‘What other options do we have?’: AIMCo CEO says Alberta may need sales tax as oil prices fall

CALGARY – Three days after Alberta Premier Jim Prentice declared he “won’t be introducing a sales tax” in the face of low oil prices, the outgoing CEO of the government’s pension investment fund waded in to the perennial debate, saying such a tax would be needed to help balance the province’s volatile revenues.

“When I first came here, I was warned about the S-word,” Alberta Investment Management Corp. (AIMCo) CEO Leo de Bever said of a potential sales tax on Tuesday. AIMCo manages $75 billion worth of Government of Alberta pension funds and 8% of its holdings are in the province.

Alberta is the only province in Canada without a provincial sales tax — though the subject of whether to implement one is a hot-button issue.

“If oil isn’t going to come back to US$100,” Mr. de Bever said, “what other options do we have?”
“In the long run,” Mr. de Bever said he’d be surprised if oil prices averaged more than US$70 in the future.

Oil prices fell again Tuesday, with the West Texas Intermediate benchmark slipping US$2.12 at US$66.88 a barrel. Prices have fallen roughly 30% since June.

Mr. de Bever said Alberta faces a “dilemma of relying on a very volatile source of revenue, as in energy revenues.”

“At some point we have to do what every jurisdiction in the developed world and even in the non-developed world has concluded: We have to diversify the sources of revenue.”

While Mr. de Bever said that his comments weren’t intended to rile Mr. Prentice, he did acknowledge the premier’s speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Friday. Mr. Prentice made it clear that “while we’ll be doing what we need to do in the face of lower oil prices, there are some things we won’t do: We won’t be introducing a sales tax.”

University of Calgary School of Public Policy director Jack Mintz said the premier couldn’t be any more explicit in saying that a provincial sales tax is a non-starter. “I can understand that the premier doesn’t want to take this on before an election,” Mr. Mintz said, but added, “I totally agree with Leo.”

A Nov. 17 research report from Moody’s showed that oil royalties make up 18% of Alberta’s provincial revenues and a US$1 drop in the price of oil contributes to a $215 million drop in revenues to the province.

In a Nov. 27 column for the Financial Post, Mr. Mintz wrote that tax increases are an “anathema in Alberta” and said that user fees or a 2% HST would offset the province’s plummeting oil revenues. Mr. de Bever said that having a sales tax “would help balance the services the province provides with sources of revenue. If you look around Alberta, there’s an awful lot of people who have come to the same conclusion.”

Mr. de Bever has managed the investment of Alberta’s government pension funds since the end of 2008, but will be succeeded by Kevin Uebelein on Jan. 5. AIMCo’s board of directors announced Mr. Uebelein’s executive appointment Nov. 19.

Puerto Rico’s House passes bill to increase crude oil tax

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives passed a bill to increase a tax on crude oil by around 68 percent on Tuesday, in a move that helps facilitate a crucial bond sale of up to $2.9 billion.

Firefox Could Soon Come To iOS

firefox-ios For a year now, Mozilla has categorically stated that it wouldn’t release a version of Firefox for iOS because Apple won’t let it use its own web engine on its platform. With a new CEO on board, however, it looks like Mozilla’s position may be changing. At an internal Mozilla event in Portland today, the company talked about the need to get its browser onto iOS. Read More

Critical networks in US, 15 other nations, completely owned, possibly by Iran

For more than two years, pro-Iranian hackers have penetrated some of the world’s most sensitive computer networks, including those operated by a US-based airline, auto maker, natural gas producer, defense contractor, and military installation, security researchers said.

In many cases, “Operation Cleaver,” as the sustained hacking campaign is being dubbed, has attained the highest levels of system access of targets located in 16 countries total, according to a report published Tuesday by security firm Cylance. Compromised systems in the ongoing attacks include Active Directory domain controllers that store employee login credentials, servers running Microsoft Windows and Linux, routers, switches, and virtual private networks. With more than 50 victims that include airports, hospitals, telecommunications providers, chemical companies, and governments, the Iranian-backed hackers are reported to have extraordinary control over much of the world’s critical infrastructure. Cylance researchers wrote:

Perhaps the most bone-chilling evidence we collected in this campaign was the targeting and compromise of transportation networks and systems such as airlines and airports in South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The level of access seemed ubiquitous: Active Directory domains were fully compromised, along with entire Cisco Edge switches, routers, and internal networking infrastructure. Fully compromised VPN credentials meant their entire remote access infrastructure and supply chain was under the control of the Cleaver team, allowing permanent persistence under compromised credentials. They achieved complete access to airport gates and their security control systems, potentially allowing them to spoof gate credentials. They gained access to PayPal and Go Daddy credentials allowing them to make fraudulent purchases and allow[ing] unfettered access to the victim’s domains. We were witnessed [sic] a shocking amount of access into the deepest parts of these companies and the airports in which they operate.

