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Angry U.S. voters head to midterm polls in referendum on Trump

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WASHINGTON—It’s a referendum on President Donald Trump. According to Trump’s predecessor, it’s also a referendum on the very character of the United States.

Polarized and energized, American voters will cast their ballots on Tuesday in a midterm election that will determine control of the U.S. Congress and indicate how the country feels about Trump’s divisive presidency.

Turnout is expected to be high. A driving force, on both sides, is rage: rage toward the president; rage the president has tried to foment against migrants, the news media and Democrats, among others.

This is not a “the economy, stupid” kind of election. Despite the low unemployment rate, Democrats are favoured to win the popular vote and win control of the House of Representatives on the intensity of opposition to Trump among people of colour and college-educated white women. Trump, going with his gut over the guidance of some party officials, has chosen a fearmongering focus on immigration over a sunny-days message of rising prosperity.

In a three-rally blitz on Monday, Trump painted an apocalyptic and wildly dishonest picture of what might happen if voters pick the “Democrat mob” over Republicans: cities overrun with dangerous illegal immigrants, steel mills shut down, citizens kicked off their health care.

Democrats, who have campaigned on health care above all else, closed with a more factual warning: Republicans have long tried to replace Obamacare with laws that would weaken protections for people with pre-existing health conditions, and they will do so again if they are given new majorities.

The midterms battleground is much wider than in presidential elections, with competitive contests everywhere from the plains of North Dakota to the wealthy California coastal suburbs of Orange County. Hovering over every race is Trump, who is both a blessing and a curse for his party.

The election will be decided in two distinct kinds of places. Many of the key House races are in affluent suburban districts where Trump underperformed in 2016 and polls suggest many women have grown ever more dismayed by his behaviour. Republican House strategists worry his scorched-earth rhetoric will do more harm than good in these districts.

Read more:

10 things to watch in the U.S. midterm elections

But many of the key Senate battlegrounds are conservative states, like Missouri and Montana, where Trump excelled in 2016 and remains popular. Republicans are favoured to maintain or slightly expand their slim 51-seat to 49-seat Senate advantage, and Trump’s ability to strategically inflame white-working-class and rural conservatives may be a key factor.

Democrats need 23 seats to take the House. Aided by Republican retirements and an unprecedented flood of donations, most of them from women, they appear to be nearly guaranteed to gain at least somewhere in the mid-to-high teens. But 23 is no sure thing: polls suggest their leads are narrow in many of the seats that could push them into the mid-20s or even the mid-30s.

The final polls varied, but they were generally good for Democrats. A CNN poll gave Democrats the largest margin, a 13-point advantage; an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll had the Democratic lead at 7 points. Forecasting website FiveThirtyEight gave Democrats an 88 per cent chance to win the House, Republicans an 81 per cent chance to keep the Senate.

Even if Republicans do hold on in the Senate, a Democratic takeover of the House would be a pivotal moment in Trump’s presidency. Democrats would gain the power to thwart Republicans’ legislative agenda, launch investigations into Trump’s activities, subpoena his officials, obtain his tax returns, and, possibly, to impeach him at some point in the future.

A Democratic House victory would also serve as a warning to Republican officeholders about their policies, their devotion to the president, and the brand of campaigning they have chosen this time. Trump has closed the race with a torrent of lies, mostly about immigration, and a television ad so racist that Fox News announced it would stop airing it. “The character of our country is on the ballot,” former president Barack Obama said on Twitter on Monday.

Trump began last week to warn that a loss might be coming, suggesting it would not be a big problem: “My whole life, you know what I say? ‘Don’t worry about it, I’ll just figure it out.’” Bracing for defeat, he said on a conference call with supporters Monday that he wasn’t sure the election could fairly be considered a referendum on him. But at a rally in Cleveland later, he conceded, “In a sense, I am on the ticket.”

The surest sign of Trump’s concern about the House came in an interview with conservative Sinclair Broadcasting. For the first time in his presidency, he offered an actual answer when he was asked if he had any regrets.

“I would say tone. I would like to have a much softer tone,” he said. “I feel, to a certain extent, I have no choice. But maybe I do.”

Daniel Dale is the Star’s Washington bureau chief. He covers U.S. politics and current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @ddale8

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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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