left some customers with unfinished renovations like roofing replacement and repairs.

Customers are still owed more than $1.8 million in services, according to the receiver’s report, Sears said on Thursday.

“Customers who paid using third-party credit cards have been able to obtain a refund for services not rendered,” the company said in a release.

“For those customers who weren’t able to obtain such refunds and for the remaining customers who paid by cash or other means, Sears will ensure that they receive the work for which they contracted or repayment.”

SHS, or Sears Home Services, owes more than $8.9 million to creditors, according to Pricewaterhouse Coopers Inc. who is acting as the receiver.

Sears said it is aware of some customers who are trying to sell their homes, but can’t because creditors have put a lien on their properties related to the unfinished work.

The company said it would work with these customers to remove the liens.

Alberta, feds announce skills training deal

EDMONTON – The Alberta government struck a deal with Ottawa on Friday that gives the province money and flexibility to train more people for specific jobs.

Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney says under a renewed labour market agreement, $23 million will go toward employer-driven training under the direction of the provincial government.

“We want provinces to deliver this because they’re closer to the ground,” Kenney said in a legislature news conference alongside his provincial counterpart Thomas Lukaszuk.

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“They know who the players are. They understand the local and regional job market subtleties much better than we do.

“This agreement will be good for Albertans, good for the Alberta economy (and) good for taxpayers because they will be getting better bang for the buck from the training dollars we spend.”

The $23 million is part of the current $33 million Canada Job Grant.

Under the employer-driven program, the federal government would provide up to $10,000 per person for training costs, including tuition for short-duration training at community colleges, career colleges, trade union centres, and private trainers.

Employers would be responsible for the final third for a maximum per person contribution of $15,000.

The training can be done in classrooms, at the worksite or online.

Lukaszuk said the money is crucial given the acute shortages in his province’s roaring petro-based economy.

“This province right now is attracting approximately 130,000 people every year,” said Lukaszuk.

“And yet we estimate that we will be short some 100,000 workers within the next 10 years.

“That’s a problem that we must first solve domestically before we reach out to immigration as a primary supplement of workers.”

There are about 220,000 job openings in Canada, a quarter of which are in Alberta.

The job vacancy rate in Alberta has doubled in the last five years to six per cent.

Rudsak channels ‘cool rebel’ at 20th anniversary show

TORONTO – Rudsak had some high-profile company on hand to mark a major milestone for the homegrown brand, as its fall-winter showcase doubled as a celebration of the label’s 20th anniversary.

Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier and Toronto Raptors point guard Julyan Stone took in the action from the front row on Thursday at Toronto’s World MasterCard Fashion Week.

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While some brands are inclined to merely mimic of-the-moment trends, Rudsak doesn’t typically deviate from much from the styles that have helped the label endure.

“When you see a perfecto (a leather motorcycle jacket), you really can’t reinvent that in multiple ways. You can make it fitted, looser… But it has to be timeless,” said founder and creative leader Evik Asatoorian backstage prior to the show.

Asatoorian described the “cool rebel” look as central to the label’s DNA. Rudsak did its part to offer a slight twist on its rock ‘n’ roll-inspired styles, with pointed hems and floral patterns on leather jackets and the bold pops of green, navy and bordeaux hues peppered throughout the line.

The collection contrasted the slick, skin-tight leather minis with more voluminous accents on outerwear, notably the clusters of textured fur trimming coat collars, jacket fronts, hoods and hems.

The unification of contrasting fabrics was a distinctive design element in outerwear in particular, like shiny leather sleeves on matte coats and leather patches affixed to puffer jackets.

The pro athletes in attendance gave the new line their stamps of approval.

“I’m big into leather. I liked the tie with the leather – it was nice,” said Stone, who attended his first-ever fashion show.

A leather-clad Bernier already had his eye on several pieces to potentially add to his own collection.

“I thought it was great. They had a few nice jackets that I’ll be anxious to wear next fall.”

Asatoorian credits his passion for the work as one of the key’s to the brand’s enduring success after two decades.

“For me personally, after this many years to still have the drive to look for something new, constantly for something exciting, it is a hard industry. You have to really have the love for it.

“I was fortunate to be able to consistently build our brand with product that I’m always passionate about, which is leather. About 20 years down the line, I’ve learned so much, and every year I look back, I go: ‘Wow. There’s so much more I can learn.”‘

Rudsak has a showroom in New York and sells wholesale to major retailers like Nordstrom and Saks. But Asatoorian said they have their sights set on potential expansion, ideally first in the Big Apple – then hopefully beyond.

“For me, it would be amazing to see if I could bring this brand one day to Europe, to Asia, to the international level.”

