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Keystone pipeline is Trump’s latest failed attempt to roll back environmental regulations

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Climate activists did cartwheels. Alberta’s landlocked, lacklustre oil patch wailed. U.S. President Donald Trump spat contempt, calling a U.S. court-ordered halt to TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline “a disgrace” — and then proceeded to do what he does pretty much every day, igniting a new volley of news-grenades, drawing attention elsewhere.

The bombardment of daily distraction may be this president’s best friend, sucking up oxygen that might otherwise help drive a deeper understanding of what happens — and what doesn’t — after the sound byte explodes.

In this photo taken on May 08, 2017, Indigenous leaders and climate activists disrupt business at a Chase Bank branch in Seattle. A Montana judge has stopped the White House’s approval of the project.
In this photo taken on May 08, 2017, Indigenous leaders and climate activists disrupt business at a Chase Bank branch in Seattle. A Montana judge has stopped the White House’s approval of the project.  (JASON REDMOND / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

But it’s worth a look at the 54-page ruling that dropped late Thursday at a U.S. court in Montana, putting the brakes yet again on the meandering, decade-long saga of KXL. All told, Judge Brian Morris’s ruling amounts to a scathing indictment of a dog-ate-my-homework administration that still appears incapable, even two years in, of crossing its Ts or dotting its Is.

In rejecting Trump’s green light for a pipeline that already enjoys the uneasy backing of the Trudeau Liberals, the Notley NDP and an Alberta industry screaming for greater export capacity, Judge Morris essentially assigned blame to an incompetent White House.

It’s not the end for Keystone XL, of course. As TransCanada regrouped Friday, saying it would review the ruling before looking to next steps, Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd acknowledged the “frustrating setback” but vowed, “We still believe we will get through.”

The TSX and the Canadian dollar reeled on the news and left Alberta’s leaders pleading anew for help from Ottawa to increase crude-by-rail to help address a widening differential that has the province’s heavy oil massively discounted against U.S. light-crude prices. McCuaig-Boyd called the price differential “horrible right now.”

But at its essence, the court injunction halting the $10-billion project is a U.S. decision against another U.S. decision, leaving Canada as a spectator to what happens next.

It remains unclear whether the Trump administration will go back to the drawing board and actually do its homework and re-submit or simply appeal its way up the judiciary in search of a friendlier ruling, if not at the 9thCircuit then perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court.

Judge Morris nailed Trump’s state department for a series of shortcomings that violated several laws, saying it “fell short of a ‘hard look’” at the pipeline’s evolving viability and the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. It also questioned the absence of any updated modeling of environmental cleanup in light of major oil spills in 2014 and 2017 that “qualify as significant.”

On paper, some of that blame might seem to belong to former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, on whose watch much of department’s submission was prepared. But Tillerson, to his credit, recused himself of any involvement in the Keystone XL pipeline file shortly after taking office in 2017 to avoid any perceived conflict of interest relating to his former role as chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp.

Some U.S. observers noted a pattern in the admonitions that, coupled with other rulings against Trump efforts at energy deregulation, called into question the administration’s ability to actually deliver.

“One of the biggest political myths in America is that, say what you will about Trump, but he’s managed to cut environmental regulations to the bone,” tweeted Jerry Taylor, founder of the DC-based think-tank, Niskanen Center.

“Nonsense on stilts. He’s been screamingly incompetent at that job as well. Not for lack of trying.”

A case in point: last month Slate put the Trump deregulation mantra to the test, concluding that the administration had “largely failed” after multiple attempts to put Obama-era regulatory efforts on ice.

Instead, the Slate analysis argued, Team Trump now was abandoning its attempts to short-circuit the process and was instead shifting to the more cumbersome task of crafting new regulatory policy.

“But having squandered half of its four-year term, the White House faces an uphill climb in developing its major environmental rollback initiatives, and getting them past now-skeptical courts, before the clock runs out.”

For a project whose saga now has spanned three presidencies, the fate of Keystone XL remains baffling — and, likely, overblown. Barack Obama himself — in pursuit of an all-of-the-above energy policy not unlike that of Justin Trudeau’s government — split the difference on the Canadian pipeline in 2015, approving the southern leg but blocking the northern extension from Alberta.

In so doing, Obama lamented how this one Canadian pipeline somehow had become a convenient political football for everyone.

“For years, the Keystone pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an overinflated role in our political discourse,” he said.

“It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter. And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”

That symbolism seemed to have faded into the history books — as a done deal, under Trump — as the debate over carbon taxes and the absence of American climate leadership amid worsening scientific climate data filtered forward.

But no longer. Like it or not, Keystone XL — the controversy, if not an actual pipeline — is back on centre stage.

Mitch Potter is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites

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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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