Canada abetting Washington’s ‘new Cold War’ with Huawei arrest, says economist

Canada abetting Washington's 'new Cold War' with Huawei arrest, says economist

The arrest of a Chinese tech executive is yet another example that the U.S. is creating “a new Cold War” in international trade, says economist Jeffrey Sachs, who adds that Canada is abetting its southern neighbour.

Canadian officials arrested Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei, in Vancouver on an extradition request from the U.S. She has been released on $10-million bail and must stay at her Vancouver home.

Sachs — director of Columbia University’s Center for Sustainable Development and the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network — believes the arrest is an attempt by the U.S. to “stop China’s rise” by creating a chilling effect on Chinese businesses.

“You have a neighbour to the south that is quite erratic … a little bit unhinged at China’s rise in power,” Sachs told CBC from Warsaw, Poland.

“This is a pretty well-known American approach to use its power to try and break the economic momentum of a rival, and I think it’s very, very bad behaviour and very dangerous, actually, for the world to have a new Cold War,” he added. 

“This is the U.S. Cold War mentality being replayed … the U.S. just doesn’t want any rivals anywhere.”

Sachs also questioned the reason for the arrest, arguing the motive is inconsistent with previous U.S. behaviour.

“She’s charged with — as I understand it — fraud, for a presentation she gave to HSBC about Iran dealings,” said Sachs.

“It’s interesting that HSBC was itself sanctioned for massive violations of U.S. sanctions to Iran, but not a single executive faced any charges, much less an arrest in a foreign airport, and dragged through a process like [Meng],” he added.

“This is extraordinary, and I understand why China’s reaction is as it is, because it’s absolutely, completely out of the norm.”

Watch: Jeffrey Sachs on Huawei executive’s arrest

Jeffrey Sachs says Canada is caught in the middle of a diplomatic spat between two superpowers. 1:13

Meng’s father is founder of Huawei, a powerful Chinese telecommunications company that has sold equipment and consulting services around the world. The company is moving rapidly into 5G technology working with international researchers, but some critics have accused Huawei of spying on behalf of the Chinese government.

The fraud allegations against Meng centre around the relationship between Huawei and a Hong Kong company called Skycom, that did business in Iran.

According to U.S. prosecutors, Skycom was a “hidden” subsidiary of Huawei. Meng once served on Skycom’s board of directors but she says Huawei sold its interest in Skycom and she stepped down from the board.

Iran is subject to U.S. sanctions and banks can be found criminally liable if they help move money out of a sanctioned country and into the broader global banking system.

‘Canada’s being used and manipulated’

Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were detained by China on Monday over what the Beijing News, a state-run Chinese newspaper, described as suspicion of engagement in activities that endanger China’s state security.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday criticized China’s actions, calling them “not acceptable.”

When asked if the detention of the two Canadian men was intended as retaliation, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry said they were being handled according to Chinese law.

Watch: Huawei arrest and U.S. trade agenda

Canada is caught in the middle between two superpowers over the Huawei CFO arrest. While Ottawa says this isn’t political, China seems to feel very differently. So is Canada being used? And at what costs? At Issue is here to answer those questions and more. 10:47

Sachs believes the arrests are a consequence for Canada’s recent involvement in Washington’s campaign to levy heavy-handed punishment on Meng over perceived Iran sanctions violations.

“I think Canada’s doing the bidding of United States policy that is not well-controlled or well-modulated,” he said.

“Maybe Canada’s being used and manipulated, not only vis-à-vis China, but for the United States to try to show anyone: ‘You dare cross us on any business with Iran, you’re going to pay a price.'”

Canadian officials, including Trudeau, have emphasized that Canada’s arrest of Meng was not arbitrary, but done in accordance with the extradition treaty in place with the United States.

Sachs urges Canada to consider evaluating the situation by its own merits rather than acquiescing to U.S. demands. 

“To my view, Canada should reflect independently and realize that what it’s being asked to do was completely outside international norm and very provocative,” he said.

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Canada quietly concludes additional auto talks with Japan

Canada quietly concludes additional auto talks with Japan

Canada and Japan have agreed to additional trade rules on motor vehicle safety and environmental standards, according to a side letter tabled in the House of Commons Tuesday.

