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How Ontario’s francophones are teaching Doug Ford a French lesson

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French-speaking Ontarians are preparing to protest against the PC government Saturday in nearly 40 communities across the province, including a demonstration at Premier Doug Ford’s constituency office in Etobicoke. 

The protests come after the Ford government’s relationship with Ontario’s francophones turned sour with a speed and ferocity that the premier never saw coming, and that many non-francophones might not understand. Whatever your views on the issue, there’s no denying that this provincial controversy has national political implications

« It’s a question of francophone rights and the whole country’s very sensitive to that and that’s why we have support all over Canada, » said Carol Jolin, president of l’Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario, in an interview Friday with CBC News.  

Since announcing his move to downgrade the province’s independent watchdog on French-language services and to scrap plans for a French-language university in the Greater Toronto Area, Ford has faced a growing backlash from a segment of the population that may not be essential to winning an election in Ontario but sure matters in federal politics. 

Ford’s handling of the issue prompted federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to engage in damage control this week, initiating a Parliament Hill summit ​on francophone rights outside Quebec, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the other party leaders. Scheer is fighting off guilt by association with Ford, attempting to prove to francophone voters that — despite the actions of his Ontario political ally — his Conservative Party of Canada cares. 

Normally, a provincial backbencher in Ontario leaving her party wouldn’t even merit a mention in the news in Quebec.  But MPP Amanda Simard’s departure from the Progressive Conservatives hit the front page of the province’s biggest newspaper on Friday. The flattering headline about Simard in le Journal de Montréal: « A Francophone the way we like them. »

Ford first revealed his lack of connection with Ontario’s French-speaking communities when he was running for the party leadership earlier this year. In an interview, the Queen’s Park reporter for Radio-Canada Julie-Anne Lamoureux asked Ford whether he thought it’s important for someone who wants to become premier of Ontario to speak French. 

« I think it would be important to be able to communicate with a part of our country that speaks French, » responded Ford. « I love Quebec. I love Quebecers. They’re passionate. »

The statement betrayed that Ford was unaware that French is the mother tongue of more than half a million people in Ontario, according to the latest census.

Doug Ford tells Radio-Canada’s Le Téléjournal it « would be important to be able to communicate » with French speakers. 0:10

« Basically it means he doesn’t know our community, » said Jolin. « There’s still lots of learning to be done … first to know us, to respect us and to understand our needs, and I would say our rights. »

« I can assure you our premier is totally in touch with Franco-Ontarians and with the francophone community in this province, » Ford’s Minister of Francophone Affairs Caroline Mulroney told reporters on Thursday.

« He is working hard on their behalf. » 

Ford’s moves last week to elevate the status of francophone affairs in his cabinet and appoint a policy adviser appear to have done little to improve his rapport with the community.  

Francophones felt slighted by his break with throne speech tradition by failing to make the symbolic gesture of including even a single French sentence.

As recently as late July, Mulroney was assuring the community that the Ford government was committed to the French-language university project, so its cancellation is seen as a broken promise. 

Now with Simard’s departure from his caucus, Ford has lost the only francophone among the 76 PCs elected in June.

Carol Jolin, president of l’Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario, says Premier Doug Ford ‘doesn’t know our community.’ (Radio-Canada)

Even while trying to heal the rift with the community, Ford is stumbling. He said in question period on Thursday that Franco-Ontarians have played a major role in the culture and history of the province « even though they’re three per cent of the population. »

The true figure is more than four per cent, which may seem a small difference, but the inaccuracy irks francophone leaders like Jolin. He met Ford face to face on Thursday in an attempt to persuade him to change course, but said he came away extremely disappointed. 

« Unfortunately, the government stayed on their position; they don’t want to listen to anything about what we want to do, » Jolin said.

The university was first promised by the Wynne government in 2017 and scheduled to open in 2020. Its proponents point to the fact that while total enrolment in Ontario’s English-language school boards has been on a long, slow decline over the past 15 years, enrolment in the French-language boards has been increasing. 

One anglophone who will be attending a protest Saturday is Jamie Sugden.

« I’ve been quite upset with what’s going on, » said Sugden, He’s married to a francophone and their daughter attends a French-language school in Toronto.

He said the moves by the Ford government need to be viewed against the history of how Franco-Ontarians had to fight for education in their language and against the closure of the French-language Montfort hospital in Ottawa, proposed by the Mike Harris PC government in 1997. 

« A lot of these actions don’t make them feel as if they’re identified as real citizens of the province, » said Sugden in a phone interview, expressing concern that Ontario is now led by « yet another Conservative government not understanding the context of their actions. » 

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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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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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