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NDP files complaint against UCP, Jason Kenney and third-party advertiser

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The Alberta NDP has asked the province’s elections commissioner to investigate the United Conservative Party, its leader Jason Kenney, a third-party advertiser called Shaping Alberta’s Future and the Motor Dealers Association of Alberta for wilfully violating the province’s elections financing rules.

In a letter to Lorne Gibson sent Tuesday, NDP provincial secretary Roari Richardson said the groups worked together to circumvent campaign finance rules.

He said the Shaping Alberta Future website states that its political action committee (PAC) is a way to avoid election financing rules, which now prohibit corporate and union donations to political parties. The PAC tells donors it will collect money to help pay for non-political advertising expenses such as overhead. 

« The activities described in this letter and attachments are not minor or innocent errors being committed in the course of navigating new rules, » Richardson wrote. « The activities are self-described as a deliberate strategy to avoid the limitations of the elections financing law.

« These are severe and wilful violations designed to give the UCP a real financial advantage including large contributions from corporate entities. »

Richardson said the Shaping Alberta Future website states that its PAC is a way to avoid election financing rules, which now prohibit corporate and union donations to political parties. He quoted a passage on the website to suggest the PAC is offering donors a way to circumvent scrutiny by Elections Alberta. 

« If you choose this option, there is no requirement to provide your name and information to Elections Alberta, » the website said. « Contributions may be spent on, among other things, door-knocking in targeted ridings, opposition research and public opinion research. » 

In a post on its Twitter account, the UCP called Richardson’s letter « another frivolous stunt to garner easy headlines » and said the party was fully complying with the law.

« Perhaps the NDP needs to familiarize itself with the law they wrote? » the UCP post said. « NDP seemingly has no problem with their PAC friends amassing a war-chest of $750k — paid for with mandatory union dues. »

Political action committees raise big money

The pro-Kenney third-party advertiser Shaping Alberta’s Future received $375,000 in donations between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2018.

So far in 2018, the Alberta Federation of Labour’s political action committee has received $251,248 in donations. Project Alberta, another pro-NDP PAC, has accumulated $385,000 in donations this year.

Richardson’s letter to the elections commissioner came one day after a letter written by Andrew Robinson, chairman of the Motor Dealers Association, was reported in the media.

The letter from Robinson said Kenney had met with the association that represents motor vehicle dealers and made promises that included rollbacks to consumer protections introduced by the NDP government.

« MDA president will be asked to meet with the UCP transition team to provide input on how to re-balance the playing field between consumers and industry, » Robinson wrote. « Returning [Alberta Motor Vehicle Industry Council] to a delegated authority from a government agency, appointments of AMVIC chair, compensation fund control, etc. »

No caps on advertising spending

The letter said Kenney told the association about new funding caps outlined in election finance rules that limit political party donations to $4,000 per donor each year.

But third-party advertisers, including political action committees, can accept donations from unions and corporations. They face spending limits of $150,000 after Dec. 1, prior to any provincial general election, until the date the writ is issued.

PACs are allowed to spend another $150,000 during the campaign period but not more than $3,000 targeting a candidate in a particular constituency.

Richardson said the motor dealers association agreed to donate $100,000 to Shaping Alberta’s Future and asked each dealership to contribute $5,000. The goal was to donate $1,000,000, the letter said.

The UCP denies that Kenney made any promises to the auto dealers in return for donations.

« The challenge is the UCP war chest at this time prevents them from countering the negative ads against the UCP from various provincial unions, other groups received funding from left-leaning socialist agencies and/or funds from the NDP party campaigning against the right, » Robinson’s letter said.

« Without adequate funding, the UCP cannot counter these allegations and when there is no rebuttal — one loses the media messaging battle. »

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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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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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