The new measures take effect with the rest of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade deal on Dec. 30.

North American auto manufacturers — Fiat Chrysler, Ford and General Motors — had expressed concerns about whether the CPTPP tilts the playing field in Japan’s favour. Even after the text was signed, the Canadian government continued negotiating to try to address their concerns.

It’s not clear that this side letter, dated Nov. 29, resolves their issues.

“We expect full and reciprocal market access,” said Mark Nantais, president of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association (CVMA) representing these automakers. “Thus far, we haven’t seen that.”

When CPTPP takes effect, Canada will begin to eliminate its 6.1 per cent tariff on car imports from Japan and the other countries that have ratified the agreement. (Eleven countries signed the CPTPP, but only seven — including Canada and Japan — have ratified it so far and are now ready to start cutting tariffs.)

For Japanese vehicle brands not currently manufactured in Canada, the CVMA estimates that some $300-400 million in annual tariffs could be avoided once Canada’s tariff is fully phased out over four years.

In theory, that could make cars like Mazdas or Subarus cheaper here — assuming the savings are passed on to consumers and not reinvested elsewhere by the companies.

About 25 per cent of the Japanese branded vehicles sold in Canada are imports. But according to the Japanese Automobile Manufacturers of Canada (JAMA), imports represent about half of the 100 models available, including the “next generation” hi-tech vehicles that may use greener power sources (electric, fuel cell or hybrid) or more artificial intelligence than Canadian-made vehicles.

While Nantais admits consumers could benefit from more choices down the road, he wonders whether that creates jobs in Canada.

Regulations discourage exports

North American carmakers interested in exporting to Japan don’t currently face tariffs. But the Japanese have regulations in place that amount to non-tariff barriers for foreign brands, making it difficult to sell into that market. 

“We should be negotiating agreements on the basis of what opportunities are provided,” Nantais said. “If barriers are not resolved, it continues to limit market access.”

The new Canada–Japan side letter includes language intended to discourage non-tariff barriers in the future.

Japan agrees not to discriminate between foreign and domestic brands with its vehicle standards, regulations or government incentives. It also agrees to streamline its testing process for noise and emission standards in imported vehicles — but not necessarily to eliminate the requirement for testing altogether.

A visitor looks at a cutaway Suburu Forester at an auto show in 2013. Over the next four years, Canada will eliminate its tariffs on vehicles from Japan. (AFP/Getty Images)

The letter commits Japan to recognizing specified motor vehicle standards, but the standards laid out are the U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), not their Canadian equivalents.

Because North American automotive manufacturing is so heavily integrated, the Canadian government tries to line up its rules with American standards. But should they diverge in big or small ways down the road — for example, if Canadian regulators want a higher standard than the one in place in the U.S. — it’s unclear the Canadian standards would be recognized in Japan under this side letter. That could mean new red tape for exporters.

Nantais said he fears this could lead to subjective interpretations of the rules, leaving potential exporters entering the Japanese market without the certainty they may need to justify major investments.

Then there’s the question of how enforceable the new measures really are.

“We don’t believe side letters are the best instrument,” Nantais said.

Japanese support their own brands

In an earlier draft of this side letter, Canada proposed a more demanding dispute settlement procedure than the CPTPP otherwise included.

The Japanese responded that this would never be acceptable to the legislators who needed to ratify the deal, so this final text refers only to resolving future arguments over automotive trade barriers using the dispute settlement mechanism laid out in chapter 28 of the main CPTPP agreement.

Separately, Canada and Japan already had agreed to accelerated timeframes for settling disputes between them.

David Worts, JAMA’s executive director, said that while North American automakers have been vocal about the barriers they face in Japan, the real reason they aren’t selling more cars there is that they aren’t making the small, fuel-efficient cars the Japanese want and need.

About 80 per cent of U.S. sales to Japan are Jeeps, he added.

“Japanese consumers tend to be very brand conscious and they’re very loyal to their local brands,” Worts said.

In the end, this letter is more about what Japan will agree to import than what it’s already exporting to Canada.

