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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh calls for ban on “bearer shares” that hide stock ownership

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OTTAWA—With the Toronto Stock Exchange as his backdrop, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh will trumpet a suite of proposals Friday to crack down on tax dodgers and stop the rich from hiding their money.

In an interview with the Star, Singh said an NDP government would do what the Liberal government hasn’t: ban the controversial “bearer shares” singled out in the massive Panama Papers leak as a way to hide stock ownership and obscure the movement of wealth.

Jagmeet Singh says said an NDP government would ban the controversial “bearer shares” singled out in the massive Panama Papers leak as a way to hide stock ownership and obscure the movement of wealth.
Jagmeet Singh says said an NDP government would ban the controversial “bearer shares” singled out in the massive Panama Papers leak as a way to hide stock ownership and obscure the movement of wealth.  (DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)

Singh also underscored his commitment to close the stock option “loophole,” which allows corporate executives to avoid income taxes by receiving portions of their compensation in company shares instead of through their regular paycheques. The NDP is also promoting a bill in Parliament, sponsored by Victoria MP Murray Rankin, that strives to prevent companies from transferring money to other countries to avoid paying corporate taxes in Canada.

“Why is it that the ultra wealthy and the rich have access all these loopholes that mean they’re not actually paying their fair share? That’s a problem,” Singh said.

“Liberals maybe don’t have the conviction to follow through on these ideas because they might upset their friends,” he added, suggesting the Trudeau government is “too closely aligned with those folks who are the elite” to take action after three years in power.

“It’s definitely past due that we do something about it,” he said.

Singh’s proposal to ban bearer shares comes after years of international pressure to restrict their use as a shadowy instrument of global finance. Bearer shares are anonymous certificates of ownership. Just like cash, whoever holds the physical certificate owns the stock or share of a company it represents.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has pressured governments around the world to eliminate bearer shares, arguing the anonymity they afford “makes them vulnerable to misuse.”

In May, the Trudeau government passed Bill C-25, a new law that banned the issuance of new bearer shares. That followed a statement from Finance Minister Bill Morneau in December 2017, in which Morneau and his provincial counterparts agreed “to pursue” amendments to laws and regulations that would eliminate bearer shares in Canada and replace them with more transparent alternatives. This is part of an effort to crack down on “money laundering, corruption and the financing of terrorist activities,” the joint statement said.

Morneau’s office directed queries about bearer shares to Industry Minister Navdeep Bains, whose spokespeople did not answer questions about the 2017 commitment on Thursday.

Singh, meanwhile, pointed to other countries like the Netherlands, where a deadline was imposed to switch bearer shares into more transparent forms of ownership. According to the OECD, dozens tax havens have done away with bearer shares since 2009, while financial accountability advocates like Publish What You Pay Canada and Transparency International have also called on Ottawa to restrict their use.

The NDP leader said Canada needs to eliminate them because of their attractiveness to criminals, as well as their potential as a means to hide money from the taxman.

“These are untraceable, they are unregistered. They are a massive problem, because we can’t actually then ensure there is proper taxation that applies from their use,” he said.

“(They’re) something that criminals will find useful, money launderers will find useful, and folks like the bad guys from action movies. You might recall Die Hard, where it was used — the bearer bonds. But it’s certainly not in the best interests of people, so we’re asking that to end once and for all.”

The use of bearer shares was also highlighted in the Panama Papers, a trove of leaked documents that cast a spotlight on tools used by the super-wealthy to dodge taxes and hide money. Former British prime minister David Cameron’s father, for example, started a fund for investors that kept 2 million bearer shares in a bank safe, with no record of who owned them. The papers also showed a Panamanian company owned by anonymous holders of bearer shares bought a condo from a Donald Trump-branded skyscraper in 1991.

The Canada Revenue Agency estimates Canadians with hidden offshore accounts evade up to $3 billion per year in taxes by hiding between $75.9 billion and $240.5 billion in tax havens.

With files from Marco Chown Oved

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

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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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