Canada looks to women to bolster trades amid post-pandemic labor shortage

By Julie Gordon

OTTAWA (Reuters) -A shortage of skilled workers is intensifying in Canada, potentially threatening the pace of the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and that has policymakers looking at a largely untapped market for new construction workers: Women.

But attracting and retaining women in the skilled trades has long proven difficult, with tradeswomen and advocates citing challenges balancing childcare and on-site work, the stubborn sexism still ingrained in some workplaces, and a lack of opportunities for women to get a foot in the door.

Vanessa Miller was a young single mom when she decided to scrap university for welding. She got her journeyperson ticket and became a rarity in Canada: a woman with her own welding rig, a truck kitted out with all the equipment needed to do big jobs.

“Every time you go to a different job and nobody knows who you are, you have to prove yourself,” she said, speaking from her home in Regina, Saskatchewan. “It’s still difficult to break into the industry, it’s still very male dominated.”

Canada, like other developed nations, is facing a shortage of skilled trade workers just as a pandemic stimulus-backed building boom gets underway. At the same, more women than men remain unemployed because of the pandemic, and about 54,000 women have left the labor force since February 2020.

The gap between women’s labor force participation and men’s costs the Canadian economy C$100 billion ($79.3 billion) each year, said Carrie Freestone, an economist at RBC.

“Obviously skilled trades are a good opportunity,” Freestone said.

In its latest budget, Canada’s Liberal government pledged C$470 million ($373.2 million) to support the hiring of new apprentices for the most in-demand trades. Companies that hire women, Indigenous people and other minority groups get double the funding.

But women working in the trades and union leaders say it will take more than just money to get more women in the trades, they need work opportunities.

“We’re doing the work to mentor tradeswomen, to build our supply of under-represented groups,” said Lindsay Amundsen, director of workforce development at Canada’s Building Trades Unions. “Now we need these things legislated in large infrastructure projects. We need to put these people to work.”

Canada has suggested employment thresholds, or quotas, for certain groups – like women and Indigenous people – on major projects that get federal support, but it is up to the provinces to set them, a spokesperson at the infrastructure ministry said.

On Thursday, Canada set out C$2.4 million over five years to help diversify apprentices working in the carpentry trades.

RETENTION WOES

More than a decade ago, the province of Newfoundland and Labrador realized that efforts to get women more interested in the trades were working, but few were sticking with it.

The province funded the Office to Advance Women Apprentices (OAWA) to connect tradeswomen with employers and also mandated the hiring of women and other under-represented groups, like Indigenous people, on major projects.

By 2017, about 14% of construction tradespeople working in Newfoundland and Labrador were women, far above the national average of 3-4%, though some barriers remain.

When journeyperson millwright Cassandra Whalen landed in remote Voisey’s Bay, Labrador for a recent job, she discovered there was no safety equipment in her size on site.

“I needed a respirator, I needed gloves and I needed a harness, none of which they had in size small,” she said. “They had to be flown in.”

But Whalen loves her work, and says union advocacy has made the industry more inclusive.

One of the unions leading the charge is UA Canada, which pays up to 24 weeks salary to pregnant members unable to work due to safety risks. They also pay a top-up for both men and women who take parental leave after a baby is born.

“I really think it does help with the retention for sure,” said Alanna Marklund, a national manager at UAC who is also a journeyperson welder.

But childcare continues to be an issue for many tradeswomen. Several tradeswomen interviewed by Reuters said they depended on family members or spouses to help care for young children.

Maggie Budden, a journeyperson ironworker, ended up taking a job in a bank after her children were born. “Unfortunately with construction you need to travel and I could not do that with my daughters,” she said. She now runs the newest branch of OAWA, in Cape Breton.

Daniella Francis was living in Ontario when she started considering the trades, but she couldn’t find any programs for women in her province. She ended up moving her entire family to Alberta and is now an apprentice plumber.

“There needs to be more options,” she said, adding however: “I would say, as a woman, don’t be afraid to go into the trades. Things are changing.”