The newly renegotiated North American free trade agreement is far more significant for Canada’s auto industry than the CPTPP. The majority of the cars Canada makes are sold to Americans.

Concerns remain that the CPTPP and the new Canada–U.S.–Mexico Agreement don’t match up — particularly when it comes to their rules of origin for determining which cars and parts avoid tariffs.

Flavio Volpe, president of Canada’s Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, calls this new side letter “birdcage liner” that fails to deal with the real reasons carmakers can’t sell into Japan.

“If it doesn’t sell one more car, don’t expect me to congratulate you,” he said.

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The unintended consequences of Alberta’s mandatory oil production cut

The unintended consequences of Alberta's mandatory oil production cut

One of Canada’s largest oil companies is listing a series of potential pitfalls from the Alberta government’s decision to impose a mandatory cut to oil production in the province.

On Friday, as part of its announcement of 2019 capital spending, Suncor outlined how the production cut could negatively impact the company.

While the majority of the oilpatch is in favour of the move, three of Alberta’s larger oil and gas companies are opposed — Suncor, Husky Energy and Imperial Oil. The companies have significant refinery and retail businesses, so they are less impacted by the swings in oil prices.

The government expects to slash production by 325,000 barrels per day for the first three months of 2019, and by about 95,000 barrels for the remainder of the year, in an effort to clear the backlog and improve oil prices in the province.

In order of most importance, Suncor listed the potential unintended consequences of the government’s decision, which takes effect in January:

  • Impact on safe and reliable facility operating levels, especially during cold winter months when the company typically operates at high levels without planned maintenance. Suncor says it will not put the safety of its employees and contractors at risk.
  • Impact on crude oil upgraded and refined in Alberta, which has limited impact on Alberta export constraints.
  • Failure to take account of historic and recent performance at Syncrude following the unplanned shutdown earlier this year.
  • Partial consideration for Fort Hills production following the completion of start up at the end of the third quarter of 2018.
  • Impact on long-term take or pay pipeline commitments for access to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
  • Impact from the consumption of in-house diesel production used in mining operations.

Suncor’s oilsands facilities are “designed to run at minimum rates in order to run safely and reliably,” according to spokeswoman Sneh Seetal, in an emailed response to CBC News.

In addition, Seetal said the allotted cuts have “been applied disproportionately” to Suncor.

Suncor’s Fort Hills oilsands mine north of Fort McMurray ramped up production in 2018. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Some analysts say Suncor may have a point considering two of its facilities were not running at full capacity in 2018, the year on which the curtailment order will be based.

For instance, the Fort Hills oilsands mine ramped up production throughout the year, so the average oil output was much lower than if the plant would have been producing at full capacity all year, like it will in 2019.  

It’s a similar situation for Syncrude, which had a drop in production during the summer months because of a power disruption. The plant was down for a considerable amount of time, so its output was reduced. The Alberta government said it will use a baseline calculated on the best six months in part years to decide the curtailment of each company.

Suncor is the majority owner of both facilities.

“It’s fair to say they are in a particularly disadvantaged situation,” said Kevin Birn, an oilsands analyst with IHS Markit.

The policy could impact other industries, besides the oilpatch, including natural gas and condensate producers in the area, since the oilsands is a large consumer of both products. Condensate, or diluent – is a type of super light oil that is used to thin the thick bitumen produced in Alberta and help it flow through pipelines.

Birn said a disruption could occur in the condensate market. In addition, the natural gas sector was anticipating growth in the oilsands in 2019, but that likely won’t occur anymore.

“We don’t think the oilsands will consume less natural gas because of the curtailment, it just will not grow to the same extent,” he said.

Another possible consequence could be an inability for some oil companies to send the exact type and volume of oil expected to refineries across the continent. Certain contracts or commitments may not be met.

“They may be in the position of not being able to deliver what they promised to deliver to a refinery,” said Birn.

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Why Christmas is bad for the environment and what you can do about it

Why Christmas is bad for the environment and what you can do about it

Christmas is a time of celebration, but once the party’s over, plenty of garbage is hauled to the curb.  

