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Canada to send more firefighters to help battle Australian wildfires – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Canada will send 18 more firefighters to Australia to help battle wildfires currently ravaging the country.

“They’re working in operations, aviation, planning, logistics and command,” Kim Connors, executive director of Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) in Winnipeg, told CTV News Channel on Saturday. “Canada’s expertise in command and control of wildland fires is second to none around the world.”

There are currently 52 Canadian firefighters in New South Wales, expected to stay into the new year. The first round went on Dec. 3 while the second deployment travelled to Australia on Dec. 19.

The additional 18 will go to Queensland on Dec. 30.

This is the first time that Canadian firefighters have helped contain fires in Australia, according to Connors.

“It’s quite common for the U.S. and Canada to share these resources, but this is the first time we’ve gone beyond the U.S.,” he said.

Australian firefighters have travelled to Canada four times since 2015 to help battle fires in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Crews travelled to Australia from Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Yukon, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, according to CIFFC.

One person has died in the wildfire in South Australia, the Associated Press reported on Saturday. Two firefighters, identified as Geoffrey Keaton, 32, and Andrew O’Dwyer, 36, died Thursday battling fires southwest of Sydney.

Around 2,000 firefighters are battling 100 wildfires in New South Wales, which is in a seven-day state of emergency.

“Given we have a landscape with so much active fire burning, you have a recipe for very serious concern and a very dangerous day,” Shane Fitzsimmons, New South Wales Rural Fire Services Commissioner, told reporters.

On Dec. 18, Australia recorded its hottest day on record with an average temperature of 40.9 degrees Celsius.

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COVID-19 in Canada will get worse before it gets better, and here's why – CBC.ca

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Cases of COVID-19 will likely continue to climb in Canada’s most populous provinces for a while even if people start to hunker down, experts say, because of the nature of the infection.

Epidemiologists look at the effective reproductive number of COVID-19, which describes how many other people an infected person will pass the coronavirus onto on average.

Public health experts like to see the value significantly below one so cases don’t snowball and spread out of control.

The effective reproductive number of COVID-19 in Canada continues to hover at 1.4, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported on Friday. That means for every 10 people who test positive for COVID-19, they’ll likely infect 14 others who then pass it on to 20 others and so on.

Christopher Labos, a physician in Montreal with an epidemiology degree, said the effective reproductive number also varies depending on the population in which a virus is spreading.

“If nothing changes, certainly it’ll keep rising and may even surpass a number of cases we had before,” Labos said. 

The doubling time depends on how contagious someone is, the likelihood they’ll contact and infect another susceptible person and the frequency of contact.

But Labos said there’s another important factor: individual changes in behaviour.

WATCH | Flattening Canada’s COVID-19 curve again:  

New COVID-19 infections are emerging at double the rate of just two weeks ago. Experts say the curve is getting steeper and the only way to bend it back is to change behaviours — fast. 3:28

“We probably will see rising case numbers in the next few days, maybe in the next few weeks. But if we take action now and control stuff, we might see this virus plateau before the end of the year. And that’s really what we’re trying to hope for.”

To that end, Quebec’s premier announced on Monday partial shutdowns in areas with high case counts, namely Montreal, Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches, south of the provincial capital.

“We see that our hospitals are in a fragile situation,” Premier François Legault said.

As of Thursday for 28 days, visiting those in other households won’t be allowed (with exceptions), restaurants will be serving delivery and takeout only and other gathering places such as bars, concert halls, cinemas, museums and libraries in the affected regions will close, he said

To explain why, Legault said protecting people in school communities, hospitals and long-term care homes is a priority.

Sacrifices required to change course

“None of this is a given. We can change the outcome,” Labos said. “It simply requires us to sacrifice a little bit.”

Nicola Lacetera, a behavioural economist at the University of Toronto, first studied compliance with physical distancing during the start of the pandemic in Italy. He found that the more frequently governments extended lockdown dates, the more disappointed the public tended to get, which could lessen co-operation.

“People say, ‘Well, I don’t know anybody who has COVID,'” Lacetera said. “From a statistical point of view, it makes no sense. But people tend to over-weigh what’s closer to them, like having known someone who got COVID.”

When the public can’t see the health consequences of COVID-19 directly in their daily lives then Lacetera said making hygiene, distancing and wearing masks more of a habit, alongside consistent messaging from different levels of government and communicating the science, could help.

