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Nations to fish for more tuna

Countries fishing the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean agreed Tuesday to expand the annual quota for prized Bluefin tuna to reflect an improvement in their stocks. Environmentalists insisted the increase was excessive and premature.

The 50-nation International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas agreed to hike the quota from 24,000 tons this year to 28,000 next year, with a further 4,000 tons added in each of the following two years.

The decision means the quota has more than doubled from five years ago, when once depleted stocks of Bluefin tuna, a delicacy in sushi and sashimi dishes the world over, first started showing the potential of a recovery.

"We have been able to decide a gradual increase of captures, by staying careful. And we are staying within the scientific advice," Stefaan Depypere, the head of the European Union delegation said in an interview.

Environmentalists insisted the advice was more ambivalent and were bitterly disappointed since they maintain that the recovery of the Bluefin is still too fragile to permit such major increases in fishing quotas.

"This year was an enormous step backwards for sustainable tuna fisheries," said Paulus Tak of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Considering how many species have been overfished to near commercial extinction in the past few decades, from cod off eastern Canada to Mediterranean Bluefin, the challenge of increasing catch quotas and still safeguarding stocks is daunting and fraught with risk.

Some environmental groups are troubled by the ICCAT's scientific findings and think they might be overly optimistic.

Bluefin tuna's annual market value stands around $200 million at the dock and four times more at the final point of sale.



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Call to protect pensions

A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recommends that payments to shareholders such as dividends and share buybacks by companies should be limited if their pension plans are underfunded.

The report says pension regulations must expand to consider broader financial decisions within companies.

It says that in many instances, firms are complying with the minimum required payments under the rules, but they are not making up the shortfalls in the pension plans as fast as they could.

Companies with defined-benefit pension plans have been hurt by the financial crisis and low interest rates, which have increased the amount of money they are required to have in their pension plans to pay future benefits.

When a pension plan is not fully funded, members face the possibility of seeing their pensions reduced if the plan is forced to wind up.

The report noted that the pension plan at Sears Canada has a $267-million shortfall, but the retailer which is in the process of liquidating has paid $1.5 billion in shareholders in dividends and share buybacks since 2010.



Big Pot inevitable?

A new report suggests that 87 per cent of Canadian cannabis companies believe that consolidation is inevitable over the next three years, leaving only a few large players post-legalization.

Consultancy firm EY's survey of 11 licensed producers with varying size and scale — among the approximately 50 licensed producers in the country — also shows that 75 per cent of the respondents believe the market will be dominated by the entrance of big players such as tobacco, pharmaceuticals and alcohol.

The report says these established industries recognize that there is substantial opportunity in cannabis and are expected to enter this space and try to leverage their existing competencies and assets.

The majority of the study's participants also believe craft or niche players will grab a smaller share of the market through innovation, namely by creating new products or derivatives.

Speculation that a wave of consolidation is coming to Canada's marijuana industry, in which larger players buy smaller ones to build scale, was sparked last Wednesday when Saskatoon-based CanniMed Therapeutics Inc. (TSX:CMED) said it needed time to review an unsolicited takeover offer from Aurora Cannabis Inc. (TSX:ACB), a rival marijuana producer in Vancouver.

That same week, CanniMed announced it had reached a deal to acquire Toronto-based Newstrike Resources Ltd. (TSXV:HIP), a producer endorsed by members of rock band The Tragically Hip.

Aurora announced earlier today that it's proceeding with a hostile all-stock takeover attempt for CanniMed after failing to reach an agreement with the company's board by last Friday.



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Realtor rules ripple effect

New provincial rules will change how real estate agents in British Columbia can represent their clients – and the impact will be significant in the Okanagan.

The government announced changes last week aimed at enhancing consumer protection, with the most significant of them banning a practice known as “dual agency.”

Dual agency lets a realtor represent both the buyer and the seller in the same transaction. Many see the practice as problematic, because it puts realtors in a situation where they are unable to act in both clients’ best interest.

Others have argued the practice is useful in specific situations. However, even those who see a place for dual agency admit it has its share of problems.

