November 20, 2020

COVID prompts course change for B.C. international schools

Pandemic driving institutions to look to local immigrant markets

Wedo Education executive director Cindy Kidd: “you have kids who are now back in school physically, and they are coming back after school into an online environment for another couple of hours with us” | Rob Kruyt

While COVID-19 has dealt a heavy blow to B.C.’s international education industry by dramatically cutting enrolment, it has also created new demand in some sub-sectors that are benefiting agile players.

That’s because a record number of B.C. high schools students have been forced to study from home, creating significant demand from nervous parents who want their children to excel academically despite not being physically at school.

That level of stress is especially high in immigrant communities, where culture often puts enormous emphasis on a child’s education. According to Vancouver-based Wedo Education, that stress has created a demand that has driven the school to rapidly grow to a staff of 30 and a teachers’ roster of 45 in a span of less than a year to run its double-teachers after-school program.

Wedo, which was launched in March after two years of product development, originated with the idea of serving the Chinese community and eyeing traditional international students. It now focuses on the new immigrant, secondary-level supplementary education sector and plans to expand its reach into other areas such as the Vietnamese immigrant community, which may have similar demands for such an educational service.

“I have been travelling the world as part of my work in the last two decades, and there was always a common thread,” said Cindy Kidd, executive director of Wedo and a veteran business executive who has worked with the public and private sectors in the Chinese market prior to moving into education. “Parents were focused on the education of their children at all costs. No matter what, it’s the most important element for them.”

The international education market’s plight has been well-documented during the pandemic. While major universities have projected budget shortfalls due to some students being unable to travel to B.C. to study, the lower end of the market – language schools and post-secondary academies that have set themselves up as stepping stones for foreign students to get into larger institutions – has been hit hard with several going out of business during the pandemic.

Wedo had a few advantages that helped the school ride out the storm, Kidd said. First, being launched as the COVID shutdown occurred, the school has yet to invest heavily in large classrooms and facilities. So when students were forced to stay home, Wedo and other flexible players were able to transition to online teaching platforms without incurring the costs of too much bricks-and-mortar infrastructure.

Online education, however, has its own challenges – especially in the supplementary education market that Wedo is trying to fill.

“With supplementary education, you really have to ensure that you have a product, a service, that will motivate the kids,” Kidd said. “You have kids who are now back in school physically, and they are coming back after school into an online environment for another couple of hours with us.”

Kidd added that’s why her school has doubled down on its double-teacher system (two teachers in each class – one to teach, one fluent in the students’ mother tongue to translate or help contextualize the course work) to keep students motivated.

That second teacher is also there to keep parents informed about their child’s progress – a crucial portion of the service’s appeal to immigrant families, Kidd said.

“That teaching assistant, that’s the person communicating back to the parents,” she noted. “The parents are the key in an immigrant family. Without the parents, I don’t believe these students would succeed. In all of our programs – whether it is Wedo’s 8-12 supplementary classes or our long-term academic planning counselling service – we ensure that our parents are involved every step of the way. That is very different from what you usually see in a traditional Canadian family.”

Ultimately, Kidd said, her goal is for some immigrant children to overcome their cultural barriers and pick up more aspects of western critical thinking and problem solving, so they can succeed in post-secondary education and beyond.

She said that the potential remains for this demographic of students – who previously had the mobility to pursue secondary education anywhere in the western world – to increase their exposure to Canada, thereby increasing their odds of staying and contributing to the local economy.

Kidd conceded that there is no guarantee these students would stay. Wedo’s academic planning counselling helps students find their ideal universities, and schools like those in the Ivy League in the United States remain the most popular.

She added, however, that the Wedo program may boost their willingness to stay or return after university.

And whatever gains B.C. makes on that front, Kidd said, would inevitably be welcomed by an economy in dire need of human resources.

“One of the main challenges that B.C. businesses are dealing with is finding talent,” she said. “That has been especially difficult in the last few years because major companies globally have come into Vancouver to take up most of the talent that is here.…  I’m truly hopeful that these students will give back when they are finished on the global stage and be here in B.C. – or at least in Canada – helping the economy.” •


Home is where new employee tax opportunity is: Deutsche Bank

For about 150 years in the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a “window tax,” the precursor of the cursed income tax. Depending on how many views to the outdoors your house had – an indication of how rich you were – you paid a higher tax.