Tuesday’s 86-page report relies on circumstantial evidence to arrive at the conclusion that the 20 or more hackers participating in Operation Cleaver are backed by Iran’s government. Members take Persian handles such as Salman Ghazikhani and Bahman Mohebbi; they work from numerous Internet domains, IP addresses, and autonomous system numbers registered in Iran; and many of the custom-configured hacking tools they use issue warnings when their external IP addresses trace back to the Middle Eastern country. The infrastructure supporting the vast campaign is too sprawling to be the work of a lone individual or small group; it could only have been sponsored by a nation state.

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Get Ahead By Getting Away From It All

I had the privilege of travelling to Spain in September to accept a prestigious PR industry award. I didn’t expect to return from this journey feeling relaxed, refreshed and full of new ideas for both my business and my life.

Broad Reach won the first-ever Global Alliance Comm Prix Award for media relations. Organized by the Switzerland-based Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management, this award represents one of the proudest moments in our agency’s history. Of all the PR agencies and companies around the world that were considered, Broad Reach was the winner in this highly coveted category.

We won this award for a media relations campaign our agency developed to promote Deloitte Canada’s 2011 Technology, Media and Telecommunications Predictions. We launched the report nationally and then organized a cross-Canada media tour that featured the report’s co-author and nine regional spokespeople. When the campaign wrapped, it had generated 210 stories and earned more than 128.5-million media impressions across the country. Each story showcased Deloitte in a positive tone and the majority focused exclusively on Deloitte’s predictions. Canadian media coverage was roughly four times as extensive as coverage in most other Deloitte member-firm countries that launched a similar PR campaign globally.

In addition to accepting the award, I also spoke at the World Public Relations Forum in Madrid. It was a privilege to represent both my team and my country on a global stage. And as the conference came to a close, I found myself with the rare opportunity to travel in Europe without my kids or my husband.

Travelling abroad, minus my kids

As a public relations agency president and a mother of two children under six, it’s rare that I get away for a few hours, let alone fly solo to Europe for 10 days. Initially, I planned to explore northern Spain and the Bordeaux region of France with my husband Dave. But his extensive travel schedule and the incredible growth of his company made it impossible for him to join me.

So I went anyway.

Excited didn’t even begin to describe my emotional state.

Not having a plan became my ultimate goal

On this trip, I didn’t book any hotels in advance. At midnight, I’d go online and find a hotel for the next day. I decided what to do the minute before I did it. With no schedule to keep to — and no one to keep me to a schedule — I went to bed at 2:30 a.m. I woke up at a luxurious 11 a.m., just because I could. It was utter bliss.

After a day exploring Madrid once the conference was over, I received an email from a client and dear friend in Barcelona. She invited me to meet up with her and her colleagues that night, so I purchased a train ticket and off I went.

I didn’t plan my days. I stopped for coffee often, whenever the desire for a rest and some caffeine would strike. I had wine, cheese and charcuterie breaks mid-afternoon. I ate dinner at 10 p.m. I stayed a few more days than expected in Barcelona because I loved the city and the company, and then I took the train to Paris for the weekend.

The whole time, I kept a small notebook with me where I wrote down ideas for how to grow and improve my business. These ideas flowed easily over coffee — and especially over wine.

I inadvertently sparked a movement

I documented my trip on social media and unknowingly sparked a movement. While I was away, my girlfriends began telling me they too planned to hop on a plane and take a similar trip for themselves, as they’d never considered travelling alone. Those who couldn’t get away for that long or who didn’t have it in their budgets vowed to take a solo staycation in the city or leave town for the weekend without anyone in tow.

While I was travelling, their husbands half-jokingly complained to mine. They suggested I tone down the fun, relaxation and utter joy I derived from my newfound freedom. Interestingly, many of these men take regular boys’ weekends to relax and recharge. Their wives simply don’t make the time.

As a business owner and mom, I always have a million things to do. I know this will never change because I throw myself 100 per cent into being a mom and running a business, and I don’t give myself the attention, focus or care I know I deserve. I don’t listen or respond to my own needs as a person.

By taking this trip, I got the chance to reconnect (albeit briefly) with myself, the person I had unwittingly buried with both personal and professional responsibilities. And it felt great.

