Mexico’s effort to stamp out employment contracts signed behind the backs of workers has “significant weaknesses” and should be reformed, said a U.S. advisory board that monitors Mexico’s compliance with a new regional trade pact.
The Independent Mexico Labor Expert Board (IMLEB), which was created by the U.S. Congress, flagged a disputed ballot at a General Motors plant as an example of shortfalls in a new Mexican labor law requiring “legitimation” votes in a bid to end the widespread practice of unions and companies signing contracts without workers’ knowledge.
That is also a priority of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) a year ago and includes a mechanism to sanction companies that do not comply with labor provisions.
“The legitimation process continues to have very significant weaknesses,” the IMLEB said in a report to U.S. labor officials and lawmakers on Wednesday.
U.S. Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democrat who chairs a trade subcommittee, praised the report that documents “chilling threats and harassment workers face south of the border. The Labor Board is right: we must have improvements to protect the rights of workers to independently and democratically ratify collective bargaining agreements.”
Mexico’s labor ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has said it is looking at ways to improve the process of ratifying votes.
The union-led vote at GM’s plant in Guanajuato state in April, in which workers were to choose whether to keep their current collective contract, was scrapped after Mexican officials found problems including destroyed ballots.
One of the board’s concerns was that the unions tasked with organizing such votes are not neutral.
“The vote at the General Motors factory in Silao, Guanajuato brought into sharp focus the risks involved,” the report said.
The board recommended that government representatives instead conduct the votes, with the authority to investigate and fix problems. It also suggested that a contract be canceled if a union commits any “serious violations” during the vote.
Mexico’s labor ministry has told GM’s union that it must re-do the vote before Aug. 20 or lose the contract, and is working with the United States on a remediation plan after U.S. authorities filed a complaint under USMCA labor provisions.
Only a fraction of the tens of thousands of contracts in Mexico due to be legitimated under the new rules have so far gone to a vote ahead of a May 2023 deadline, and the labor ministry has said some unions may let contracts expire.
The board warned that even getting through the 80,000 to 100,000 contracts expected to go to a vote could require a massive workload of more than 100 votes per day for two years.
(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon and David Shepardson; Editing by Andrea Ricci and David Gregorio)
Clean fuel standards allow companies to get both tax credits and sell carbon credits
OTTAWA — Canada’s new emissions standards for gasoline and diesel will allow oil companies that get a federal tax break for installing carbon capture and storage systems to also generate credits based on those systems, which they can then sell to refineries and fuel importers.
Cabinet approved the final regulations for the Clean Fuel Standard last week and The Canadian Press obtained them Monday ahead of their intended publication July 6.
The regulations require Canadian companies that produce or import gasoline or diesel to register as “primary suppliers” and then show how they are ratcheting down the life cycle emissions for the fuels by a fixed amount every year until 2030.
Life cycle emissions include every greenhouse gas produced from initial extraction, through refining, upgrading and transporting, to their final use such as to power a vehicle.
To comply with the new standards, companies need to show that they have reduced the life cycle emissions the required amount through a variety of activities, including buying credits from other companies along the life cycle chain that have reduced their own emissions.
Those credits can come from things such as building electric vehicle charging stations, replacing coal or natural gas power plants with renewable electricity sources, producing and distributing biofuels, or investments in clean technology including carbon capture and storage.
Carbon capture projects that benefit from the new federal tax credit — worth 50 to 60 per cent of the project’s cost — can also generate Clean Fuel Standard credits for sale.
“So they’re double counting,” said NDP environment critic Laurel Collins.
Collins said the Clean Fuel Standard is an “essential” tool to drive investments and conversions to renewable energy, but as it currently stands, it’s not appearing to be doing much of that.
Keith Stewart, the senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada, said double counting projects isn’t going to generate additional emissions cuts, and instead just takes the financial weight off companies that are now rolling in cash.
“There is no rational way anyone should get a credit for the Clean Fuel Standard, and a 50 per cent tax credit, along with being able to write it off on the royalties, at a time when oil companies are making more money than God,” he said.
The federal government watered down the Clean Fuel Standard plan in 2020 at a time when fossil fuel companies were struggling because of a pandemic-related oil price plunge. But in 2022, oil prices have surged, largely because of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, and most Canadian companies reported record profits or near-record profits in the first quarter.
Collins is also dismayed that the implementation timeline for the new standards is being pushed back another six months. The draft regulations published in December said they would take effect in December 2022, but the final regulations push that back to the second half of 2023.
An Environment and Climate Change Canada official speaking on background because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the regulations yet said the date was moved to allow a longer time to create the emissions reductions credits gasoline and diesel producers need to comply with the emissions standards.
The Canadian Fuels Association wouldn’t comment on the final version of the regulations until the government officially releases them but said it has long supported the plan.
“The CFA and its members are obligated parties and have consistently been on the public record in support of the Clean Fuel (Standard) because it promotes a ‘technology neutral’ approach to decarbonizing fuels and provides policy certainty that is necessary for companies to plan and invest in low carbon fuels projects,” a statement from the association said Tuesday.
“In preparation for this regulation our members have already committed to billions of dollars of investments in low-carbon fuel technologies.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press
Support dogs to comfort victims at Quebec’s specialized sexual violent courts
QUEBEC — Some Quebec domestic assault and sexual violence victims will be able to be accompanied by a support dog during court appearances.
Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette says a pilot project is being launched in collaboration with a guide dog training foundation and the province’s crime victims assistance group.
