Alberta sets sights on cryptocurrency ‘Wild West,’ aims to attract maverick companies
By Amanda Stephenson in Calgary
Cryptocurrency has been described by some observers as a “Wild West,” so it’s no surprise that of all Canadian provinces, Alberta is the one that has set its sights on becoming a North American hub for the maverick industry.
The oil-and-gas producing province that prides itself on its entrepreneurial history is now touting its ambition to become a North American hub for companies trading in and offering services related to Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin and other digital assets.
In the province’s throne speech last month, Alberta’s UCP government declared its intention to table legislation aimed at “promoting innovation” in the financial services sector by allowing companies to test new products and services.
The throne speech also mentioned future legislation that will solidify Alberta’s reputation as a “modern electricity powerhouse and a magnet for investment in emerging technology like data storage and cryptocurrency.”
While the details of any forthcoming legislation have yet to be revealed, Jobs Minister Doug Schweitzer said in a recent interview that companies operating in the crypto space have demonstrated “immense interest” in the province in recent months.
“It’s still very much in its infancy in Alberta,” Schweitzer said. “But I think there’s an opportunity for Alberta to play a leadership role in Canada by creating a home for these venture companies.”
Alberta has already established itself as an attractive destination for cryptocurrency miners, who have set up a number of operations at various locations throughout the province. (The supercomputers used to mine for Bitcoin and other crypto tokens require vast amounts of low-priced power to be economical, so miners are often attracted to Alberta’s deregulated electricity system and abundant supply of natural gas).
Beyond mining, the province is also increasingly home to a wide range of other cryptocurrency-related firms, from those that specialize in the custody and storage of digital assets to manufacturers of crypto mining equipment like immersion cooler containers.
“I would say Alberta is close to unique, from what we’ve seen, in terms of how focused they are on attracting innovative financial technology companies,” said Emile Scheffel, vice-president of Brane Inc., which recently chose Calgary as the headquarters for its new subsidiary, Brane Trust.
Brane Trust will provide secure custody of digital assets such as Bitcoin and Ethereum for institutional clients like banks and asset managers that either manage cryptocurrencies, or are seeking to expand their services to cryptocurrency services.
But setting up the business in Brane’s home base of Ontario proved difficult from a regulatory perspective. Getting the necessary regulatory approvals would have taken up to two years, whereas Alberta rolled out the welcome mat, Scheffel said.
“When we first reached out to regulators in Alberta about our ambitions, they were knowledgeable about cryptocurrency already — they had the necessary expertise to be able to do this,” he said.
Brian Mosoff — CEO of Toronto-based Ether Capital, which helped to launch the world’s first Bitcoin ETF last year alongside Purpose Investments — said cryptocurrency companies face many challenges from a regulatory perspective. In Canada, there isn’t even clarity yet about what type of assets digital currencies really are.
“Are they commodities? Are they securities?” Mosoff said. “We don’t even have an exchange that can compete on an international level.”
Globally, cryptocurrency is already a multi-trillion asset class, Mosoff said, so any jurisdiction that can think outside of the box and create a regulatory framework that doesn’t push these types of businesses away stands to benefit. (Schweitzer has indicated Alberta’s desire to develop a “regulatory sandbox” for crypto companies interested in setting up in the province).
“It’s about creating a culture and environment for all of those groups of people who are inspired by (cryptocurrency) to migrate into that jurisdiction,” Mosoff said. “Either because they think it’s favourable in terms of tax or regulation, or because they feel they can experiment with things without having the book thrown at them.”
Modern Mining is an Alberta-headquartered Bitcoin mining company that is currently building its first mining facility near the city of Medicine Hat, in the southeast corner of the province.
Sebastian Elawny, Modern Mining’s chief legal officer, acknowledged that there has been an uptick in interest in the province by crypto companies in the last year, but said that’s largely because of China’s crackdown on the industry.
“All of a sudden, there were hundreds of thousands of mining rigs that needed to find new homes,” he said.
But Elawny said U.S. destinations like Miami and Texas remain far more attractive to the industry. While he said Alberta’s electricity market is an asset, the province has a long way to go if it truly wants to be a leader in the crypto space.
He names the carbon pricing system in Alberta as one disincentive for the electricity-guzzling crypto industry, as well as the challenges cryptocurrency companies can face securing financing.
“It’s even very difficult to get a bank account if you’re a crypto company in Alberta,” Elawny said. “We currently face a lot of challenges as a business trying to operate in Alberta, and we as a group are actually exploring our options outside of Alberta, because we’re falling behind already.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2022.
Norad, Haiti, migration, critical minerals to top agenda for Trudeau and Biden
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden is embarking on a 27-hour whirwind visit to Ottawa, where he will meet Friday with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and speak to a joint session of Parliament — his first bilateral sojourn north as commander-in-chief.
