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New tax credit could pay for two months access to online news sites

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A tax credit Ottawa is promising to encourage more Canadians to pay for online news will roughly cover two months of a digital subscription fee.

The tax credit is one of three components of a $595-million, five-year boost for the ailing media industry promised by Finance Minister Bill Morneau in last week’s fall fiscal update — along with tax credit for the labour costs news companies incur to produce original content and offering charitable status to non-profit media organizations.

The tax credit will be worth 15 per cent of the cost of a subscription, although Finance Canada spokesman Jack Aubry says the actual dollar amount someone will save depends on the cost of a subscription.

For example, Aubry says someone who pays $200 a year to get access to a news site online would be entitled to a tax credit worth $30.

He says the government believes the tax credit is needed to encourage more Canadians to subscribe to online news and help media organizations transition to a more sustainable business model.

John Hinds, CEO of News Media Canada, which represents the newspaper industry, says there is “no silver bullet” that will save Canada’s news industry as it struggles with the transition to digital, which has seen advertising revenues fall and subscribers abandon ship.

But before the government’s announcement, Hinds says several newspapers asked their readers about the idea of a subscription tax credit and found it was well received.

“It’s about encouraging people to pay for news and giving them a fiscal incentive to do that,” he said. “Part of the challenge we’ve had as an industry is people don’t want to pay.”

Tax credits to encourage behaviour are common, with everything from home ownership to volunteerism promoted by offering various credits. But they don’t always work.

Buying off the media?

In 2017 the Liberals eliminated a tax credit for public transit passes that was introduced by the former Conservative government in 2006 to encourage people to use commuter buses and trains more often. Two separate studies on that credit, one from the University of Ottawa and another Saint-Mary’s University in Halifax, determined there was little to no impact on the use of transit as a result of the credit.

The subscription tax credit is meant to be temporary but no further details have yet been decided. Hinds says there are still a lot of details to be worked out such as which subscriptions would be eligible, whether you can claim it for more than one subscription, and if there is a maximum benefit per household.

The cost of digital subscriptions varies greatly depending on the site, with some offering a payment per story, others daily, weekly, monthly or yearly access and still others providing online access to those who buy the print version.

The government intends to appoint a panel of journalists to a committee to recommend eligibility and parameters for the media package but it seems no further details on that will be available until the next federal budget.

The Conservatives are livid at the government’s media package, arguing the Liberals are trying to buy journalists off ahead of the next fall’s federal election. Hinds said there is some indication critics of the package are less concerned about the subscription tax credit because it targets consumers of media rather than journalists directly.

However a spokesman for Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said the party’s biggest concern is the make-up of the panel that will decide which organizations are eligible for any parts of the package.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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