A woman wears a face mask as she walks by a sign instructing people to wear masks at a market in Montreal on Sept. 13. The city’s restaurants will face new restrictions this week. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

‘Targeted’ measures

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, suggested “targeted” measures are under consideration. His Toronto counterpart, Dr. Eileen de Villa, called for new limits in restaurants on Monday, such as reducing the number of patrons from 100 to 75 and requiring establishments to collect contact information from those attending.

De Villa also said the extent of spread of the infection in the city means the concept of the bubble or a social circle “no longer reflects the circumstances in which we live.” 

Jacob Wharton-Shukster said his Toronto restaurant would stay open until 2 a.m. before the pandemic. He voluntarily chose to close at 11 p.m. after watching what can happen elsewhere in the world late at night when people have been drinking alcohol.

“The numbers are doubling from last week, and this is all reasonably foreseeable,” he said. ” We would have had to have taken a mitigation strategy a month ago to see any result now.”

Epidemiologists agree, saying the effects of measures only become apparent two weeks down the road because of the lag when someone is newly infected, develops symptoms, gets tested and receives the result.

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Today's coronavirus news: Vast majority of Canadians working from home aren't eager to rush back to their work, poll says; Israel's virus lockdown likely to be extended – Toronto Star

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KEY FACTS

  • 9:25 a.m. Trudeau says Canada will commit additional $400 million to combat COVID-19 worldwide

  • 6:34 a.m.: Germany says debt won’t reach financial crisis level

  • 5:06 a.m.: UN secretary-general says pandemic toll is “mind-numbing”

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Tuesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

9:43 a.m. Botswana has extended its state of emergency for a further six months to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The southern African country will maintain several restrictions, including limits to international travellers and tourism, in contrast to neighbouring South Africa and Zimbabwe, which are opening up their economies.

Botswana, a diamond-rich, landlocked country of 2.3 million people, has reported 3,172 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 16 deaths, according to figures released Tuesday by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The disease burden has made it clear and imperative for us to extend the state of public emergency in the interest of the public,” said President Mokgweetsi Masisi, before parliament voted to continue the emergency on Monday night.

Botswana will continue to restrict public gatherings but it has reopened schools and allows the sale of liquor during limited hours. Facemasks must be worn in all public places.

9:39 a.m. Moscow authorities are extending school holidays by a week amid a surge of new coronavirus cases.

Mayor Sergei Sobyanin on Tuesday ordered all schools to go on holiday between Oct. 5-18 and urged parents to keep their children at home during this period.

“Children (account for) a significant share of infections, often asymptomatic,” Sobyanin said in an online statement. “When they come home, they easily transmit the virus to adults and elderly members of the family, who get sick more severely.”

Health officials on Tuesday reported 8,232 new virus cases, with 2,300 in Moscow — the highest daily number in the Russian capital since late May. Russia currently has the fourth largest caseload in the world with over 1.16 million confirmed infections. It ranks 11th in the world with a reported 20,450 deaths.

Last week, officials asked the elderly to stay at home starting on Monday and requested employers to allow as many people as possible to work from home.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday urged Russians to remain vigilant. “The fight against the epidemic is not over, it goes on. The risks remain,” Putin said.

9:25 a.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will commit an additional $400 million in development and humanitarian spending to combat COVID-19.

Trudeau says the new money will go to trusted partners that are fighting COVID-19 around the world.

Trudeau made the pledge during a videoconference at the United Nations that he co-hosted with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

It was the second time since the spring the three held a meeting of the UN’s High-Level Event on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond.

Trudeau says Canada will invest more in the coming years and he will continue to advocate for debt relief for countries facing economic hardship because of the pandemic.

Trudeau says Canada will push to have the voices of those countries heard in larger forums such as the G7, G20 and the World Bank.

9:21 a.m. The Swedish government has decided to increase the number of spectators allowed to attend sporting events from 50 to 500 as of Oct. 15.

Swedish Sports Confederation chairman Bjorn Eriksson says the decision is “a step in the right direction.”

The exemption applies as long as there is no increased spread of infection in the country.

Sweden has opted for a much debated COVID-19 approach of keeping large parts of the society open. People in the Scandinavian country kept enjoying many freedoms while most of Europe locked down their populations early in the pandemic by closing schools, restaurants, fitness centres and even borders.

