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Tories blast OPP commissioner’s ‘unfounded allegations’ about Taverner hiring

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Ford’s government has blasted interim OPP Commissioner Brad Blair for complaining to the Ontario ombudsman about the controversial hiring of Ron Taverner to helm the force.

Community Safety Minister Sylvia Jones said the Tories are sticking with Taverner, a Toronto superintendent and Ford pal.

“We are not going to comment on Mr. Blair’s motivations for using the Office he holds to raise these issues. We will explore the appropriate venue to review the content of a letter that we fully and completely dispute,” Jones said Wednesday.

“The government stands by the process leading to the appointment of Mr. Taverner as the next Commissioner of the OPP. Mr. Taverner has more than 50 years of exemplary police service. It is unfortunate that this service has been unfairly maligned by unfounded allegations about the appointment process,” the minister said.

“We would respect any decision made by the Ombudsman about an inquiry into this matter and would cooperate with any such review.”

He filed complaint late Tuesday requesting that Ontario’s ombudsman, Paul Dubé, probe the hiring of his successor.

It comes as Taverner, 72, a close Ford chum, is to be sworn in as head of Canada’s second largest police force after the RCMP.

The 51-year veteran Toronto police superintendent was a surprise choice to helm the OPP.

Blair wants Taverner’s installation to be delayed pending a review of the appointment.

The 32-year OPP veteran and the only deputy commissioner to apply for the top job makes grave allegations against Ford’s chief of staff, Dean French.

He alleges French specifically requested that the OPP purchase a “large camper type vehicle” that could be modified to certain specifications and that the request be “kept off the books.”

Blair’s letter says Taverner’s appointment raises “a legitimate question as to whether the OPP’s integrity has been compromised and whether the public can have confidence in and respect for the OPP going forward.”

His lawyer, Julian Falconer, said Blair came forward with the explosive complaint “amidst a growing sea of controversy.”

Falconer said the officer is speaking out out of a belief the OPP “is an organization whose credibility is worth protecting.”

Blair is aware his decision to question the hiring process of his successor means he will “now be under no minor light of scrutiny,” the lawyer said.

The interim commissioner was appointed to his acting post by the Progressive Conservative government, via an October order in council.

He also applied for the chief commissioner posting. In the letter he states he was viewed by members of the OPP as a “front-runner candidate.”

His letter claims the decision to name Taverner as commissioner was made prior to a Wednesday cabinet meeting where the decision was said to have been made; that the job posting was “changed without convincing justification,” and that the hiring panel had “questionable authority” and the interview panel members changed at the last minute.

The letter also claims that Ford’s chief of staff specifically requested that the OPP purchase a “large camper type vehicle and have it modified to the specifications the premier’s office would provide us.” According to the letter, there was a request that these costs be “kept off the books.”

Such a request, asking for “monies spent to be hidden from the public record” is at minimum a violation of the Ontario government’s financial policies, the letter said.

Blair’s concerns come after another former OPP commissioner, Chris Lewis, voiced his concerns about Taverner’s hiring, telling CP24 that “the fix was in.”

His complaint is not the first formal concern to be raised about Taverner’s hiring. At Queen’s Park, Ontario Integrity Commissioner David Wake’s office said a formal request for a probe into the Taverner appointment has been filed.

“I can confirm that a request has been made by MPP Kevin Yarde … and it is under review by this office. The office will have no further comment on the matter,” said Wake’s spokesperson Michelle Renaud, referring to the Brampton North NDP MPP’s letter to the office.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at wgillis@thestar.ca or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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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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