Environmental group Zero Waste Canada estimates that from mid-November to mid-January, the average Canadian generates about 25 per cent more trash than during the rest of the year.

The reason: people buy more stuff over the holidays, and a lot of it — from shiny wrapping paper to glittery cards — typically can’t go in your recycling blue bin, so it’s destined for the landfill. 

To help Canadians celebrate a greener Christmas this year, here are some of the season’s worst offenders and tips for cutting down that holiday trash.

Beware of slick gift wrap

To avoid unnecessary waste, opt for the plainest wrapping paper. Different materials generally need to be separated before recycling, so any gift wrap involving foil, laminated or metallic coating or sparkles will likely be rejected by your blue bin program. 

“Even though it’s made of paper, because there’s this other coating, whether it be plastic, whether it be wax, it kind of messes up [the recycling process],” said Calvin Lakhan, a research scientist at York University in Toronto.

While metallic wrapper paper has a special shine, it’s bad for the environment. (CBC)

Blue box programs also generally don’t want tinsel or gift leftovers such as bows, ribbons, cellophane and tape because these items are made of materials that are difficult to recycle.

On top of that, ribbons and tinsel are a recycling facility’s worst nightmare because they can get stuck in the sorting machines.

“It will get literally jammed inside of the wheels and then it causes massive disruptions to the system,” said Lakhan.

If you’re determined to top up your gifts with bows and ribbons, make sure to save them to resuse the following year. (CBC)

If you’re shopping online, you may start piling up waste even before the gift wrapping begins. Much of the protective packaging used to ship goods, such as bubble wrap and foam chips, is also difficult to recycle and likely can’t go in your blue box. 

“At Christmas, the only thing that I’d say is readily recyclable is the cardboard packaging that Amazon ships your stuff in,” said Lakhan.

However, if you live in British Columbia — and you’re willing to make the extra effort — you can take some of those trickier-to-recycle items, such as bubble wrap and foil wrapping paper, to recycling depots throughout the province. 

But even those depots won’t take ribbons and bows, said Harvinder Aujla, information services manager with the Recycling Council of B.C. She also warns that municipalities will refuse to compost natural Christmas trees if that pesky tinsel is still stuck to it. 

“They’ll pull it and it will just be a garbage item.”

Dark side of glitter

Glitter is all over the place during the holidays, used to jazz up things like tree ornaments, wrapping paper and Christmas cards.

It also turns those items into garbage because it’s virtually impossible to remove every sparkle from a product before it can be recycled.

And glitter has an even darker side — it could actually harm marine life. That’s because it’s typically made from plastic and has a habit of leaking into the environment.

Sprinkle glitter on Christmas cards and you can forget about putting them in your blue bin. (CBC)

“The little sparkles stick to your hands and they get stuck to your clothing and they end up going down the drain or being washed away into our water systems,” said Karen Halley, a spokesperson with GreenUP, an environmental community group in Ontario.

Glitter’s ease of travel makes it one of the many microplastic pollutants fish may wind up ingesting. Scientists have become increasingly concerned about the negative impact of microplatics on aquatic life.

“It’s hard to think your Christmas bauble that you just bought is ever going to affect marine life, but it does happen,” said Halley.

A greener Christmas

There are many simple ways Canadians can cut down on waste over the holidays.

Besides avoiding anything that glitters, Halley recommends keeping a box by the tree to store gift leftovers such as bows and ribbons.

“Throw all the reusable stuff in the box and then take that box away and bring it out next year.”

There are plenty of eco-friendly altnatives to wrapping paper such as reusable cloth. (Submitted by Anna-Marie Janzen/Reclaim Mending)

It may be difficult to reuse fragile gift wrap, but there are plenty of alternatives that are more eco-friendly.

Aujla with B.C.’s Recycling Council recommends using a reusable paper or cloth gift bag or wrapping presents in eye-catching paper such as old comics or maps or an expired calendar.

She also suggests wrapping a gift by using another gift such as a knapsack or T-shirt.

“If you’ve got somebody who likes to bake, wrap their gift in tea towels.”