9:20 a.m. The Spengler Cup, has been cancelled. Organizers of the event held in Davos, Switzerland, during the December holidays cite the impact of the pandemic.

The invitational tournament was first played in 1923, and a six-team edition was won last year by Team Canada, comprising of mostly Europe-based players.

Travel to and from Switzerland “for the teams from Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic and Canada is currently only possible under strict adherence to the quarantine policies, if at all,” organizers say.

Though Swiss authorities are allowing more fans to attend hockey games from October, standing areas in stadiums cannot be used.

Spengler Cup organizers say games “in a half-empty stadium, and without standing room, has nothing in common with the hockey festival we have become accustomed to.”

9:18 a.m. One southern Philippine province and its war-battered capital will be placed under a mild lockdown starting Thursday and the rest of the country will be under more relaxed restrictions to boost the battered economy of the country counting the most coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia.

President Rodrigo Duterte announced the quarantine restrictions for October in televised remarks Monday night. Lanao del Sur province and its capital, Marawi city, will fall under a lockdown starting Thursday due to infection spikes in recent weeks.

Most of Marawi’s commercial and downtown areas were destroyed after hundreds of Islamic State group-aligned militants laid siege to the mosque-studded city in May 2017 and the military launched a massive offensive and airstrikes to quell the five-month uprising. Many residents remain displaced, now staying with relatives or in government-constructed housing units.

9:15 a.m. Public health officials in the U.S. could take heart at the end of the summer. Even as the new coronavirus continued to spread, fewer people were winding up in the hospital because of COVID-19, and fewer were dying.

Now, as the seasons turn, there are signs suggesting there will be more deaths and serious illness ahead.

Data collected by the COVID Tracking Project shows that the number of people hospitalized has plateaued at about 30,000 in the past week, after a decline from nearly 60,000 that began in late July. Deaths, meanwhile, averaged about 750 over the seven days through Sunday, higher than the roughly 600 deaths a day in the first week of July.

Scientists had hoped that a warm-weather reprieve could soften an expected reemergence of the coronavirus in the colder months. Instead, the contagion continued to spread across the country after Memorial Day, with early-summer outbreaks in Sun Belt states followed by the recent surge of new infections in the Upper Midwest and on college campuses nationwide.

Any indication hospitals are attending to more coronavirus patients is likely to reignite concerns that the health care system could be overwhelmed by new cases as the weather cools and more activities, including school and holiday socializing, move indoors.

9:10 a.m. Hundreds of thousands of elementary school students are heading back to classrooms this week as New York City enters a high-stakes stage of resuming in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic, which is keeping students at home in many other big U.S. school systems.

Twice delayed, the elementary school reopening on Tuesday came over objections from school principals who said the city’s complicated, changing plans put them in a staffing bind.

Meanwhile, officials are worried about recent spurts in virus cases in some city neighbourhoods after a summer of success at keeping transmission fairly stable in the city as a whole.

“It’s a big moment for the city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on cable news station NY1 Monday night. With in-person learning for middle and high school students scheduled to begin Thursday, he noted, “as many as half a million kids could be in school in the course of this week.”

With over 1 million public school students, New York City initially had a more ambitious timeline than many other big U.S. school systems for bringing children back to schoolhouses this fall. Families have the option of choosing all-remote learning, and a growing number are doing so — 48 per cent as of Friday, up from 30 per cent six weeks earlier, according to city Education Department statistics.

7:55 a.m. The pandemic and record low mortgage rates have played out in a blockbuster summer for the Toronto region’s new construction home market, according to numbers released by the building industry on Tuesday.

August sales of single family homes — a category that includes detached, semi-detached, link and town houses (stacked town homes excluded) — soared 355 per cent year over year in August, outstripping the gains of condos, which also saw a 159 per cent year over year boost in sales last month.

Although the benchmark price of newly built and pre-construction homes dipped slightly compared to July, condos still sold for 15.7 per cent more year over year at $972,859, and single-family homes were up eight per cent annually to $1.17 million.

Read the full story from the Star’s Tess Kalinowski

7:51 a.m. With Monday’s milestone of 700 new COVID-19 cases reported, experts say to expect more days with 500-plus new cases as more people get tested and many continue to ignore public health guidelines.

