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John Tory casts his lot with controversial campaign strategists




Kouvalis rejoined the team to lead research and polling. Tory’s campaign says Kinsella, who was running 2014 mayoral candidate Olivia Chow’s campaign war room as a volunteer, is a “volunteer” in Tory’s own war room.

The two strategists are in a position to shape the race as Tory faces an unexpected challenge on the left from former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat. They help decide which issues become Tory’s policy promises, how to message them, how to play the ground game of turning support into votes and the overall tone of Team Tory.

Heading into the election, Tory — who rarely causes a stir with his public comments and has tried to appear as a calm presence in the years after former mayor Rob Ford’s chaotic term — had high public approval and no big-name challenger necessitating a heavy-hitting campaign. With Doug Ford now premier, Tory had avoided what was expected to be a heated, scrappy redo of the 2014 race.

The former bureaucrat used her campaign launch to signal the gloves are off. She branded the mayor “dithering,” “timid” and “low-energy.” His campaign quickly returned fire, saying she is full of “empty talk.”

What is certain is that, for a bare-knuckle fight, Tory has two very accomplished campaign veterans in Kouvalis and Kinsella. What is less certain to some close to the campaign, who spoke to the Star on condition of anonymity, is if the benefits outweigh the risks both men bring to the team.

Kouvalis, who was Rob Ford’s chief of staff after pushing him to victory in 2010 with rhetoric about a “gravy train” at city hall, was hailed in 2014 as Tory’s “Ford whisperer” when he joined the campaign that saw Tory best Doug Ford for mayor. He has remained loyal and in constant communication with Tory since, several sources say.

“I don’t support many of Nick’s clients and I don’t approve of all his methods, but he’s a brilliant strategist,” says Willowdale Councillor John Filion, a suburban progressive who fought Tory on issues including a plan to remake north Yonge St. Filion is seeking re-election in the 25-ward race.

“You’re always better off having Nick on your team, he’s one of the smartest people I’ve met,” he says. “He is an analytical thinker with a good understanding of data and he has remarkable street smarts. Usually you don’t have those in the same person. He’s also great at predicting people’s behaviour.”

Kouvalis has embarrassed Tory in the past. In 2016, while under fire for running a federal leadership campaign for Kellie Leitch focusing on immigrants and “anti-Canadian values,” Tory said he would welcome Kouvalis, “one of the smartest people I know,” to his 2018 team.

The mayor faced more questions after Kouvalis on Twitter called a constitutional expert critical of Leitch’s policies a “cuck,” short for cuckold. The slur is often used by white nationalists and other alt-right groups. Kouvalis later apologized and resigned from Leitch’s campaign.

Also in 2016 Kouvalis pleaded guilty to drunk driving after crashing his Lexus into a concrete culvert in Tecumseh, near his Windsor-area home. Fined and temporarily banned from driving, he said in a series of tweets he had struggled with alcoholism since 2011.

Last September the strategist was charged with breaking and entering after police said they found him and an aspiring politician drinking in a closed Kelsey’s restaurant in Burlington. Charges were dropped earlier this year in exchange for their guilty pleas to non-criminal trespassing.

Kouvalis remains a combative presence on Twitter, lashing out at ambiguous enemies in a string of late-night tweets.

In a now-deleted Aug. 6 tweet, Kouvalis wrote: “1 day, I will write a book: the left-center-right, & how they all f—– everyone & perhaps I will write some ‘colour’ about the journalist on the way …”my favourites (who were pros along the way & the a–wipes too) {Remember that I won, a lot} don’t ever forget, how I won that” (sic).

In another, still posted, he wrote “Shame on you, the left, for what you are trying to do. You all know the truth, but you’re playing your game. Shane on you!” He asked left-leaning councillor Paula Fletcher “Will you let them assinate me?” (sic).

Tory has said he has supported Kouvalis through his struggles because that’s “what you do with people that are your friends.”

A source familiar with the mayor’s office and its relationship with Kouvalis said Tory “needs him. It’s that simple.”

“People point out Leitch (losing) but he has helped many people win. On winning, Kouvalis’ track record is better than Tory’s and the mayor knows that. Also, Nick’s a hired gun and if he doesn’t work for you he might work against you,” the source said.