Sophie Jacazio in Toronto plans to give “experiential” instead of material gifts to many loved ones this year. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

Sophie Jacazio in Toronto cuts down on gift wrapping garbage by giving “experiential” presents to many family members and friends, such as tickets to an exhibit or a night out together.

“I will be most definitely taking some people out for dinner. That to me is a good gift and it enables people to reconnect and spend time together.”

She believes experiences can offer more satisfaction than material gifts — and they’ll never wind up in a landfill

“They’re a lot more thoughtful and respectful of the people I’m gifting them to — and the environment.”

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Debt to income ratio inches up to almost 178% in third quarter

Debt to income ratio inches up to almost 178% in third quarter

The amount Canadians owe relative to their income ticked higher in third quarter.

Statistics Canada says household credit market debt as a proportion of disposable income was 177.5 per cent in the third quarter on a seasonally-adjusted basis. That compared with 177.4 per cent in the second quarter.

In other words, Canadians owed nearly $1.78 in credit market debt, which includes consumer credit and mortgage and non-mortgage loans, for every dollar of household disposable income in the third quarter.

Total credit market borrowing slowed for the third consecutive quarter as households borrowed $18.3 billion, down from $20.0 billion in the previous quarter.

Mortgages posted a third consecutive quarterly decline as they decreased by $1.2 billion. Demand for consumer credit also fell by $500 million, while non-mortgage loans decreased by $100 million.

The household debt service ratio, measured as total obligated payments of principal and interest as a proportion of disposable income, was 14.5 per cent in the third quarter, relatively unchanged from the previous quarter.

Canadian debt loads are becoming more expensive to finance in part because the Bank of Canada has raised its benchmark interest rate five times since the summer of 2017. The central bank’s next decision on interest rates is scheduled to come out on January 9th. Markets currently think there’s about a 10 per cent chance of a rate hike on that day.

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Suncor warns oil cutbacks mandated by Alberta government pose safety, operational risks

Suncor warns oil cutbacks mandated by Alberta government pose safety, operational risks

Forced Alberta government crude oil production cuts next year will result in “unintended consequences” that could include increased safety hazards for its employees, Suncor Energy Inc. warned Friday.

Despite the cuts that begin Jan. 1, Canada’s largest integrated oil and gas company forecasts production will grow by 10 per cent in 2019 on a stand-pat budget of between $4.9 billion and $5.6 billion.

Integrated companies like Suncor, Imperial Oil Ltd. and Husky Energy Inc. are opposed to the curtailments which are supported by bitumen producers like Cenovus Energy Inc.

The cuts announced by Premier Rachel Notley earlier this month are intended to bring industry output in line with pipeline capacity to drain trapped oil from the western Canadian market and reduce resulting steep discounts for crude oil.

“In the short term, the government of Alberta action has resulted in winners and losers in the market, shutting in valuable upgrading throughput and has made transporting crude oil out of the province by rail uneconomic,” Calgary-based Suncor said in a news release.

It added it is co-operating with the government and Alberta Energy Regulator and “working hard” to minimize associated contractor layoffs.

“Suncor has made long-term strategic investments to mitigate risk and create economic value and jobs for Albertans and Canadians,” Suncor president Mark Little said in the news release that pointed out the company is largely insulated from low local prices by its Canadian upgrading and refining assets and firm pipeline contracts.

The province said it will order the suspension of 325,000 barrels per day or about 8.7 per cent of overall oil production for about the first three months of 2019 before reducing the cuts for the rest of the year. The cuts only affect producers with more than 10,000 bpd of output, limiting curtailments to about 25 companies, mainly in the oilsands.

Suncor said it will suffer from a “disproportionate allocation” of production cuts, adding it assumes the curtailments are in place for three months before falling to 30 per cent of initial levels for the remainder of 2019.

In an email, Suncor spokeswoman Sneh Seetal refused to release the company’s cutback number for competitive reasons as it would reveal too much detail about anticipated first quarter production.

Throttling back production during the coldest months of the year — when it typically operates full out without stopping for maintenance — could increase risks to safety and reliability, the company warned.

“Suncor will not put the safety of our employees and contractors at risk,” it stated.

