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Innovation minister on road to making Canada a battery electric and EV powerhouse

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OTTAWA — When Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne gets in front of a microphone to talk about electrifying Canada’s auto industry, he has a favourite line, to sum up, his efforts to attract global investment: “Not everyone in the world wakes up thinking about Canada.”

His job, as he sees it, is to change that.

“I never stop,” the 52-year-old former lawyer and business development strategist said in an interview. “You know me. I’m pretty persistent.”

Champagne is a ball of energy, earning him the affectionate nickname “Franky Bubbles” among some Ottawa types. Interviews with him are like trying to keep up with a family of squirrels under an oak tree in October.

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Since he took over the Innovation portfolio in January 2021, at least 10 different companies have announced $15.7 billion in total investments in Canada to make electric vehicles, the batteries that power them, or the minerals and materials that go into those batteries.

His persistence has found him flying around the world, bringing the case for Canada to some of the biggest technology and automotive companies in the world: Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Panasonic, Hitachi and Subaru, to name a few.

Some, like Honda and Toyota, already have a production presence in Canada. Most don’t.

Champagne said Canada needs to be more aggressive in believing it can attract new companies.

Nobody on his team could remember the last time Canada had discussions with German automakers at the senior executive level, he said. He threw open that door first with the CEO of Volkswagen Canada Group, which oversees its dealerships.

“Then we had the CEO of the Volkswagen Group, which is producing like 30 million cars every day, spending two days with me, and now we’re texting each other.”

In August, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hosted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz for a state visit, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz both signed agreements with Canada to explore partnerships in the electric vehicle supply chain.

“It’s pretty amazing that in a couple of months we’ve gone (from) basically a very limited relationship apart from the dealerships in Canada, to the highest level where we signed with the German chancellor, the prime minister of Canada, myself, and (Volkswagen chairman) Herbert Diess.”

Champagne was selling Canada’s electric vehicle industry in Germany in May, in Japan in July, and in Detroit in September. In November he has meetings planned in South Korea.

A few weeks ago he flew to Fremont, Calif., to tour the Tesla plant. Rumours of a Tesla expansion into Canada are rampant and Champagne is coy, saying only to stay tuned.

Evan Pivnick, a program manager at Clean Energy Canada, said the country has come an incredible distance in building its electric vehicle and battery supply chain in the last year and “Champagne and his team absolutely deserve credit.”

“I think where we started the year, we are so vastly ahead of what most industry folks would have predicted that we were able to achieve,” he said.

But Pivnick said there is still much more to do if Canada is going to stay in competition to become a powerhouse in the sector.

His firm recently issued an analysis saying that, with the announcements made in the last two years, the industry will be supporting between 60,000 and 110,000 direct and indirect jobs and contributing between $12 billion and $19 billion to the national economy by 2030.

Pivnick said if Canada “plays its cards right” that can grow to 250,000 jobs and $48 billion in GDP.

That will require a comprehensive battery strategy, pushing Canada’s automakers to convert almost all their assembly capacity to produce electric cars, adding new mines, and making massive investments in battery materials, cathode production and recycling.

It requires a rapid expansion of electricity supply to power everything with clean energy, given that one of Canada’s biggest selling points abroad is the abundance of clean power.

Pivnick said it also requires a workforce transition plan — something the Liberals have been promising for years but has yet to deliver.

“We need to start working on worker transition right now so that the autoworker today is an electric vehicle assembly worker tomorrow,” he said.

“We need new skills in battery material manufacturing, figuring out how oilpatch workers can work in the chemical industry in Alberta. Like there’s all sorts of really cool opportunities, but they’re not just going to happen.”

All of Canada’s auto plants are in the midst of some level of retooling for electric vehicles, though none have promised a complete conversion. Multiple new and expanding mining projects are either underway or in the discussion. At least four battery materials plants are in the works.

In March, LG Energy Solution and Stellantis announced a $5-billion investment to build Canada’s first gigafactory, a term coined by Tesla to describe large-scale battery production plants.

Pivnick said Canada needs at least one more major gigafactory and two or three smaller ones by 2030. It also needs to push domestic demand for electric vehicles higher, and hope that the United States can do the same.

Most people think of southern Ontario when they think of Canada’s auto sector, but there is a geographical expansion underway. Two of the battery material plants in construction are in Bécancour, a small city of 12,000 people about halfway between Montreal and Quebec City.

In July, Belgium’s Umicore announced a $1.5-billion investment to build a cathode materials production plant just outside of Kingston, Ont.

Kingston and the Islands Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen said the plant is huge for the region, which is heavily dependent on public service jobs in health and education.

Champagne said the electric vehicle supply chain is a “golden opportunity” for Canada with “dire consequences” for workers if we don’t seize the moment.

But after the success of the last two years, he said, the world has taken notice.

“For me, I think the best is yet to come,” he said.

“My phone is ringing like never before.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2022.

 

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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Afghan refugees: Government delays increasing financial pressure – CTV News

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Refugee advocates are raising concerns that Afghan refugees granted asylum in Canada are being burdened by escalating costs stemming from the government’s delay in processing their claims.

Before they board their flight to Canada, all refugees are required to sign a loan agreement to pay back the cost of their transportation and pre-arrival expenses which can include hotel stays.

Some Afghans identified by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as eligible for resettlement have been waiting months for exit permits while living in hotels arranged by the government. The hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their debt.

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The Canadian Council for Refugees says Afghans are being forced to pay for an inefficient bureaucracy.

“It seems like the Canadian government is taking advantage of the vulnerability of people,” says Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees. Hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their government debt.

Dench says refugees have no choice but to accept a “legally dubious” contract that doesn’t stipulate a precise loan amount.