Regardless, the practice will soon be banned in British Columbia, and that is going to mean big changes for many local realtors.

For more on how common dual agency is in the Okanagan, as well as why one relator thinks the ban is the right move, check out the full story on Castanet's sister business news website, Okanagan Edge.



Big layoffs at Bell Media

Bell Media is confirming union reports that it is laying off employees at radio and TV stations across Canada.

Spokesman Matthew Garrow says in an email that an unspecified number of employees were told last week their jobs would end due to a reorganization designed in part to address declines in advertising revenue.

He also confirms the company is "phasing out" certain sportscasts and well-known anchors due to "evolving viewer behaviour," without being specific about where or who.

Unifor, the union representing on-air and broadcasting technicians at 17 CTV stations, estimates 50 jobs are being eliminated at Bell Media's TV network alone.

It says CFTO sportscasters Joe Tilley and Lance Brown, along with on-air personalities such as Ottawa CTV 2 hosts Melissa Lamb and Lianne Laing and BNN host Michael Kane, are among the casualties.

The union says the cuts mean the end of local sports broadcasts as of Dec. 27 at CTV's flagship station CFTO in Toronto, a move it says has already been made at CTV stations in Edmonton, Calgary, and Montreal.



Nebraska green-lights XL

Nebraska's Public Service Commission has approved TransCanada's Keystone XL route in a 3 to 2 vote, clearing the last major regulatory hurdle for the controversial $10 billion project.

The panel's approval came with a tight margin of victory for the pipeline, which would transport about 830,000 barrels of oil a day from Hardisty, Alta. to Steele City, Neb.

The vote comes as TransCanada continues to clean up a 5,000-barrel oil spill from its pipeline in nearby South Dakota that opponents have pointed to as reason not to approve Keystone XL.

Among other concerns, opponents of the 1,897-kilometre Keystone XL project say the pipeline would pass through the Sandhills, an ecologically fragile region in Nebraska of grass-covered sand dunes, and would cross the land of farmers and ranchers who don't want it.

The commission, however, was specifically prohibited from evaluating safety considerations, including risk or impact of a spill, and will instead rule on issues including regulatory compliance, economic and social impacts of the project, the potential intrusion on natural resources, and whether better routes exist.

Barack Obama rejected Keystone XL in 2015 after years of review, only for President Donald Trump to give the go-ahead to the project in March, saying the pipeline will bring jobs and reduce dependence on foreign oil.



More time on data cap

Telus has joined Rogers Communications Inc. in saying it can't meet a Dec. 1 deadline for completing changes to the way customers are billed for extra data usage and international roaming charges.

Vancouver-based Telus is asking the CRTC for permission to extend the deadline for updating its billing system to March 31, 2018 — although it anticipates some changes will be complete before that time.

Canada's wireless carriers were told last June that they had until Dec. 1 to comply with a number of regulations including how they set caps on wireless data usage and who is authorized to accept extra charges for accounts with more than one device user.

In a letter to the CRTC, Telus says it's "impossible" for the company to implement the changes to its bill management system on time despite its "best efforts."

The CRTC gave Canada's wireless carriers until 8 p.m. ET on Friday to respond to delays requested by Rogers.

Rogers requested a delayed deadline of May 31, 2018, to have its billing system in compliance with the wireless code.



'Don't be a NAFTA Judas'

A former Mexican president has a warning for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Don't abandon our country in NAFTA talks like some modern-day ''Judas.''

Vicente Fox warns that would be a mistake.

Fox told CTV News that it wouldn't do any good if Canada ditched Mexico in pursuit of a one-on-one trade deal with the U.S., in the misguided belief President Donald Trump would go easier on Canada.

Fox made his case using a biblical metaphor — urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau not to behave like the apostle who sold out Jesus Christ.

''He might, like Judas, give us a strike and go with the United States and leave us aside,'' Fox told the network, in an interview airing Sunday night.

''I warn Trudeau, and I warn Canada, you will not make it (better without Mexico).''