Kouvalis declined to answer the Star’s questions, writing in an email that his company, Campaign Research, “does not disclose, discuss, confirm, or deny the existence of any matter relating to who its clients are, or may be,” unless required to by law or directed to by the client.

Keerthana Kamalavasan, a spokesperson for Tory’s campaign, said in an email: “Toronto residents know Mayor Tory’s values and what he stands for. He has been a champion for an open, inclusive city that embraces people from all cultures and walks of life.”

More surprising to Tory confidantes than his attachment to conservative Kouvalis is the welcome mat for Kinsella, a tart-tongued Liberal who has also quit a campaign over a tweet and who took Kouvalis to court when they were in enemy camps.

Kinsella launched a $100,000 defamation suit over a 2014 tweet in which Kouvalis lauded the Chow campaign for “dumping” Kinsella. Kinsella said he left of his own accord after calling Tory’s SmartTrack plan a “Segregationist Track” that avoided low-income neighbourhoods.

Kinsella later deleted the “Segregationist” tweet and apologized to Tory. Kouvalis, Kinsella and a lawyer for Kinsella did not respond to the Star’s questions about the status of the lawsuit.

When Chow reacted to the “segregationist” tweet by downplaying Kinsella’s role on her campaign as a volunteer, Tory criticized her response as inadequate and failing to take responsibility.

“I would like some accountability from her and to say that this was a senior operative in her campaign . . . and that she finds those kinds of comments reprehensible in the context of politics and utterly without any foundation at all when it comes to me personally,” Tory said at the time, as quoted in the Toronto Sun.

Kinsella is a well-known strategist and former principal at high-stakes crisis communications firm Navigator who wrote the book The War Room. He appears to relish a fight, on Aug. 3 calling a journalist a “bitter little s—head” on Twitter and vowing to “kick his ass” in a debate.

Kinsella ran the war room for the federal Liberals during the 1993 election and Tory was the Conservative’s campaign chair. The Conservatives released attack ads highlighting then-Liberal candidate Jean Chrétien’s facial deformity, a move Tory defended at the time.

Kinsella, who a decade later helped Tory during his failed 2003 mayoral bid, posted on his personal website Aug. 1 he would volunteer for Tory “if he wants me,” listing several reasons why, including that he “believes in redemption.”

“When I made a stupid, thoughtless, unfunny, idiotic tweet during 2014’s race, John accepted my apology — and we resumed our friendship,” Kinsella wrote, apparently referring to the “Segregationist Track” tweet that prompted him to leave Chow’s team.

Kouvalis and Kinsella appear to have publicly mended fences.

Lisa Kinsella, Warren’s wife and partner in Daisy Group consultants, said in an email: “As Warren’s partner, I can tell you that John Tory is a great family friend, and we are delighted to support someone who has done so much for Toronto. In addition, Warren and Nick have become close friends and John Tory is the one who brought them together. John has the ability to bring people together, not separate them.”

The source with knowledge of Tory’s campaign said Kinsella’s welcome with the mayor appears to be linked to Tory’s fear of losing.

“How scared is he of Montreal happening in Toronto?” the source said early in the campaign, which started in May, referring to Valerie Plante’s surprise 2017 defeat of Montreal mayor and former federal cabinet minister Denis Coderre.

“Tory’s terrified of being a one-term mayor.”

With about three weeks until the vote, however, opinion polls suggest Tory still holds a commanding lead over Keesmaat.

Asked to respond, Kamalavasan, the Tory campaign spokesperson, said: “Warren Kinsella is a volunteer helping out in the campaign war room” and noted his previous role on the 2003 campaign.

“Staff and volunteers aren’t the issue in this election. The candidates, their records and their plans are.”

Asked about Tory using Kouvalis and Kinsella, Keesmaat said: “Toronto is at its best when we’re all working together towards the same goal, and I think we’re all disappointed when discourse becomes too venomous.”

“It’s up to John Tory to decide what kind of campaign he wants to run and who he wants to run it, and the people of Toronto will assess him on that choice.”

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

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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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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