And with Premier Doug Ford himself confirming that Ontario is now in its second wave of the virus, the importance of physical distancing, mask-wearing and handwashing couldn’t be more clear. While the premier said the second wave will be “worse than the first wave,” he stressed that we don’t yet know just how bad it will be.

In Ontario at least, experts say it will get worse before it gets better, with more days with new-case totals at levels not seen since the beginning of the pandemic — or even higher.

Read the full story from the Star’s Patty Winsa and Kenyon Wallace

7:32 a.m. After celebrating its 40th anniversary last year, the Toronto International Festival of Authors is beginning its fifth decade with big changes. Some we were expecting — it’s the first festival for new director Roland Gulliver — while others are driven by something entirely beyond the festival’s control: COVID-19.

TIFA will still run for 10 days, from Oct. 22 to Nov. 1. One of the biggest changes this year: it’s free. There are more than 200 events and activities and, because it is all available digitally, the festival is open to national and global audiences for the first time.

You will need to register to attend; that begins Tuesday at FestivalofAuthors.ca.

Headlining opening night is Margaret Atwood. Other high-profile events feature Desmond Cole on anti-Black racism and institutional oppression; Linwood Barclay interviewing Harlan Coben; American novelist Richard Ford interviewed by Gulliver; and Marilynne Robinson talking about her latest novel.

Read the full story from the Star’s Deborah Dundas

6:34 a.m.: Germany’s debt load won’t reach the level it did in the financial crisis a decade ago as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the finance minister said Tuesday, and it will still look better than that of Germany’s peers in the Group of Seven did before the virus outbreak.

Olaf Scholz was presenting to parliament a draft 2021 budget that foresees significant borrowing for the second consecutive year as Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, works to limit the economic fallout of efforts to contain COVID-19.

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The crisis has derailed the government’s dedication to keeping its budget balanced, long a point of pride. After six years in the black, it is borrowing a net 217.8 billion euros ($253.7 billion) this year to finance rescue and stimulus packages and cover an expected shortfall in tax revenue. Next year, it plans to borrow a further 96.2 billion euros.

5:31 a.m.: Authorities are concerned by a COVID-19 outbreak aboard a cargo ship off Australia’s northwest coast that has infected most of the crew.

Eight more members of the Filipino crew tested positive for the new coronavirus on Monday, bringing the number of infections to 17 out of a crew of 21.

Seven of the infected sailors remained aboard the Liberia-flagged bulk carrier Patricia Oldendorff, which is anchored off Port Hedland, a major iron ore export terminal, Western Australia State Health Minister Roger Cook said on Tuesday.

The seven are part of an essential skeleton crew of nine. The other 10 infected crew members were in hotel quarantine at Port Hedland. None required hospital treatment.

5:20 a.m.: Brussels authorities have decided to ban prostitution until further notice in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus in Belgium’s capital city.

In addition, authorities have shut down three hotels hosting sex workers because social distancing measures were not respected, Wafaa Hammich, a spokeswoman at Brussels city hall told The Associated Press on Tuesday. She said police controls will be stepped up to make sure the ban is enforced.

The decision came after Brussels decided to impose a curfew on bars. Since the start of this week, all bars and cafes have to close between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. while any other businesses selling drinks or food will shut down at 10 p.m.

Brussels is facing a surge of new coronavirus infections.

5:13 a.m.: A southern Philippine province and its war-battered capital will be placed under a mild lockdown in October, while the rest of the country will have more relaxed quarantine restrictions.

President Rodrigo Duterte announced the quarantine restrictions for October in televised remarks Monday night. Lanao del Sur province and its capital, Marawi city, will fall under a lockdown starting Thursday due to infection spikes in recent weeks.

Most of Marawi’s commercial and downtown areas were destroyed in 2017 fighting between the military and Islamic State group-aligned militants.

Metropolitan Manila and five other cities will remain under general quarantine restrictions with more businesses and public transport allowed to partially operate on the condition people wear masks and stay safely apart.

5:11 a.m.: India has registered 70,589 new confirmed coronaviruses cases in the past 24 hours, maintaining a noticeable decline in daily infections.

The Health Ministry raised India’s confirmed total since the pandemic began to more than 6.1 million on Tuesday, but said the country had a little less than 1 million active coronavirus cases. It also reported 776 fatalities in the last 24 hours, which pushed the death toll to 96,318.

India is still registering the highest number of daily cases globally, but with a recovery rate of more than 82.5%, the number of recoveries has passed 5 million, the Health Ministry said.

