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New Brunswick’s election dynamics are also at play in Quebec

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Is Quebec about to follow in New Brunswick’s footsteps and become the second province to hold a fall election that fails to sort out which party will run its government for the next few years?

With less than a week to go until the Oct. 1 vote, the possibility that Monday’s election will see a repetition of the New Brunswick scenario cannot be ruled out.

Like New Brunswick Liberal Leader Brian Gallant, Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard could lose his provincial election despite getting the biggest share of the popular vote, Chantal Hébert writes.
Like New Brunswick Liberal Leader Brian Gallant, Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard could lose his provincial election despite getting the biggest share of the popular vote, Chantal Hébert writes.  (Ryan Remiorz / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

In that province, only one seat separates the leading Tories, with 22 seats, from the Liberals. Both are scrambling to find enough support among the third parties to command a fragile majority in the 49-seat Legislative Assembly.

They make competing claims to legitimacy. By the narrowest of margins, Blaine Higgs’s Tories took more ridings, but Brian Gallant’s Liberals won the popular vote by half a dozen points. The Green Party and the People’s Alliance each hold three seats.

In Quebec, the latest polls show a statistical tie between Philippe Couillard’s Liberals and François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec province-wide. But because the Liberal vote is heavily concentrated in Quebec’s non-Francophone areas, the CAQ has the seat edge.

Like Gallant in New Brunswick, Couillard could lose the election on Monday despite getting more votes. It would not be a first. In 1998, the Parti Québécois under Lucien Bouchard won a majority of seats despite losing the popular vote to Jean Charest’s Liberals.

To compound the uncertainty, the Quebec Liberals usually do better at the ballot box than in the polls, where the undecided column routinely turns out to have included a significant number of discreet Liberal supporters. And the third-place PQ may be more adept at getting its vote out than its CAQ and Québec Solidaire rivals.

As in New Brunswick, Quebec’s election will feature scores of three- and four-way battles. Those can result in unexpected outcomes that do not always align with the provincial trend.

To wit, in the last federal election, the Bloc Québécois got fewer votes than at the time of the 2011 NDP orange wave, but still sent six more MPs to the House of Commons.

Stephen Harper’s Conservatives similarly finished the 2015 election with more than twice as many seats as they had going into the campaign, yet the party’s share of the popular vote increased by less than half a percentage point.

Couillard needs a lot of discreet francophone supporters to come out of the woodwork and some favourable splits to win re-election on Monday. But were he to finish — as Gallant did — a close second in the seat sweepstakes, he too could use the incumbent’s prerogative to test the confidence of the National Assembly in a minority Liberal government.

It is far from certain that such a government would have a shot at surviving its first confidence vote. The notion that it is time for a change has been a powerful underlying theme of the Quebec campaign. Given that, it might be politically suicidal for any Quebec opposition party to prop up a Liberal minority government.

Moreover, the CAQ, the PQ and Québec Solidaire have all signed a pre-election pact that commits them to introduce a more proportional voting system in time for the next provincial vote. Couillard is adamantly opposed to the project. To listen to the premier this week, he would rather have a minority Liberal government fall over electoral reform than join the other parties in their bid to move away from the first-past-the-post system.

But a minority CAQ government would also have some reaching out to do. Legault and Quebec Solidaire sit at opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, and the CAQ poses an existential threat to the PQ’s already uncertain future. The latter has little interest in contributing to the success of a Legault-led government.

Still, there are less glaring red lines between the various Quebec parties than between their New Brunswick counterparts.

The NB Tories and the Greens are on a collision course over the province’s participation in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate change framework. By comparison, all the parties likely to cohabit in the next National Assembly are onside with carbon pricing. And none is seen as a toxic ally for a possible minority government in the way that the People’s Alliance is in NB.

On that score, the election of three MLAs committed to scaling down bilingual services in Canada’s only officially bilingual province has not gone unnoticed in Quebec.

Should Blaine Higgs’s Tories strike a governing arrangement on the back of the language rights of the province’s Acadian minority, Andrew Scheer’s federal Conservatives could have some explaining to do in Quebec next fall.

Chantal Hébert is a columnist based in Ottawa covering politics. Follow her on Twitter: @ChantalHbert

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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