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‘Troubled’ Eby seeks CSIS briefing on alleged Chinese meddling in Vancouver election

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British Columbia Premier David Eby says he is “very troubled” by allegations of Chinese interference in Vancouver’s municipal elections last year and has asked Canada’s intelligence agency for a briefing.

Eby said Friday that Canadians deserved a “thorough and independent investigation” into the claims reported in the Globe and Mail newspaper this week that China’s consulate in Vancouver meddled in the municipal polls by using diaspora community groups and grooming certain candidates.

The premier said he had asked for a “full briefing” by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service but he had not received it yet.

The newspaper report cites CSIS documents, but Eby said he was not in a position to comment on their credibility.

The report prompted Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim to say on Thursday that he was disgusted by its “insinuations,” and he wouldn’t be part of the conversation if he was Caucasian.

Eby said the majority of tools to fight international interference were in federal hands, but he needed to know if there was any way for B.C. to “close any gaps.”

He said that, for example, Elections BC had already brought forward recommendations to combat misinformation.

“We’re always looking for ways to make sure our elections are free and fair,” Eby said at a news conference in Prince Rupert in northwest B.C.

This week’s newspaper report says the CSIS documents did not name the consulate’s favoured Vancouver mayoral and council contenders, but China’s diplomats wanted the incumbent Kennedy Stewart to lose.

Sim, Vancouver’s first mayor of Chinese descent, defeated Stewart by more than 36,000 votes.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decried the impact of the allegations on Sim, saying “little bits and pieces of uncorroborated, unverified information” were being amplified.

Trudeau said Friday that while threats of foreign interference must be taken seriously, Canadians must also be “very, very careful” about such discourse, which could undermine the foundations of democratic institutions.

“The impact on individuals who choose to step forward and serve their communities, like Ken Sim — being attacked by allegations that are incomplete and leaked that he can’t even really respond to — is sort of an underscoring of the delicacy of these issues and of how they need to be treated with real seriousness,” he said in Guelph, Ont.

Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre, who was visiting Vancouver on Friday, said the latest report indicated that the Canadian intelligence community had lost trust in Trudeau and his ability to deal with possible foreign interference.

“There’s an open revolt against the prime minister,” Poilievre said of the CSIS leaks. “I think our intelligence community is very worried about what the prime minister is covering up and keeping secret. He’s putting his own partisan interest ahead of our national interest.”

Poilievre also said Canada’s exclusion from alliances such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, between Australia, India, Japan and the United States, indicated Trudeau had also lost the trust of traditional allies.

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow at the University of Ottawa’s Institute for Science, Society and Policy, said there are a number of reasons a foreign government might want to influence municipal politics.

McCuaig-Johnston, an outspoken critic of Beijing, said while municipal governments do not dictate foreign policy, they are central to creating official sister-city relationships.

Those sister-city agreements often involve programs that facilitate cultural and commercial ties between cities, which would then lead to possible “preferential trade and business connections.”

There is also the possibility of gaining favour with a municipal politician who then progresses to other levels of government, McCuaig-Johnston said.

“Municipal politicians sometimes move on to … the provincial or federal level,” she said. “So it is worth investing effort to establish close, dependent relationships with them early.”

Hugh Stephens, an Asia Pacific Foundation distinguished fellow, said Chinese officials might have taken an interest in Vancouver’s election because Stewart considered a “friendship-city” relationship with the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung in 2021.

Chinese diplomats are “sensitive to any level of government that may engage with Taiwan,” Stephens said. Beijing views the self-ruled island as a renegade province.

Stephens said allegations of foreign interference can create discourse that’s “extremely unfair” to both successful and unsuccessful candidates, although the winners bear the brunt of suspicion.

“It undermines their credibility, even though they had nothing to do with the consulate’s activities, and the meddling by the consulate made no difference to the outcome,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2023.

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Tesla’s 2Q profit falls 45% to $1.48 billion as sales drop despite price cuts and low-interest loans

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DETROIT (AP) — Tesla’s second-quarter net income fell 45% compared with a year ago as the company’s global electric vehicle sales tumbled despite price cuts and low-interest financing.

The Austin, Texas, company said Tuesday that it made $1.48 billion from April through June, less than the $2.7 billion it made in the same period of 2023. It was Tesla’s second-straight quarterly net income decline.

Second quarter revenue rose 2% to $25.5 billion, beating Wall Street estimates of $24.54 billion, according to FactSet. Excluding one time items, Tesla made 52 cents per share, below analyst expectations of 61 cents.

Earlier this month Tesla said it sold 443,956 vehicles from April through June, down 4.8% from 466,140 sold the same period a year ago. Although the sales were were better than the 436,000 that analysts had expected, they still were a sign of weakening demand for the company’s aging product lineup.

For the first half of the year, Tesla has sold about 831,000 vehicles worldwide, far short of the more than 1.8 million for the full year that CEO Elon Musk has predicted.

The company’s widely watched gross profit margin, the percentage of revenue it gets to keep after expenses, fell once again to 18%. A year ago it was 18.2%, and it peaked at 29.1% in the first quarter of 2022.