Here are some of the issues the two leaders are likely to discuss:
Migration breakthrough: The two countries are already close to an agreement to expand the 2004 migration treaty known as the Safe Third County Agreement, which is designed to limit asylum claims in both countries but currently only applies to official entry points. As a result, critics say it encourages asylum seekers to enter Canada at unofficial border crossings, which allows them to make a claim. Sources familiar with the details say the two sides have been working on extending the agreement to cover the length of the Canada-U.S. border since the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles last June. Such an agreement would help resolve a major political headache for Trudeau, while giving Biden the political cover he would need to devote more spending to northern border security.
Modernizing Norad: Until last month, the binational early-warning system known as the North American Aerospace Defence Command might have been best known for tracking Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. But a February flurry of unidentified flying objects drifting through North American airspace, most notably what U.S. officials insist was a Chinese surveillance balloon, exposed what Norad commander Gen. Glen VanHerck described as a “domain awareness gap”: the archaic, Cold War-era system’s ability to track small, high-flying, slow-moving objects. Coupled with the brazen ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the ongoing but largely opaque joint effort to upgrade Norad — rarely mentioned in past Trudeau-Biden readouts — is suddenly front and centre for both governments. Media reports suggest Canada could agree to an accelerated timeline.
Helping Haiti: The list of foreign-policy hotspots around the world that instantly bring Canada to mind is a short one, but Haiti is surely near the top. And as Haiti has descended ever deeper into lawlessness in the wake of the 2021 assassination of president Jovenel Moise, the need for military intervention has been growing — and some senior U.S. officials have expressly name-checked Canada as the perfect country to lead the effort. Trudeau’s response has been diplomatic but firm: the crisis is best addressed from a distance. “Canada is elbows deep in terms of trying to help,” he said last month. “But we know from difficult experience that the best thing we can do to help is enable the Haitian leadership … to be driving their pathway out of this crisis.” Military experts in Canada say the Canadian Armed Forces are in no state to be able to lead any sort of intervention. U.S. officials said Wednesday they are pursuing a solution with urgency, but insist the discussions are multilateral in nature and will have to involve Haiti itself, and perhaps even the United Nations.
Mission-critical minerals: No high-level conversation between the U.S. and Canada these days would be complete without talking about critical minerals, the 21st-century rocket fuel for the electric-vehicle revolution that Trudeau calls the “building blocks for the clean economy.” Canada has the minerals — cobalt, lithium, magnesium and rare earth elements, among others — and a strategy to develop them, but the industry is still in its infancy and the U.S. wants those minerals now. The issue has profound foreign-policy implications: China has long dominated the critical minerals supply chain, something the Biden administration is determined to change. “This really is one of the most transformative moments since the Industrial Revolution,” said Helaina Matza, the State Department’s deputy special co-ordinator for the G7’s Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. “We understand that we can’t do it alone.”
Water, water everywhere: Canada and the U.S. have been negotiating since 2018 to modernize the Columbia River Treaty, a 1961 agreement designed to protect a key cross-border watershed the size of Texas in the Pacific Northwest. Despite 15 separate rounds of talks, progress has been middling at best. Meanwhile, Canada is under U.S. pressure to allow the International Joint Commission — the investigative arm of a separate 1909 boundary waters agreement — to investigate toxic mining runoff in the B.C. Interior that Indigenous communities on both sides of the border say has been poisoning their lands and waters for years. Add to all of that the mounting pressure on Canada to supercharge efforts to extract and process critical minerals, and the plot promises to thicken.
Border blues: The flow of irregular migration isn’t the only bilateral issue focused on the border. Critics on both sides say travel between the two countries hasn’t been the same since the COVID-19 pandemic. The Nexus trusted-traveller program, a popular fast-tracking system in Canada, broke down last year amid a dispute over U.S. border agents working on Canadian soil; the fix is widely seen as less streamlined than the old system. Many of those same critical voices are taking issue with Canada’s imposed new tax measures to discourage foreigners from owning real estate north of the border; some on Capitol Hill have been vociferous in pressing the Biden administration to demand an exemption.
A trade deal by any other name: Regardless of what the two leaders end up talking about, it will happen within the framework of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, known in Canada as CUSMA. The USMCA era of continental trade, which began in earnest in 2020, has not been without its hiccups, including disputes over U.S. access to Canada’s dairy market and the way the U.S. defines foreign automotive content. The Biden administration is also staunchly opposed to Canada’s plans for a digital services tax, which it considers a violation. The agreement is due to be reviewed in 2026, and a lot could happen — especially on Capitol Hill and in the White House — between now and then. It’s also worth noting that while it’s not covered by the trade deal, the softwood lumber dispute remains a perennial irritant. International Trade Minister Mary Ng met earlier this month with industry leaders to discuss “unwarranted and illegal U.S. duties” on softwood lumber, vowing that a solution that protects Canadian jobs “is the only resolution that we will accept.” In other words, don’t hold your breath for a breakthrough on a dispute “that’s been going on since Adam and Eve,” said Tony Wayne, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and the former U.S. assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2023.
