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Raj Grewal made the ‘right’ call to resign, PMO says

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Asked about Grewal’s Friday statement that he is rethinking his decision to resign, the official pointed out that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already said he believes Grewal’s first impulse to step down was “the right one.”

More than a week after Grewal shocked Parliament Hill with his resignation announcement, he posted a video on Facebook in which he apologized for his silence amidst reports of his sizable personal debts and police investigations into his gambling activities.

He said that his initial decision to resign was “ill-advised” and made in a hurry when he was “highly emotional” and exhausted.

He said he will decide whether to step down as the MP for Brampton East by the time Parliament returns after the winter break in January.

But NDP MP Nathan Cullen said that Grewal’s video raises many more questions, notably where did the MP get the millions of dollars to repay his debts at a time when he has a sizable mortgage on a downtown Toronto condo.

“I think in attempting to answer what are really disturbing questions about his behaviour, Mr. Grewal ended up raising even more questions,” Cullen said in an interview Saturday.

“He says he borrowed millions of dollars from his family to pay off his gambling debts. Now he says he’s paid those family members back with what money from whom?” said Cullen (Skeena-Bulkey Valley).

“We have sympathy, we have compassion for people with addictions. That’s not the problem here,” he said.

The development caps a week of turmoil and speculation around Grewal, who was first elected in 2015.

Grewal broke his weeklong silence in the video posted on Facebook, saying he now wanted to “share my story, because Canadians deserve to know what happened,” and to dampen speculation about his spending and reports of a police investigation.

In the video, the 33-year-old politician detailed how recreational gambling during university became a crippling and costly addiction that has cost him millions of dollars.

He says he never thought that he would suffer from “mental health and addiction issues, but it became a significant personal problem that I now recognize and take responsibility for.”

During his time in Ottawa, the MP stayed at the Hilton hotel in Gatineau, which is connected to the Casino du Lac-Leamy. Grewal said his casino visits starting in 2016 “quickly escalated” as he played high stakes, high limit blackjack, playing 15 to 30 minutes at a table.

“I either won a lot of money, which made me continue to chase wins, or I lost a significant amount of money, which threw me into complete despair,” Grewal said.

The gambling losses ran into the millions of dollars but Grewal said he kept playing, using cash borrowed from friends and family.

The Globe and Mail has reported that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has been investigating Grewal, and that his spending also attracted the attention of the federal agency that monitors unusual finance transactions.

But Grewal sought to dispel questions about his spending and the origins of his money, saying that every personal loan was by cheque.

“Everybody has been paid back, and every loan and repayment is transparent and traceable,” he said.

“This has nothing to do at all with anything sinister except to feed my own addiction,” Grewal said.

“My sins are not ones based in corruption and dishonesty, they are born out of human frailty.”

In light of his disclosure, Grewal also faced questions about his work on the Commons’ finance committee earlier this year and his queries to witnesses about money laundering.

But Grewal said those topics were based on his briefing for the committee work by his own staff. To suggest that he was trying to figure out if authorities were on to his gambling habit, he said, “is to stretch reality.”

Grewal said he left the committee in September because of his desire to try something different.

The politician said he first told his family about the problem on Nov. 5 and spoke to the Prime Minister’s Office on Nov. 19. Three days later, he announced he was resigning his seat for “personal and medical reasons.” The Prime Minister’s Office revealed that next day that Grewal had a gambling problem.

Grewal is already the subject of an investigation by Parliament’s ethics commissioner that may also now be involving the RCMP. Opposition parties raised concerns about a conflict of interest when Grewal invited the chief executive of a Brampton construction company to hobnob with cabinet ministers and high-ranking government officials during the prime minister’s February trip to India.

That company, ZGemi Inc., paid Grewal for legal work after he became an MP in the 2015 election. The former Bay St. lawyer was also paid by a Brampton law firm called Gahir and Associates, according to his most recent disclosure with the ethics commissioner, from last December.