Tesla said it posted record quarterly revenue “despite a difficult operating environment.” The company’s energy-storage business took in just over $3 billion in revenue, double the amount in the same period last year.

Shares of Tesla fell 4% in trading after Tuesday’s closing bell. The shares had been down more than 40% earlier in the year, but have since recovered most of the losses.

Revenue from regulatory credits purchased by other automakers who can’t meet government emissions targets hit $890 million for the quarter, double Tesla’s amount of most previous quarters.

The company reported $622 million in “restructuring and other” expenses for the quarter, when it laid off over 10% of its workforce.

Tesla said in a note to investors that it’s between two major growth waves, with the next one coming through advances in autonomous vehicles and new models. But the company reiterated caution that its sales growth “may be notably lower than the growth rate achieved in 2023.”

The company said plans for new vehicles, including more affordable models, are on track for production to start in the first half of next year. Tesla has hinted at a smaller model costing around $25,000. The models are to be built using some aspects of current vehicles and others from the next-generation underpinnings.

The company said average selling prices for its Models S, X, 3 and Y all dropped due to the price cuts and financing offers. It also said that the Cybertruck became the best selling electric pickup in the U.S. during the quarter.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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CN Rail lowers 2024 earnings forecast due to strike uncertainty

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Canadian National Railway Co. lowered its forecast for earnings growth Tuesday as it faces the threat of a worker strike.

The Montreal-based railway, which earned $1.11 billion in the second quarter, said it is seeing international customers route shipments away from Canadian ports in the face of continued labour uncertainty at the company.

CN is awaiting a decision from the Canada Industrial Relations Board on whether some shipments would be considered essential services in the event of a strike by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, the union that represents CN’s engineers and conductors. Though no strike or lockout can take place until at least 72 hours after that decision is made — a decision the company expects on or about Aug. 9 — the situation is casting a cloud over CN’s business.

“The prolonged nature of this process, which prior to the CIRB referral was to conclude in May, is impacting our customers, and it is impacting our business — particularly in (the area of) international intermodal where customers have taken actions to reroute vessels away from Canadian ports until the labour question has been resolved,” said CEO Tracy Robinson on a conference call with analysts Tuesday.

Robinson said the company’s second quarter was “challenging.” She added CN’s volumes were tracking well ahead of plan until May, when contract talks between Canada’s largest railway and the union got bogged down.

“Starting late May we saw a sharp reduction primarily in our international volumes on concerns of a work stoppage,” Robinson said. “This is volume destined to the U.S. that has shifted to U.S. ports. So we have lighter volumes in the third quarter than expected.”

In June, the Teamsters rejected an offer from CN to enter into binding arbitration, a development that raised the risk of a strike. Then-labour minister Seamus O’Regan, who recently announced his resignation from cabinet, asked the CIRB to address the question of whether some shipments would continue as essential services in the event of a strike or lockout.

CN said Tuesday it does not expect the situation to escalate to a full-fledged strike or lockout, and its revised forecast makes the assumption that the current traffic diversions do not increase.

Still, the company said it is lowering its forecasted adjusted earnings per share growth for the year to the mid- to high-single-digit range, compared to an earlier forecast that predicted earnings-per-share growth of approximately 10 per cent.

Robinson said CN expects to have more certainty on the labour front after the CIRB issues its decision. She said the company’s position on a collective agreement with its engineers and conductors has not changed in recent months — it is still looking to create a structure around work scheduling that would improve crew availability in light of new federal rules around mandatory work and rest rules for critical railway employees.

The Teamsters have said CN is trying to squeeze more availability out of its train crews as a way to compensate for labour shortages. The union has said the railway’s proposal would see workers required to move across the country for months at a time to fill labour shortages in remote areas of Canada.

CN said Tuesday its net income for the quarter was five per cent lower than the $1.17 billion in the same three months of 2023.

On an adjusted basis, the company said it earned $1.17 billion in the second quarter of 2024, or $1.84 per share compared with $1.76 per share in the prior year’s quarter.

The railway reported revenues of $4.33 billion, a seven per cent increase year-over-year.

Its operating ratio, a key measure of railway efficiency where a smaller number is better, increased from 60.6 to 64 per cent year-over-year.

CN’s share price declined by $2.59, or 1.54 per cent, to close at $165.35 on Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2024.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CNR)

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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Battle to keep historic town wet and safe, as B.C. fire tally surges, homes destroyed

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BARKERVILLE, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA – The British Columbia gold rush town of Barkerville is drenched, both from overnight rains and sprinklers dousing its timber buildings, some more than 150 years old.

It’s part of an effort to save the historic park that is one of the Cariboo region’s premier tourist attractions from the flames of the Antler Creek wildfire that is burning out of control about three kilometres away, said Stewart Cawood, Barkerville’s public programming and media manager.

“Today is looking better with the rain that we had overnight, but with it being so close and fires being so unpredictable, even with all these protective measures in place, there’s absolutely a concern we could lose the town,” he said.