Fast forward and here many of us are, often looking out our windows in the pandemic, working from home. Might another window-like tax be coming? Are those who work from home newly advantaged? Should it be considered a benefit for which they pay more to be away from a traditional workplace?

One of the world’s preeminent financial institutions, Deutsche Bank, muses in a new report on the idea of a 5% “privilege tax” of income on days we choose or are told to work from home, mainly to subsidize those in lower incomes who cannot.

In its look at post-pandemic economic options, with plenty of big ideas beyond this tax, it argues that employees are financially better off working remotely and that they contribute less to the economy in doing so. The report also suggests the tax would confer a more subtle benefit for employers.

As squirrelly and screwy as the world has gone this year in coping with the coronavirus, the proposal has to be taken seriously, because it’s possible officials are taking it seriously, largely because the world has gone screwy and squirrelly.

After all, revenue for all this spending has to be found somewhere. Why not start at home?

The proposal is for employers to pay the tax if they don’t provide an adequate home office. Employees would bear the tax if they’re properly equipped and choose to stay home to work. Auditors would arbitrate in the event of disputes of who wants what.

On a $52,000 income, it works out to $10 a day, likely less than the costs of commuting, parking, presentable clothes, restaurant lunches, designer coffees, laundry, dry-cleaning and the like. The question is: would an employee want to part with that slight newfound advantage? Another question: does the work-from-home cohort “owe” those who can’t?

If employers bear the cost, the cost might be offset by spending less on the office space they occupy and the furniture they house. Even the water cooler doesn’t come free. A question for them is: would it be worth the loss of a present workforce to shrink the worksite? Another question: why would any employer permit government to regulate how workforces are organized?

The German bank’s Luke Templeman argues that our economic system is not set up to deal with those “who can disconnect themselves from the face-to-face society.” A large swathe of the workplace’s infrastructure stands to lie redundant, he argues, and the effects will extend the economic malaise post-pandemic if somehow people aren’t repaying some of the benefits of working from home.

He says the newly discovered benefits – safety, convenience, flexibility, even job security – have value outweighing the mental stressors of juggling work with children and occupying a less-than-ideal home office.

Surveys in the pandemic have found significant support for detaching from the face-to-face work world. At the very least, a large majority would prefer to hang out at home pretty often.

There is nothing to suggest any decision-maker in Ottawa or Victoria has this idea in the hopper, and the U.S. Internal Revenue Agency (IRS) has cast cold water on it. But it has been very interesting to see many of the world’s leading forums discuss the idea as one of the first to emerge in the pandemic to contend with the new normal.

As far as I can calculate, this tax might yield between $4 billion and $5 billion annually in Canada, not insignificant if it is a redistribution of income but hardly the post-pandemic panacea to what economically will challenge us. In the same way we learned more about the digital divide when coronavirus struck, we are concluding some are in a much better position to pursue either a full detachment from the workplace or a hybrid employment. Fine, but why pounce on them? Why even a flat tax instead of a graduated one?

What certainly doesn’t feel right in the report is the assertion that working from home is somehow a denial of the workplace economy. We might discover in time that it enables a shift of it to one’s neighbourhood and its restaurants and retailers. We could all use more vibrant, walkable districts – and yes, a lot less tax. •

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of BIV and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.



Need the smell of 11 herbs and spices in your home? Here's where to buy KFC's fried chicken fire logs in Metro Vancouver

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire? Nah. Gimme the scent of fried chicken, please.

For the first time, KFC's scented fire logs are available in Canada this year | Photo: KFC Canada

The smell of chestnuts won't be the only scent being roasted over an open fire this year as Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has brought their fried-chicken scented fire logs to Canada.

The fast-food chain is selling its limited-time 11 herbs and spices fire log at all Canadian Tire stores across Canada.

These logs are being sold online and in stores in Canada for the first time since being launched in the United States in 2018.