Sometimes, you have to go away to get ahead

When I arrived home, I felt like a whole person again. I knew I would be better for my family, my clients and my team. Most importantly, the trip gave me the gift of remembering what it was like to be me.

As I explored the streets of Madrid, Barcelona and Paris, I also tapped into some creative ideas for my business. By simply soaking in my surroundings and thinking about some roadblocks in my business, I came up with remarkably simple yet powerful solutions. These are ideas and solutions I would not have uncovered in my day to day life or even at the office.

By extracting myself from my highly demanding and often stressful lifestyle, I had the opportunity to ponder my life, relationships and business on a whole new level. It was like an off-site of sorts, but in Europe, on my own and with lots of good food, caffeine and wine.

And although I never set out to have this type of journey, I’m already planning next year’s trip and figuring out how to extend it to 14 days. Just don’t tell Dave.

Have you ever taken a solo vacation? How do you escape from your hectic lifestyle and take care of yourself?


Stolen dinosaur skull can be returned to Mongolia: U.S. court

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The remains of a 70-million-year-old dinosaur that was falsely labeled as a cheap replica and smuggled into New York earlier this year can be returned to its native Mongolia, the United States Attorney’s Office said on Tuesday.

Apple Continues War on Notification Center Widgets, Asks ‘Drafts’ to Remove Note Creation Feature

Apple is continuing to sort out its nebulous policies on Notification Center widgets, and has today told Drafts developer Agile Tortoise that the app’s widget is not allowed to be used to create drafts or open the Drafts app.

In a tweet, developer Greg Pierce says that he’s been asked to re-submit Drafts without functionality for opening the app or creating a new note, which essentially removes all of the features of the Notification Center Widget.

Drafts 4, which was first introduced in October as an update to the existing Drafts app, is a popular note taking and text capture app that lets users post to a variety of social networks and perform various actions with notes like creating calendar events, emails, messages, and more.

Like many other apps that have Notification Center widgets, the Drafts app widget lets users open the app directly, create a new draft, or create a new draft from what’s on the clipboard. It has very little functionality in the Notification Center aside from simply opening up the Drafts app, which in the past, has seemed like an acceptable use of the Notification Center.

Pierce, however, says that he’s been told that the Today view in the Notification Center is “for information presentation only,” a point of view that would rule out nearly all Notification Center apps. As Pierce points out, there are several similar apps that offer the exact same widget function as Drafts, such as Evernote, which also allows users to launch the Evernote app and new notes and other content from within the Notification Center.

Drafts is one of a number of apps that have faced confusing rules and restrictions delivered by Apple’s app review team. Back in October, Apple told the PCalc developers that calculator functions were not allowed in the Notification Center before changing its mind, and just a few weeks ago, Neato was told that it would have to remove the note taking functionality from its Notification Center widget.

Apple’s App Extension Guidelines suggest that Notification Widgets should have a “simple, streamlined UI,” and “a limited number of interactive items,” but its vague language has led developers to spend time and effort creating a variety of useful functions that are ultimately disallowed as Apple aims to refine how it wants the Notification Center to be used.

It is not clear why Drafts has been singled out by Apple’s app review team as it offers the same functionality as other widgets, but if the Drafts widget is removed, it’s possible that many other similar widgets could be in danger of being in violation of the Notification Center widget rules.

Drafts can be downloaded from the App Store for $9.99. [Direct Link]

Apple Releases Final Cut Pro 10.1.4 and Xcode 6.1.1 [Mac Blog]

Apple today released a minor update to Final Cut Pro, bringing native support for Material eXchange Format (MXF) container files and several other enhancements and bug fixes.

What’s New in Version 10.1.4
– Native MXF import, edit, and export with Pro Video Formats 2.0 software update
– Option to export AVC-Intra MXF files
– Support for import and editing with Panasonic AVC-LongG media
– Fixes issues with automatic library backups
– Fixes a problem where clips with certain frame rates from Canon and Sanyo cameras would not import properly
– Resolves issues that could interrupt long imports when App Nap is enabled
– Stabilization and Rolling Shutter reduction works correctly with 240fps video

Version 10.1.4 is a free update to Final Cut Pro, which is available in the Mac App Store for $299.99. [Direct Link]

Apple has also released Xcode 6.1.1 today, delivering several bug fixes for Apple’s OS X and iOS app tools for developers.

What’s New in Version 6.1.1

– Fixes common causes of SourceKit crashes when working with Swift
– Additional bug fixes and stability improvements

Xcode is a free download from the Mac App Store. [Direct Link]