Suncor said the cutbacks will result in higher operating costs per barrel, could affect the supply of crude oil to Alberta upgraders and refineries, may raise issues with its contracted pipeline commitments and could cause problems with the in-house consumption of diesel produced at its oilsands mines.

The company said it is also concerned with how its constraint number will account for an unplanned outage at its 58 per cent owned Syncrude mine and upgrader earlier this year and the gradual ramp up of production at its new 194,000-bpd Fort Hills oilsands mine throughout 2018.

The company said it expects average upstream production of 780,000 to 820,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day next year, up from about 730,000 boepd in 2018.

Suncor’s guidance matched analyst projections, with researchers at Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. saying in a note it is “the ‘just right’ bowl of porridge for an uncertain outlook.”

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Canada Goose shares slump another 4% after chain delays Beijing store launch

Canada Goose shares slump another 4% after chain delays Beijing store launch

Shares in Canada Goose were slumping on Friday after the iconic parka maker delayed opening its first permanent store in mainland China, a move that comes amid a growing anti-Canadian backlash in that country.

The company’s TSX-listed shares were off almost five per cent to $69.72 near midday on Friday, the seventh day out of the past eight that the stock has been in negative territory.

All in all, the company has shed almost a quarter of its value since Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of Chinese technology giant Huawei Inc., was detained in Vancouver at the request of U.S. authorities.

That sparked a backlash against Canadian companies by Chinese consumers, and the winter gear company with the red maple leaf on its logo has seemingly become a prime target

The company had previously identified China as one of its biggest markets for growth, and was in the process of rolling out expansion plans. The company has stores in Hong Kong and has had temporary pop-up shops elsewhere, but a 6,000-square-foot location in a prime Beijing-area shopping district was to have been their first permanent location in mainland China.

Analyst Oliver Chen with Cowen Research said last month that the company’s initial pop-up shops and other forays into the Chinese market saw a “strong reception,” from consumers, “boding well for the actual store opening.”

But on Chinese social media platform Weibo on Saturday, the company said a planned launch of its flagship Beijing location has been delayed because of construction.

“We originally planned to open the Beijing Sanlitun flagship store on December 15th,” the company said on its Weibo account, according to a CBC translation. “Due to construction reasons, the opening will be postponed. Opening hours, etc. will be announced through official channels. Stay tuned for updates. Thank you for your support and understanding!”

The company’s North American-based representatives confirmed the delay in a statement to CBC News on Friday.

“Canada Goose continues to move forward with our expansion plans in China. However, our Beijing store has been delayed slightly due to ongoing construction,” the chain said. “We look forward to opening our newest store in the near future, but first and foremost we want to ensure that we provide the best experience for our fans and customers. We will continue to update the market as appropriate as plans progress.”

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GM working to retrain employees affected by Oshawa plant closure

GM working to retrain employees affected by Oshawa plant closure

General Motors of Canada is working with other employers to identify jobs and targeted training programs for GM employees affected by plans to close the Oshawa Assembly plant next year, the truck and auto maker said Friday.

It says several employers have identified about 2,000 jobs that will become open in Durham region in 2019 and 2020 — many of them related to the refurbishment of the Darlington nuclear power plant southeast of Oshawa.

General Motors has also identified 300 openings for auto technicians at GM dealerships in Ontario and 100 jobs that will be open at other GM facilities in Ontario.

In addition, GM estimates about half of the 3,000 unionized and salaried employees are eligible to retire under the company’s defined benefit pension plan — leaving about 1,500 who will want to transition to new occupations.

GM Canada vice-president David Paterson said the company is committed to spend “millions” to ensure its employees get the retraining they require, but the exact amount will depend on what other employers provide.

“What we want to do is to assure employees that their training will be taken care of. We’ll make sure that there’s enough money to do that,” he said in an interview.

OPG wants to hire Oshawa workers, GM says

GM Canada says Durham College will also establish a confidential internet portal in the new year to help auto workers identify job openings and begin plans to take retraining courses offered by a consortium of colleges.

The city of Oshawa and surrounding areas east of Toronto were shocked last month when the highly rated Oshawa Assembly plant was included as one of five North American GM plants identified to close next year.

