ROB magazine: Inside the year that nearly killed Cirque du Soleil and its plan to return to the stage

On a sunny afternoon in March 2020, a small crowd shuffled into Cirque du Soleil’s sprawling tent-shaped theatre at the Disney Springs resort in Orlando for a mini-preview of its new show, Drawn to Life. Once inside, everyone’s sense of perspective was immediately put to the test. A towering lamp loomed over the stage, its bulb the size of a baby elephant. Twenty-foot-tall pencils stood in a jar near an old-timey pencil sharpener that would take a team of six to operate. Dozens of bedsheet-size sketchpad pages hung overhead. This was what it must be like to be shrunk down to size and perched on an animator’s table. The effect was Lilliputian. Or, since this was a Cirque-Disney co-production, Jiminy Cricketian.

Drawn to Life tells the story of Julie, a young girl whose animator father has died (in keeping with Disney’s tradition of doing away with parents). When she discovers some of his unfinished animations, she sets out to complete them. The audience that day was made up of reporters, theme-park-industry watchers and Disney employees, and as they took their seats—strangers sitting elbow to elbow, their faces just inches apart—a team of acrobats dressed to look like pencil sketches performed in tandem with animated drawings projected behind them. Then a muscular aerialist twirled a giant pencil dangling from a rope like he was drawing onto a sketchpad on the stage. When an old wooden desk sprang to life and galloped away, delight at the spectacle was apparent on the onlookers’ unmasked faces.

No one there knew it yet, but this was Cirque’s last gasp in the Before Times.

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ROB magazine: Bitcoin at the tipping point between fringe and traditional finance

By Onov3056 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Like every CEO when the pandemic hit, Christopher Gimmer wondered how the crisis would affect his Ottawa-based startup, Snappa. He had reason to be hopeful, on the business front at least. Snappa is a small company with only a handful of employees, its simple-to-use online graphic design tools were already popular with entrepreneurs, and within weeks Snappa’s growth rate accelerated as more businesses rushed online. Yet Gimmer was troubled by what he saw around him— governments battling the rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus by raising debt to levels not seen since the Second World War, while central banks slashed interest rates to near zero.

Which is when Gimmer did something very few other CEOs had ever dreamed of. After Snappa’s bank cut the interest rate on its “high-interest savings account” to 0.45%, Gimmer began to shift a portion of Snappa’s cash holdings into bitcoin (BTC), the radical cryptocurrency that promises a way to conduct transactions online while sidestepping the established world of finance. It’s also an asset JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief executive officer, Jamie Dimon, once derided as a “fraud … worse than tulip bulbs.”

“Central banks and nation states have reached a point of no return, and they’ll never be able to raise rates again,” says Gimmer, who fears the value of currencies will be driven down even further after the pandemic ends. Bitcoin, on the other hand, has a hard cap of 21 million units, and the last bitcoin won’t be electronically mined until the year 2140, something fervent adherents, including Gimmer, insist protects its value against erosion. “We worked really hard on this business over the course of five years and developed a really nice cash balance. We realized bitcoin could be the ultimate reserve asset for us to protect our purchasing power,” he says.

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That 60s show: Household spending is carrying Canada’s economy again

When COVID-19 first struck the global economy last spring, the Bank of Canada joined central banks around the world in administering a massive dose of monetary support to aid businesses and households. And just as they did during prior crises in 2001, the Great Recession and the oil crash, Canadian consumers were spurred into action by this support (at least, as much as is possible in a once-a-century pandemic). Vehicle sales are above pre-pandemic levels. Retail sales have reached new heights, even if what we’re buying has changed. As for real estate, the boom seems to have barely paused.

It’s no surprise that, once again, consumers are carrying the weight of this recovery.


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Report on Business magazine: Canada leads the world in pandemic spending

The coronavirus crisis has forced countries around the world to dig deep to save their economies. But when it comes to pandemic spending, Canada is in a league of its own. Ottawa is on track for a $343-billion deficit this year. Compared to 2019, the country is expected to see its fiscal outlook worsen more than any G20 nation, with a change in its deficit equal to 19.6 pe cent of gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) most recent fiscal monitor.

While budgetary hawks have expressed deep concern with the federal government’s refusal to commit to a timeline for balancing its books, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has defended the massive volley of spending by arguing the economy would be worse without it.

So did Ottawa get bang for its deficit buck?


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Report on Business magazine: CEO of the Year – All Canadian small business owners

Credit: Google Streetview

In March, Yoo was gearing up for yet another busy spring fashion shopping season, but it never happened. At least, not in the way she envisioned. With her store deemed non-essential and ordered to close amid the pandemic lockdown, Yoo spent the next month with her small staff photographing and cataloguing every item to sell over the internet. She’d already taken small steps into the e-commerce world, but now she converted one of the shop’s three rooms into a photo studio to keep pace with surging online sales. Then, when another luxury consignment shop shut its doors, Yoo snapped up $500,000 of its stock to add to her offerings.

“The workload is more now—I work 100 hours a week—but we’re doing similar to or better than before,” she says. “I’m one of those people who looks at the cards I’m given and adapts, and this whole thing has been an exercise in adapting and finding creative ways to survive and reinvent your business.”

Yoo’s journey is a microcosm of the gruelling ordeal thousands of small and medium-size businesses have endured during the pandemic.

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ROB magazine: Apple could soon be worth more than the TSX 60

When a turtleneck-clad Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone in June 2007, Apple was already massive, with a market capitalization of US$100 billion. But Research In Motion, as BlackBerry was then called, was no slouch — later that year, it would rocket past Royal Bank of Canada to become the most valuable firm in this country, with a market cap of more than US$70 billion.

Thirteen years later, Apple is a $1.4-trillion juggernaut and the world’s most valuable company.

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ROB magazine: What the Sahm rule says about a recession in the U.S. or Canada

Recessions are a bit like earthquakes. They can knock you off your feet and are impossible to predict. But in the same way seismologists are working to detect quakes critical seconds before the ground starts to shake, economists are watching a new realtime gauge for signs of an imminent downturn.

It’s called the Sahm Rule, the brainchild of former Federal Reserve economist Claudia Sahm.

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Trash talking: How Patrick Dovigi built Green For Life into a waste empire


Canada’s king of garbage is, at this moment, standing shin-deep in the stuff. Patrick Dovigi, the CEO of GFL Environmental—the fourth-largest waste management company in North America—clambers over a pile of stained mattresses, crushed plastic bottles and rotting wood at the company’s waste transfer station in northwest Toronto. Dovigi may be doing all this for a photo shoot, but as he hops into the bucket of a front-end loader and gestures with upturned hands for the driver to lift him higher—higher, he signals—it’s clear this is a man very much in his element, foul-smelling as it may be. Never mind that his brown suede shoes seem utterly ruined, that there’s a smear of white sludge across the back of his black sweatshirt, or that in less than half an hour, he’s scheduled to meet with an executive at one of GFL’s largest investors, the $190-billion Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. “It’s okay,” Dovigi says of the stains. “This is the garbage business.”

It’s unlikely any of his investors would complain about a bit of trash. Outside the world of tech unicorns, few companies in Canada have grown so massive, so fast.

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