The first two weeks of September saw India clocking 90,000 cases every day. Since then India has seen a sharp decrease in the number of new daily cases.

5:06 a.m.: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres says the loss of 1 million people to the coronavirus is an “agonizing milestone” that has been made worse by the “savageness of this disease.”

In a statement released after the global death toll from the pandemic crossed 1 million, Guterres called it a “mind-numbing figure.”

“They were fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues,” he said. “The pain has been multiplied by the savageness of this disease. Risks of infection kept families from bedsides. And the process of mourning and celebrating a life was often made impossible.”

Guterres warned “there is no end in sight to the spread of the virus, the loss of jobs, the disruption of education, the upheaval to our lives.”

5 a.m.: Israel’s health minister says the country’s nationwide lockdown is likely to be extended.

The Israeli government imposed a second countrywide lockdown ahead of the Jewish High Holidays earlier this month in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

The lockdown was initially slated to be lifted on Oct. 11, but in a radio interview on Tuesday Health Minister Yuli Edelstei said that “there is no scenario that in another 10 days we will lift everything and say ‘It’s all over, everything is OK.’”

Israel has recorded more than 233,000 confirmed cases of the virus since the pandemic began and more than 1,500 deaths from the disease, according to the Health Ministry.

While Israel garnered praise for its swift response to the arrival of the pandemic in March, the country’s reopening of the economy in May saw new infections skyrocket over the summer, and now it has one of the highest infection rates per capita in the world.

4 a.m.: The federal government’s economic recovery plan has inspired some confidence that it will create jobs and a stronger economy in future, a new poll suggests.

But, in the meantime, the vast majority of Canadians who’ve been working from home aren’t eager to rush back to their work places as cases of COVID-19 surge across the country.

Fifty-two per cent of respondents to the survey, conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian studies, said they are very (nine per cent) or somewhat (43 per cent) confident that the recovery plan, outlined in last week’s throne speech, will create jobs and strengthen the economy in future.

Thirty-nine per cent were not very or not at all confident.

The throne speech appears to have given the governing Liberals a boost, with their support up five points over the past week, to 40 per cent of decided voters. The Conservatives had the support of 30 per cent, the NDP 17 per cent and the Greens five per cent.

4 a.m. The three main parties in the B.C. election campaign clashed Monday over the best way to help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson says he would eliminate the provincial sales tax for a year if the party wins the election on Oct. 24, which would cost the government’s coffers about $7 billion.

He said the PST would return at three per cent in the second year, down from the usual seven per cent on most goods and services, because cutting the tax would help stimulate the economy.

NDP Leader John Horgan said he hasn’t seen an assessment of the impact of the Liberals’ proposed tax cut on provincial revenues, but he hopes Wilkinson will tell voters what services would face getting cut to cover the cost.

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau also criticized Wilkinson’s proposal, describing it as “antiquated.”

She said people need economic security to help the province recover from COVID-19.

Monday 9:30 p.m.: Members of Parliament have completed their first-ever remote vote in the Canadian House of Commons, a historic occasion marked by numerous technical glitches, lengthy delays and cameo appearances by some of their kids and even a family dog.

The vote was on a Bloc Québécois sub-amendment to a Conservative amendment to last week’s throne speech, a routine matter that normally would have taken 15 minutes. It was roundly defeated by a vote of 293-33 — with help from one Bloc MP who accidentally voted against his own party’s sub-amendment “due to all the confusion” over voting by video conference.

But it took almost two hours to arrive at that result.

Right off the bat, a system failure by Microsoft delayed the vote for about 40 minutes.

For the eventual vote, only a few dozen MPs were physically present in the Commons while the rest joined in from remote locations in an excruciatingly slow, roll-call video conference vote.

Click here to read more of Monday’s COVID-19 coverage.

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Chinese dairy investor pressed Canada to 'mitigate the risk' of new NAFTA – CBC.ca

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Less than three weeks after talks concluded on the revised North American free trade agreement, executives from a Chinese infant formula manufacturer that had invested $332 million to build a new plant in Kingston, Ont. asked for a sudden meeting with Canadian officials.

Zhiwen Yang, the general manager of Canada Royal Milk — the Canadian subsidiary of China Feihe Limited — wrote to then-Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and the Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands, Mark Gerretsen, describing how Canada’s concessions in the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) put his business plans in jeopardy by limiting how much cow’s milk formula it can export and dismantling the dairy ingredient pricing system.