“It’s the comfort of a warm fire and the delicious aroma of our world-famous fried chicken that makes the KFC 11 herbs and spices fire log a truly heart-warming and hunger-inducing experience for all,” said Samantha Redman, chief marketing officer at KFC Canada, in a media release.

These logs are designed and manufactured by Enviro-Log, an eco-friendly, consumer products and recycling company, according to the fast-food chain.

“We are thrilled with the overwhelming consumer demand for the KFC Firelog over the past two years and are proud that through our long-term partnership with Canadian Tire, we are now able to make it available to Canadian fans that crave KFC’s 11 Herbs & Spices,” said Ross McRoy, CEO of Enviro-Log, Inc.

Richmond News


These two Burnaby malls will have Santa behind Plexiglas barriers

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Santa doesn’t want to get COVID-19, but what he does want is for families to feel safe.

Extra precautions are being taken as two Burnaby malls prepare to have Santa Claus returning for Christmas photo sessions.

Santa will be at Lougheed Town Centre from Nov. 21 to Dec. 24 in front of the London Drugs outlet. The Amazing Brentwood will have Santa from Nov. 28 to Dec. 24 on the upper level where the food court used to be. (Metropolis at Metrotown told the NOW it would not be hosting Santa this year due to COVID-19.)

Both malls are owned by Shape Properties and have instituted a number of rules to make everyone safer.

For one thing, Santa will be behind Plexiglas.

You also have to book your visit with Santa on either mall’s website as visits are by appointment only.

In order to visit Santa and stay on the nice list:

  • Keep your group small. Photo visits are limited to a maximum of 6 guests from your household.
  • Wear your mask. Masks are mandatory at all times for adults and older children except when your photo is being taken.
  • Keep your distance. Physical distancing outside of your party must be maintained at all times.
  • Arrive safe. Guest will have their temperature checked and must sanitize upon arrival.
  • Leave safe. Guests must sanitize hands when exiting.

Both malls have implemented the following procedures:

  • Families will be seated at a safe distance from Santa, with a Plexiglas barrier in between
  • All guest touchpoints will be cleaned and sanitized between visits.
  • Complete cleaning of Santa’s wonderland twice daily
  • All team members will have their temperature checked before their shift, wear masks and maintain distance with guests at all times
  • Guests or staff may not enter Santa’s Wonderland, and will be required to cancel their appointment or shift if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, have tested positive for COVID-19, have been exposed to anyone who has felt symptoms or tested positive for COVID-19, and/or have travelled out of the country within the past 14 days.

Burnaby Now


See you at Beer Fest? The future of beer festivals in the COVID-19 age

Some events are attempting virtual versions, but when it comes right down to it, clinking glasses over Zoom or drinking together by the light of your phone screen isn’t quite the same as walking from booth to booth in a giant field filled with hundreds or thousands of fellow beer lovers.

350 people jammed into the Victoria Public Market | Photo: Victoria Beer Week

Back in February, I was helping to produce Victoria Beer Week (March 6-14) as news of a “new flu” began appearing. We got through most of the events, although ticket sales dropped to zero as the word “pandemic” began showing up in the media. Then the province banned events above 250 people, which forced us to cancel our two final nights.

First to go was the Okanagan Fest of Ale in Penticton in April, followed by the postponements of Vancouver Craft Beer Week and Farmhouse Fest. No Great Okanagan Beer Festival or Whistler Village Beer Fest. No BC Beer Awards. I was going to emcee the Canadian Brewing Awards in Victoria at the end of June. Nope. That was rescheduled as a virtual event based in Toronto in September.

Depending on your perspective, all these cancellations might be merely disappointing—yet another fun thing we aren’t allowed to do—or devastating, as in there goes someone’s income for the next year or two. The event production business has been decimated by COVID-19. Ask Jonny Evans, who produces Farmhouse Fest and Weathered annually, and supplements that by taking photos at other events: “I’m basically out of work for 12-18 months,” he told me over the phone in June when he should have been busy getting ready for Farmhouse Fest.

Same goes for Leah Heneghan, Festival Director for Vancouver Craft Beer Week. “It was going to be a big year,” she told me over Zoom during the darkest days of the spring lockdown. “We were really excited about it.” The plan was to move the VCBW Festival to Concord Community Park on the waterfront in downtown Vancouver, and to move to an all-inclusive model, eliminating the need for beer tokens just as Farmhouse Fest did earlier.