($1 = 1.2594 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Canada border guards vote to strike days ahead of U.S. border reopening

By Moira Warburton

VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Canadian border guards and customs officials voted on Tuesday to go on strike just days ahead of the reopening of the border with the United States, unions representing the workers said, after working for three years without a contract.

A strike would slow down commercial traffic at the land border, the unions said, as well as impact international mail and collection of duties and taxes. But a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said 90% of employees have been identified as “essential” so will continue to work in the event of a strike.

Last week, Canada announced plans to reopen its border to fully vaccinated Americans on Aug. 9, and allowing international travelers starting on Sept. 7. The border has been shut for non-essential travel for more than 16 months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU) said in a joint statement that strike action could begin as soon as Aug. 6 after 8,500 members voted in favor of the action. Contract talks reached an impasse in December 2020, the unions said.

“Taking strike action is always a last resort, but we’re grappling with systemic workplace harassment issues that must be addressed,” Mark Weber, CIU national president, said.

CBSA spokesperson Judith Gadbois said officers have proven their resilience since the beginning of the pandemic by helping to prevent the spread of the virus and its variants.

“We expect that our officers will continue to fulfill their duties with the highest level of integrity and professionalism.”

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Additional reporting by Anna Mehler-Paperny in Toronto; editing by Grant McCool)

U.S extends travel restrictions at Canada, Mexico land borders through Aug. 21

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. land borders with Canada and Mexico will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least Aug. 21, the U.S. Homeland Security Department said on Wednesday.

The 30-day extension came after Canada announced Monday it will start allowing fully-vaccinated U.S. visitors into the country on Aug. 9 for non-essential travel after the COVID-19 pandemic forced an unprecedented 16-month ban that many businesses complained was crippling them.

One difficult question for the Biden administration is whether it would follow Canada’s lead and require all visitors to be vaccinated for COVID-19 before entering the United States, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters.

The White House plans a new round of high-level meetings to discuss the travel restrictions and the potential of mandating COVID-19 vaccines, but no decisions have been made, the sources said.

In early June, the White House launched interagency working groups with the European Union, Britain, Canada, and Mexico to look at how to eventually to lift restrictions.

Businesses in Canada and the United States, particularly the travel and airline industries, pushed for an end to restrictions on non-essential travel between the two countries, which were imposed in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.

Since then, the land border has been closed to all non-essential travel. However, the United States has allowed Canadians to fly in, while Canada has not allowed Americans to do the same.

The United States has continued to extend the restrictions on Canada and Mexico on a monthly basis since March 2020.

Airlines and others have urged the administration to lift restrictions covering most non-U.S. citizens who have recently been in Britain, the 26 Schengen nations in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Canada to ease border measures, welcome vaccinated U.S. tourists next month

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada will start allowing fully-vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents into the country on Aug. 9 for non-essential travel as the threat from the COVID-19 pandemic fades, Ottawa said on Monday.

Businesses on both sides of the border, particularly the travel and airline industries, are demanding an end to restrictions on non-essential travel between Canada and the United States which were first imposed in March 2020.

Fully-vaccinated visitors from countries other than the United States will be permitted to enter beginning on Sept. 7. The relaxation depends on Canada’s COVID-19 epidemiology remaining favorable, the government said in a statement.

“Thanks to the hard work of Canadians, rising vaccination rates and declining COVID-19 cases, the government … is able to move forward with adjusted border measures,” it said.

People eligible to enter Canada must have been fully vaccinated at least 14 days beforehand. From Aug. 9, Ottawa is also lifting the requirement that all travelers arriving by air must spend three nights in a hotel.

The government repeated that Canadians should avoid non-essential travel abroad.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Steve SchererEditing by Paul Simao)

U.S. and allies accuse China of global hacking spree

By Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and its allies accused China on Monday of a global cyberespionage campaign, mustering an unusually broad coalition of countries to publicly call out Beijing for hacking.

The United States was joined by NATO, the European Union, Britain, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Canada in condemning the spying, which U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said posed “a major threat to our economic and national security.”

Simultaneously, the U.S. Department of Justice charged four Chinese nationals – three security officials and one contract hacker – with targeting dozens of companies, universities and government agencies in the United States and abroad.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Chinese officials have previously said China is also a victim of hacking and opposes all forms of cyberattacks.

