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Kevin Vickers seen as national hero, but considered an outsider as he considers political bid: pundits

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Kevin Vickers has been described as a national hero for his role in stopping a gunman’s attack on Parliament Hill in 2014, but New Brunswick pundits say he’s largely seen as an outsider as he considers a political bid in his home province.

Vickers, who has served as Canada’s ambassador to Ireland for the past four years, announced this week he may be interested in seeking the leadership of New Brunswick’s Liberal party.


READ MORE:
Hero of 2014 Parliament Hill attack says he’s considering a run for New Brunswick Liberal leadership

The out-of-the-blue statement came days after former premier Brian Gallant confirmed he would be stepping down as Liberal leader sooner than expected.

“It was a surprise,” said J.P. Lewis, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, adding there were no previous indications Vickers had partisan leanings.

Though Vickers could be considered “almost a historic figure,” he doesn’t have a much of a presence in the province, Lewis said in an interview.

“For most people, he’s a public figure from one moment in time. That’s it.”

On Oct. 22, 2014, Vickers was serving as sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons when he fired the shots that killed a man armed with a .30-30 rifle. Michael Zihaf Bibeau had barged into Centre Block on Parliament Hill after killing honour guard reservist Cpl. Nathan Cirillo at the National War Memorial.

Vickers was appointed ambassador to Ireland by then-prime minister Stephen Harper in January 2015.

On Monday, Vickers told The Canadian Press he’s a “long ways from making a decision” about contesting the Liberal leadership, noting that he’s been in public service for nearly 43 years.

Born and raised in Newcastle, N.B., which is now part of the City of Miramichi, Vickers worked as an RCMP officer for 29 years before joining security staff at the House of Commons in 2005.

“It’s a long haul,” he said in an interview Monday from Trout Brook, N.B.

WATCH: Former sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers awarded Star of Courage for actions taken during Ottawa shooting






Vickers has deep roots in New Brunswick. His father, Bill, helped establish the Northumberland co-op dairy in the province decades ago.

However, Vickers has spent many years working outside New Brunswick.

“He has largely been away for so long he is an outsider,” Mario Levesque, a politics professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., said in an email.

“At best, he has drawn some media attention to the Liberal party … They now have a ‘star’ candidate media-wise, but thin on the politics side.”

Still, Levesque said Vickers’ outsider status may not diminish his political capital.

“It is acceptable to move away and come back if you are a Maritimer,” said Levesque. “After all, people are our No. 1 export.”

Other political observers say Vickers’ absence from New Brunswick’s political scene could be his greatest strength.

“On the plus side, he is an unknown political quantity and perhaps the Liberal party wants a shakeup with some new people and fresh ideas,” Jamie Gillies, a political science professor at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said in an email.

Roger Ouellette, a public studies professor at the Universite de Moncton, suggested the Liberals would be wise to seek a leader from outside the political establishment and, preferably, a bilingual anglophone.

“He will fit the bill,” Ouellette said, noting the party is keenly aware that it has lost much of its support in largely English-speaking areas of the province.

“Maybe it’s a good thing to have a fresh face, and a fresh way to look at the issues.”


READ MORE:
Kevin Vickers talks about his emotions after Parliament Hill shooting

Lewis agreed, saying Vickers’ experience stands in contrast to that of Gallant, who was widely considered a career politician by the time many voters turned their backs on the province’s entrenched two-party system in last September’s provincial election.

Last week, Gallant said the party needed to move on after winning just 21 seats – one fewer than the Tories. The Liberals relinquished their hold on power in November after losing a confidence vote in the legislature.

Like Vickers, Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs is considered a political outsider, having worked at Irving Oil for 33 years before turning to politics four months after he retired in 2010.

“Maybe someone like Vickers, an outsider, is a good match to Higgs,” said Lewis. “That’s what the Liberals need to challenge Higgs in the next election.”

No candidates have entered the Liberal leadership race, though several names are circulating.

Vickers has already met with at least two members of the Liberal caucus – former seniors minister Lisa Harris and former health minister Benoit Bourque.

Bourque said Vickers would bring a “wealth of experience” to the party.

He said Vickers was not actively recruited as a candidate.

“I wouldn’t say anybody went after anybody. It kind of just organically happened.”

Higgs’ minority government is relying on support from a third party – the right-leaning People’s Alliance, led by Kris Austin. But that arrangement is set to expire in less than 18 months.

That means an election could be less than two years away.

“We are very mindful that we are in a peculiar minority government situation,” Bourque said. “Our leadership situation tends to be a bit more pressing … The ball is in Mr. Vickers’ court.”

According to federal rules, Vickers must get permission from the Public Service Commission if he plans to be a candidate in an election. However, the commission says seeking the leadership of a party is considered a “non-candidacy political activity,” which does not require permission.

However, the commission says all diplomats must carry out their public duties in a politically impartial manner and “should not carry out political activities if they would cast doubt on the integrity or impartiality of their office.”

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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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