©2014The Canadian Press

Tamil women want information about family missing since Sri Lanka’s civil war – National

MANNAR, Sri Lanka – Hundreds of ethnic Tamil women demanded information on Friday about relatives who have been missing since Sri Lanka’s civil war, defying widespread military surveillance, threats and the possibility of arrest.

The protesters held a peaceful rally in the northern town of Mannar and issued a 10-point memorandum to the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.

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The letter asked the commissioner to help obtain information about their relatives and determine who was responsible if they are dead. It also called for an independent international inquiry into allegations of war crimes during the civil war between government troops and defeated Tamil Tiger rebels, and the release of private land and homes occupied by the military.

The women say they have received no information about sons and husbands who surrendered to the military at the end of the fighting in 2009.

READ MORE: Inquiry accuses Sri Lankan forces of wartime abuses

The protest came days after police arrested a mother and daughter who campaigned for the release of their kin.

Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year-old daughter were prominent in protests by relatives of the missing. Jeyakumari has a strong case against the government because of a photograph of her missing son in government custody. The photo appeared in a government publication, but authorities have refused to give her details about him or release him.

Jeyakumari was detained under the country’s tough anti-terrorism law on charges that she harboured a former Tamil Tiger rebel. Her daughter has been handed over to probation officials.

Days later, two prominent human rights activists including a Catholic priest who tried to investigate what happened to Jeyakumari were arrested, sparking international criticism. They were released without charges but have been banned from travelling.

READ MORE: Sri Lanka criticizes Harper’s decision to boycott Commonwealth summit

Rights defenders say the arrests are part of the government’s efforts to intimidate its critics into silence. People who appeared to be secret police were seen photographing the protesters and writing down vehicle numbers on Friday.

Sri Lanka is facing a U.S.-sponsored resolution at the current session of the U.N. Human Rights Council over its failure to conduct an inquiry into alleged war abuses and human rights violations after the war.

©2014The Canadian Press

Bolland, Bernier return to Leafs practice – Toronto

TORONTO – Dave Bolland took part in line rushes at Toronto Maple Leafs practice, a positive sign that the centre who hasn’t played since November could be nearing a return.

Bolland has been working to get back following surgery to repair a severed tendon in the back of his right ankle. He was cut by Vancouver Canucks forward Zack Kassian’s skate blade Nov. 2.

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At Friday’s practice, Bolland skated on the Leafs’ third line between Mason Raymond and David Clarkson. The 27-year-old has been practising with teammates for some time, but this represented another sign of progress.

It was not immediately clear if Bolland was going to play Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens. The Leafs would have to send players down to the minors to remove him from long-term injured reserve.

Bolland had recently taken line rushes but had a setback that delayed his return.

Goaltender Jonathan Bernier also participated in his first full practice since suffering a groin injury March 13 in Los Angeles. Drew MacIntyre remained with the team, but Bernier and James Reimer spent the vast majority of the time in the two nets.

©2014The Canadian Press

Inflation rate unchanged in Saskatchewan for February

OTTAWA – The inflation rate in Saskatchewan remained unchanged in February.

Statistics Canada reported on Friday the yearly inflation rate was 2.3 per cent, the same level as in January.

Saskatchewan was the only province that did not see a deceleration in consumer prices for the month and had the third highest inflation rate next to Prince Edward Island and Alberta.

One reason the rate did not change was due to an increase in gas prices. StatsCan said only Saskatchewan and P.E.I had a gas price increase on a year-over-year basis, but at a slower rate than in January.

In Saskatoon, the rate increased one-tenth of a point to 2.2 per cent while it dropped by one-tenth of a point in Regina to 2.3 per cent.

Nationally, the yearly inflation rate was 1.1 per cent in February, dipping four-tenths of a point from January.

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  • Canada’s annual inflation falls to 1.1% in February

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New Saskatoon police headquarters to be completed next month

SASKATOON – After several delays, construction of the new headquarters for the Saskatoon Police Service is set to be completed next month.

On Thursday, the city said the building’s completion date is April 4 and police will then move in over the next several months.

The latest delay was caused when the contractor, EllisDon, ran into problems with frozen pipes in the rooftop in late February, resulting in water damage to many parts of the structure.

Police chief Clive Weighill said the delay will not result in any increase to costs.

“We’ve extended the lease for the current properties that we have for another two months, but that will be off-set because we won’t have the operating costs for the new headquarters,” said Weighill.

“If we have to wait two months, I think we can handle that quite easily.”

Saskatoon police were originally supposed to move into the $122-million building last fall.

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Alex Bilodeau’s last race: Olympic champion retires as season ends

LA PLAGNE, France – Reigning Olympic moguls champion Alex Bilodeau will retire at the end of the World Cup season.

