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Counting mail ballots, office vacancy in a post-COVID world: In The News for Sept. 23

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In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Sept. 23 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Elections Canada says it believes most of the 850,000 mail-in ballots not counted on Monday night have now been tallied, but there are still several close-run ridings that have yet to be determined.

On Wednesday, the ridings of Fredericton, Edmonton Centre, Northwest Territories and Yukon were declared for the Liberals after the count wrapped up, along with the Toronto riding of Davenport, where Liberal Julie Dzerowicz beat NDP candidate Alejandra Bravo by 165 votes.

Toronto's Spadina-Fort York was declared for Kevin Vuong, who was on the ballot as a Liberal although he'd been disavowed by the party over a late campaign revelation that he'd been charged with sexual assault in 2019. The charge was later dropped but the party has said Vuong will have to sit as an Independent MP.

A recount is expected in the Winnipeg-area riding of Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley, where Conservative incumbent Marty Morantz beat out Liberal Doug Eyolfson by 24 votes.

In Edmonton Griesbach, where The Canadian Press is projecting that Blake Desjarlais delivered a notable victory for the NDP over the Conservatives, mail ballots are still being counted.

In Nanaimo-Ladysmith, less than a thousand votes separated New Democrat Lisa Marie Barron from Conservative Tamara Kronis, with Green Paul Manly, the incumbent, relatively close behind, where 6,892 postal votes were still being counted on Wednesday.

Elections Canada warned that in some ridings with thousands of postal votes, final results may not be available until Friday. 

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Also this ...

CBRE Group Inc. says the national office vacancy rate hit 15.7 per cent in the third quarter for the highest level since 1994 as people continue to work from home because of COVID-19. 

The commercial real estate firm says a fourth wave has slowed an expected return to work, helping push up the vacancy rate from 15.3 per cent in the last quarter.

It does, however, say leasing activity is picking up, driven especially by demand from the technology sector, and that four of 10 major Canadian markets saw increased occupancy.

Vancouver's vacancy rate remains the lowest at 7.4 per cent, while Toronto stands at 13.7 per cent and Calgary at 30.1 per cent.

The story is quite different on the industrial front, where vacancies are low as demand for distribution and logistics space remains at an all-time high.

CBRE says the national vacancy rate for industrial space was at two per cent in the quarter, while several markets including Vancouver, London, the Waterloo Region and Toronto have availability rates of less than a per cent. 

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What we are watching in the U.S. ...

SACRAMENTO, Calif. _ California on Wednesday became the first state to bar mega-retailers from firing warehouse workers for missing quotas that interfere with bathroom and rest breaks under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom that grew from Amazon's drive to speed goods to consumers more quickly.

The measure also bars Amazon, the online retail giant, and similar companies from disciplining workers for following health and safety laws and allows employees to sue to suspend unsafe quotas or reverse retaliation. The bill applies to all warehouse distribution centers, though proponents were driven by Amazon's dominance.

``We cannot allow corporations to put profit over people,'' Newsom, a Democrat, said in a news release announcing he had signed the law.

The law, AB 701, was authored by Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a lawyer and former labour leader. She accused Amazon of disciplining warehouse workers at the direction of ``an algorithm'' that tracks employees' activities and can determine that anything not directly related to moving packages is ``off-task.''

``Amazon is pushing workers to risk their bodies for next-day delivery, while they can't so much as use the restroom without fearing retaliation,'' Gonzalez said when the Legislature passed her bill.

Amazon did not respond for requests for comment on her legislation or allegations. The law gives large warehouse employers 30 days to disclose quotas to employees.

Workers who think their quotas lead to unsafe behaviour can ask for 90 days' worth of documentation of how their work speed meets or fails the quota. Any discipline within that 90 days is presumed to be retaliation, as is any discipline within 90 days of an employee complaining to the company or a state agency about an unsafe quota.

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What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

BEIJING _ China's central bank will soon have access to private credit information of hundreds of millions of users of Ant Group's online credit service, in a move signaling more regulatory oversight of the financial technology sector.

Huabei, Ant Group's credit service, said in a statement that consumer credit data it has collected will be included in the People's Bank of China's financial credit information database.

"The inclusion of Huabei's credit information into the credit reporting system will help users' credit information be more comprehensive,'' Huabei's statement read.

Consumers who do not authorize the sharing of credit data with the central bank will not be able to use Huabei's service.

The move is part of various stricter regulations for Ant, which has been ordered to end its monopoly on information and behave more like a bank.

Ant Group, the financial affiliate of e-commerce giant Alibaba, operates many digital payments, investment and insurance services and has over a billion users worldwide. In China, about 500 million people use its online credit and consumer loans services.

Financial regulators have grown increasingly concerned at Ant's financial services business, abruptly halting its planned $34.5 billion listing days before its stock debut.

Regulators have accused the firm of anti-competitive behavior, defying regulatory compliance requirements and engaging in regulatory arbitrage. Ant Group was ordered to hold minimum capital requirements as part of risk management measures.

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On this day in 2007 ...

Famed Canadian artist Ken Danby died at age 67 while canoeing in Algonquin Park in Ontario. Danby was recognized as one of the world's foremost realist artists and was best-known in Canada for his hockey painting, ``At The Crease.''

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In entertainment ...

The Reklaws lead the artist categories for this year's Canadian Country Music Association Awards.

Organizers say the Cambridge, Ont.-born sibling duo of Jenna and Stuart Walker have six nominations, including entertainer of the year, Amazon Music & Alexa Fans' Choice and single of the year for "Where I’m From."

Next with five nominations apiece are Dallas Smith of Langley, B.C., and Alberta artists Lindsay Ell and Brett Kissel.

Smith will be vying for categories including fans' choice, entertainer of the year and Ford F-150 album of the year for "Timeless."

Calgary-born Ell's nominations include female artist of the year and album of the year for "Heart Theory" while St. Paul-born Kissel is a contender in categories including male artist of the year and album of the year for "What Is Life?"

An in-person, indoor bash will be presented by TD at Budweiser Gardens in London, Ont., and broadcast live Nov. 29 on Global.

The artist nominations were announced Wednesday in livestreams on the official YouTube page of Global entertainment program "ET Canada."

There are also nominees in industry, musician and radio categories. A full list is at ccma.org.

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ICYMI ...

Efforts to eradicate invasive smallmouth bass from New Brunswick's Miramichi watershed have been put on hold until next year.

A working group has approval from Health Canada to use a product known as rotenone to kill the fish in Miramichi Lake, Lake Brook and along nearly 14 kilometres of the Southwest Miramichi River.

Over 120 people and supplies were in place for the operation in mid-August, but protesters in canoes refused to leave the area.

A number of meetings have been held with four Maliseet First Nations to answer questions about the plan.

Officials say it is now getting too late in the year, and the best choice is to delay the project until 2022.

Smallmouth bass, which were first spotted in the Miramichi watershed in 2008, can alter ecosystems by preying on native species of fish.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2021

The Canadian Press