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Scott Brison denies lobbying for shipbuilder in Mark Norman affair

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A senior Liberal cabinet minister denied Tuesday lobbying on behalf of one of the country’s leading shipbuilders, which has been swept up in the court fight surrounding the military’s former second-in-command.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison faced a second day of questions in the House of Commons over what contacts he had with Irving Shipbuilding of Halifax prior to a key cabinet committee meeting at the heart of the criminal case against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.

Court documents filed last week alleged that Brison had a « close relationship » with the shipyard and that he was fronting an effort to scuttle a proposal from rival Davie Shipyard, of Levis, Que. in the fall of 2015.

« The only engagement I had with Irving Shipbuilding during the period in question was being copied on a letter sent to two other ministers, » he told the Commons, referring to a letter the company sent to four cabinet ministers, extolling the virtues of their proposal.

« My job as Treasury Board president includes expenditure review and due diligence to ensure the integrity of government contracting. That is exactly what I did, my job. »

The political, bureaucratic and corporate tug-of-war over acquiring a leased supply ship for the navy is underpinning the Crown’s case against Norman.

He was charged last spring with a single count of breach trust.

Prosecutors allege the former vice chief of defence staff favoured a $668 million proposal by the Davie yard. When the newly elected Liberal government wanted to pause the project, Norman allegedly leaked word of the secret decision of the cabinet committee.

At the time, he was head of the navy.

‘Obstructing justice’

The ensuing political uproar over the possible cancellation forced the Liberals to back down and the ship was eventually completed and has now entered service.

The leak to CBC News became the basis of an RCMP investigation. The reporter who wrote the story, James Cudmore, left journalism shortly afterwards and went to work as a policy advisor in Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s office.

The disclosure motion, which has put Brison in the crosshairs of the Conservative opposition, was filed on Friday by Norman’s lawyers who are asking the court to release a trove of secret and confidential documents related to the handling of the leased supply ship program.

The prime minister’s office, according to the court documents, is blocking the release of the information. Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen said officials were « in essence, obstructing justice » by blocking the naval officer’s right to a fair trial.

Hiding behind the courts

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said he wasn’t prepared to comment about an ongoing court proceeding.

« Due process will apply and justice will be done, » he said. « I am sure the honourable member knows that criminal prosecutions are not pursued on the floor of the House of Commons. »

The Conservatives, however, countered that the case had already been politicized by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who on two occasions, before charges were laid, made remarks which Norman’s lawyers seized on in the court filing.

Asked about the investigation on April 6, 2017, Trudeau said he believed the matter « will likely end up before the courts » and then on Feb. 1, 2018, he stated the RCMP investigation would « inevitably » lead to « court processes. »

Lisa Raitt, the Conservative deputy leader, said Goodale is trying to hide behind the court process by saying it’s improper to comment.

« Maybe he should tell that to the prime minister who deemed even before an investigation had concluded that the admiral would be charged, » she said.

« For a government that is in love with the Constitution, I really thought it would understand that the right to a fair defence and the right to procedural fairness of the individual would trump their desire to hide some uncomfortable things that were probably said at a cabinet meeting.

Why is the government putting its self-interest above somebody’s defence? »

The Crown and Norman’s lawyers will be in court Nov. 2 to argue over the disclosure of documents.

A trial is not expected until next summer.

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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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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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Anglais

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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