Google vision for Port Lands a no-go with Ontario government, source says


Google’s expansive vision to plan and build communities and transit across Toronto’s east waterfront — in exchange for a cut of property tax and development revenues — is a non-starter, the Ontario government says.

At Queen’s Park, a senior government official told the Star’s Robert Benzie that Google sister company Sidewalk Labs’s plans — revealed by the Star’s Marco Chown Oved on Thursday — is a non-starter.

“There is no way on God’s green earth that Premier Doug Ford would ever sign off on handing away nearly 500 acres of prime waterfront property to a foreign multinational company that has been unable to reassure citizens their privacy and data would be protected,” confided the high-ranking Progressive Conservative insider.

The Ford confidant spoke to the Star on condition of anonymity due to the province’s contractual obligations to negotiate in good faith with Sidewalk Labs.

A Sidewalk Labs presentation, prepared for Google last fall, show that Waterfront Toronto’s preferred development partner for the 12-acre Quayside district at Queens Quay and Parliament St. has bigger ambitions, for redevelopment on 350 acres in the Port Lands area — an area almost 30 times larger than Quayside — by financing underground infrastructure and a light rail line.

These future revenues, based on the anticipated increase in land value once homes and offices are built on the derelict Port Lands, are estimated to be $6 billion over the next 30 years. Even a small portion of this could amount to a large, recurring revenue stream diverted from the city into private hands.

Reaction to the secret plan was swift and negative from several councillors when the Star broke the news Thursday evening.

Kristyn Wong-Tam, who represents downtown Ward 13 Toronto Centre, tweeted: “A tech giant never having built transit + city infrastructure anywhere, or even pitched a dime for the $1.25B for Port Lands flood protection, has the audacity to stake claim for future land value, property taxes + development charges on land they don’t own.”

Councillor Paula Fletcher, whose Ward 14 Toronto-Danforth encompasses the Port Lands, tweeted: “Suspicions confirmed. Sidewalk Labs really wants control of Toronto’s PortLands.”

Ward 4 Parkdale-High Park Councillor Gord Perks took aim at Sidewalk Labs for hiring Keerthana Rang, a former communications staffer in Mayor John Tory’s office, and then former city councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon, who retired from politics last fall, as “director of community” to explain and sell the Quayside vision to Torontonians.

“A $700 billion corporation is paying a former communications staffer for the Mayor and a former City Councillor to tell us what we want,” Perks tweeted.

Waterfront Toronto, comprised of federal, provincial and city representatives, is spending at least $1.25 billion in public money to flood-proof the Port Lands and make it available for development.

The vast majority of the Port Lands — 78 per cent — is owned by the city, according to a staff report from March 2018. Only 11 per cent is privately held, while another 11 per cent is owned by the province.

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider


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‘Nobody is feeling good about’ John McCallum’s departure, says PMO source


John McCallum had two big jobs in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government. First, as immigration minister from 2015 to early 2017, he managed the influx of Syrian refugees to this country; then, for the last two years, McCallum was Canada’s man in China.

On a day that both of those issues collided spectacularly in the news, McCallum lost his job as Canada’s ambassador to China — asked by Trudeau to step down after some extremely ill-advised remarks on Friday to a StarMetro reporter in Vancouver.

Even as attention was riveted on Kingston, Ont., and the questioning of a Syrian refugee in a terrorism take-down on Friday, McCallum was musing aloud in Vancouver about how it would be “great for Canada” if the U.S. dropped an extradition request that has entangled Canada in a massive, high-stakes dispute with China.

It was McCallum’s second verbal misstep in a week, and Trudeau phoned him late on Friday night to say that this latest outburst was one too many.

The firing throws a bucket of cold water over speculation all last week that McCallum was saying what the Trudeau government could not say publicly in what has been an escalating, high-stakes feud with China, kicked off by the December arrest and detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou as part of the U.S. extradition request.

Since then, two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have been detained and another, David Schellenberg, has been sentenced to death.