The Canadian government has repeatedly said it's committed to working trilaterally to renew NAFTA as a three-country agreement. However, the Canadians have also raised eyebrows in Mexico by occasionally making more ambiguous comments: some Canadian officials have at times suggested they're open to both bilateral or trilateral deals.

Trump says he could do one or the other.

In the CTV interview, Fox also did what he has done repeatedly over the last two years: Blast Trump. Using a few four-letter profanities, the former Mexican president called Trump a destroyer, pitting America against the world.



Don't hurt auto sector

Canadian negotiators intend to provide a briefing to their American peers on how their auto parts proposals would devastate their own domestic industry, in an effort to reset one of the most difficult conversations looming over the renegotiation of NAFTA.

Multiple sources say that at the current round Canada will present information — not a counter-proposal. And they expect Mexico will also hold off presenting a counter-offer on auto parts, which is shaping up to be a key issue.

They say the countries more likely to make progress at the current round in Mexico City on less-controversial files while saving the thornier ones for later in the negotiations, with auto parts decidedly parked in that difficult category.

A U.S. proposal at the last round drew a backlash from Canada, Mexico, the auto industry, and from dozens of American lawmakers who released a public letter blasting it.

The American proposal had four main components: insisting half of a car's parts be from the U.S. to avoid a tariff, drastically increasing the amount of content required from North America overall, toughening the method for calculating the parts percentages, and insisting that companies implement all those changes within a year.

Some auto-parts representatives say that package is so unrealistic it would prompt companies to move production out of North America, build in Asia, and just pay the import tariff, which starts at 2.5 per cent for cars entering the U.S.

The Canadian presentation comes after weeks of consultation with industry players. One of them is present at the talks in Mexico and he welcomes the Canadian approach. Flavio Volpe says the U.S. proposal never made commercial sense, and appeared designed to shock other countries' negotiating parties.

So he says it's logical those other countries would try to reset the conversation — rather than engage on unrealistic terms.

''You turn around and say, 'Okay, guys, if we accept your proposal as your real intention, your real intention is hurtful to your own interests. Do you know that?''' Volpe said in an interview at the hotel where talks are being held through Tuesday.

''You want to hit us? You hit your own (sector) by 20 per cent — that's ridiculous.''

The current round of NAFTA talks in Mexico City will include four days of discussions on rules of origin for different products, including auto parts. The auto component is likely to come up Monday, the day before talks wind up.

Politicians will not attend this round.

After an acrimonious round in Washington last month, there has been an attempt to lower the political temperature of the process, and give negotiators space to work. For starters, the target deadline has been pushed back a few months, into next spring. Also, the countries' lead NAFTA ministers, Chrystia Freeland, Robert Lighthizer and Ildefonso Guajardo, will skip this round.

A union leader representing auto workers agrees with Volpe, who represents the companies that make parts. Unlike the companies, Unifor leader Jerry Dias welcomes more stringent domestic content requirements.

But he agrees the American proposal, as designed, should not be the baseline for a discussion.

Dias asked: why would Canada engage in a serious back-and-forth on auto parts as long as U.S. demands, like a 50-per-cent American content requirement per vehicle, are seen as so impractical they're being derided even within the U.S.?

After speaking with Canada's negotiating team in Mexico, he's confident they share his view. Different government sources have also confirmed to The Canadian Press that no major counter-proposals on hot issues will be made at this round.

''As long as the United States has those types of proposals on the table, Canada will not move at all,'' Dias told reporters staked out in the hotel lobby.

''As long as they are not being flexible then I would expect nobody is going to be flexible. Because why bargain with yourself?... You can't even have a sensible discussion about rules of origin as long as there's a 50-per-cent U.S. content (demand).''

Volpe said the big wild card resides in the White House.

He said the Canadians face a unique challenging in dealing with seasoned, professional negotiators from the office of the United States Trade Representative, while aware that those negotiators could be blind-sided by a president who has repeatedly threatened to start cancelling NAFTA as a negotiating tactic.