“If they want a permanent home they have to sign on to whatever the terms of the agreement are. There’s no negotiation room, so people are forced into this situation.”

LONG WAITS AND BIG BILLS

Because Canada doesn’t recognize the Taliban government Afghans must get to a third country with consular support to complete their refugee applications. Many flee to neighboring Pakistan where Canada has a High Commission in the capital of Islamabad.

Nearly all Afghan refugees deemed eligible for resettlement are placed in the care of the International Organization for Migration while they are overseas.

The IOM organizes both charter and commercial flights to Canada and coordinates hotel stays for refugees as they wait for their exit permits. IOM doesn’t book flights until after IRCC has completed security and medical checks of its applicants. The organization bills the Canadian government approximately $150 per day to house and provide three meals a day for one family.

Of the 25,400 Afghans who have arrived in Canada since August 2021, IOM spokesperson Paul Dillon told CTV News in an emailed statement Friday the organizations has arranged travel for more than 22,000 of those refugees.

The claims of another 15,000 Afghans Canada committed to accepting after the Taliban took over the country have been delayed.

Irfanullah Noori, 28 and his family of five stepped off a plane at Pearson International Airport less than two months ago at the end of October. Before the Taliban took over his homeland in Noori worked as a logistics coordinator at the Kabul International Airport. He qualified for asylum because his brother served as an interpreter for Canadian soldiers.

Before being issued travel documents to Canada, Nouri, his wife and their three children, all under the age of five – stayed in an Islamabad hotel arranged by IOM for three months.

Irfanullah Noori poses with his youngest daughter on October 25, 2022 at the Pakistan International Airport before he boarded plane bound for Canada.

Before boarding his flight he signed a loan agreement. Nouri says IOM staff told him he would need to repay hotel expenses that added up to more than $13,000. That amount does not factor in the cost of flights for his family that he will also have to repay.

MISLEADING COSTS

IRCC says 96 per cent of refugees are able to pay back the loans. Monthly payments on the interest free loans are scheduled to begin one year after refugees arrive in Canada and costs can be spread out over nine years.

The federal government puts a cap of $15,000 on each loan per family, but the Canadian Council for Refugees says this is a misleading number.

Refugee families who have older dependents may have to pay back more than the cap. That’s because dependents over the age of 22 years old, can be considered a separate family unit and required to take on a new loan. Dench says this policy puts refugees in a precarious economic position. She’s seen families fight over finances and hopes and dreams put on hold.

“You have young people who should normally be going to university and pursuing their education but they feel that they’re morally obliged to get down to work, even at a minimum wage job in order to pay off the family debt,” said Dench. She argues the Canadian government should stop requiring refugees to repay the costs of getting them to safety, no matter where they come from.

SIMILAR CLAIMS, DIFFERENT TIME FRAMES

Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, the Veterans Transition Network has helped raise funds to get interpreters and others out of Afghanistan. Oliver Thorne, VTN’s executive director says he’s frustrated that there are huge variations how long it takes for claims to be approved between applicants with similar profiles

“Some migrants are left in the dark. They don’t know why it’s taking them an additional two, four or six months compared to another interpreter who worked with the Canadian armed forces.” Thorne says IRCC needs to hire and train more staff to speed up the processing of claims.

He’s also calling for the removal of loan requirements, especially for Afghans who assisted the Canadian armed forces.

“They protected our men and women in uniform at great risk to themselves and their families. And secondly, these are going to be Canadians. They’re going to live here in our society down the street from us, and we have nothing to gain by making their transition more difficult,” Thorne said in an interview from Vancouver.

NO DEBT RELIEF

CTV News asked the Immigration Minister if it was fair that the Canadian government was burdening Afghans with additional costs due to the government backlog.

On Friday, Sean Fraser blamed a complicated process, but acknowledged that some refugees had been stuck “for a significant period of time.’ But the minister offered few solutions other than a vague reassurance that his department was “working with Pakistani officials to make sure we’re facilitating the smooth transportation of people to Canada.”

Meanwhile Noori is struggling to make ends meet in his new Ontario home, despite finding a job a few weeks ago at the General Motors plant in Oshawa.

Hired as a data-entry clerk, Noori earns $19/hour and is trying to pick up extra shifts on the weekend so he can make his $2,000 monthly rent on a one bedroom apartment.

Even though he won’t have to start paying back his refugee loan until next year, he’s daunted by the impending bill.

“It’s expensive (here.) I work 8 hours a day and six days a week. It will be very hard for me to pay back.”

After surviving the Taliban, Noori now faces subsistence in Canada.

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Children’s hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries

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A children’s hospital in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries and appointments starting Monday.

Health officials say it’s due to a high level of respiratory illness.

It is unclear how many surgeries and appointments at Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John‘s will be affected.

Residents who are not experiencing a medical emergency are being asked to avoid visiting an emergency department.

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

British Columbia‘s police watchdog has cleared a slain Burnaby RCMP constable of wrongdoing after she shot a man in the altercation that led to her death.

The Independent Investigations Office says after a review of all available evidence its chief civilian director determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe Const. Shaelyn Yang committed an offence.

It says the matter will not be referred to the Crown for consideration of charges.

Yang, a 31-year-old mental health and homeless outreach officer, was stabbed to death on Oct. 18 while she and a City of Burnaby employee attempted to issue an eviction notice to a man who had been living in a tent at a local park.

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Yang shot the suspect before she died, and the IIO later said Jongwon Ham underwent surgery for his injuries.

Ham has since been charged with first-degree murder in Yang’s death.

“Due to concurrent court proceedings related to the incident, the IIO’s public report will not be released on the IIO website until that process has concluded,” the IIO said in a news release.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2022.

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