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Executives dismissed from beleaguered Winnipeg cannabis producer after product recalls

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A Winnipeg-based cannabis producer has been stripped of its senior management team after a third-party investigation found the company sold unauthorized product in Saskatchewan.

George Robinson, the contractor hired to investigate the troubled company facing two Health Canada recalls, said the three Bonify executives were also accused of bullying and threatening staff workers who tried to speak up.

“I don’t know what their motivation and driver is, but what they did was not at all remotely close to following the regulations,” said Robinson, chief executive of RavenQuest Technologies Inc, of the top executives during a 50-minute news conference Thursday in Winnipeg. He decried the conduct of the executives as “creative entrepreneurialism.”

Robinson said a number of front-line staff tried to speak out about the 200 kilograms of unlicensed cannabis that arrived at its Winnipeg production facility but were pressured to look the other way.

“That’s a real, sad position to put really, good quality people in, but sometimes they make the choice to protect their families, their livelihood and we don’t hold them accountable for those forced decisions,” he said. “In fact, we continue to support them.”

Complaints about the unauthorized cannabis eventually reached senior managers and the company’s board of directors.

Earlier this month, Health Canada issued a recall of two Bonify strains over contamination issues that were sold at three Saskatchewan retailers — Cannabis Co. in Regina, Spiritleaf in Moose Jaw and The Pot Shack in Saskatoon.

This free-standing concrete vault at Bonify’s Winnipeg production facility can store 3,000 kilograms of product, company officials told CBC during a 2017 tour of the premises. It’s heavily guarded with motion detecting cameras and vibration sensors built into the 48-centimetre-thick walls. (Holly Caruk/CBC)

Robinson confirmed Thursday the product was unauthorized, containing traces of bacteria, yeast, mould and the unconfirmed presence of E. coli. He refused to call the products “illegal” or “illicit.”

Manitoba’s cannabis regulators proceeded to yank all Bonify products from stores as a precaution last week, but Robinson said the irregular product was never sold in the province.

The consultant said he was not aware of the source of the unauthorized cannabis or whether organized crime played any role.

The three executives, whom he would not name, were terminated with cause and an executive assistant was dismissed. One member of the board of directors has been suspended, Robinson said.

Bonify may have ‘overpromised’

He said it appears Bonify sold unapproved cannabis because it felt pressure to satisfy its supply agreements with Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“I think there was some overpromising happening,” Robinson said.

Health Canada is investigating what went wrong, but he said he was not aware if police authorities were also probing the company. Robinson said it would be up to federal and provincial regulators to alert police. 

If any charges are laid, he expects it to be “precedent-setting,” as these errors are new territory for Canada’s licensed cannabis sector. 

Mandy Fisher, co-owner of the Spiritleaf in Moose Jaw, Sask., is disappointed that unauthorized cannabis product disguised as legal weed made it onto the shelves of her cannabis retailer. (CBC)

Of the unauthorized marijuana sent to Saskatchewan, 52 packages of 3.5 grams each made it to market, all of which were sold.

Outside one of those stores, a Spiritleaf outlet in Moose Jaw, co-owner Mandy Fisher expressed relief that a federal department was investigating.

“The reason Health Canada is keeping a close watch on it is to keep the consumers safe, and that’s our goal in the store, too,” she said. “[I’m] definitely not happy to hear that we got product that wasn’t supposed to be here.”

The majority of the unauthorized shipment never left the Winnipeg production facility and was never sold in Manitoba, Robinson said.

A second recall notice affecting Bonify, issued on Christmas Eve, removed 14 additional lots of Bonify dried cannabis from Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The stock was targeted for labelling and record-keeping issues and was not among the shipment under investigation for being unauthorized, Robinson said. 

Nearly 5,900 units of these products were sold in Manitoba and at two Saskatchewan retailers.

Retail sales restricted

Robinson said Bonify voluntarily chose to suspend all retail sales in Saskatchewan and is no longer selling medicinal cannabis as the company tries to restore regulators’ confidence. 

He acknowledged it will take time for Bonify to restore the trust it lost, but he believes they can right the ship. They had a stellar record until an unexplained “cultural change” before recreational cannabis was legalized on Oct. 17 altered course for the company.

RavenQuest will be providing management services for the company for at least the next three months, Robinson said.

“We want to build that trust again with the patients and with the consumers to say that this was an anomaly that happened,” he said. “We’ve corrected it very quickly and decisively and we’re going to move forward.”

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7 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers In Calgary

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Buying a house for the first time can be overwhelming to say the least. If you’re wondering what neighbourhood to go with, what you can afford, or even how to just get started on the process, let us take some stress off your hands! We’ve teamed up with Hopewell Residential to give you 7 tips to ensure the home you end up with is everything you dreamed of.

Hopewell Residential is a five-time Developer of the Year award winner, so their expertise is second-to-none in Calgary and beyond. Who better to learn home-buying tips from than the homebuilders themselves?

Create a checklist of needs & wants

This is a biggie. When you’re buying your very first home, you’ll want to weigh your needs vs. your wants. Ensuring you have what you love in your first home is a big, big deal.