This is, in short, not a situation that can tolerate freelancing, even by a man with a long history with this Prime Minister. (McCallum was dean of arts at McGill University when Trudeau and his principal advisor, Gerald Butts, were students there.)

McCallum, on two separate occasions in the past week, appeared to be saying that politics — not the rule of law — would get this whole mess sorted. That’s “completely offside” with what the Trudeau government has been saying, a PMO source said, about the need to keep the rule of law at the forefront.

“You can walk those comments back once,” the PMO source said on Saturday. “Not twice.”

Trudeau’s reluctance to jettison the ambassador was evident earlier in the week, when reporters asked him on Thursday about the outcry over McCallum’s remarks and demands — especially from Conservatives — that he fire him.

The Prime Minister, obviously annoyed, made clear that McCallum’s job had been saved for practical, not sentimental reasons: “Making a change would not help release those Canadians a day sooner,” he said.

The question now is whether McCallum’s missteps have prolonged the misery of those Canadians. This will be the top question in the coming days, as Trudeau wrestles with the question of who will replace the ambassador to China at a moment when every step seems perilous.

Read more:

Ambassador John McCallum says it would be ‘great for Canada’ if U.S. drops extradition request for Huawei’s Meng Wanzhou

John McCallum’s ‘gaffe’ was telling the truth about China and Huawei

Canada’s ambassador to China backs Meng’s chances of fighting extradition to the U.S.

One thing is clear — the next appointee will not be offering political opinions to journalists. It will be a surprise, in fact, if the next ambassador is allowed to speak to the media at all.

It is almost ironic that McCallum would lose his job for being too political. When he first came to elected politics in 2000, fresh from the Royal Bank of Canada where he served as economist, many thought McCallum was too academic for the rough and tumble of political life.

But he seemed to relish the job, and was repeatedly a good sport when Stephen Harper, then in opposition, did his annual impersonations of McCallum at the press gallery dinner. Once the Liberals were relegated to the opposition benches, McCallum was one of the happier warriors, appearing to enjoy the chance to pillory the Harper government at any opportunity.

So McCallum became one of the few, trusted “old hands” when Trudeau swore in his first cabinet, with all its emphasis on youth, women and diversity. Similarly, his appointment as ambassador was meant to send a signal to China that the Trudeau government was putting someone serious, political and trusted into the job of ambassador.

“Nobody is feeling good about this,” the PMO source said of the decision to axe McCallum. That is undoubtedly true — many times over — for the Canadians whose future hangs in the balance in China.

The questions over McCallum’s future have been settled this weekend. But the futures of Kovrig, Spavor and Schellenberg — as well as Meng in Vancouver — are as unsettled as they were last week, and perhaps more so.

Susan Delacourt is the Star’s Ottawa bureau chief and a columnist covering national politics. Reach her via email: or follow her on Twitter: @susandelacourt


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Wind power making gains as competitive source of electricity


It’s taken a decade of technological improvement and a new competitive bidding process for electrical generation contracts, but wind may have finally come into its own as one of the cheapest ways to create power.

Ten years ago, Ontario was developing new wind power projects at a cost of 28 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), the kind of above-market rate that the U.K., Portugal and other countries were offering to try to kick-start development of renewables. 

Now some wind companies say they’ve brought generation costs down to between 2 and 4 cents — something that appeals to provinces that are looking to significantly increase their renewable energy.

The cost of electricity varies across Canada, by province and time of day, from an average of 6.5 cents per kWh in Quebec to as much as 15 cents in Halifax.

Capital Power, an Edmonton-based company, recently won a contract for the Whitla 298.8-megawatt (MW) wind project near Medicine Hat, Alta., with a bid of 3.9 cents per kWh. That price covers capital costs, transmission and connection to the grid, as well as the cost of building the project.

The Halkirk Wind project in east-central Alberta, which began operating in 2012, was built by Capital Power. The company’s Whitla project near Medicine Hat is still under development. (Jimmy Jeong/Capital Power)

Jerry Bellikka, director of government relations, said Capital Power has been building wind projects for a decade, in the U.S., Alberta, B.C. and other provinces. In that time the price of wind generation equipment has been declining continually, while the efficiency of wind turbines increases.