He suspects that might be the motive for last month's shock-and-awe U.S. demands. Volpe says the president would be perfectly happy if the other countries left the table, and gave him an excuse to invoke NAFTA's withdrawal clause, as President Donald Trump has frequently said he wants to do.

''The strategic objective was to rupture the talk dynamics, maybe have Canada and Mexico leave. That didn't happen,'' Volpe said.

''The (auto) proposal itself is commercially illogical. It doesn't mean the tactic was without merit. It just didn't work... So they had to come to a reset.''



Nebraska looks at pipeline

Nebraska regulators are set to decide Monday whether to approve or deny an in-state route for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. It's the last major regulatory hurdle facing project operator TransCanada Corp.

The Nebraska Public Service Commission's ruling is on the Nebraska route TransCanada has proposed to complete the $8 billion, 1,179-mile pipeline to deliver oil from Alberta, Canada, to Texas Gulf Coast refineries. The proposed Keystone XL route would cross parts of Montana, South Dakota and most of Nebraska to Steele City, Nebraska.

A vote in favour of the company's proposed route through Nebraska would give a boost to the long-delayed project, which was rejected by President Barack Obama in 2015, citing concerns about carbon pollution. President Donald Trump revived it in March, approving a permit.

The project has faced a barrage of criticism from environmental activists and some landowners for nearly a decade. A ruling against the company would cast renewed doubt on the proposal and could lead to another drawn-out legal fight.

Here are some things to know about the decision:

  • WHAT OPTIONS DOES THE COMMISSION HAVE?

The five-member Nebraska Public Service Commission is forbidden by law from factoring pipeline safety or the risk of spills into its decision because pipeline safety is a federal responsibility. So, it will not take into account a spill of 210,000 gallons of oil on the existing Keystone pipeline in South Dakota announced on Thursday.

The simplest choice is a yes-or-no vote on TransCanada's "preferred route" through a dozen Nebraska counties. But the commission could include major caveats that would add years to the project's timetable.

Commissioners could tweak TransCanada's proposed route, or pick one of the company's "alternative" routes. Company officials have said their preferred route causes the least amount of disruption.

If the commission denies the request outright, state law gives TransCanada a 60-day window to revise and resubmit its proposal for another review.

"It's not as simple as a 'guilty' or 'not guilty' verdict," said Brian Jorde, an attorney for Nebraska landowners who are fighting the project.

No matter what the commission decides, any group that presented arguments at an August hearing could appeal the decision to a state district court. The case would likely end up before the Nebraska Supreme Court.

  • WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE DECISION?

The commission's vote could play a pivotal role in whether TransCanada moves ahead with the pipeline. After years of lobbying for the project, TransCanada acknowledged in a July conference call that executives won't decide until late November or early December whether to begin construction.

TransCanada spokesman Matthew John reiterated that timeline on Wednesday.

"We're going through the process with every intention to get this project built," John said. "But there are factors that we need to work out prior to making that decision," including regulatory approval in Nebraska.

John said the company also needs to finalize its contracts with shippers that want to use the pipeline.

TransCanada has been working to line up long-term contracts for the pipeline, which can carry an estimated 830,000 barrels a day. The company has not announced the results of its open season bidding process, which ended Oct. 26.

  • WILL THERE BE PROTESTS IF THE COMMISSION APPROVES THE PIPELINE?

Opponents in August vowed to stage mass protests against the pipeline if Nebraska regulators approve it, but say they will exhaust legal options first.

Pipeline opponents have lined parts of the proposed route with obstacles, including trees, solar panels, sacred corn from the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and a barn powered by renewable energy. Some opponents may try to physically block construction and have likened their resistance to the activists who protested the Dakota Access Pipeline in Standing Rock, North Dakota.

  • IS KEYSTONE XL STILL FEASIBLE?

Despite low oil prices and repeated delays, TransCanada has a strong financial incentive to keep pursuing the pipeline, said Zachary Rogers, a Houston-based analyst for Wood Mackenzie, an energy research and consulting firm.