While a flurry of statements from Western powers represent a broad alliance, cyber experts said the lack of consequences for China beyond the U.S. indictment was conspicuous. Just a month ago, summit statements by G7 and NATO warned China and said it posed threats to the international order.

Adam Segal, a cybersecurity expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, called Monday’s announcement a “successful effort to get friends and allies to attribute the action to Beijing, but not very useful without any concrete follow-up.”

Some of Monday’s statements even seemed to pull their punches. While Washington and its close allies such as the United Kingdom and Canada held the Chinese state directly responsible for the hacking, others were more circumspect.

NATO merely said that its members “acknowledge” the allegations being leveled against Beijing by the U.S., Canada, and the UK. The European Union said it was urging Chinese officials to rein in “malicious cyber activities undertaken from its territory” – a statement that left open the possibility that the Chinese government was itself innocent of directing the espionage.

The United States was much more specific, formally attributing intrusions such as the one that affected servers running Microsoft Exchange earlier this year to hackers affiliated with China’s Ministry of State Security. Microsoft had already blamed China.

U.S. officials said the scope and scale of hacking attributed to China has surprised them, along with China’s use of “criminal contract hackers.”

“The PRC’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) has fostered an ecosystem of criminal contract hackers who carry out both state-sponsored activities and cybercrime for their own financial gain,” Blinken said.

U.S. security and intelligence agencies outlined more than 50 techniques and procedures that “China state-sponsored actors” use against U.S. networks, a senior administration official said.

Washington in recent months has focused heavy attention on Russia in accusing Russian hackers of a string of ransomware attacks in the United States.

The senior administration official said U.S. concerns about Chinese cyber activities have been raised with senior Chinese officials. “We’re not ruling out further action to hold the PRC accountable,” the official said.

The United States and China have already been at loggerheads over trade, China’s military buildup, disputes about the South China Sea, a crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong and treatment of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region.

Blinken cited the Justice Department indictments as an example of how the United States will impose consequences.

The defendants and officials in the Hainan State Security Department, a regional state security office, tried to hide the Chinese government’s role in the information theft by using a front company, according to the indictment.

The campaign targeted trade secrets in industries including aviation, defense, education, government, health care, biopharmaceutical and maritime industries, the Justice Department said.

Victims were in Austria, Cambodia, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“These criminal charges once again highlight that China continues to use cyber-enabled attacks to steal what other countries make, in flagrant disregard of its bilateral and multilateral commitments,” Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in the statement.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, David Shepardson, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)

Forest fire guts small western Canada town after days of record-breaking heat

(Reuters) -A wildfire that began after three days of record-breaking temperatures has destroyed most of the small western Canadian town of Lytton and damaged a nearby hydro power station, a local politician said on Thursday.

Lytton, in central British Columbia, was evacuated a day earlier. This week it broke Canada’s all-time hottest temperature record three times.

Officials braced for more sizzling weather and the threat of more wildfires from a deadly heat wave that also ravaged the U.S. Northwest with record-high temperatures.

“The town has sustained structural damage and 90% of the village is burned, including the center of the town,” Brad Vis, a Member of Parliament for Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, said in a Facebook post.

He said the fire also caused extensive damage to BC Hydro stations and highways, limiting access to Lytton by road.

Amateur video footage showed residents scrambling to get out of town in their cars as fires burned down trees and some structures. The fire spread so swiftly that people were forced to leave behind their belongings and pets.

Lytton Mayor Jan Polderman ordered everyone in the town of 250 to vacate late on Wednesday.

“It’s dire. The whole town is on fire,” Polderman told the CBC. “It took, like, a whole 15 minutes from the first sign of smoke to, all of a sudden, there being fire everywhere.”

Residents of another 87 properties north of Lytton were also ordered to leave on Wednesday.

Lytton set a record of 49.6 degrees Celsius (121.28 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday. The previous high in Canada, known for brutally cold winters, was 45 degrees Celsius, set in Saskatchewan in 1937.

On Wednesday, strong winds gusting up to 71 kph (44 mph) were recorded in the area, further flaming the fires.