Unifor national president Jerry Dias has said the union would fight against the Oshawa closure.

“They are not closing our damn plant without one hell of a fight,” Dias said Nov. 26.

Paterson said GM recognizes that the union has voiced “some strong opinions” but thinks it would be good for employees if they have time to plan for their future.

“We have an obligation and duty to work with our union to determine — in addition to our pensions and the income supplements our employees will get — what things we can provide,” Paterson said.

He said two of the prospective employers that came to GM after the closure announcement are Ontario Power Generation and Aecon, a construction company, working on the nuclear plant’s refurbishment.

“They have huge needs in terms of millwrights, boiler makers, electricians and a number of areas where our employees are especially suited to that type of work and have great experience,” Paterson said.

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Oilpatch stays home from B.C. conference after Whistler mayor calls for climate-change compensation

Oilpatch stays home from B.C. conference after Whistler mayor calls for climate-change compensation

Oilpatch pushback to a letter written by the mayor of Whistler, B.C., has led to the cancellation​ of the energy-related portion of a high-profile investment conference held in the mountain community.

In a recent letter, Whistler Mayor Jack Crompton asked the head of oilsands giant Canadian Natural Resources to commit to pay for its “fair share of the costs of climate change being experienced by Whistler.”  

After the missive became public this week, a number of companies decided they would not participate in the investment conference, hosted in Whistler by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

CIBC then told oilpatch clients Friday it wouldn’t make them choose between the conference and “doing what is right.”

“Over the past days, we have been in dialogue with many of you regarding the letter recently sent by the Mayor of Whistler to one of your industry peers,” Roman Dubczak, CIBC’s managing director and head of global investment banking, wrote in an email obtained by CBC News.

“In recognition of your collective and justified frustration, we do not want to put you in a position of choosing between our conference and doing what is right. We are therefore removing the oil and gas presentation stream from our conference agenda.”

Dubczak indicated that CIBC is also looking at “the longer-term location of our Western Canadian-based institutional investor conference.” (Normally called the Whistler Institutional Investor Conference, the gathering is in its 22nd year and attracts institutional investors and companies from across a variety of sectors, not just the energy industry.)

‘Taxpayers are paying 100% of the costs’

The controversy emerged this week when Crompton’s letter went public.

“Currently taxpayers are paying 100% of the costs associated with your product,” Crompton wrote Canadian Natural Resources president Tim McKay in a letter dated Nov. 15.

“Communities around the world are increasingly expecting you to take responsibility for your products.” 

In a Facebook video posted Thursday, Crompton said he’s regrets if the letter made anyone felt unwelcome. He acknowledged the community depends on fossil fuels and has its own responsibility to respond to climate change.

Canadian Natural Resources confirmed Friday that it had withdrawn from the conference in the mountain community, slated for Jan. 23-26.

McKay said he would welcome the opportunity to sit down with Crompton to discuss his letter.

“We take these concerns very seriously,” McKay wrote Friday in a three-page letter provided to CBC News.

“Canadian oil and natural gas is an important part of the solution to reducing global GHG emissions.”

Earlier in the day, other companies confirmed they would not be travelling to Whistler for the conference.

  • Cenovus Energy said in a statement that it would not be attending because “we need to take a stand against these non-stop unfounded attacks on our industry that fail to acknowledge the huge focus the oil and gas industry places on reducing emissions.”
  • A spokesperson for Gibson Energy told CBC News the company “has elected to withdraw from the Whistler conference in 2019 in a show of solidarity with our industry and our customers.”
  • Cam Proctor, chief operating officer of PrairieSky Royalty, said Friday his firm would not take part as well.

“We think that there’s a great deal of misinformation out there about the energy business in Canada,” Proctor said.

“There’s not a lot we can do just from our own company’s perspective to try to educate Canadians, but one thing we can do is basically vote with our feet, so we’ve decided not to go to Whistler this year.”

Rocky relations

Relations between B.C. politicians and Alberta’s oil sector have been rocky recently, due largely to opposing views on the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to the West Coast.

The oilpatch and Alberta’s provincial government believe the pipeline is needed to ease bottlenecks and provide more options — and better prices — for Canadian crude.

