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Former PC leader Patrick Brown looks back one year after being felled by scandal

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This time last year he was Ontario’s next premier.

Today, Patrick Brown is the mayor of Brampton.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown during an interview in Brampton on Jan. 21, 2019 nearly a year after the first anniversary of his departure as PC leader. “In hockey, you get bodychecked, you get knocked down, you get back up. I got hit pretty hard — I got levelled like a truck with those allegations — but in adversity it’s an opportunity to show what you’re made of, too,” Brown said.
Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown during an interview in Brampton on Jan. 21, 2019 nearly a year after the first anniversary of his departure as PC leader. “In hockey, you get bodychecked, you get knocked down, you get back up. I got hit pretty hard — I got levelled like a truck with those allegations — but in adversity it’s an opportunity to show what you’re made of, too,” Brown said.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

It was Jan. 24, 2018, when CTV News broadcast an investigative story alleging Brown, then the Progressive Conservative leader and front-runner to succeed Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, was sexually inappropriate with two women.

While he denied the claims, most of his top aides resigned en masse that night, emboldening Tory MPPs to force him out as leader and paving the way for Doug Ford to win the premiership.

“I would say 2018 started very challenging and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy…because that doesn’t just hurt you, it hurts your family, it hurts your friends,” Brown told the Star in a wide-ranging interview this week in his spacious top-floor office in Brampton city hall.

Brown is suing CTV for $8 million and expects the case could take “up to four or five years” to resolve. A spokesman for the network said “CTV News continues to stand by its reporting” and would not comment further on the court proceedings.

Despite penning a searing autobiography, Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown, that was critical of many Conservatives, he insists he is not bitter.

“When I look back at 2018 it’s with fondness,” he insisted, pointing to his September marriage to girlfriend Genevieve Gualtieri and his improbable Oct. 22 victory over incumbent Linda Jeffrey in the Brampton mayoral race.

“In hockey, you get bodychecked, you get knocked down, you get back up. I got hit pretty hard — I got levelled like a truck with those allegations — but in adversity it’s an opportunity to show what you’re made of, too.”

His book has stoked controversy with Tory MPP Vic Fedeli threatening legal action over passages that allege the now-finance minister was accused of inappropriate behaviour by a female staffer. Fedeli has denied any wrongdoing.

Brown said writing the book was cathartic. “I think it’s been a big success. The publisher tells me we’ve now sold over 7,000 books and they’re going to have to do a reprint,” said Brown.

The memoir also allowed him to settle scores with the four top aides — his chief of staff, campaign manager, advertising guru, and press secretary — who quit that fateful night one year ago.

Brown appears more sanguine than he was when he was writing his book, claiming he no longer gives much thought to them.

“Obviously, mercenaries are mercenaries. People hired for the purpose of an election are only invested in themselves. The lesson there is loyalty and real friendship in public service is important,” he said.

PC Leader Patrick Brown begins to leave the PC Caucus room for the late night press conference in Jan. 24, 2018. Earlier that day, CTV News broadcast an investigative story alleging Brown, then the Progressive Conservative leader and front-runner to succeed Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, was sexually inappropriate with two women.
PC Leader Patrick Brown begins to leave the PC Caucus room for the late night press conference in Jan. 24, 2018. Earlier that day, CTV News broadcast an investigative story alleging Brown, then the Progressive Conservative leader and front-runner to succeed Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, was sexually inappropriate with two women.  (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star)

But there were other Brown controversies beyond the CTV story. Last April, Ontario’s integrity commissioner reprimanded him for “deliberately” failing to disclose rental income and a $375,000 loan on his Lake Simcoe home.

J. David Wake, the independent watchdog, was responding to a complaint filed by Tory MPP Randy Hillier.

The former PC leader plays that down as an example of “the hornets’ nest of Queen’s Park” in spite of being censured by Wake.

Still, he acknowledged there remains a schism with some in the party he had led since 2015.

Brown stressed he was “happy” last June 7 that so many of the Tory candidates he personally recruited were elected — including six members of Ford’s cabinet.

Any elation has been tempered, however, by the more right-wing direction adopted by the premier on issues as disparate as sex education and climate change.

“I would have loved if we’d had a moderate, pragmatic Progressive Conservative government, one that Bill Davis could have been proud of,” he said, referring to his mentor and fellow Brampton resident, who was Ontario’s centrist Tory premier from 1971 until 1985.

Ford’s opposition to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal carbon-pricing plan, which a Brown PC government would have adopted, is especially troubling.

“I look at the debates that we’re having between provinces on climate change and I think it would have been very different. Climate change is an issue that shouldn’t be partisan,” he said, conceding the new Tory leadership effectively “changed the entire conversation for the country” on carbon pricing.

Similarly, Brown had publicly broken with the social conservatives who helped him with the 2015 Tory leadership and embraced the modernized sex-education curriculum introduced by Wynne’s Liberals.

But Ford, who needed those same groups to win last March’s PC contest, has so far stuck with them, scrapping the updated sex-ed lessons and temporarily reverting to the previous 1998 curriculum while revising the syllabus.

“Just think how different the flavour of the government would be,” said Brown, adding he had hoped to march in last summer’s Pride parade as premier of Ontario, an event Ford skipped.

“To have no Conservative leader there? We’d made so much progress on that front. Was I sad that that progress had taken a step back? Of course,” he said.

His fractious relations with the premier remain an issue.

Brampton mayor Patrick Brown is interviewed for the first anniversary of his departure from the PC leadership , Ont. on Jan. 21, 2019. Brown is suing CTV for $8 million and expects the case could take "up to four or five years" to resolve.
Brampton mayor Patrick Brown is interviewed for the first anniversary of his departure from the PC leadership , Ont. on Jan. 21, 2019. Brown is suing CTV for $8 million and expects the case could take « up to four or five years » to resolve.  (Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

Ford, who didn’t want his predecessor as a PC candidate in Barrie in the last campaign, unilaterally cancelled the regional chair election in Peel — along with those in York, Niagara, and Muskoka — after Brown was vying for the post.

Some of the premier’s operatives then helped Jeffrey, a former Liberal cabinet minister, in her unsuccessful re-election bid.

Less than 24 hours after Brown defeated her, the province cancelled a planned satellite Ryerson University/Sheridan College campus for Brampton, along with expanded post-secondary facilities in Milton and Markham.

Now, the province now looking at sweeping reforms to regional government that could have an impact on Brampton as well as other municipalities.

Brown emphasizes the differences with his Tory successor are ideological and not personal.

“Obviously there are different styles of conservatism. There is the Trump style and there is the Bill Davis style and obviously I am more of a red Tory, a moderate conservative,” he said.

That said, the rookie Brampton mayor said he is “willing to work with anyone.”

“I think it’s in the self-interest of Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford to take an interest in what we’re doing in Brampton. If you want to become prime minister or premier you need to win in the 905, you need to win in Brampton,” said Brown.

“It’s not my mentality to look backward, I like to look forward and I’ve got an opportunity to do something special in Brampton and I want to honour the confidence that the people in Brampton have shown in me.”

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

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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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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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