Increased efficiency

« It used to be one tower was 1 MW; now each turbine generates 3.3 MW. There’s more electricity generated per tower than several years ago, » he said.

One wild card for Whitla may be steel prices — because of the U.S. and Canada slapping tariffs on one other’s steel and aluminum products. Whitla’s towers are set to come from Colorado, and many of the smaller components from China.

« We haven’t yet taken delivery of the steel. It remains to be seen if we are affected by the tariffs. » Belikka said.

Another company had owned the site and had several years of meteorological data, including wind speeds at various heights on the site, which is in a part of southern Alberta known for its strong winds.

But the choice of site was also dependent on the municipality, with rural Forty Mile County eager for the development, Belikka said.

Alberta aims for 30% electricity from wind by 2030

Alberta wants 30 per cent of its electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030 and is encouraging that with a guaranteed pricing mechanism in what is otherwise a market-bidding process.

While the cost of generating energy for the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) fluctuates hourly and can be a lot higher when there is high demand, the winners of the renewable energy contracts are guaranteed their fixed-bid price.

The average pool price of electricity last year in Alberta was 5 cents per kWh; in boom times it rose to closer to 8 cents. But if the price rises that high after the wind farm is operating, the renewable generator won’t get it, instead rebating anything over 3.9 cents back to the government.

On the other hand, if the average or pool price is a low 2 cents kWh, the province will top up their return to 3.9 cents.


This contract-for-differences (CfD) payment mechanism has been tested in renewable contracts in the U.K. and other jurisdictions, including some U.S. states, according to AESO.

Competitive bidding in Saskatchewan

In Saskatchewan, the plan is to double its capacity of renewable electricity, to 50 per cent of generation capacity, by 2030, and it uses an open bidding system between the private sector generator and publicly owned SaskPower.

In bidding last year on a renewable contract, 15 firms submitted bids, with an average price of 4.2 cents per kWh.

One low bidder was Potentia with a proposal for a 200 MW project, which should provide electricity for 90,000 homes in the province, at less than 3 cents kWh, according to Robert Hornung of the Canadian Wind Energy Association.

« The cost of wind energy has fallen 70 per cent in the last nine years, » he says. « In the last decade, more wind energy has been built than any other form of electricity. »

Ontario remains the leading user of wind with 4,902 MW of wind generation as of December 2017, most of that capacity built under a system that offered an above-market price for renewable power, put in place by the previous Liberal government.

In June of last year, the new Conservative government of Doug Ford halted more than 700 renewable-energy projects, one of them a wind farm that is sitting half-built.

The feed-in tariff system that offered a higher rate to early builders of renewable generation ended in 2016, but early contracts with guaranteed prices could last up to 20 years.

Hornung says Ontario now has an excess of generating capacity, as it went on building when the 2008-9 bust cut market consumption dramatically.

But he insists wind can compete in the open market, offering low prices for generation when Ontario needs new  capacity.

« I expect there will be competitive processes put in place. I’m quite confident wind projects will continue to go ahead. We’re well positioned to do that. »


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U.S. officials think they’ve traced the source of the lettuce involved in latest E. coli outbreak


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration believes it has traced the source of the latest E. coli outbreak. The agency said Monday the romaine linked to the outbreak appears to be from the California’s Central Coast region. It said romaine from elsewhere should soon be labelled with harvest dates and regions so people know it’s safe to eat.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said it is continuing its own investigation in conjunction with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Health Canada (HC) into the current outbreak of E. coli O157. But it has advised the Canadian food industry, including importers, not to import romaine lettuce from the suspect areas identified by the FDA until further notice.

The CFIA is also implementing additional control measures to ensure products from California’s Central Coast region are not being admitted to Canada, including greater scrutiny of product destined for this country.

Twenty-two people in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick have been sickened by E. coli since October. Forty-three people in 12 U.S. states have also been sickened.