Opponents’ concerns include the risk of shipping more bitumen on tankers, and about the impact that growing oilsands production would have on climate change.

In his letter, Crompton said climate change is a great concern to the community. He said climate modelling shows that temperatures are expected to increase in winter and result in more rain in the valley.

“And less snow on the lower half of the ski areas,” he wrote. “Our modelling also shows that summer seasons are becoming longer, hotter and drier, resulting in increased risk of forest fires.”

Thousands of people march together during a protest against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Burnaby, B.C., last March. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Because of the fire risk, the municipality budget includes a $1.4-million investment in community wildfire protection — a commitment it expects to have to make for at least the next four decades. 

‘We depend on fossil fuels’

In the video statement Thursday, Crompton said Whistler was one of 15 other B.C. municipalities who participated in the public relations campaign led by an environmental group.

“Our intent was to join that call to action; our aim was never to make anyone feel unwelcome in Whistler,” he said.

“We recognize that there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians who work directly and indirectly in the oil and gas sector and they are very proud of the work they do. We know that you are facing challenging times.

“As so many have said to me over the last couple of days, we are a user of Canada’s energy. Whistler acknowledges as a community that we depend on fossil fuels.

“We have a responsibility to respond to the climate change challenge ourselves and do it locally.”

The environmental group that began the campaign last January says the aim is not to collect money, but start a conversation.

Steel pipe to be used in the oil pipeline construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project sit on rail cars at a stockpile site in Kamloops, B.C., earlier this year. (Dennis Owen/Reuters)

“At the end of the day, I think it’s fiscally irresponsible if a municipality is incurring huge costs due to climate change and they’re not having this conversation, because otherwise they’re just passing those costs entirely onto taxpayers,” said Andrew Gage, lead lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law.

Albertans want to push back, Solberg says

Monte Solberg, a former Conservative cabinet minister from Alberta, said he was “a little surprised” to hear companies are opting out of the Whistler conference but was glad to see companies pushing back and defending their industry.

“I think a lot of people have wondered why some of these companies have gone along with this up until now,” he said.

Solberg said Albertans are slow to anger, but are at the point where they want to push back.

“We certainly have been a big customer of British Columbia’s,” he said.

“So one of the few ways that we can really make the point, apparently, is to say you know we’re not going to buy your things. We’re not going to come to your resorts anymore and that’s what some people are doing.”

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Ford government to recall legislature next week to introduce back-to-work bill for power workers

Ford government prepared to use back-to-work legislation to keep power workers on the job

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government will recall the legislature next week in order to enact back-to-work legislation to keep power workers on the job and prevent widespread outages, a government official has told CBC Toronto.

Earlier Thursday, an official had said that the government was prepared to recall the legislature. By the afternoon, it was confirmed that MPPs will return from Christmas break in response to potential job action.

On Thursday, members of the Power Workers’ Union (PWU) rejected the final contract offer from Ontario Power Generation (OPG). That put workers in a legal strike position.

The previous collective agreement expired on March 31.

“OPG is disappointed that its fair and reasonable offer was not ratified by PWU members,” the agency said Thursday in a statement.

“The offer provided PWU members with reasonable working conditions and benefits while recognizing the fiscal realities of the company and the province of Ontario.”

The agency has “very detailed contingency plans in place and is activating them immediately,” the statement went on.

The union said that the main bargaining committee would meet Friday to “initiate a notice to begin a 21-day ‘safe shut down’ period in preparation for shutting down power production.

“PWU members will continue to fulfil their responsibilities in compliance with all safety guidelines in preparation for job action.”

PWU represents over 16,000 workers in Ontario’s energy sector, including about 6,000 OPG employees.

Province ‘reviewing all options’

On Thursday, the ministers in charge of the file said that the OPG produces about half of Ontario’s electricity, and a prolonged outage “would jeopardize electricity supply to Ontario’s industry and businesses, which could have a devastating impact and ripple effect on our province’s economy.”

In the statement, Greg Rickford, minister of energy, northern development and mines, and Laurie Scott, labour minister, said the government would do “whatever is required” to ensure power stays on.

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