Yang asked the federal government to “mitigate the risks to the project.” His three-page letters, dated Oct. 16, 2018, were released to CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

A few days later, Feihe International Inc. “respectfully” asked the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and another senior government official to meet for 90 minutes on Oct. 29 with Yang and his boss, Feihe International chair Youbin Leng, who was travelling to Canada with his directors of research and regulatory affairs.

“The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the regulatory framework in China and explore how we can work together. The expectation is not for a decision to be made, but to begin a conversation,” said the email from Carey Bidtnes, Canada Royal Milk’s human resources manager, who was part of the team that worked on bringing this investment to Canada during her previous employment with the Kingston Economic Development Corporation. 

Bidtnes said that Canada Royal Milk was working with Health Canada and the CFIA to “resolve a challenge” with exporting its formula.

The documents reveal that the financial stakes for Feihe were higher by the fall of 2018 than they were in 2017, when CBC News reported on the potential international trade issues triggered by Feihe’s plans to export the vast majority of the infant formula it manufactures in Canada back to Chinese consumers.

As construction began, the Chinese investment was pegged at $225 million. A year later, the investment was estimated at $332 million and project proponents were predicting it would bring 277 direct full-time jobs to the region once production ramps up. A further 300 construction jobs have been created in the Kingston area and the plant is expected to generate the equivalent of over 1,000 more jobs in its eventual supply chain.

Chinese companies have a deeper relationship with China’s central government than private sector firms in North America do with their own national governments. Feihe is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, but its subsidiary, Canada Royal Milk, is incorporated in Canada.

The investment — the largest foreign direct investment in Ontario agriculture in the last decade — was finalized with officials from the Canadian Dairy Commission during a 2016 visit to Canada by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

CUSMA limits exports, changed pricing

American officials were monitoring this Chinese investment. President Donald Trump — and the powerful U.S. farm lobby — regard Canada’s supply management system as “unfair” because it blocks most American dairy from Canada’s domestic market.

In the CUSMA, Canada agreed to several concessions that harm its dairy industry — including strict limits, enforced by new export charges, on international exports of infant formula and skim milk.

CUSMA’s export limit for cow’s milk formula is lower than what Feihe originally planned to produce in Kingston, according to a presentation obtained three years ago by CBC News.

Newly released government talking points say Canadian negotiators “were in contact with a number of individuals with direct knowledge of the proposed facility’s operations,” including the Kingston Economic Development Corporation, “to ensure negotiators had a thorough understanding of the intended operation … with a view to avoiding unintended impacts.”

Kingston’s mayor, Bryan Paterson, and a team of other local officials visited China to help land the infant formula facility in Eastern Ontario. It’s the largest foreign investment in Ontario’s agriculture industry in a decade. (Office of Mayor Bryan Paterson)

It’s the same response CBC News got in 2018 when it asked whether Canada’s NAFTA renegotiation team spoke directly to Feihe about its plans before signing off.

Another concession Canada agreed to in the CUSMA talks dismantled part of its dairy pricing regime, ending lower ingredient pricing that kept processors competitive. Canada’s prices are now based on American rates.

When Feihe agreed to invest in Ontario, Canada’s lower ingredient price was part of its forecasts.

Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, reported that then-foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to brief him within days of concluding CUSMA negotiations.

But if the two ministers discussed the dairy concessions, they apparently didn’t resolve the manufacturer’s concerns because the documents show that, within days of that conversation, Feihe began its own outreach to the Canadian government.

Chinese asked Canada to limit competition

Earlier presentations of Canada Royal Milk’s business plans didn’t mention producing and exporting skim milk powder for the adult market. But this letter to MacAulay said the company would produce skim powder for export during a “ramp up” period of testing the new facility. 

Canada already has a significant surplus of skim milk powder, left over after meeting Canada’s strong demand for butter. Making baby formula at this new plant was supposed to help use up this surplus, not exacerbate it.

Feihe eventually plans to manufacture formula from both cow and goat milk at its Kingston facility, exporting most of it to China. A decade after its tainted milk scandal, some Chinese consumers still have more confidence in foreign formula. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

The global market for skim is crowded and ultra-competitive, with American farmers hostile to any threats. Under the World Trade Organization’s Nairobi Agreement, Canada agreed to stop exporting skim milk products as of January 2021.