Labelling changes 

In the U.S., the FDA is advising people not to eat romaine that doesn’t have clear labelling information stating where the produce is from. For romaine that doesn’t come in packaging, grocers and retailers are being asked to post the information by the register.

Romaine harvesting recently began shifting from California’s Central Coast to winter growing areas, primarily Arizona, Florida, Mexico and California’s Imperial Valley. Those winter regions weren’t yet shipping when the illnesses began. The FDA also noted hydroponically grown romaine and romaine grown in greenhouses aren’t implicated in the outbreak.

The labelling arrangement was worked out as the produce industry called on the FDA to quickly narrow the scope of its warning so it wouldn’t have to waste freshly harvested romaine. An industry group said people can expect to start seeing labels as early as this week. It noted the labels are voluntary, and that it will monitor whether to expand the measure to other leafy greens and produce.

At least 22 people in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick have been sickened in the outbreak. (Matthew Mead/Associated Press)

The FDA said the industry committed to making the labelling standard for romaine and to consider longer-term labelling options for other leafy greens.

Robert Whitaker, chief science officer of the Produce Marketing Association, said labelling for romaine could help limit the scope of future alerts and rebuild public trust after other outbreaks.

« Romaine as a category has had a year that’s been unfortunate, » Whitaker said.

The FDA still hasn’t identified a source of contamination in the latest outbreak. 

Canadian officials are advising the food industry and importers not to import romaine from the California region identified by the FDA. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

Even though romaine from the Yuma, Ariz., region is not implicated in the current outbreak, it was blamed for an E. coli outbreak this spring that sickened more than 200 people and killed five. Contaminated irrigation water near a cattle lot was later identified as the likely source.

Leafy greens were also blamed for an E. coli outbreak last year. U.S. investigators never specified which salad green might be to blame for those illnesses, which happened around the same time of year as the current outbreak. But Canadian officials identified romaine as a common source of illnesses in Canada. 


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Ford fears disgruntled Tory MPPs might defect to Liberals, source says


The Progressive Conservatives fear some disgruntled MPPs are set to cross the floor to join the Liberals, the Star has learned.

That’s a key reason why Premier Doug Ford is increasing the threshold for official party status in the legislature from eight MPPs to 12, a senior source says. A single defection would give the seven-member Liberal caucus official status.

“There are at least two we’re concerned about,” a senior Conservative insider said, speaking like others from the Liberals and PCs on condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal machinations.

“We’ve been watching this closely,” the PC source said, declining to reveal which MPPs are suspected of plotting to defect except to say that two are from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

On Friday, sources close to Ford said there is also mounting concern that eastern Ontario PC MPP Amanda Simard might switch parties.

The Star has guaranteed the confidential sources anonymity so they can speak freely without fear of retribution.

The source said Simard had the support of both caucus and cabinet for her Facebook post, adding “they went out of their way to help her out.” Simard has been the target of francophone fury with the government, which is why she has been allowed more leeway than other caucus members to break ranks over recent cuts. .

On Facebook, Simard — whose riding was in Liberal hands for almost four decades until her June win — said she “needs to assess where we are and what we can do and must do.”

She did not return calls, emails, or text messages from the Star.

Late Friday afternoon, the Ford government scrambled to do damage control, announcing that Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, who has been minister responsible for francophone affairs, will become a full minister of the department that is being re-named a “ministry” from an “office.” It’s unclear what practical difference this will make.

As well, Ford’s office pledged to hire a senior policy adviser on francophone affairs and Ford said “I am looking forward to the day where we are in a financial position to proceed with projects like the French language university.” He did not set a time line.

Simard, a lawyer and former municipal councillor who has worked on Parliament Hill as a policy adviser, is the parliamentary assistant to Mulroney in her secondary role at francophone affairs.

A senior Liberal source confirmed that there has been outreach to disaffected Conservatives.

“There are a few that we’ve been working on, but no confirmations,” said the Liberal.

Even before Simard expressed her “disappointment” with the government’s moves, there was growing dissatisfaction within the Tory caucus just five months after the party toppled former premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals.

