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John McCallum’s political skills failed both him and Trudeau

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John McCallum got the job as Canada’s ambassador to China because of his political background. The clear signal to the Chinese was that the former cabinet minister could pick up the phone and speak directly to the prime minister.

In the end McCallum’s political skills failed both him and the man who sent him to Beijing.

His last call with the PM wasn’t initiated by him — it was Justin Trudeau firing him from the post.

Virtually every analyst says McCallum had to go for telling the media, not once but twice this week, that it would be better for Canada if Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou isn’t extradited to the United States.

One slip-up could be forgiven. The second could not.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson, who’s now vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said McCallum’s firing was unavoidable.

« In private discussions with the Chinese he might be able to say those things, » Robertson told CBC News on Sunday. « To say those things publicly is completely counter to what the prime minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland have been saying — that this is a judicial process based on the rule of law. »

McCallum’s comments suggested just the opposite, lending credence to what Chinese had insisted all along — Meng’s arrest was political.

It’s a devastating setback for Canadian diplomacy with China.

When Justin Trudeau first met President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Turkey back in November 2015, Xi made a point of praising his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, for what he called his « historic engagement » with China in 1970.

« China will always remember that, » Xi said. 

Better left unsaid

In sending McCallum to China in 2017, Trudeau was choosing a long-time cabinet member who had overseen the process of re-settling nearly 40,000 Syrian refugees.

Yes, there were risks in appointing a politician who was never loath to speak his mind to the sensitive world of diplomacy where, as the American politician Lincoln Chafee once said, « some things are better left unsaid. » That just wasn’t McCallum’s style. He was a frequent guest on political talk shows. He was never one to duck a question. Unlike most diplomats, he never bought into the notion of talking without saying anything.

But whatever those risks, Trudeau wanted the value of appointing a highly visible cabinet minister to Beijing. In doing so he elevated China to a status that had been reserved, previously, for the most important and high-profile diplomatic posts in Washington, London and Paris.

Trudeau wanted closer ties with the world’s second-largest economy. McCallum’s job was to help make that happen.

McCallum leaves a federal cabinet meeting in Sherbrooke, Que., on Wednesday, Jan. 16. He was a frequent guest on political talk shows and was never one to duck a question. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

News reports of his appointment noted McCallum’s wife is Chinese. His old riding in Markham, Ont., is home to many people of Chinese descent.

« I need my top people to be out there engaging at the highest levels around the world, » Trudeau said at the time.

The marching order, as McCallum himself set it out, was more of everything: trade, investment, tourism, cultural ties.

Those gains really never fully materialized.

Canada did secure a tourism deal with China that made it easier for Chinese tourists to visit Canada.

But the desire to commence formal free trade talks fizzled, despite the prime minister’s own visit to China in December 2017. A year later, Meng’s arrest on behalf of the United States as she stepped off a flight in Vancouver sent relations spiralling to new lows.

Choosing the next ambassador will be a delicate process 

The consequences of McCallum’s departure now are serious.

Two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, remain in custody in China, accused of endangering national security, both arrested shortly after Meng was detained in Canada.

A third Canadian, convicted in China of drug smuggling, had his 15-year jail term overturned and now faces a death sentence.

McCallum’s predecessor in Beijing, Guy Saint-Jacques, said finding the right person now to represent Canada is critical.

« In my view, this crisis is the worst we have seen with China since we established diplomatic relations back in 1970. »

And whoever Trudeau chooses, it has to be soon. The lives of those three detained Canadians are in the balance. A successful resolution to that crisis, and to the Meng extradition, is paramount.

Normalizing relations with a powerful nation such as China comes next. That job will include communicating to China what role, if any, Huawei will have in Canada’s 5G mobile network.

The question now is where Trudeau will turn for his next ambassador.

Saint-Jacques, for one, believes the next ambassador has to have a deep knowledge of China. Others add that McCallum’s successor needs to be fluent in Mandarin, which McCallum wasn’t, and should come from the senior ranks of the foreign service, rather than the front lines of the political world.

Still others say the next ambassador must continue to have the ear of the prime minister.

It all adds up to this. The next call between Trudeau and Canada’s ambassador to China will be initiated by the prime minister again. And it will be just as important as his last.

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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Anglais

MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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Anglais

Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar is the Latest to Hatch in West Island’s Bubbling Restaurant Scene

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Wings are the thing at the latest restaurant to make its mark on Montreal’s West Island: Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar.

At the buzzy new Dollard-Des Ormeaux eatery, the bird limbs come aplenty, with a menu listing eleven “wet & messy” wings, including smoked apple habanero, sriracha lime, and cherry cola BBQ; and four — cacio e pepe, ketchups chip, Nashville hot, and the garlicky, lemon pepper “vampire slayer” — dry rub flavours. They come 10 for $18 or 20 for $34, plus the option of ranch, parmesan, or blue cheese dipping sauce.

Tacos, nachos, poutines (one made with bone marrow, another with tater tots), smashed burgers, salads, and a classic buttermilk fried chicken dinner are just sampling of the other dishes that round out the offering. On the drinks side, there are cocktails, sangrias, and spiked milkshakes in popular chocolate bar flavours: After Eight, Skor, Bounty, or Reeses.

Opened on July 5, Birdhouse is among a recent influx of restaurants to grace the island’s western end, including birria taco slinger Tacos Don Rigo and barbecue joint Smoke Box — a double whammy in the same Pierrefonds area strip mall. That comes in addition to plans for Fairview Pointe Claire’s incoming “District Gourmand” (slated to usher in Tommy Café), and, of course, a number of the area’s longer-standing stalwarts — from southern belle Bistro Nolah to old-school casse-croûte Smoked Meat Pete — that have helped bolster the West Island’s culinary credentials.

The brand-new Brunswick Boulevard restaurant is the brainchild of Montreal entrepreneur Lorne Schwartz, restaurateur George Massouras (of Madisons and Arahova Souvlaki), and among the other partners involved, Brahm Mauer, son of the founder of beloved buffalo hot wings expert Wings ‘n’ Things. Mauer has tried his hand at reviving the original Wings ‘n’ Things recipe — the restaurant originally opened in 1986 — over the years, including with a Royalmount Avenue location in 2012, then as a roaming summertime food truck and NDG pop-up. That same truck has now been made over with a Birdhouse-branded livery to be deployed for private events.

A likely draw to many, Birdhouse is reprising the “famous flavours, untouched” of the once-upon-a-time NDG staple, represented on its menu as “The Legendary WNT Buffalo” chicken wing.

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