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Gov. Gen. Julie Payette faces questions over her workload and schedule




OTTAWA—Gov. Gen. Julie Payette has done one-third fewer public events in her first year in office than her predecessor David Johnston, a Star analysis suggests.

As Payette prepares to mark her first anniversary as the Queen’s representative in Canada, Rideau Hall has been facing questions about her schedule and workload.

The Star analysis supports the anecdotal sense in the nation’s capital that Payette has opted for a lower profile and a less jam-packed schedule than the previous office holder set in his first year on the job.

Payette has done some 195 public events since being named Governor General on Oct. 2, 2017. That compares to 296 for Johnston over the same period after he took office in October 2010.

The online records for Michaëlle Jean, who served as governor general between 2005 and 2010, show she did some 265 public events in her first year, though differences in how her appearances are posted make direct comparisons difficult.

Rideau Hall spokesperson Marie-Ève Létourneau insisted that the level of activity by Payette over the past 12 months is “quite similar” to her predecessors.

“All governors general bring something unique to the role and the institution. They all serve with a very high level of commitment and dedication, responding to the demanding nature of the position,” Létourneau told the Star in an email Friday. Rideau Hall would not say whether Payette herself would respond to questions about her schedule.

Following her installation last October, Payette did territorial and provincial visits and “continued the busy program of events planned by the team, adding several additional activities,” she said.

Létourneau was unable to provide her own numbers on Payette’s activities. But she said the current Rideau Hall website — due to be phased out in the coming days — “may not reflect” the Governor General’s “extremely busy” calendar.

Payette — a 53-year-old Montreal native — arrived in the office last year with high expectations and an impressive resumé, notably as Canada’s second female astronaut, with two space flights under her belt.

But it wasn’t long after she was installed as Governor General on Oct. 2, 2017, that Payette was sending signals she was not happy with the expected workload and schedule. It can run to hundreds of events a year, as the viceregal representative is called to celebrate achievements in the arts, honour community heroes and support charities.

There is also work behind the scenes, including private sessions with the prime minister, that Rideau Hall typically does not discuss.

But the public role is a vital one, too — and the most visible.

“It’s outside of the constitutional parts, so let’s be clear it doesn’t affect her core functions,” said Philippe Lagassé, an associate professor of international affairs at Carleton University with an expertise in the Westminster system.

“Even though she is doing her head of state functions, there’s a lot of expectations around head of nation, as it were, going out there and representing Canadians to themselves, being seen as a uniting figure,” he said.

He noted that the post — steeped in protocol and tradition — carries a heavy workload of activities, such as Order of Canada investitures and awarding military and civilian honours, even before the incoming office-holder has decided on their own priorities.

The post also touches on diplomacy, as ambassadors and high commissioners present their letters of credence to the Governor General before they assume their posts. The Governor General is also called on to represent Canada on the world stage — for instance, Payette’s trip to Thailand last October to attend the royal cremation of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, or Johnston’s attendance at the 2011 royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in London.

“The question is whether this is something that can be pared down for a governor general who may be less inclined to take on this kind of schedule,” Lagassé said.

He wonders if Payette came into the job fully aware of the demands. “I think that is the underlying issue here,” he said.

“If she was, is she allowed to push back? In this day and age, when we talk about life-work balance, maybe she is. That’s a conversation we have to have,” he said. “If you want to get people into this office, some of them may not be willing to accept the Johnston level of commitment.”

Létourneau said that planning the Governor General’s program hinges on factors such as the “context of each year, the business of government and the family situation of the Governor General.” Payette has a teenage son.

“The first year of every mandate is a period of learning, adjustment and adaptation from both the Governor General and Rideau Hall staff,” she said.

For its analysis, the Star reviewed the public event schedules listed on the Rideau Hall website. The itineraries include events in Ottawa as well as out-of-town trips. The tally is not exact. That’s because detailed itineraries are not shown for some trips, such as Johnston’s 2011 trip to Kuwait and Qatar, or a full listing of Payette’s visit to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.

It reveals that some activities that had become part of the governor general’s annual routine in the past have fallen off the schedule under Payette, who earns close to $300,000 a year. Moreover, a number of organizations with which previous governors general have worked appear to have been dropped by Payette.

For example, each spring, the governor general has accepted a bouquet of daffodils from cancer patients to highlight the Canadian Cancer Society’s Daffodil Month. But not this year, it appears.

In his first year, Johnston presided over three ceremonies to present Duke of Edinburgh Gold Awards to recognize achievements by young people. Payette has done none. That’s because she has not yet decided whether to serve as honorary patron of the organization that handles the awards, as governors general have done dating back to 1963.

Award organizers wrote to Rideau Hall a year ago to make the request. “We’re hopeful and we understand that it’s taken time. For a number of reasons she is delaying requests at the moment,” said Victoria Selano, director of fundraising and development for the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award — Canada. Other organizations have not heard if Payette will act as their patron.

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada was another organization that fell off the list this year. Every two years, it helps organize the Governor General’s Medals in Architecture, which have been presented at Rideau Hall since 2002, with the exception of 2006, when the ceremony was held in Montreal.

But when the organization went to the Governor General’s office to request that Payette present the medals at a Rideau Hall ceremony, it was turned away. “This year the email response was simply ‘Sorry, we’re not able to accommodate you this year,’” said Michael Cox, a Brandon, Man., architect who serves as the institute’s president.

In the end, the ceremony was held in Winnipeg, hosted by Janice Filmon, the lieutenant-governor of Manitoba. Payette did send a congratulatory message. “We had a glorious time … it was a wonderful event,” Cox said.

The Winnipeg Free Press noted last week that Payette will not have visited Manitoba in her first year in office, a break with the practice of some past governors general to visit all provinces and territories in their first 12 months. Payette won’t have visited Saskatchewan or Yukon, either.

But Létourneau said that Payette has “achieved, on time, all the tasks that the Governor General must execute.”

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier


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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme




Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year




In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal




MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.


The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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