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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FT: Canada’s muddled Covid response leaves it struggling against third wave

(Photo by Marco Verch / Flickr)

As the US has seemed to get a grip on its Covid-19 crisis, Canadians have been angered by a chaotic government response that has allowed a third wave to take hold and led to a delayed vaccine rollout.

It is a contrast driven home by the fact that Canada’s case count, when adjusted for population, now exceeds that of the US for the first time since the pandemic began.

“It’s such a reversal of how we felt as Canadians for the last four years of Donald Trump,” said David Coletto, chief executive of Abacus Data, a polling firm. “It’s a bizarro world for us to now look down south and say: ‘What do you mean they’re doing better than us?’”

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Politico: How the Trudeau government plans to meet its climate goals


The federal Liberals have set an ambitious new target for Canada to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions as part of a sweeping set of big-ticket budget measures aimed at fighting climate change while giving Canada’s pandemic-hit economy a green lift.

In her budget speech, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada’s new goal is to reduce emissions by 36 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, up from the 30 percent reduction target first set by the previous Conservative government.

But with U.S. President Joe Biden set to host a virtual climate summit of 40 world leaders later this week, where some believe he may announce a reduction target of 50 percent, it’s not clear Canada’s upgraded plan will be ambitious enough.

FT: Canada unveils federal budget to end ‘Covid recession’

Hildenbrand / MSC, CC BY 3.0 DE via Wikimedia Commons

Canada’s finance minister Chrystia Freeland delivered the Liberal government’s first budget since 2019, vowing to “punch our way out of the Covid recession” with C$101bn (US$81bn) in spending over three years.

“This budget is about finishing the fight against Covid,” she said during her budget speech, which she delivered to a nearly empty parliament with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seated nearby. “Our country cannot prosper if we leave hundreds of thousands behind.”

In drafting the budget, Freeland said the government drew motivation from mistakes some countries made in the wake of the 2008-09 recession, which showed “the cost of allowing economic hardship to fester”.

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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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Is the hype over hydrogen overblown?

Ballard Power

For those who lived through the tech bubble of the late 1990s, the renewed enthusiasm for all things hydrogen has likely brought a sense of déjà vu.

Two decades after fuel cell mania sent shares of companies such as Vancouver-based Ballard Power Systems Inc. soaring – only to crash when the technology failed to live up to its promise for commercialization – investors are betting that the time has finally come for the universe’s most abundant element to play an important role in tackling climate change.

“It really is a case that 20 years ago hydrogen looked interesting but was ahead of the time,” said John Bereznicki, an analyst with Canaccord Genuity in Calgary. “The political will to decarbonize has evolved.”

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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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The Logic: Why pension funds are watching the memestock saga

While the Reddit-fuelled stock-market frenzy of recent weeks draws scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers, the managers of Canada’s largest pension fund are also watching closely to see what the so-called “meme stock” craze says about governments’ ability to support the economy through pandemic shocks without overheating it.

“Policymakers have been able to intervene with real significant force without having excessive negative impacts on economies,” said Geoffrey Rubin, the chief investment strategist at the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, in an interview with The Logic.

“But I also believe when we see issues like this crop up, these are the kinds of risks that can accompany the kind of significant policy intervention that we’re seeing.”

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The Logic: Bubbles in everything

Image from TikTok/mpsatta

My first piece for The Logic looked at the meme stock frenzy and how was part of a phenomenon unsettling the financial world:

By the time a five-storey electronic billboard in New York City’s Times Square began flaunting shares in the struggling video game retailer GameStop last Friday—“$GME GO BRRR,” the giant letters blared out—the saga of the company’s rocketing share price had come to reinforce whatever narrative one wished to apply to it.

There was the David versus Goliath telling, with a legion of small-time investors who populate Reddit punishing nefarious Wall Street hedge funds for trying to ruin the company. Or similarly, it was a manifestation of the populist anger that propelled the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011. The moment ushered in a new bottom-up power dynamic in American capitalism made possible for the first time by the interconnectedness of social media, argued some, while others saw it as the ultimate swindle of gullible retail investors who would ultimately be left holding an empty bag.

Or maybe it was all just for the specu-lulz.

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Zoomer: The great (new) migration

By Gerry Thomasen, Flickr

Even before COVID-19 touched off a global rethink of life in the big city, Raheema Brettingham’s husband, Larry, often mused about selling their home in Toronto’s west end and moving to Vancouver Island. As the lockdown measures tightened and the couple saw their world reduced to strolls around the neighbourhood, he began to press the idea more intently. Even so, the 59-year-old self-described “city girl” felt she wasn’t ready to leave Toronto. “I used to love hopping on the subway to go downtown and meet friends,” she says. “So, every time he talked to me about it, I said, ‘No, no, no.’”

Then in June, Larry, 67, sat down to pen an email to his wife detailing his case for ditching Hogtown. It wasn’t just that pandemic restrictions had robbed them of the urban lifestyle they both enjoyed, he wrote. COVID-19 offered a unique financial reset for the couple. In 2019, both were suddenly laid off within a month of each other – Larry from his job as a software engineer and Raheema from her position at a financial advisory firm – and the pandemic brought their job searches to a halt. While they could get by staying in Toronto, it might entail working for another decade or more. But if they sold and moved to Comox, B.C., where his sister lived, they could easily erase their $400,000 mortgage and have enough to retire right away and, once the pandemic ends, travel the world.

Shortly after reading Larry’s email, Raheema decided to take the leap and, within a month, their detached house was on the market. Purchased for $845,000 in 2011, it quickly sold for a little more than $1.8 million. Meanwhile they were able to snap up a more spacious house just minutes from the ocean for $785,000 in the town of Comox, population 15,000. “I was apprehensive at first, but we’re already settled, and I love this house,” says Raheema, who joined a local newcomers group that is full of other eastern city expats. “I never thought I could enjoy nature the way I do here, and the city is not shut down like Toronto. We made the perfect decision at the perfect time.”