In British Columbia, at least 486 sudden deaths were reported over five days to Wednesday, nearly three times the usual number that would occur in the province over that period, the B.C. Coroners Service said on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Denny Thomas in Toronto; Editing by Howard Goller and David Gregorio)

Death rate soars as Canada’s British Columbia suffers “extreme heat”

(Reuters) – The Canadian province of British Columbia suffered nearly double the average deaths as temperatures hit a record high of 46.6°C (115.88°F) during the past four days of “extreme heat,” officials said on Tuesday.

At least 233 people died in the West coast province between Friday and Monday, about 100 more than the average for a four-day period, and the number was expected to rise as more reports were filed, officials said.

“Since the onset of the heat wave late last week, the BC Coroners Service has experienced a significant increase in deaths reported where it is suspected that extreme heat has been contributory,” BC Coroners Service said on Monday.

Coroners are now gathering information to determine the cause and manner of deaths and whether heat played a role, the statement said.

Environmental heat exposure can lead to severe or fatal results, particularly in older people, infants and young children and those with chronic illnesses, Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a statement.

British Columbia closed schools and universities on Monday as temperatures soared.

Lytton, a town in central British Columbia roughly 200km (124 miles) north of Vancouver, reported a temperature of 46.6°C (115.88°F) on Sunday.

Canada is widely known for its brutal winter and snows, and prior to the weekend the historical high in Canada was 45°C, set in Saskatchewan in 1937, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, which is more accustomed to long bouts of rain than sun, resulted from a high pressure system that wasn’t moving, said Greg Flato, a senior research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada based in Victoria.

(Reporting by Juby Babu and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Canadian indigenous group finds 751 unmarked graves at former residential school

By Anna Mehler Paperny and Moira Warburton

(Reuters) -An indigenous group in Canada’s Saskatchewan province on Thursday said it had found the unmarked graves of 751 people at a now-defunct Catholic residential school, just weeks after a similar discovery rocked the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “terribly saddened” by the new discovery at Marieval Indian Residential School about 87 miles (140 km) from the provincial capital Regina.

He told indigenous people that “the hurt and the trauma that you feel is Canada’s responsibility to bear.”

It is not clear how many of the remains detected belong to children, Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme told reporters.

He said the church that ran the school removed the headstones.

“We didn’t remove the headstones. Removing headstones is a crime in this country. We are treating this like a crime scene,” he said.

The residential school system, which operated between 1831 and 1996, removed about 150,000 indigenous children from their families and brought them to Christian residential schools run on behalf of the federal government.

“Canada will be known as a nation who tried to exterminate the First Nations. Now we have evidence,” said Bobby Cameron, Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.

“This is just the beginning.”

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which published a report that found the country’s residential school system amounted to cultural genocide, has said a cemetery was left on the Marieval site after the school building was demolished.

Cowessess First Nation has been in touch with the local Catholic archdiocese and Delorme said he is optimistic they will provide records allowing them to identify the remains.

“We have full faith that the Roman Catholic Church will release our records. They haven’t told us ‘No.’ We just don’t have them yet.”

The Cowessess First Nation began a ground-penetrating radar search on June 2, after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia outraged the country.

The Kamloops discovery reopened old wounds in Canada about the lack of information and accountability around the residential school system, which forcibly separated indigenous children from their families and subjected them to malnutrition and physical and sexual abuse.

Pope Francis said in early June that he was pained by the Kamloops revelation and called for respect for the rights and cultures of native peoples. But he stopped short of the direct apology some Canadians had demanded.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto and Moira Warburton in VancouverEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

What special relationship? Canada grimaces amid hail of U.S. trade blows

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a cordial first meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in February, marking an end to years of battles with the Trump administration, a relieved Canadian official said, “We feel we are off to the races here.”

But old trade disputes that flared up during the Trump years show no signs of fading.

Last month Washington announced plans to double duties on imports of Canadian lumber and requested a dispute panel on Canada’s dairy import quotas. Biden is also promising a Buy America procurement plan that could hurt Canadian exporters.