The Canadian Freestyle Ski Association made the announcement on Friday.

Bilodeau, of Rosemere, Que., will compete in one last event, the season-ending World Cup in La Plagne, France on Friday before hanging up his skis.

READ MORE: What comes after gold? Retired Olympians struggle with return to daily life

The 26-year-old is currently 31 points behind Deux-Montagnes, Que., native Mikael Kingsbury for the Crystal Globe – awarded at the end of the season to the athlete at the top of the overall world standings. Bilodeau won the FIS moguls World Cup title in 2008-2009.

Bilodeau took gold medals at both the Sochi and Vancouver Winter Games, making him the only freestyle athlete to win back-to-back Olympic titles. Kingsbury took silver in Sochi last month, and has won the Crystal Globe the last two seasons.

On the women’s side, Olympic champion Justine Dufour-Lapointe of Montreal trails American Hannah Kearney by only five points in the world standings. Kearney has won four FIS moguls World Cup titles, including the last three seasons.

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  • WATCH: Alex Bilodeau’s gold-medal run inspired by brother with disability

©2014The Canadian Press

Eglinton Crosstown east tunneling to cause major traffic congestion – Toronto

Watch the video above: See what business owners on Eglinton Avenue say about the coming congestion. Mark McAllister reports.

TORONTO – Drivers traveling along Eglinton Avenue East between Leslie Street and Laird Drive will continue to face increased commute times as construction intensifies later this summer on the Crosstown LRT east section.

Lane restrictions on the heavily congested route have already begun in order to make way for the large excavation shaft needed to insert two tunnel boring machines.

The underground tunneling project involves drilling a 3.25-kilometre section west to Yonge Street and is expected to last nearly three years.

READ MORE: Drilling begins for Eglinton Crosstown LRT

Lanes along that portion of the Eglinton route will be reduced to one direction each side for the duration of the project.

The machines work in pairs and each are about 81 metres long, weighing 511,000 kilograms. They were given the nicknames Don and Humber representing the rivers nearby.

Traffic in the area will also be heavily congested as the walls are built for the underground stations at Laird, Bayview and Mt. Pleasant.

The Eglinton Crosstown light rail transit system is a 19-kilometre corridor that includes a 10-kilometre underground portion, between Keele Street and Laird Drive.

The Ontario government has invested $5.3 billion into the project which will be comprised of 25 stations linking 54 bus routes, three subway stations and various GO Transit lines.

The project is expected to be complete by 2020.

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Black Friday is the new Boxing Day, retail data suggests – National

By now, most have heard repeatedly about how December’s punishing ice storms kept consumers snowed in and away from shopping malls, something that generally dented sales for virtually all retailers with the possible exception of Canadian Tire.

But buried in the retail numbers for November through January is a second, emerging factor: the rise of Black Friday as a genuine consumer event here in Canada.

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“The ice storm was likely one factor weighing in December, but there appear to be some seasonal issues surrounding Black Friday as well,” Bank of Montreal economists said Friday ahead of the latest reading on how much consumers collectively spent on everything from cars to clothing.

Noting that “Black Friday deals are a relatively new phenomenon in Canada,” the bank economists pointed out that for two years in a row categories like electronics have seen sales spike in November before falling “sharply” in December – traditionally the month when iPods and other gadgets are bought up before Christmas, or afterward via Boxing Day sales.

Electronic sales snapped back in January, Statistics Canada said Friday, jumping 1.6 per cent in the month compared to a year earlier.

Take Our PollJanuary’s retail sales in general rose 1.3 per cent – more than double the predicted rise, according to TD Bank.

Two years may not be long enough to solidify a trend just yet, but experts say the evidence is mounting.

“I would definitely say that Black Friday has become an entrenched event in Canadian retail,” said Doug Stephens, a Toronto based consultant and principal analyst at Retail Prophet.

Big U.S. retailers like Walmart have led the charge, hoping to lure shoppers away from Canadian retailers who’ve grown accustomed to waiting until after the holiday rush to slash prices and unload excess inventory.

READ MORE: How retailers ensure Black Friday doesn’t bury them in red 

In contrast, the massive U.S. discount retailer reduced prices on everything from Samsung smartphones to Tassimo single-cup coffee brewers during the Nov. 28 weekend last year, triggering 2 million visits from online shoppers to its Canadian e-commerce site.

Stephens said Canadian retailers are responding in kind, pulling ahead aggressive sales they otherwise would have waited to roll out.

“Boxing Day will definitely be the victim in all of it,” the analyst said.

There’s still one factor that favours the Dec. 26 holiday shopping event, however: Canadians still get Boxing Day off, while most of us are stuck working through Black Friday.