Rogers said Western Canadian producers have been forced to ship their product by train, which is more expensive than a pipeline, and Keystone XL would reduce costs and improve their bottom line.

At the same time, Texas refineries face uncertainty because of political instability in Venezuela, one of their top oil sources, and a slowdown in Mexican production.

"Western Canada has been held captive by geography and hasn't been able to cheaply access the markets," Rogers said. "Any opportunity for them to get better access will buoy their margins." 



Tesla unveils electric semi

After more than a decade of making cars and SUVs — and, more recently, solar panels — Tesla Inc. wants to electrify a new type of vehicle: big trucks.

The company unveiled its new electric semitractor-trailer Thursday night near its design centre in Hawthorne, California.

CEO Elon Musk said the semi is capable of travelling 500 miles (804 kilometres) on an electric charge — even with a full 80,000-pound (36,287-kilogram) load — and will cost less than a diesel semi considering fuel savings, lower maintenance and other factors. Musk said customers can put down a $5,000 deposit for the semi now and production will begin in 2019.

"We're confident that this is a product that's better in every way from a feature standpoint," Musk told a crowd of Tesla fans gathered for the unveiling. Musk didn't reveal the semi's price.

Even so, the company already is starting to get orders. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, said in a statement Friday that it has pre-ordered five Tesla units in its Walmart U.S. division and 10 units at Walmart Canada. Midwest retailer Meijer said it has reserved four trucks. And Arkansas trucking company J.B. Hunt said it has reserved "multiple" tractors that it will deploy on the West Coast but didn't specify how many.

The truck will have Tesla's Autopilot system, which can maintain a set speed and slow down automatically in traffic. It also has a system that automatically keeps the vehicle in its lane. Musk said several Tesla semis will be able to travel in a convoy, autonomously following each other.

Musk said Tesla plans a worldwide network of solar-powered "megachargers" that could get the trucks back up to 400 miles of range after charging for only 30 minutes.



Ready to engage on NAFTA

Canada and Mexico are prepared to engage the United States on one of its most contentious demands for NAFTA, in an early indication that proposals currently deemed non-starters could, in theory, be redesigned into something all three countries can live with.

It involves a U.S. idea deemed so hideous by the other parties that they refused to even look at it in the previous negotiating round. But with a significant facelift, the other countries say, the U.S. proposal could be turned into something a little more palatable, or at least worthy of discussion.

That controversial U.S. idea: a five-year sunset clause.

Also referred to as a termination clause, the proposal would end NAFTA after five years unless all three countries agree to extend it. Proposed by the Trump administration at the last negotiating round, the demand was derided by the other countries, business groups, and American lawmakers as a recipe for permanent uncertainty, contrary to the spirit of a trade agreement that is supposed to provide investor confidence.

But as the latest round of talks kicks off in Mexico City, the other countries are revealing a willingness to discuss modifying the idea. They say the termination clause could be turned into a review clause, meaning the agreement would still undergo assessments at regular intervals — without creating a climate of constant uncertainty, in which the deal could be cancelled by default.

The Mexican government has publicly and explicitly acknowledged its willingness to discuss this revised version. Now Canadian officials are saying similar things privately.

"We are going with a counter-proposal: Let's put more force into evaluations, but let's not establish an automatic phase-out mechanism," Mexico's economy minister, Ildefonso Guajardo, said this week. "Let's establish a commitment that every five years we will evaluate what is happening, an analysis, what effects the agreement is having. And based on those results, each country can decide what to do in the future."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland have frequently spoken about the value of reviewing trade agreements, but have not publicly discussed the idea of embedding such a practice in a formal clause of NAFTA.

Yet one Canadian official speaking on the condition that he not be identified opened the door on Thursday to discussing the idea.

He said the notion of periodic NAFTA performance reviews is not new in trade agreements, nor is it something Canada would be unhappy to discuss should other countries wish to.

But he said the original proposal of a so-called sunset clause remains out of bounds. He said it would make for permanent uncertainty, and is unnecessary as NAFTA already has a six-month termination clause that can be invoked at any time by an unhappy signatory.



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