“No less than seven members want to get out,” a third senior Conservative operative told the Star on Friday.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” the source said, expressing hope that exhaustion is contributing to the schism more than disillusionment with Ford’s administration. MPPs have been working with little time off since the June election.

Last week, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli announced the bar for party status in the house would be raised.

“A ‘recognized party’ will include any party that obtains at least 10 per cent of the seats in the legislative assembly,” Fedeli said in his fall economic statement.

There are now 124 MPPs in the house after riding redistribution. In the last parliament, there were 107 and party status was eight. In the 1990s, when there were 130 members, the threshold was 12.

With the Liberals one shy of qualifying for recognition in the house, the Tories felt they had to act to dissuade any potential defectors, one source said.

Party status would mean an increased budget for staff and research as well as more privileges in the house, including more daily questions and standing in legislative committees.

The Tory changes were also announced after Ford defenestrated Jim Wilson, the longest serving PC MPP and his most-experienced cabinet minister, over a scandal involving a staffer.

Wilson, who is now seeking treatment for alcohol in rehab, will sit as an Independent MPP when he returns to Queen’s Park.

A fiercely loyal Tory and former interim party leader, it’s seems unlikely he would join the Liberals.

“Jim would never do that,” said one associate.

Another Liberal insider said the party “has definitely not reached out to Jim Wilson.”

Ford’s office closely monitors Tory members. Sources say they track who applauds in the legislature and watch for MPPs who do not quickly leap to their feet for ovations after the premier or ministers respond to opposition inquiries during question period.

“They keep tabs on everything,” said a fourth Tory, conceding that such micromanaging is both heavy-handed and ham-fisted because MPPs are getting fed up.

Two party aides noted that speaking out in caucus meetings is also discouraged because they don’t want anyone to undermine team unity.

The Globe and Mail reported last week that MPP Paul Calandra (Markham-Stouffville) was dressed down by Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French, for questioning a decision during a recent caucus meeting.

Calandra, a former Tory MP who is not suspected of planning to defect, was scolded by French after complaining that MPPs were not being given advance notice on changes to government cannabis policy.

Witnesses have confirmed to the Star the staffer berated the MPP and warned him to be a “team player.”

Ford was taken aback by his aide’s outburst against an elected official, sources said.

Even a mass defection would not radically alter the party standings. In the 124-member house, there are 75 Tories, including Speaker Ted Arnott, 40 New Democrats, seven Liberals, Green Leader Mike Schreiner, and Wilson.

Floor crossings are rare at Queen’s Park. The last time it happened was in March 2007 when Mississauga South MPP Tim Peterson — brother of former premier David Peterson — quit the Liberal caucus and announced he would run for the Conservatives in the fall election. He lost the seat to Liberal Charles Sousa, who later became finance minister.

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Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy


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Canada, U.S. have reached a NAFTA deal, senior Canadian source says


After more than a year of fractious negotiations, Canada and the U.S. have reached a tentative new North American Free Trade Agreement, a senior source told CBC News.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau convened a late-night meeting of cabinet to brief ministers on the NAFTA progress, only hours before a U.S.-imposed midnight deadline.

At the heart of the deal is a trade-off between greater U.S. access to Canada’s dairy market, which is heavily protected by a system of supply management, and Canadian demands for the maintenance of a dispute resolution process, sources said.

The two sides have agreed to keep Chapter 19, NAFTA’s dispute resolution mechanism, intact. That’s a major victory for Canadian negotiators who have long sought to keep some sort of process to challenge anti-dumping and countervailing-duty cases — which Canada has deployed in the past over the softwood lumber file.

A source with direct knowledge of the situation told CBC’s Katie Simpson that Chapter 19 will be preserved, word for word.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has steadfastly opposed this chapter as he believes it’s a violation of U.S. sovereignty to have a multinational panel of arbiters decide on the acceptability of U.S. tariffs.

​In exchange for some U.S. concessions on a dispute mechanism, Canada is expected to give U.S. farmers greater access to Canada’s dairy market by increasing the quota on foreign imports.