The storms that have drenched the region are a mixed blessing, soaking the town but also bringing lightning that the BC Wildfire Service fears could cause another burst of wildfire activity in the north and parts of the south after weeks of hot and dry weather.

Lightning is the cause of the vast majority of active fires burning across B.C. and a bulletin from the service says the province saw more than 38,000 strikes on Monday. The province’s active fire tally surged past 400 on Tuesday, including more than 100 new fires detected in the past 24 hours.

In the Thompson-Nicola region, there was confirmation that the nearly 200-square-kilometre Shetland Creek fire had destroyed more than 20 structures in the Venables Valley, where it is burning out of control.

Colton Davies, the district emergency operations centre information officer, said that included six primary residences, and emergency officials had met late Monday with people whose homes may have been lost.

The Shetland and Antler Creek fires are among the four so-called “wildfires of note” in B.C., meaning they pose a threat to life or property or are highly visible.

The 34-square-kilometre Antler Creek fire triggered an evacuation order for Barkerville, Bowron Lake Provincial Park and for the community of Wells, B.C., on Sunday.

Cawood said all visitors, non-essential staff and animals — including a cat, horses, goats and chickens — were evacuated from Barkerville before the order was made on Sunday.

He said only BC wildfire crews and specially trained staff remained at the town, which was established in 1862 when prospector William Barker struck gold. The town’s website says it features more than 125 heritage buildings, and it was declared a National Historic Site of Canada in 1924.

Barkerville was destroyed by a fire in 1868 before being rebuilt. Its protectors are doing what they can to avoid a repeat, saying on the town’s Facebook page that “every drop helps” in the attempt to keep the town wet and safe.

“The sprinkler systems are running throughout the town, so the town is damp at the moment,” Cawood said.

In a post to social media on Monday, the wildfire service said heavy smoke in the region helped to “lessen wildfire behaviour” as groundcrews with heavy equipment established control lines, which are barriers used to contain or control a blaze. But, it noted, the fire may still increase in size and smaller fires may merge with the blaze.

It also said structure protection specialists have deployed systems that are used to create a “humidity bubble” to the site and the surrounding areas. The technique, which includes adding sprinklers to the roofs of buildings, aims to “increase the relative humidity and minimize how embers impact structures ahead of wildfires.”

The number of wildfires in B.C. has soared from less than 100 two weeks ago, with the Shetland Creek fire in the Thompson-Nicola region, and the Aylwin Creek blaze in Central Kootenay also triggering evacuation orders and alerts.

Silverton, B.C., Mayor Tanya Gordon said the weather had cleared smoke near the Central Kootenay village, but it has added to residents’ anxiety because people can now easily see Aylwin and Komondo Creek fires burning just south of the community.

Gordon said the village has not received any updates from the wildfire service on the status of the fires and residents are “anxious” as Highway 6 southbound out of town has been closed.

“The smoke has lifted, and it’s becoming more real,” Gordon said of the fire situation. “Something like this hasn’t happened (in Silverton) for a long time.”

She said residents were also nervous about a number of fires further north on Highway 6, the only major route out of the community.

“When this is over, we definitely need to sit down to think about evacuation routes (in the future),” Gordon says.

The Transport Ministry is discouraging non-essential travel to and within wildfire areas, to reduce road congestion associated with evacuations.

Nearby fires have forced the closures of Highway 1 south of Cache Creek, Highway 26 near Wells and Barkerville, and Highway 6 south of Silverton.

Motorists are also warned to stay off routes from Jasper National Park in Alberta, as thousands of Albertan fire evacuees are forced to drive through B.C. to get to reception centres in Calgary and Grande Prairie.

Those evacuees are being directed back to their own province because B.C. has “no capacity to house Albertans,” according to Alberta Emergency Management Agency managing director Stephen Lacroix.

B.C. has been dealing with an influx of travellers from Jasper since Monday night, when a fire forced park visitors and 4,700 residents of the town to flee west with little notice.

Photos and video on social media show a midnight cavalcade of bumper-to-bumper vehicles making slow progress through swirling smoke.

B.C. Minister of Emergency Management Bowinn Ma said in a social media post that the province would do everything it could to provide safe refuge for evacuees.

The ministry said around midday Tuesday that about 470 properties are on evacuation order in B.C., and another 3,100 were on alert, but called the situation “dynamic and everchanging.”

An evacuation alert is meanwhile in effect for properties on the west side of Williams Lake, where crews stopped a fast-moving fire from advancing further into the central Interior community after it destroyed structures in an industrial area. The River Valley fire is now classified as “being held.”

Environment Canada has issued rainfall warnings for parts of northwestern B.C., while the wildfire service says downpours may be accompanied by hail and erratic winds with the potential to fan fires and affect aerial firefighting and access to dirt roads.

Heat warnings that covered parts of the province for weeks have been lifted, replaced with special air quality statements due to wildfire smoke spanning the length of B.C.’s boundary with Alberta.

— By Brieanna Charlebois and Chuck Chiang in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2024.

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