In his statement Friday night, Grewal said both sources of income—on top of his $175,000 salary as an MP—were approved by the ethics commissioner. He said he ended his relationship with one of the employers in January 2018, and continues to work with the other in a limited capacity to maintain his “legal skill set.” He did not say which one he continues to work for.

Speaking Saturday in Buenos Aires, where he was attending a meeting of G20 leaders, Trudeau said his officials had learned police were also asking questions related to the ethics investigation “but we had no information at that point that there was any connection to a gambling problem.”

Grewal also addressed details reported in the media about his three lines of credit, which he said are related to student debts, as well as a mortgage and co-signed loans on vehicles.

Public registries show he had a $1.5-million mortgage on a Bay St. condo, as well as loans that he co-signed on three vehicles since August 2017: one for a 2017 Land Rover co-signed with ZGemi Inc. worth $116,824 and two others with Jaskarn Dhillon from earlier this year to purchase a 2018 Jeep Wrangler and a 2019 Dodge Ram 1500.

Grewal said in his video that he co-signed one lease for a friend who needed a car, and has one for his personal vehicle. He also said that he and his wife jointly purchased a condo for $1.4 million and that their mortgage is currently $1 million.

Grewal said his wife, who he married just four months ago, was in the dark about his gambling problem since their finances are separate.

The MP said he cannot express the “shame and embarrassment that comes with his gambling problem.

“I know I have shocked many and left everyone wondering how someone with education and privilege could do something so senseless,” he said.

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

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier

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‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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Anglais

Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar is the Latest to Hatch in West Island’s Bubbling Restaurant Scene

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Wings are the thing at the latest restaurant to make its mark on Montreal’s West Island: Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar.

At the buzzy new Dollard-Des Ormeaux eatery, the bird limbs come aplenty, with a menu listing eleven “wet & messy” wings, including smoked apple habanero, sriracha lime, and cherry cola BBQ; and four — cacio e pepe, ketchups chip, Nashville hot, and the garlicky, lemon pepper “vampire slayer” — dry rub flavours. They come 10 for $18 or 20 for $34, plus the option of ranch, parmesan, or blue cheese dipping sauce.

Tacos, nachos, poutines (one made with bone marrow, another with tater tots), smashed burgers, salads, and a classic buttermilk fried chicken dinner are just sampling of the other dishes that round out the offering. On the drinks side, there are cocktails, sangrias, and spiked milkshakes in popular chocolate bar flavours: After Eight, Skor, Bounty, or Reeses.

Opened on July 5, Birdhouse is among a recent influx of restaurants to grace the island’s western end, including birria taco slinger Tacos Don Rigo and barbecue joint Smoke Box — a double whammy in the same Pierrefonds area strip mall. That comes in addition to plans for Fairview Pointe Claire’s incoming “District Gourmand” (slated to usher in Tommy Café), and, of course, a number of the area’s longer-standing stalwarts — from southern belle Bistro Nolah to old-school casse-croûte Smoked Meat Pete — that have helped bolster the West Island’s culinary credentials.

The brand-new Brunswick Boulevard restaurant is the brainchild of Montreal entrepreneur Lorne Schwartz, restaurateur George Massouras (of Madisons and Arahova Souvlaki), and among the other partners involved, Brahm Mauer, son of the founder of beloved buffalo hot wings expert Wings ‘n’ Things. Mauer has tried his hand at reviving the original Wings ‘n’ Things recipe — the restaurant originally opened in 1986 — over the years, including with a Royalmount Avenue location in 2012, then as a roaming summertime food truck and NDG pop-up. That same truck has now been made over with a Birdhouse-branded livery to be deployed for private events.

A likely draw to many, Birdhouse is reprising the “famous flavours, untouched” of the once-upon-a-time NDG staple, represented on its menu as “The Legendary WNT Buffalo” chicken wing.

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