“The export cap is a very serious issue for the operations of the company for 2019 and 2020,” the letter from general manager Yang to then-minister MacAulay said, “and we believe it will hinder the growth of the entire industry in the future.”

In its correspondence, Feihe asked for assurances that its facility had the support of all levels of government. It also requested “reasonable quota” so it could take maximum advantage of the tariff-free exports that would be allowed under the CUSMA, including a “guarantee that the full annual export quota for infant formula would be assigned to Canada Royal Milk.”

Our team has already been contacted by U.S. dairy producers who are eager to sell their products to us.– Zhiwen Yang, General Manager, Canada Royal Milk

Canada is allocating its export quota for skim milk powder based on processors’ past production. But for infant formula, export quota was distributed according to planned production — presumably to accommodate the new plant coming online.

“Currently, details on which entities have received an allocation for the dairy export thresholds are not public,” Jean-Sébastien Comeau, a spokesperson for Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, told CBC News.

In a question redacted from one document released to CBC News but repeated without redaction in another, Yang also asked the government if it would “take steps to limit the licensing of new infant formula manufacturing in Canada.”

While that appears to be anti-competitive behaviour, no other Canadian dairy processor has shown interest in making infant formula in recent years — which is why Canada pursued the Chinese investment in the first place.

Looking for compensation

On the demise of ingredient pricing, “it’s unclear how this will impact our operations in the medium to long term,” Yang’s letter to MacAulay said.

“Our team has already been contacted by U.S. dairy producers who are eager to sell their products to us,” the letter continues.

“What has the government proposed to assist dairy processors to overcome the loss of [ingredient] pricing?”

The letter sent to MP Gerretsen repeated the same demands.

Construction of the massive Canada Royal Milk facility in Kingston, Ont. was expected to create about 300 jobs. Once production begins, it expected to employ 277 people full-time jobs and create the equivalent of another 1,000 jobs in local supply chains. (Feihe International Inc.)

Although Bibeau announced funding for dairy producers harmed by trade deals with the European Union and Pacific Rim countries in the days leading up to the 2019 federal election, the industry is still waiting for the compensation it was promised when NAFTA was replaced.

It’s unclear whether Canada Royal Milk would be eligible for compensation but the Chinese investment has qualified for other federal and provincial support programs.

If Feihe believes its investment was harmed by Canada’s concessions, it could sue for damages under the 2012 Canada–China Foreign Investor Protection Agreement, which was negotiated by the previous Conservative government.

“The sued country can opt not to make public anything until an arbitration award,” Osgoode Hall law professor and investment treaty specialist Gus Van Harten said, noting this agreement is unique in this regard.

International Trade Minister Mary Ng’s spokesperson Ryan Nearing said “there has been no dispute launched against Canada under the Canada-China FIPA to date, nor notification of an intention to do so.”

Despite delays, manufacturer now ‘confident’

In an interview with CBC, MP Gerretsen said he passed on the requests he received from the company to officials at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. But he said the only formal encounter he’s had with Canada Royal Milk was a tour of the construction site in his riding earlier in 2018.

“A number of the issues that were in their letter I believe have been addressed,” he said.

In departmental email, one bureaucrat called Yang’s correspondence “an interesting letter indeed.”

Before federal government officials met with the Chinese, two senior officials from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, Brian Clow and Simon Beauchemin, joined an “urgent briefing” with MacAulay’s office — an “additional twist,” another bureaucrat called it.

“The Chairman is in Canada in the context of making more investment,” a senior official said. The request to meet with the president of the CFIA was “in the context of the application for export,” he said, “which may not be the full reality.”

Comeau, Bibeau’s spokesperson, tells CBC the Kingston facility now has its licence to export from the CFIA.

The Canadian Dairy Commission originally hoped an investor like Feihe could build a second facility, perhaps in Western Canada. But now, the government “is not in discussion with Canada Royal Milk about additional future investments,” Comeau said.

Earlier plans obtained by CBC News suggested Kingston facility would be exporting by now. Bidtnes told CBC News its production lines are complete and it is pleased with the results of its test batches.

“Timelines for beginning commercial production have been stretched into the fall due to the impact of COVID-19 on some regulatory processes,” she said, adding that the company remains “confident in our business plans and the support we have received from all levels of government.”

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