North America Brief
Issue 10 | July 2023

The North America Brief is a compilation of stories and links on the United States and Mexico’s trade relationship with Canada’s Prairie provinces focusing on stories and topics not always “on the front page” of mainstream media.

In this issue: Wildfires know no borders, Richardson to Upgrade CPKC Rail Line Elevators in Western Canada and more. 

Wildfires know no borders

Canada is grappling with its worst-ever wildfire season and recruiting firefighters is proving tough due to labor shortages and the grueling nature of the job, say officials. According to a recent survey conducted by Reuters, across all 13 provinces and territories, Canada currently has approximately 5,500 wildland firefighters in its employ. That number is about 2500 firefighters short of what is needed, according to wildfire specialist Mike Flannigan at Thompson Rivers University.  

In a move to enhance collaboration on wildfire management, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Cohen have officially signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The agreement solidifies the long-standing ad-hoc cooperation between the two countries and streamlines the process for deploying U.S. firefighters to assist Canada during wildfires and vice versa. By cutting through bureaucratic obstacles and improving information-sharing, the deal aims to prevent fires from going unmanaged due to lack of resources. Canada will gain access to more firefighters from the U.S. and also advanced U.S. satellite data for better wildland fire management knowledge. 

But it’s not just a bilateral battle – recently 100 Mexican firefighters were deployed in Ontario as 19 out of 52 active wildland fires are not yet controlled across the province. 

“But surprisingly little co-ordination exists at a national or international scale,” experts Robert Gray and Robin Gregory wrote in the Globe and Mail. The real work gets done on the ground. Good news is that the Premier of British Columbia met with the governors of Washington, Oregon, and California recently to address the wildfire crisis in the Western North America region 

 The extent of the fires across Canada, covering approximately 76,000 square kilometers (29,000 square miles), surpasses the combined area burned in the years 2016, 2019, 2020, and 2022. The emissions mark the highest recorded since satellite monitoring commenced in 2003, with eastern Canada’s fires contributing significantly to this surge.  

The economic toll from the fires that Canada is bracing for is big. Transportation infrastructure, lumber and tourism are just a few industries taking hits this summer. More on that here 

You can track Canada’s fires here (Purple: Low, Green: Moderate, Yellow: High, Orange: Very High, Red: Extreme)  

Richardson to upgrade CPKC rail line elevators in Western Canada

Richardson International plans to upgrade eight elevators along the Canadian Pacific Kansas City (CPKC) rail lines in Western Canada. This initiative will enable the facilities to load longer trains under CPKC’s high efficiency product (HEP) model. Richardson aims to increase capacity and efficiency, benefiting from CPKC’s extensive network across Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. The elevator locations set for upgrading include Lacombe, Carseland, Provost, Olds, Estevan, Whitewood, Nokomis, and Dundonald. Construction will begin this summer and is expected to be completed by the end of 2024.  

No more Meta and Google news for Canada

Canada is set to pass a bill that will require tech giants Google and Meta to compensate media outlets for their use of news content on their platforms. The bill aims to level the playing field between online advertising giants and financially strained newsrooms. As a reaction, Meta has confirmed its compliance by discontinuing news availability on Facebook and Instagram for Canadian users. Though the timeline for this change remains undisclosed, Meta’s head of public policy in Canada confirmed with Power & Politics that the company is “proceeding towards ending the availability of news permanently in Canada.”  

The biotech battle continues

Mexico has officially implemented a 50 per cent tariff on imports of white corn. The measure, effective until year-end, comes amidst a trade dispute with Canada and the United States over genetically modified corn. While white corn was initially exempt from tariffs to control inflation, the government has now found this approach insufficient in reducing prices. Although Mexico mainly imports white corn from the U.S. and South Africa, this tariff poses complications within the existing trade dispute, potentially violating the US-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement.  

Canada has opted to become a third party in the United States’ request for dispute settlement talks regarding Mexico’s agricultural biotechnology restrictions. The announcement came from Canada’s trade and agriculture ministers, Mary Ng and Marie-Claude Bibeau, on the deadline day for joining the U.S. challenge under the Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade agreement. Both nations share concerns that Mexico’s measures lack scientific support and could disrupt trade in the North American market. Canada’s participation seeks to reinstate regulatory predictability and support its canola growers. 

Unlike the United States, Canada does not export much corn to Mexico. Canada’s largest agri-food export to Mexico, valued at approximately $1.6 billion in 2022, is canola and canola-based products. And although the Mexican government has not explicitly mentioned canola in its regulations aimed at biotech corn and glyphosate, there are apprehensions that the canola export market may be straying from science-based regulations. Chris Davison, Vice President of Stakeholder and Industry Relations at the Canola Council of Canada, emphasizes the significance of Mexico as an entry point for Canadian canola and highlights Canada’s vested interest in this matter. 

Canada-Mexico energy complications

The Canadian federal government faces a balancing act in its approach to Mexico’s economic growth. While desiring both increased trade and improved labour rights, conflicts arise from mining reform and agriculture regulations that have upset Canadian firms. Mexico’s progress in unionizing, with assistance from Canada, includes revised or signed contracts that boost industry compensation by 20 per cent.  

Enerflex, a Canadian energy infrastructure company, has initiated investment arbitration proceedings with the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) following a Mexican court’s ruling to grant over $120 million in damages to a former employee. The labour dispute, which originated in 2015 when the ex-employee filed a lawsuit against Enerflex’s subsidiaries, resulted in a prior payout of 1.41 million pesos (equivalent to over $80,000) by the company in 2017. Enerflex has engaged in discussions with Mexican economy ministry officials regarding the matter, while the ministry has yet to comment on the situation. 

We are still talking about Keystone XL

 A recent report by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is urging the Canadian government to oppose TC Energy in its dispute with the United States over the Keystone XL project. TC Energy is seeking $15 billion in lost revenue from the abandoned pipeline and the think tank argues that supporting the company runs counter to Canada’s interests. More on this here.

Other News

  • The upcoming July meeting between trade representatives from the United States, Canada and Mexico will be hosted in Cancun. This meeting marks the third gathering of the Free Trade Commission (FTC) under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). 
  • The CONCACAF Gold Cup was this past weekend. See how Canada, Mexico and the U.S. did here. 
  • Most Canadian provinces lag way behind U.S. states when it comes to productivity. Check it out here 
  • Canadian women’s basketball team defeats Mexico in a battle for a spot at 2024 Olympics. Four out of 12 players are representing Western Canada. 

— Taylor Blaisdell, policy analyst

The North America Brief is a compilation of stories and links related to the U.S. and Mexico’s relationship with Canada’s West. The opinions expressed in the links don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Canada West Foundation.