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U.S. government unlikely to get fully back to business for days

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WASHINGTON—The federal government is expected to remain partially closed past Christmas Day in a protracted standoff over U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand for money to build a border wall with Mexico.

On the second day of the federal closure, Trump tweeted Sunday that what the country needs is “a good old fashioned WALL that works,” as opposed to aerial drones and other measures that “are wonderful and lots of fun,” but not the right answer to address the problem of “drugs, gangs, human trafficking, criminal elements and much else from coming into” the United States.

An American flag flies near the Lincoln Memorial on December 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. The partial U.S. government shutdown is likely to stretch on past Christmas in a protracted standoff over funding to build a border wall with Mexico.
An American flag flies near the Lincoln Memorial on December 22, 2018 in Washington, DC. The partial U.S. government shutdown is likely to stretch on past Christmas in a protracted standoff over funding to build a border wall with Mexico.  (Olivier Douliery / GETTY IMAGES)

With Trump’s insistence on $5 billion (U.S.) for the wall and negotiations with Democrats in Congress far from a breakthrough, even a temporary measure to keep the government running while talks continued seems out of reach until the Senate returns for a full session Thursday.

From coast to coast, the first day of the shutdown played out in uneven ways. The Statue of Liberty was still open for tours, thanks to money from New York state, and the U.S. Post Office was still delivering mail, as an independent agency.

Yet the disruption has affected many government operations and the routines of 800,000 federal employees. Roughly 420,000 workers were deemed essential and were expected to work unpaid. An additional 380,000 were to be furloughed, meaning they will stay home without pay. The Senate had already passed legislation ensuring that workers will receive back pay, and the House was likely to follow suit.

No one knew how long the closures would last. Unlike other shutdowns, this one seemed to lack urgency, coming during the long holiday weekend after Trump had already declared Monday, Christmas Eve, a federal holiday. Rather than work around the clock to try to end the shutdown, as they had done in the past, the leaders of the House and the Senate effectively closed up shop. But they didn’t rule out action if a deal were struck.

“Listen, anything can happen,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after he closed the Senate’s rare Saturday session hours after it opened.

But after ushering Vice-President Mike Pence through the Capitol for another round of negotiations, the Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, said a quick end to the shutdown was “not probable.”

At the White House, Trump hosted a lunch Saturday with conservative lawmakers. Absent from the guest list were GOP leaders or any Democrats, who would be needed for a deal.

“I am in the White House, working hard,” tweeted the president, who cancelled his Florida holiday getaway to his club Mar-a-Lago due to the shutdown. First lady Melania Trump was flying back to Washington to be with her husband.

Trump’s re-election campaign sent out a fundraising email late Saturday launching what he called “the most important membership program ever — the OFFICIAL BUILD THE WALL MEMBERSHIP.” The president urged donors to sign up.

With Democrats set to take control of the House on Jan. 3, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on his way out, the shutdown was providing a last gasp of the conservative majority before the new Congress.

Trump savored the prospect of a shutdown over the wall for months. Last week he said he would be “proud” to close down the government. He had campaigned on the promise of building the wall, and he also promised Mexico would pay for it. Mexico has refused to do so.

In recent days, though, Trump tried to shift blame to Democrats for not acceding to his demand. He has given mixed messages on whether he would sign any bill into law.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York met with Pence on Saturday at the request of the White House, according to Schumer’s office. But the senator’s spokesman said they remained “very far apart” on a spending agreement.

Schumer said the “Trump shutdown” could end immediately if the president simply dropped his demand for money. “If you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall,” Schumer said.

Democrats said they were open to other proposals that didn’t include the wall, which Schumer said was too costly and ineffective. They have offered to keep spending at existing levels of $1.3 billion for border fencing and other security.

But Trump, digging in, tweeted about “the crisis of illegal activity” at American’s southern border is “real and will not stop until we build a great Steel Barrier or Wall.”

Senators approved a bipartisan deal earlier in the week to keep the government open into February and provide $1.3 billion for border security projects, but not the wall. But as Trump faced criticism from conservatives for “caving” on a campaign promise, he pushed to House to approve a package temporarily financing the government but also setting aside $5.7 billion for the border wall.

The impasse blocked money for nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice.

Those being furloughed included nearly everyone at NASA and 52,000 workers at the Internal Revenue Service. About 8 in 10 employees of the National Park Service were to stay home; many parks were expected to close.

Some agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, were already funded and will operate as usual. Also still functioning were the FBI, the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard. Transportation Security Administration officers continued to staff airport checkpoints and air traffic controllers were on the job.

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Anglais

‘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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