Support dogs will be offered in the province’s specialized courts that were recently created to handle cases of sexual violence and domestic assault.
Jolin-Barrette says the animals’ presence will provide comfort to victims and help them feel more confident and safe as they navigate the legal process.
The courts are located in Quebec City, Beauharnois and Bedford, in the Montérégie region; Drummond, in the Centre-du-Québec region; and St-Maurice, in the Mauricie area.
The Quebec legislature adopted a bill last year to create the specialized tribunals, which are designed to offer a supportive environment to victims who come forward to denounce their alleged abusers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.
The Canadian Press
Trudeau expected to face tough questions on Canadian military spending at NATO summit
MADRID — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to face tough questions at a major NATO summit this week as a new report released by the alliance ahead of the meeting shows Canada heading in the wrong direction when it comes to military spending.
Members of the 30-member military alliance agreed in 2014 to increase their defence spending to two per cent of their national gross domestic product, and the target is expected to be front and centre when the summit begins on Wednesday.
Trudeau met with NATO leaders Tuesday evening at a dinner hosted at the royal palace in Madrid by King Felipe VI, and will begin formal talks in the morning.
The new report released by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg estimates Canadian defence spending will instead decline as a share of GDP to 1.27 per cent this year, down from 1.32 per cent last year and 1.42 per cent in 2020.
The report did not specify the reason for the expected decline, or whether it includes $8 billion in new military spending that was promised in April’s federal budget and whose purpose has not been clearly defined.
Asked about the report during a news conference at the end of this year’s G7 meeting in Germany, as he prepared to head to Madrid for the NATO leaders’ summit, Trudeau said the government has announced several “significant” new investments.
Those include $4.9 billion to upgrade Norad, the shared U.S.-Canadian system used to detect incoming airborne and maritime threats to North America, as well as plans to buy new fighter jets to replace Canada’s aging CF-18s.
The prime minister also said Canada has repeatedly proven its commitment to the NATO alliance by deploying troops and equipment on a variety of missions, including by leading a multinational NATO force in Latvia.
“Canada is always part of NATO missions and continues to step up significantly,” Trudeau said.
“We know how important it is to step up and we will continue to do so to make sure that the world knows that it can count on Canada to be part of advancing the cause of democracy, the rule of law and opportunities for everyone,” he added.
Successive Canadian governments have shown little appetite for meeting the two per cent spending target, which the parliamentary budget officer has estimated would require an extra $75 billion over the next five years.
They have instead emphasized Canada’s numerous other commitments to the alliance, including the provision of 700 Canadian troops to Latvia along with several naval warships to assist with NATO patrols in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean.
That is despite Canada having agreed to the target, as well as repeated exhortations from Stoltenberg and criticism from American officials in Washington calling on Ottawa to invest more in its military and collective defence.
The continuing decline in Canadian defence spending as a share of GDP will almost certainly lead to even more pointed questions for Trudeau in Madrid than was already expected, said defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.
This is particularly true given confusion surrounding the government’s announcement last week that it plans to invest in Norad modernization, with uncertainty around where the money is actually coming from, when it will be spent and on what.
“I would assume that they were hoping to send a message with the continental defence piece that irrespective of what’s happening in Europe, Canada’s got other defence commitments and that contributes to overall alliance security,” Perry said.
“But the mechanics of how the continental defence piece rolled out would take away from some of that.”
That defence spending is on a downward track when Canada is facing pressure to contribute more overseas and struggling with significant military personnel and equipment shortfalls is also a concern, said Robert Baines of the NATO Association of Canada.
“I’ve always been amazed that Prime Minister Trudeau has facility for dancing over the very serious situation Canada is facing when it comes to defence,” Baines said. “Trying to do so much, and then having so many resource issues and challenges.”
To that end, Trudeau sidestepped a question over whether Canada is prepared to send more troops to Latvia, as NATO seeks to double the size of its forces throughout eastern Europe in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Latvia’s ambassador to Canada told The Canadian Press earlier this week that Canada is talking with allies about reinforcing the Canadian-led battlegroup in his country.
The battlegroup in Latvia is one of four established by NATO in 2017, with Germany leading another such unit in Lithuania and Britain and the United States responsible for forces in Estonia and Poland, respectively.
Germany and Britain have both said in recent weeks that they are ready to lead larger combat units in Lithuania and Estonia, but Canada has so far remained silent about its plans in Latvia.
Trudeau also wouldn’t say whether Canada is prepared to put more of the military on high readiness, as Stoltenberg announced on Monday that the alliance plans to increase the number of troops on standby from 40,000 to 300,000.
“We have been working closely with NATO partners, with the secretary-general of NATO, and especially with the Latvians, where Canada leads the (battlegroup) and is committed to making sure we continue to stand up against Russian,” Trudeau said.
“We, like others, are developing plans to be able to scale up rapidly,” he added. “And those are conversations that I very much look forward to having over the next couple of days in NATO.”
Baines predicted whatever additional troops and equipment are added to the Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia will predominantly come from other NATO members as Canada only recently deployed more troops to the region.
The government announced in February that it was sending an artillery unit and 100 additional soldiers to bolster the 600 Canadian troops already in the Baltic state. It also recently deployed two additional warships to the region.
Perry said it remains unclear how much more the Canadian military, which is short about 10,000 service members, has to spare.
“Maybe there’s an ability to find some more at the back of the cupboard,” he said.
“But if the alliance is going to collectively be stepping up with some additional … troop and equipment commitments, then I’m sure there’d be lots of pressure on us to be part of that as well.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.
— With files from Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press
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