Under the current supply management system, Canada imposes tariffs on dairy imports — which can run as high as 300 per cent — that exceed the established quota. Trump has railed against these tariffs as unfair to American farmers, as they are designed to keep foreign products out while privileging Canadian sources.

Sources said Canadian officials were going line by line through U.S. requests on dairy Sunday night before putting pen to paper on an agreement that could be politically challenging for the Liberal government, especially in Quebec, where dairy farmers hold electoral sway in certain ridings.

Under the new NAFTA, the U.S. will have roughly the same access to the Canadian dairy market as what was given up by Trudeau when he signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade deal with 10 Asia-Pacific countries earlier this year.

Under that agreement, those 10 countries will have market access that equals 3.25 per cent of Canada’s annual milk production. The exact percentage extended to U.S. dairy exporters was not immediately clear.

At the outset of the NAFTA talks, the U.S. demanded Canada dismantle supply management entirely — something that Trudeau maintained is a non-starter.

Canada is also expected to sign on to this new NAFTA without any reassurances that the U.S. will lift its so-called « section 232 » tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, two sources told CBC News — a coup for the economic nationalists that surround Trump who believe that protectionist measures like these punitive tariffs can help salvage the declining U.S. steel industry.

Canadian sources told CBC News they hope to resolve the 232 issue before ratifying NAFTA.

Those tariffs were levied on « national security » grounds using presidential authority granted under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which gives the president broad powers to impose tariffs without consulting Congress. Canada responded to Trump’s move with counter-tariffs on billions of dollars worth of U.S. goods.

While technically separate from NAFTA talks, the U.S. has used the threat of further 232 tariffs on autos to extract concessions from Canada and Mexico — a frightening proposition for the Canadians.

According to the U.S. Trade Representative, Canada ships more than $56 billion US worth of autos — cars and parts alike — to the U.S. each year. The auto industry employs more than 120,000 people in Canada, with most of those jobs concentrated in southwestern Ontario.

Canada has also secured exemptions for its creative industries. The existing NAFTA deals includes a cultural exemption clause, which means cultural goods are not treated like other commercial products — and that will continue under the new terms of the deal. Lighthizer has previously cited Canada’s broadcasting content and telecommunication ownership rules as an irritant.

U.S. negotiators have been gunning for a new NAFTA by month’s end to get a text of the agreement to Congress for its mandatory 60-day review period. That could allow for a deal to be signed before Dec 1., when Mexico’s new, left-leaning president takes office.

Under U.S. law, while Congress can extend fast-track negotiating authority to Trump administration officials — as it has with NAFTA — legislators retain the right to review any proposed trade agreement and decide whether it will be implemented. That relationship is governed by a set of strict, legislated timelines that allow Congress enough time to study a deal before delivering a decision.

Watch: Canada, U.S. and Mexico push for final NAFTA deal

David MacNaughton talks to reporters outside the Prime Minister’s office in Ottawa on Sept. 30 as negotiators work to meet a NAFTA deadline set by the U.S. and Mexico. 0:56

A Mexican intervention?

Last month, Trump announced his negotiators had reached a bilateral deal with Mexico.

He outlined the deadline  — Sept. 30 at midnight — for the text of that deal to be submitted to Congress. Canada would be allowed on board, he explained, but they’d have to agree to the terms spelled out in the bilateral agreement. 

Trump made it clear Canada’s failure to join would be unacceptable, with hefty auto tariffs as a consequence.  

Mexico’s new president-elect, however, said in an interview Friday that he has agreed to push the American side to make a deal with Canada.

President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Trudeau asked him during a Thursday phone call « to intervene and call on the U.S. government to reach an agreement » with Canada on the renegotiation of NAFTA.

« We agreed to that, » Lopez Obrador told reporters in Mexico City. The president-elect also said he would insist on a trilateral pact.

However, later Friday evening, Lopez Obrador’s Senate leader, Ricardo Monreal, said Mexico wouldn’t walk away from a bilateral agreement. 

« The ideal is a trilateral deal, but we’re prepared for the possible need of a bilateral, » he told Bloomberg News.


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