Heneghan said they intend to put on VCBW again when the authorities allow it, but their plan for 2020 envisioned up to 3,500 people attending four different sessions over three days. That is not going to happen again until we have a vaccine or “herd immunity” to such an extent that life is essentially back to normal. The current maximum for events in B.C. is 50 people, and only if everyone can remain physically distant. It’s not actually clear if the government would even approve a beer event for 50 people given the outbreaks that have occurred at bars around the province.

Then there’s the issue of glassware. We could check with Dr. Henry, but I can imagine what she’d say about the old model of handing someone a glass to carry around for an entire event—even if the glasses were dipped in a bucket of Star San between each pour. Single-use plastic cups will probably be the new norm, but what about the waste? Even if those throwaway cups are made from compostable plastic, they can’t be just dumped into the municipal composting program. Multiply 3,000 people by 10 cups each and we’re talking about 30,000 plastic cups.


Dressing up at the Great Canadian Beer Festival. Joe Wiebe photo

Back in June, Evans speculated about running much smaller COVID-conscious sessions in an imaginary version of Farmhouse Fest: maybe 50 people seated in small groups at outdoor tables enjoying a guided tasting through several special beers. But when I checked in with him again in October, he admitted he could not see a way to make it work.

“I don’t see any realistic way of holding an event,” Evans said, “until the government removes all restrictions and insurance companies offer cancellation protection.”

After all, putting on a beer festival isn’t cheap. Between venue costs, equipment rental, staffing, licensing, insurance, and so on, there are a lot of expenses before you even get to the cost of the beer. Economy of scale requires a big crowd so that each ticket only covers a small portion of those base costs. Staying under the 50-person limit would result in a ticket price double or triple what it used to be. Would people pay $150-$200 for what is arguably a glorified bottle share?

It’s also questionable if breweries will want to participate in beer festivals moving forward. With tasting rooms reduced in capacity or outright closed, and draft accounts cut significantly, some breweries are barely surviving. Given the costs of registration fees and their own staffing along with the potential health risks, many will likely decide to stay away from beer festivals until the virus is not considered a threat any more and their own financial livelihood has improved.

When I spoke to Heneghan again in October she remained hopeful about 2021. “One thing I can say is if any big events are coming back, it’ll be outdoor events because that’s the place we all feel the safest. It keeps me hopeful that we will be among the first big festivals to come back.” She figured it will take her team about three months from getting approval to staging the next VCBW Festival, so let’s hope we get this virus licked by next spring.

In the meantime that leaves us with virtual beer festivals. Some events are attempting virtual versions, but when it comes right down to it, clinking glasses over Zoom or drinking together by the light of your phone screen isn’t quite the same as walking from booth to booth in a giant field filled with hundreds or thousands of fellow beer lovers.

It seems like we won’t be gathering together for a while yet, but once we have a vaccine or viral therapeutics or whatever it is that will allow us to return to some sense of normalcy, you can bet that beer lovers will want to celebrate. Big time. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there, me included, who can’t wait to say “See you at Beer Fest!” again.

The Growler



What are we reading? November 19, 2020

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Each week, BIV staff will share with you some of the interesting stories we have found from around the web


Timothy Renshaw, managing editor:

Old rat, no brain provides insights into how other beings might get through life without much in their heads or, as A.A. Milne noted, “No brain at all, some of them [people], only grey fluff that's blown into their heads by mistake, and they don't Think.” – Mind Matters News


Reader warning: reproductive organ anomalies ahead. – Smithsonian Magazine

Mark Falkenberg, deputy managing editor:

Some helpful advice on beating the COVID-19 winter blues. Some of the tips, such as getting outside and exercising as much as possible, might seem obvious but bear repeating anyway.  – Georgia Straight


The Canadian Medical Association wraps up consultations today (November 19) on a review of guidelines for how doctors interact with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry. This piece argues the CMA needs stricter enforcement of those guidelines, which are aimed at preventing conflicts of interest. – The Conversation