The timing is awkward for Trudeau ahead of a likely election later this year, especially since his ruling center-left Liberals have traditionally enjoyed better relationships with the Democrats than the opposition Conservative Party.

“Canada’s economic relationship with the United States is breaking down rapidly,” said Candice Bergen, deputy Conservative leader, noting that “for months the Liberals have been telling us how much they agree with the Americans.”

The Trump era was exhausting for Canada, which sends 75% of its goods exports to the United States. At one point Trump called Trudeau “dishonest and weak” and threatened to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement unless it could be renegotiated.

But the new-found cordial atmosphere has not blunted a dispute over U.S. allegations Canada is unfairly limiting imports of dairy products. Another contentious issue is Canadian softwood lumber exports, which U.S. producers have long complained are unfairly subsidized.

On lumber, “the United States has not been willing to reach an agreement; We are,” Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan tersely told legislators last month.

Signs of trouble emerged early. Within hours of taking power, Biden revoked the permit needed to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline, killing an $8 billion project that would have brought Canadian crude to U.S. markets.

Canadian officials now want the White House to help solve another energy challenge in Michigan, where the governor wants to close a pipeline operated by Canada’s Enbridge Inc. The Biden team has declined to intervene.

Yet despite the recent unhappiness, there are big differences between the two U.S. administrations, Canadian officials say.

Biden, unlike Trump, is not threatening to scrap continental free trade. He has also not imposed tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel on national security grounds.

Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau played down suggestions of a rift.

“We can’t eliminate all the different issues that are important for the Americans. We have to deal with them one by one,” he told a Montreal business audience this month. “There is always going to be a bit of back and forth between our two nations.”

In private, however, Canadian officials are even blunter.

“The idea the Biden administration is bad for us on trade is nonsense,” said one senior source with direct knowledge of government thinking. “The Canada-U.S. trading relationship is largely open and free flowing.”

Chris Sands, head of the Canada Institute at the Washington-based Wilson Center, said Ottawa had been too optimistic about the potential for cooperation.

“I do think expectations ran ahead of the likely way that the Biden administration would unfold… most people thought something different was going to emerge,” he told Reuters.

The headaches show no signs of easing. Last Friday, Canada requested a dispute settlement panel to address U.S. tariffs on Canadian solar products.

“These tariffs are unwarranted and damaging,” complained Trade Minister Mary Ng.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office did not directly address questions about increasing tensions.

“We have a close relationship with Canada and routinely collaborate on a range of topics,” said spokesman Adam Hodge.

(Additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Nia Williams in Calgary; Editing by Steve Scherer and Dan Grebler)

Businesses fret as Canada extends ban on travel with U.S

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada is extending a ban on non-essential travel with the United States and the rest of the world until July 21, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said on Friday, prompting frustration from businesses worried about the economic damage.

Canada’s Liberal government is under increasing pressure from businesses and the tourism industry to ease the ban, which was first imposed in March 2020 to help contain spread of the coronavirus and has been renewed on a monthly basis ever since.

“In coordination with the U.S., we are extending restrictions on non-essential international travel and with the United States until July 21st, 2021,” Blair said on Twitter.

Ottawa will reveal on June 21 how it plans to start lifting the measures for fully vaccinated Canadians and others who are currently permitted to enter Canada, he added.

Although the ban does not affect trade in goods, it is hitting travel operators and the export of services.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce – a national group that advocates for businesses – lamented what it said was Ottawa’s sluggishness, especially as around 75% of Canada’s population had already had at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

“I’m disappointed … all of the science would say we should be moving ahead to reopen the border. We don’t even have a plan at this point,” said Perrin Beatty, the group’s president and chief executive.

“Unfortunately, Canada is the proverbial deer caught in the headlights … we are the world leader in terms of first shots and we are a world laggard when it comes to having a strategy,” he said in a phone interview.

The United States is Canada’s largest trading partner.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu last week said the federal government was preparing to lift quarantine protocols for citizens who had received their second dose of a vaccine.

The U.S. government has created working groups with both Mexico and Canada to discuss the restrictions. The groups held their initial meetings this week, sources told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington;Editing by Bill Berkrot and Paul Simao)