What should you do? Easy. Set up a list of needs and a list of wants, but be pretty strict with yourself, and make sure you take your lifestyle into consideration. With the increase in remote work over the past year, it’s important to keep in mind that a home office or flex room might just be the key to maximizing at home happiness. Especially if you’re thinking you might be expanding your family later on, spare rooms and extra space is key (but more on that later!).

Or for instance, you might need a home in an area with a high walkability score, but you want to be close to certain amenities. Set yourself up with the right level of compromise and the number of homes that actually fit your ‘perfect’ idea will skyrocket.

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‘Don’t give up’: Ottawa Valley realtors share statistics, tips for homebuyers in ‘extreme’ sellers market

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The real estate market in the Ottawa Valley can be summed up this way: people from far and wide are in a buying frenzy, but there’s hardly anything to buy at the “store,” and the limited inventory is overpriced.

This “stampede” — as one realtor described it — will affect rural towns as residents grapple with finding affordable housing and agonize over their inability to purchase homes in their price range.

“We are seeing a lack of inventory in all price ranges,” said Laura Keller, a real estate agent from Carleton Place.

Helen Vincent, a Renfrew realtor, said she’s never seen a market like this in her 36 years of practice. “We postpone offers for four to five days in order to get all the buyers,” she said.

Multiple offers — between seven and 10 — became the norm, with cash offers and no conditions, as buyers faced bidding wars. “In Ottawa, they have up to 50 (offers),” she added.

“It’s very stressful. You’re going to get nine (people) ticked off, and one happy. So many people are disappointed,” Vincent said.

Terry Stavenow, an Arnprior realtor for 40 years, said that “the pent-up need took over with inventory going low. It made a stampede on everything that was available.“

“Brand new housing — it’s very much gone. Several building developers are rushing to get inventory. They usually don’t do construction in the winter months,” said Stavenow.

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10 Tips For First-Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home for the first time is exciting and a commitment to the future. It’s often challenging, too, and the process requires a lot of steps, many of which can be tricky to navigate as a first-time home buyer.

What are some things you should keep in mind as a first-time home buyer?

First-Time Home Buyer Tips

Here are 10 tips to keep in mind as you begin your journey toward homeownership.

1. Have Your Finances in Order

It’s wise to begin saving as early as possible once you’ve made the decision to purchase a house. You’ll need to consider the down payment, closing costs (which often range from 2% to 5% of the down payment), as well as move-in expenses.

You also need to understand the other costs of homeownership, such as mortgage insurance. property taxes, utilities, homeowner’s insurance, and more.

2. How Much Can You Afford?

Knowing how much you can realistically afford in a home is another important financial consideration. Look for the home of your dreams that fits your budget.

One way to avoid future financial stress is to set a price range for your home that fits your budget, and then staying within that range. Going through the preapproval process will help you understand what price range is realistic for your budget.

3. Make Sure Your Credit is Good

Another thing to keep in mind as a first-time home buyer is your credit score because it determines whether you qualify for a mortgage and affects the interest rate that lenders offer. 

You can check your credit score from the three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

This is another good reason for getting preapproved before you start your search. Learn more about the preapproval process and your credit score.

4. Choose The Right Real Estate Agent

A good real estate agent guides you through the process every step of the way. He or she will help you find a home that fits your needs, help you through the financial processes, and help ease any first-time buyer anxiety you may have.

Interview several agents and request references.

5. Research Mortgage Options

A variety of mortgages are available, including conventional mortgages – which are guaranteed by the government – FHA loans, USDA loans, and VA loans (for veterans).

You’ll also have options regarding the mortgage term. A 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is popular among many homebuyers and has an interest rate that doesn’t change over the course of the loan. A 15-year loan usually has a lower interest rate but monthly payments are larger.

6. Talk to Multiple Lenders

It’s worth your time to talk to several lenders and banks before you accept a mortgage offer. The more you shop around, the better deal you’re liable to get – and it may save you thousands of dollars.

7. Get Preapproved First

Getting a mortgage preapproval (in the form of a letter) before you begin hunting for homes is something else to put on your checklist. A lender’s preapproval letter states exactly how much loan money you can get.

Learn more about the preapproval process and how preapproval provides you with a significant competitive advantage in our article How Preapproval Gives You Home Buying Power.

8. Pick the Right House and Neighborhood

Make sure to weigh the pros and cons of the different types of homes based on your budget, lifestyle, etc. Would a condominium or townhome fit your needs better than a house? What type of neighborhood appeals to you?

9. List Your Needs and Must-Haves

The home you purchase should have as many of the features you prefer as possible. List your needs in order of priority; some things may be non-negotiable to you personally.

10. Hire an Inspector

Hiring an inspector is another crucial step in the home buying process. An inspector will tell you about existing or potential problems with the home, and also what’s in good order. You can learn more about home inspections and how to find a home inspector through the American Society of Home Inspectors website.

Buying a home for the first time is a challenge, but it’s one you can handle with the right planning and preparation.

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