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‘Tokenism and optics’: Inuit orgs slam feds on Nutrition North consultations

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All five of Canada’s major Inuit organizations have pulled out of the federal government’s Indigenous Working Group on food security, saying the government is not listening to them in its review of the Nutrition North program, CBC News has learned.

The organizations — Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Makivik Corporation, and the Nunatsiavut Government — pulled out of the working group in April.

The reason given was because the group was not a space where Nutrition North Canada officials were willing to listen to recommendations for Inuit-specific changes to the program, according to a letter sent to Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, who at the time was also the minister of Northern Affairs. Dominic LeBlanc has since been handed that portfolio, which contains the Nutrition North file.

Inuit regions believed this was not a productive space.– Natan Obed

The letter, signed by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed, says the organizations’ experience with the working group « does not embody the constructive distinctions-based relationship that is necessary between the federal government and Inuit for meaningful program improvements. »

« Inuit regions believed this was not a productive space, » Obed told CBC News.

« We also believe by participating in this structure, we were giving a false impression and also giving [the federal government] speaking points to say Inuit, in some way, approve and support any changes that come to the Nutrition North program. »

The federal government has often boasted about its renewed relationship with Inuit. Even just weeks after Inuit groups pulled out of the working group, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in the House of Commons lauding the importance of distinctions-based approaches when drafting policy affecting Inuit.

But Obed says that same working relationship Inuit have seen on other files — such as tuberculosis and housing — has been the exact opposite on the Nutrition North file. He’s not sure why.

« The fact is we have not participated in this review in any respectful way, and we call on the federal government to reset its process to ensure that Inuit can be central players in the review of the Nutrition North program, » Obed said, adding they want more transparency and accountability when it comes to food subsidies.

‘Tokenism and optics’

Updating and expanding the Nutrition North program was a Liberal election promise in 2015. Since then, the government has expanded the program to include 37 more northern communities.

Last year, it unveiled a new report, based off a yearlong series of 18 community visits across the North to gather feedback on the program.

The Indigenous Working Group was launched in May 2017, encompassing representatives from all Indigenous groups. But there were red flags from the start, according to officials in Inuit organizations.

« From the very get go, we found that it wasn’t a distinctions-based process, » said Shylah Elliott, health policy analyst for Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, who’s worked closely on the Nutrition North review.

« They weren’t really looking for any meaningful consultation on the matters. It was clear that they had an idea of where this was going and whether or not we were in agreement it was going forward. »

N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod and Northern Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc during the minister’s stop in Yellowknife in August 2018. (Submitted by Vincent Hughes/Intergovernmental Affairs, Northern Affairs and Internal Trade)

Even after leaving the group and expressing a desire for a working relationship with a specific approach for Inuit, Elliott said there’s been no response from Nutrition North Canada.

« Nutrition North employees expressed: ‘well, if you guys don’t want to be at the table, it’s going to move forward anyhow,' » Elliott said, adding she’s « lost all hope » to see meaningful change to the program before the next federal election.

« And that was basically what we had felt all along. That it was just tokenism and optics to have this Indigenous working group so they can justify the changes that they want to make, or just show that they are being responsive in some way. »

Nutrition North officials did not respond to the CBC’s request for an interview.

‘Federal government has not taken this issue seriously’

Asked whether it’s a double-edged sword for Inuit on wanting to be consulted but removing themselves from the process that’s been set out, Obed said moving forward in such a structure is dangerous.

« If the federal government creates structures that disrespect Inuit and our rights, then by participating in those structures we are doing a disservice to Inuit, » Obed said.

« We have clearly articulated a solution to this particular problem, and the federal government has not taken this issue seriously. »

Northern Affairs Minister LeBlanc was unavailable for an interview Thursday, but in a statement he said the government works meaningfully with all parties on food security in the North.

« Inuit organizations have an important and unique perspective to offer to Nutrition North Canada, » LeBlanc said.

« The expertise and knowledge provided by Inuit organizations through the 2016 engagement process, and the successive stakeholder and Indigenous working group meetings, have been vital to the development of innovative and thoughtful solutions that will make Nutrition North Canada more relevant for all Northerners. »

LeBlanc will be on CBC Radio’s The House on Saturday morning to address the concerns. The episode airs Saturday, Oct. 20 at 9 a.m.

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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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