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business briefing

Briefing highlights

  • Working on your commute
  • Markets at a glance
  • Should pot be a 'strategic asset'?
  • If U.S. firms could own Canadian media …
  • Toronto housing market rebounding
  • Vancouver home sales tumble
  • How Facebook use is changing
  • Ford recalls 2 million F-150 trucks

Working on your commute

We've all seen them on our daily commute, their thumbs tapping furiously, be they on a train or bus, or in a car stopped at a red light (after glancing left and right and in the rearview mirror for a cop).

This was the subject of a new British research study, which raises intriguing questions about the changing nature of work and what that could mean.

And while the researchers aren't saying this, I am: Working on your way to and from work should factor into your compensation in some form or another.

(Unless you're stopped at a light, in which case you should pay. And, for that matter, if you happen to be reading this on the GO Train this morning, make them pay for your subscription.)

The University of the West of England study was actually about commuters using free WiFi on two major train routes, surveying thousands of passengers who used it more when more was offered. Mobile data users stayed at about the same.

The study hasn't been prepared in a form that can be shared, the university said, but it put out a statement because one of the researchers, Dr. Juliet Jain, was presenting details at a conference.

As the university put it, the research by Dr. Jain and her colleagues, Dr. Billy Clayton and Dr. Caroline Bartle, sets the stage "for the commute to be counted as work."

Obviously, Britain and Canada have different systems of commuting, but what interested me is the idea of considering a commute work time, and all that that could entail. We don't only read work-related e-mail as we travel. We can go far beyond that and do work work, as well.

"Connectivity to the Internet and phone network enables business travellers to continue working on the move, and this is why the U.K. government is pushing rail companies to invest in free WiFi," said Dr. Jain, senior research fellow at the university's Centre for Transport and Society.

"However, in our study commuters were using the free WiFi more than business travellers, and those connecting to the Internet were mainly e-mailing for work, but also uploading and downloading documents," she added.

"Interviews indicated that passengers were using time to catch up with work, which included e-mailing but also working on documents, etc. It was important to note that commuters were working because this is personal time, and any productivity is not recognized by transport policy."

Dr. Jain said she and Dr. Clayton and Dr. Bartle didn't conclude whether commuters should be paid for such initiative.

"But if they are, then there are some critical implications for the travel network, work practices, and individual wellbeing," she said.

"Firstly, could people shift their commute time to later in the day, which could reduce levels of overcrowding, if they started work at 9 a.m. on the train instead of 8 a.m.," she added.

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Markets at a glance

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Of pot and potash

No, I don't necessarily believe Canada should deem pot a "strategic asset," but no doubt there will be those who say we should.

I only got to thinking about it because of the obvious stream of consciousness that takes you from pot to potash.

And then to Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, which was sheltered from a hostile bid from a foreigner several years ago, and whose ticker just happened to be POT before it merged with Agrium Inc. to become Nutrien Ltd., with the more boring stock symbol of NTR.

(If you're giggling right now at the connection between pot and potash, I'll just point out that it's a bit early in the morning yet, at least when this was published.)

Remember, then-Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall battled mightily to block an almost $40-billion takeover of Potash Corp. by Australia's BHP Billiton Ltd., which, in the end, backed off after Ottawa signalled a deal wouldn't pass the test of being of "net benefit" to Canada.

(It's okay to giggle over whether you think legal marijuana is of "net benefit.")

Canada lost its big brewers and a chunk of the mining industry to foreign takeovers, along with other companies here and there.

(Rona's worth a giggle, because a former Quebec finance minister thought a hardware store should be considered an "important strategic interest." And what could be more un-Canadian than letting your major beer companies get away?)

But Canada had the smarts to legalize cannabis, and, thus, allow a new industry to spring up.

That consolidation will continue is a given, along with questions over stock valuations.

But already, Constellation Brands Inc. has seized a big stake in Canopy Growth Corp., and stands to gain control, while Molson Coors Canada, itself the product of a takeover, has a joint venture going with Quebec's Hydropothecary Corp. And others are circling.

Indeed, as The Globe and Mail's Christina Pellegrini and Marina Strauss report, some of the world's biggest beverage makers, from Heineken to Diageo to Coca-Cola, have been checking out the action in Canada in the run-up to legalization next month.

Bill Newlands, Constellation’s chief operating officer, said Wednesday the company believes the cannabis sector will spread well beyond Canada to become a huge global industry.

“This is not going to be limited to Canada,” he told a Boston conference, Bloomberg News reported. “This will undoubtedly be a market that develops in the United States. It’s developing around the world in places like Germany and Australia and other markets.”

Citing a recent sales forecast, AltaCorp Capital Research projected North America will hold the majority share of the global marijuana market "for the foreseeable future."

Which suggests, of course, that Canadian companies will be attractive merger and acquisition targets.

"Even with the legal regimes coming into place over the next few years internationally, the North American market is forecasted to maintain above a 90-per-cent share into 2022," AltaCorp said.

"This is important to keep in mind when cannabis businesses are assessing where to establish operations and deploy investment capital, and which markets investors are looking to gain exposure to."

And as an aside here, investors should "not neglect the growing number of opportunities available in the U.S. market," though pot isn't legal at the federal level, AltaCorp added.

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If U.S. firms could own Canadian media ...

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Toronto home sales, prices rise

Toronto area home prices climbed in August and sales grew compared to the same month last year, signalling the region’s real estate market is continuing to sputter back to life after a weak first half of the year.

The Toronto Real Estate board said 6,839 homes sold in the Greater Toronto Area in August, an increase of 8.5 per cent compared to August last year and a jump of 2 per cent compared to July after adjusting for seasonal variations, The Globe and Mail’s Janet McFarland reports.

The average selling price for all types of homes was $765,270 in August, an increase of 4.7 per cent compared to August, 2017, but a slight decline of 0.2 per cent compared to July on a seasonally adjusted basis.

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Facebook use changing

Facebook Inc. users are dramatically changing their relationship with the social media platform, a new survey indicates.

Take a look at this report and chart from The Globe and Mail’s Matt Lundy.

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