James McCarten, The Canadian Press
Thompson’s 37-save effort leads Golden Knights to 3-2 win over Flames
Vegas Golden Knights goalie Logan Thompson scrambles to block the net during third period NHL hockey action against the Calgary Flames in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, March 23, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
By Darren Haynes in Calgary
Logan Thompson’s triumphant return for Vegas after six weeks on the shelf was overshadowed by him exiting the game late in the third period with another injury.
Before he departed with just over six minutes to go, Thompson made 37 saves as the surging Golden Knights picked up a 3-2 win over the Calgary Flames on Thursday.
“Right now, obviously concerned about Logan,” said Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy. “ Obviously, Logan missing that much time, we’ll have to look closely at that one.”
It was unknown if the latest setback is related to the lower-body injury he suffered back on Feb. 9.
“I don’t know what happened, to be honest. He just got up and left,” Cassidy said. “He knows his body. I have no idea. At the end of the day, let’s hope it’s not related to the previous injury and it’s something that will be short term.”
Up 3-2 at the time, Jonathan Quick came in and turned aside all five shots he faced as Calgary poured on the pressure in search of the tying goal.
“It doesn’t happen really often but when he got out there (Quick) made a couple really good saves to keep us in the game,” said Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev.
The best chance to tie came off the stick of MacKenzie Weegar with a minute to go but he couldn’t beat Quick from 30 feet out.
“I saw the net and I missed my shot,” said the Flames defenceman. “If there was one chance I can get back all year, it would be that one.”
Nicolas Roy scored in his return from an 18-game absence for Vegas (45-21-6). Jonathan Marchessault and Michael Amadio added the others.
Milan Lucic and Nazem Kadri replied for Calgary (32-26-15). Jacob Markstrom stopped 29-of-32 shots in his 11th start in the last 12 games.
In avenging their 7-2 home loss to the Flames on March 16, the Golden Knights earned their seventh win in eight games and are 16-3-2 in their last 21 contests.
Vegas opened up a four-point cushion on the Los Angeles Kings atop the Pacific Division.
Meanwhile, the Flames took a blow to their flickering playoff hopes, falling six points behind Winnipeg for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.
It’s the Flames’ 27th one-goal loss this year, which leads the NHL.
“We’re in every game, and we have a chance to win every game we’re playing, so it obviously makes it more frustrating that we lose and it feels like we’re always losing by that one goal,” said Flames defenceman Rasmus Andersson.
“I don’t know how many games I’ve played back in my head thinking that ‘Ah, I should have scored that’ or ‘How did we not score that’ and we would have been in a different situation, but it’s the reality.”
Up 2-1 entering the third period, Vegas got some breathing room at 5:19 when pressure from Roy forced a defensive zone turnover from Rasmus Andersson. Roy then went to the net, received a pass from Phil Kessel and fired a shot over Markstrom.
The Flames crept back to within one at 12:33 when Kadri ended his 16-game goal drought with a power-play marker, but that’s as close as they would get.
“When it’s big games, we need guys to step up and be big players and we didn’t have that tonight from everyone,” said Lucic.
Calgary fell to 0-18-3 when trailing after two periods. The Flames are the only NHL team without a comeback victory this season.
Vegas, which entered the night having outscored teams 70-45 in the first period this year, jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening frame, with both goals coming less than four minutes apart.
Jack Eichel sprung Marchessault who whipped a shot past Markstrom on a 2-on-1 at 11:43.
Slipping behind the Flames defence and after being stopped on his first shot, Amadio rattled in his own rebound at 15:23.
Lucic cut the deficit in half with 58 seconds left in the frame off a slick cross-ice setup from rookie Walker Duehr.
SHOW OF SUPPORT
The Flames wore #SnowyStrong stickers on the back of their helmets in support of assistant general manager Chris Snow’s ongoing battle with ALS. The stickers that feature a blue cornflower, the international symbol of hope for the fight against ALS, were created by a parent from the U9 hockey team in which Snow’s daughter plays and were first worn by that team and its coaches.
Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith had his career-best point streak snapped at nine games (four goals, 11 assists). It equalled the franchise best, also held by Alex Tuch, Mark Stone and Max Pacioretty.
Four Flames also had their scoring streaks come to an end. Defenceman Noah Hanifin at six games, while Tyler Toffoli, Elias Lindholm and Blake Coleman each had their four-game streaks halted.
Golden Knights: Wrap up their road trip in Edmonton on Saturday night.
Flames: Play host to San Jose in an afternoon game on Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2023.
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