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With empty Speaker ballot, New Brunswick faces prospect of new government — or new election

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New Brunswick could be lurching toward a new minority government or a new election after all four political parties said that none of their members would be on the ballot to become Speaker of the legislature.

All eligible MLAs withdrew or said they were withdrawing their names on Thursday by signing notices with the clerk of the legislature.

All four political parties said none of their members would be on the ballot to become speaker of the legislature. 0:48

If no one changes their mind, it will mean no candidate will be on the ballot Tuesday when the new legislature sits for the first time since the Sept. 24 election.

The legislature’s rules say there can be no other business until a Speaker is chosen. That means the Liberals could not deliver a throne speech to try to win support from other parties.

So barring a surprise, the impasse would likely spell the end of Premier Brian Gallant’s minority Liberal government.

PC MLA Ted Flemming dropped off the paperwork for the 22 PC MLAs to be withdrawn from election for Speaker. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Progressive Conservative MLA Ted Flemming predicted Thursday that Lt.-Gov. Jocelyne Roy Vienneau would then call on PC Leader Blaine Higgs to form a government instead. 

« Convention, and the rules, give Mr. Gallant, by virtue of the office of premier, first opportunity to function in a minority situation, » he said after dropping off the formal withdrawal notices for all 22 Tory MLAs. 

« Well, if you can’t produce a speaker on day one, it is pretty clear evidence to me that you’re unable to function. So what is the logical conclusion? ‘Over to you, Mr. Higgs. Form a government. Swear in a cabinet. Call the legislature. See if you can get a Speaker.' »

Possible election

Under legislature rules, all eligible MLAs — those who are not ministers or party leaders — are on the Speaker ballot by default until they withdraw.

Another option if there’s no name on the ballot would be a new election, but parliamentary experts agree with Flemming that the PCs would likely get a chance to govern first before a return to the polls. 

They point to a 1908 precedent in which two parties won the same number of seats in the Newfoundland assembly. No name was put forward by the incumbent government for Speaker, so the governor swore in the Opposition as the new government. 

Megan Mitton and the other two Green MLAs withdrew from being made Speaker. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Only after it couldn’t produce a Speaker either was the assembly dissolved for an election.

Higgs said last month that Roy Vienneau told him she would ask the PCs to take power if Gallant could not win the confidence of the legislature.

The PCs won the most seats, 22, in September’s election. But Gallant’s Liberals, with 21 seats, hope to try to govern by winning the support of smaller parties for their throne speech.

Stalemate 

Because of the close standings, neither of the two mainstream parties want to give up one MLA to sit in the Speaker’s chair.

The Liberals announced Thursday that all their MLAs eligible to become Speaker had signed formal withdrawals. The 11 members who are cabinet ministers are not eligible for the position.

The leaders of the two smaller parties, the Greens and the People’s Alliance, also said none of their MLAs would remain on the ballot. 

« The new MLAs of course want to be MLAs and be active in the house representing their constituencies, » Green Leader David Coon told reporters.

Kris Austin tells reporters that no member of the People’s Alliance will become Speaker. (Jacques Poirtras/CBC)

Alliance Leader Kris Austin echoed that. « We only have three seats in the legislature and we don’t want to diminish our voice, » he said.

Austin said speculation about what will happen if no Speaker can be chosen next Tuesday may be academic. 

« I’d be kind of surprised if we get to that point, » he said. « If I was Mr. Gallant and if I did not have full assurance that I had the 25 votes for a throne speech or if I didn’t have a Speaker, I would resign. »

Gallant’s office had no comment Thursday other than the announcement that all eligible Liberal MLAs were withdrawing from the Speaker’s race.

But Liberal MLA Jean-Claude D’Amours said the other party leaders had pressured their members into withdrawing, and some of them may yet change their minds before the 5 p.m. Monday deadline. 

If that doesn’t happen, « at that time we will make a decision and discuss with caucus » whether any Liberals would let their names stand.

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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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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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