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Munk Debates blames ‘technical error’ for wrong results in Bannon-Frum faceoff

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Before it even began, the Munk Debate that pitted former Trump strategist Steve Bannon against conservative commentator David Frum was already steeped in controversy.

Now there’s even more.

Protesters yell at ticket holders outside of Roy Thomson Hall Friday night to protest the appearance of former Trump strategist Steve Bannon at the Munk Debates. Toronto police have laid charges against 12 people in connection with the protests.
Protesters yell at ticket holders outside of Roy Thomson Hall Friday night to protest the appearance of former Trump strategist Steve Bannon at the Munk Debates. Toronto police have laid charges against 12 people in connection with the protests.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

The Munk Debates announced on Saturday morning that they made a “technical error” in delivering the results of Friday night’s faceoff between Bannon and Frum after initially announcing that the latter had lost when it had actually been a draw.

The debate had already faced criticism, with calls to cancel the event amid protests over Bannon’s involvement, including a raucous rally outside Roy Thomson Hall that resulted in the arrest of 12 people.

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The Munk Debates typically begin with a vote asking the audience to choose whether they are for or against the question at hand. They also ask whether the audience members are open to changing their votes after listening to the debate. At the end, a final vote is done with the same initial for-or-against question. The debater who swayed votes to their side wins.

At the end of Friday’s event, they asked the audience whether “the future of western politics is populist, not liberal.” The now-incorrect results showed a clear win for Bannon at 57 per cent in favour and 43 per cent against — a far cry from the corrected tally posted Saturday morning of 28 per cent in favour and 72 per cent opposed, resulting in a draw.

“The system involves various people talking behind the scenes,” said Rudyard Griffiths, chairman of The Munk Debates in an interview with the Star. “There’s one person that’s managing the live poll, that person is communicating with another person who is entering it into a slide, and then another operator is collecting those slides that are displayed on the screen in the hall. So there’s a lot of different moving pieces.”

Instead of presenting the numbers in the final vote at Friday’s debate, the tally from the question about whether or not the person’s opinion could be swayed were shown on stage — incorrectly stating that Bannon had won over Frum.

It was also The Munk Debates’ first time collecting votes electronically, having used paper ballots in the past, Griffiths added. They will conduct an internal report into how the error was made and how a mistake like this could be prevented.

Organizers caught on to the error about five to 10 minutes after the final announcement, but it was too late.

“By the time the error had been identified and brought to my attention, the people who were in the hall had left,” Griffiths said. “Some had remained for a post-debate reception and we were able to communicate the results to those people.”

They posted an update to their Facebook page after the debate. On Saturday morning, they sent an email to their members and posted the correction on Twitter.

While votes tend to sway after debates, draws are not unheard of, Griffiths said.

“You’re also talking about a sample of roughly 2,800 people,” Griffiths said. “Some people may change their mind, but other people on the other side may change their minds also. So even though someone’s changed their vote, the net effect of that on the results is negligible.”

People were also entering the debate late and missed the vote on the initial questions, having been delayed by the protest outside.

J.P. Luisi, who attended the debate, was surprised that the corrected results did not yield a clear winner.

“My wife and a few other people that I spoke to changed their vote at the end, so it seemed odd that statistically there wouldn’t be a change,” Luisi said. “It’s like flipping a coin. Theoretically it could land on its edge, but chances are that it will be heads or tales.”

Luisi said the audience seemed shocked at the now-incorrect results announced onstage, especially considering the unexpectedly large swing.

“There was some murmuring in the crowd briefly and then people afterwords were saying that they were surprised that there was such a change,” Luisi said. “Even people that voted for Bannon were surprised that he would have changed opinion that much.”

David Frum posted The Munk Debates’ correction on Twitter.

Stefanie Marotta is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @StefanieMarotta

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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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