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Trump will be impeached — plus nine other headlines you’ll read in 2019

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Hark! Breaking news …

To those who view the next 12 months with unspeakable horror, O ye of little faith.

In 2019, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence could move into the spotlight, Tony Burman writes.
In 2019, U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence could move into the spotlight, Tony Burman writes.  (DOUG MILLS / NYT)

I have some good news to impart.

Having stared into the abyss for two years since Donald Trump’s election, at least part of the world seems on the verge of scampering back to safety.

As proof, here is an early peek at the top 10 international headlines of 2019.

1. Mueller declares Trump illegitimate

America’s great constitutional crisis over Trump’s presidency finally unfolds. In spite of Trump’s attacks, special counsel Robert Mueller is able to issue his report, which is a scathing condemnation of the president and his family for committing a multitude of crimes. He concludes that Trump is an illegitimate president acting more like the boss of a crime family in the pocket of the Russian mafia than the duly elected head of the world’s oldest democracy. Mueller reveals that Trump conspired with the Russian government to steal the 2016 election and worked tirelessly after that to cover it up.

2. Impeachment of a president

Even though Trump’s actions have long been alleged and suspected, Mueller’s report has an explosive impact on American public opinion. Trump’s approval rating immediately plunges to less than 20 per cent. Even the Republican party becomes bitterly divided. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives swiftly responds by voting to impeach the president, which means that a Senate trial will determine whether Trump will be removed from office.

3. Trump resigns to avoid jail

Even if Trump survives in the Republican-controlled Senate, it becomes clear he could never be re-elected in 2020 and he realizes he may end up in jail. Once out of office, Trump would face criminal charges that have already sent his former aides to jail. Just as the Senate trial is to begin, Trump denounces the process as being “rigged” and does what Richard Nixon did in 1974: he resigns and ensures that the new president — in Trump’s case, Vice-President Mike Pence — “pardons” him. (For those terrified at the prospect of a “President Pence,” remember that Gerald Ford was brutally punished for pardoning Nixon in the presidential election that followed, when he lost to Jimmy Carter.)

4. Brexit reversed in second vote

Anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray poses outside the Houses of Parliament.
Anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray poses outside the Houses of Parliament.  (OLI SCARFF)

In 2016, the U.K. voted narrowly to withdraw from the European Union in a highly controversial referendum. The campaign to “Leave” the EU made false promises to further the cause. More recently, the proposed exit deal worked out by Prime Minister Theresa May in December with the EU also proved to be unpopular. As a last resort, the U.K. Parliament decides to organize a second referendum — asking voters to choose either May’s draft agreement or the status quo of Britain still inside the EU. The “Remain” side this time wins a clear victory.

5. North Korea goes nuclear

It was only six months ago that Donald Trump met North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Singapore and announced there was “no longer a Nuclear threat” from Kim’s regime. What has happened since? Not much, except that North Korea has continued to expand its nuclear program in spite of Trump’s empty assurances. Events in 2019 will only confirm what most observers suspected in Singapore: in their “historic” negotiation, Kim took Trump to the cleaners. North Korea will keep increasing its nuclear threat.

6. China, America in a new cold war

The rivalry between the U.S. and an emerging China may be this century’s most important dynamic, and events in the months ahead will show why. The U.S. government no longer sees China as a “strategic partner” as previous governments have, but as a major “adversary” that needs to be confronted. Donald Trump’s complaint during the presidential campaign that China has been “raping” America is becoming a dangerous motivator of U.S. policy toward the Asian superpower. This is evident not only in America’s provocative trade war with China, but also its determination to hit back aggressively on all fronts.

7. Global economy nosedives

It was 10 years ago that the world was plunged into its worst crisis since the Great Depression. Banks collapsed, housing prices fell, unemployment spiked and millions of people in North America and Europe lost their homes. Few analysts are predicting that the history is about to repeat itself — although the 2008 recession caught most people by surprise — but there is worry that a deep recession will take hold in late 2019 or during 2020. The outlook is that a decade-long burst of global economic growth, including in the U.S., is coming to an end.

8. Europe’s far right advances

The next ideological battleground in Europe will be in May with the election for the European Parliament. Europe’s anti-immigrant, pro-nationalist far-right parties are positioned to make significant gains as more moderate parties have floundered in recent national elections. Steve Bannon, an architect of Trump’s victory in the U.S., is launching a Europe-wide “project” to bolster the extremist vote. The right-wing parties in Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and even Sweden will make breakthroughs in the European Parliament. and their strength will weaken the European Union as a whole.

9. U.S. abortion rights overturned

With the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, the U.S. Supreme Court became the most conservative in generations, and its impact will be enormous. That ultimately may be Trump’s most lasting legacy. Kavanaugh replaced Anthony Kennedy as the perpetual “swing vote” and the court’s conservative majority will have several key issues in front of it in 2019. One will be the historic Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 that declared abortion a constitutional right. There is an expectation that Kavanaugh’s swing vote will overturn it.

10. Emergence of a pariah state

Amid international concern about the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, some 200 protesters gathered in central Tunis in November to protest the Saudi crown prince's arrival for talks with the Tunisian president.
Amid international concern about the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, some 200 protesters gathered in central Tunis in November to protest the Saudi crown prince’s arrival for talks with the Tunisian president.  (Hassene Dridi)

Saudi Arabia’s killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is changing everything in the Middle East. A year ago, the U.S. government had high hopes for the region with a plan drawn up by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. It counted on Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to lead an anti-Iran, pro-Israel coalition that would reshape the region in a radical way. But all of that is in shambles as efforts to whitewash Prince Mohammed’s responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder collapse.

My track record

In the past two years, I have made 20 predictions for 2017 and 2018. Using my own self-serving process of scoring, I gave myself a passing grade on 15 of those 20 predictions.

In 2017, I was right on an eye-popping nine out of 10 predictions, but, sadly, this was not to last. Did a Trump-like hubris infect my bloodstream? For this current year, I was correct, more or less, on only six out of 10 predictions, covering the U.S., China, Iran and the Middle East.

And I was certainly wrong — or premature — in forecasting the “collapse” of the British government this year over the Brexit issue.

But maybe a half-point is given for being ahead of the curve? (No, I didn’t think so.)

Happy new year.

Tony Burman, formerly head of CBC News and Al Jazeera English, is a freelance contributor for the Star. He is based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyBurman

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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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