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U.S. NATO rep veers off Trump’s script, praises Canada’s contributions to alliance

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s representative to NATO is leaving some daylight between herself and her boss on the thorny political matter of Canada’s monetary contributions to the alliance.

« Canada is doing so many things that are very important, » Kay Bailey Hutchison said in an interview airing Tuesday on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.

Trump has berated NATO members repeatedly for failing to spend enough on defence. In 2014, NATO countries committed to spending two per cent of their gross domestic products on defence by 2024. Canada’s defence spending was estimated at 1.36 per cent of GDP in 2017 and is only expected to rise to 1.4 per cent by 2024.

The latest defence spending figures as a percentage of a country’s gross domestic product (GDP), a measure used to determine the size of a country’s economy. (CBC News)

Hutchison acknowledged that « we need the two per cent » — but suggested there are « many » other ways to contribute to the alliance.

« The contribution of forces, of troops, of helping in the common funding of the alliance’s missions such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and the enhanced Forward Presence [in the Baltic states], all of which our allies are doing. »

Hutchison specifically cited two ways in which Canada is supporting NATO.

« They are the leader in Latvia and it’s a very important mission for NATO, to show that this alliance is going to stand firm against Russian malign influence, » she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits Adazi Military Base in Kadaga, Latvia, on Tuesday, July 10, 2018. (Roman Koksarov/Associated Press)

« In addition, Canada has recently stepped up for our most important new mission, which is to help stabilize the Iraqi military and their police through advising and training in Iraq. Canada is the lead and commander of that new mission.

« I think our allies know that one thing is not more important than the other parts of (the) contribution. »

Hutchison’s comments stand in stark contrast to Trump’s own take on NATO cost-sharing. The president spent most of his time at the NATO leaders’ summit in July calling out what he called « delinquent » nations, accusing Europe of freeloading off the U.S., calling into question his country’s commitment to Article 5 — the « collective defence » clause that treats an attack upon one NATO nation as an attack upon all of them — and threatening to withdraw from the alliance entirely.

Her view seems more in line with that of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has said the two per cent benchmark doesn’t adequately address a country’s total commitment to NATO.

« We’ll always step up, with cash yes but also with commitments and capacity. That’s what NATO is looking for, » Trudeau said in July from the Brussels NATO summit, adding that there are no plans for Canada to double its defence budget.

And despite Trump’s repeated threats to pull out of NATO, Hutchison tried to offer reassurance.

« America is committed to this alliance, » she said. « I think our allies know that America is here, we are committed, we are the leader of this alliance and we will continue to be. »

NATO optimistic about Macedonia’s prospects

Hutchison also weighed in on Sunday’s referendum in Macedonia, which would have paved the way for the country to join NATO after Macedonia and Greece came to an agreement on a name change.

The vote to change Macedonia’s name to North Macedonia won overwhelming support in a referendum — but because of the low voter turnout, the results are not binding.

NATO, the European Union, the UN secretary-general and the United States have all voiced a desire to see the small Balkan country join international institutions, despite Russia’s hostility to the idea of nations in the region joining the alliance.

A supporter of a movement for voters to boycott the referendum celebrates in central Skopje, Macedonia, after election officials gave low turnout figures, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. (Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press)

Canada is among those enthusiastic about Macedonia’s NATO prospects, despite the referendum results. 

« We believe the Euro-Atlantic path will help ensure a secure, prosperous and democratic future for [Macedonia], » said Stéphane Dion, Canada’s special envoy to the EU and ambassador to Germany, in a joint statement with Kati Csaba, Canada’s ambassador to Macedonia.

Hutchison said she remains optimistic that Macedonia will be « our 30th member in the near future. »

« I think the vote was a great success, » she said. « They will make their decisions whether they want to join NATO. We have committed to accept them if they do come forward. I think they will. »

Final results from Sunday’s referendum showed that among the 36.9 per cent of registered voters who cast ballots, 91.4 per cent supported the deal that would change their country’s name to North Macedonia.

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‘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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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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