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Marty Weintraub on the state of Canadian retail

On this week’s episode of Free Lunch by The Peak, we sat down with Marty Weintraub to talk about the challenges and opportunities that are facing Canadian retailers these days. 

What’s up with opera?

The opera world, worried that audiences have become disenchanted with burly men in funny costume singing very loudly, is trying out new strategies to get butts back in theatre seats.

Driving the news: Eighty-five opera companies across Canada and the U.S. have joined a discount program run by industry group Opera America, in which a subscription to one of the participating companies will also grant you the same perks at every participating company.

Canada tightens international student rules

For months now, officials have been saying that the 800,000 foreign students at Canadian universities and colleges are putting too much pressure on housing and the labour market. Here’s what they plan to do about it.

Driving the news: The federal government is now responding to growing criticism around international student programs with a plan to hold schools to higher standards when it comes to services, support, and outcomes for students — including ensuring adequate housing.

Renting in Canada is starting to look like a steal

Home sweet home, sure. But how?

Driving the news: The cost of buying a home in Canada versus renting is facing one of the most extreme price discrepancies since the early 2000s. Monthly mortgage payments for the average-priced home are now well over double the nation’s average monthly rent. 

SBF pleads his case

After securing enough Adderall to finally stand trial, ex-FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried was ready to sit before the judge in a last-ditch effort to save himself from the slammer. 

What happened: SBF took to the stand yesterday to testify in his own defence after the prosecution rested its case. In a surprise twist, the jury was not present for it — the judge dismissed them so that he could determine for himself if SBF’s testimony was permissible. 

Stores seek help to curb shoplifting

Shoplifting has risen steadily alongside the cost of living in Canada, but police departments and industry groups have said that incidents are also becoming increasingly violent.

Driving the news: The CEO of London Drugs, a BC-based pharmacy, is calling on policymakers to act as shoplifting increasingly puts staff in harm’s way. Incidents have ranged from threats with needles to stabbings to assaults with hatchets.

Israel-Hamas war puts crypto back in the hot seat

Lawmakers in the U.S. are cracking down on cryptocurrency to disrupt funding to Hamas, bringing attention (once again) to digital currency’s darker uses.

Driving the news: The U.S. Treasury Department has proposed rules that would classify cryptocurrency mixers — which take funds, mix them with those from other users and return them to make tracing difficult — as money laundering tools that threaten national security.

Alberta turns to AI to help fight wildfires

On the heels of a record-breaking wildfire season, the country is turning to AI for solutions.  

Driving the news: Alberta is adopting artificial intelligence to help the province’s wildfire agency predict where and when wildfires will start. By partnering with software company AltaML, the province will use Microsoft Azure to create next-day fire-likelihood forecasts. 

Stores show off their new brands

One in every three Canadians are buying more store brands to offset food inflation. 

But retailers are trying to boost that number by changing a common perception among shoppers: That store brands just aren’t that good.

Driving the news: PerThe New York Times, store brands, also known as private label brands, are gaining ground on well-known consumer brands, and it’s not just because shoppers want to save cash — retailers are also adding variety and increasing quality. 

Carnival condemned for Covid cruise

Carnival Cruise Lines soon might have to spend a little bit less on cruise ship roller coasters and a little bit more on Covid lawsuit settlements.  

What happened: Australia’s Federal Court ordered Carnival, the world’s largest cruise line, to cover the medical expenses of a passenger who caught Covid during an outbreak aboard one of their ships in March 2020, which resulted in almost 700 Covid cases and 28 deaths. 

The Godfathers of AI can’t agree on how dangerous it is

The comments section of a Facebook post typically isn’t a place for intelligent debate between great minds… but sometimes, it is. 

Driving the news: Meta AI head Yann LeCun and Université de Montréal prof Yoshua Bengio, two of the three ‘Godfathers of AI’, got in an online debate earlier this month after LeCun made a post asking experts who don’t believe in AI extinction threats to speak up.    

Doomsday kits are going mainstream

If you’re looking for some early Christmas gift ideas, nothing spreads holiday cheer quite like a doomsday survival kit. 

Driving the news: Driven in part by an increase in natural disasters, emergency prep is inching toward the mainstream, creating a not-so-niche market for everything from outdoor survival lessons to emergency essential kits, per The Wall Street Journal

California deals a blow to autonomous cars

Like an angsty teen who took the car out without permission, Cruise has lost its driving privileges for the time being. 

Driving the news: Per The Washington Post, the autonomous car company has to immediately remove all its driverless vehicles from the roads after the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) determined its the robotaxis are a risk to public safety. 

Could we see a billionaire tax?

Three things are certain in life: Death, taxes, and billionaires not paying said taxes. 

Now, calls are on the rise to get them to pay their fair share. 

Driving the news: The EU Tax Observatory wants the world to come together and impose a minimum 2% wealth tax on billionaires, which it believes could raise US$250 billion annually. 

St. Lawrence Seaway workers join the strike wave

Shipping traffic at a key Canadian transportation artery has ground to a halt. No, there isn’t a 400-metre-long container ship blocking the Seaway, just 361 workers walking off the job.  

Driving the news: Unionized workers at the St. Lawrence Seaway, a 3,700-kilometer route that connects the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean, have been on strike as of Sunday, forcing 15 locks along the waterway to close operations, per The Globe and Mail

Rich countries feel the migration surge

Make some room! International migration to advanced economies reached an all-time high last year, with estimates suggesting a further influx this year, per new OECD stats. 

Driving the news: Per the Financial Times, the OECD added ~6.1 million new permanent migrants across its 38 member nations last year, a 26% jump from the year before.

NBA looks for slam dunk with streamers

While basketball fans will be focused on the NBA season tip-off this week, business fans will be more focused on the massive shake-up happening in media that’s set to reshape pro sports.

Driving the news: The NBA is heading into its first media-rights negotiations since 2014 when it was able to triple its media rights fees. The league is in a strong position to repeat that success, per The Wall Street Journal, even in a much-changed media landscape. 

Momentum grows for competition push

If you've ever returned from a trip to the States and wished we had Trader Joe's here too, Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne is with you—and not just to get easier access to the World's Puffiest White Cheddar Corn Puffs, either.

Driving the news: The federal government is pushing ahead with the most serious effort to introduce more competition into Canada’s economy in decades.

Israel plans to cut ties with Gaza

As the Israel Defence Force prepares for a ground offensive in Gaza, officials have confirmed their eventual plans for the territory following the war with Hamas. 

What happened: Israel’s defence minister said the country would cut ties with the Gaza Strip when the war ends.