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Michael Kovrig’s employer still confident in Trudeau government post-McCallum firing – National

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The employer of a Canadian man detained in China expressed confidence Sunday in the Trudeau government following the firing of ambassador John McCallum, a positive glimmer in an otherwise grim post-mortem on Sino-Canada relations.


READ MORE:
McCallum’s comments ‘unhelpful’ in securing release of Canadians detained in China: Mendocino

The support came as the government faces a mixed assessment of the fallout of being caught in a trade war between two global giants – the United States and China. The Liberals will also be facing the sharpened political knives of their Conservative and NDP opponents when the House of Commons resumes on Monday for its first sitting in a pivotal election year.

McCallum was replaced by his number two in Beijing, a career diplomat who is viewed in some quarters as everything the former Liberal cabinet minister turned out not to be – a circumspect, by-the-book envoy who knows how to navigate Asian politics while keeping his mouth shut in public.

Jim Nickel, who was McCallum’s deputy at the Canadian embassy in Beijing, was put in charge of the mission in China as charge d’affaires. His first order of business will be to continue to push for the freedom of two high-profile Canadian detainees and trying to get a third imprisoned Canadian off death row.

WATCH: Government explains firing of Canada’s Ambassador to China






A spokesman for the International Crisis Group, where Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig was working on a leave of absence, said it has confidence in the way in which the government is trying to win his release.

“We’re in close contact with the Canadian authorities. We trust them to pursue the best strategy to secure the release of Michael Kovrig,” Karim Lebhour, spokesman for the International Crisis Group, told The Canadian Press on Sunday.

The organization isn’t commenting further because it doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardize Kovrig, who was arrested more than a month ago along with Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on vague suspicions of violating Chinese national security.


READ MORE:
McCallum out as Canadian ambassador to China after comments on Meng extradition

The arrests came after Canada detained Meng Wanzhou, a top Huawei executive, on Dec. 1 at the request of the United States, which wants to extradite her on fraud charges.

McCallum opined twice last week on the Meng case, even though he apologized for misspeaking the first time, sowing further chaos in Canada’s relations with China, and raising concerns about the government’s efforts to win the release of Spavor and Kovrig.

McCallum was fired after he told the newspaper StarMetro Vancouver it would be “great for Canada” if the United States dropped its extradition request for Meng.

WATCH: China’s Ambassador to Canada should be removed: Robertson






There were mixed assessments Sunday of the damage caused by McCallum’s remarks, but Nickel, who is now Canada’s interim representative in Beijing, was viewed as a solid bet to undertake the diplomatic repair job that must now take place.

Having a career diplomat at the helm in China instead of a former politician is a better bet, said Fen Hampson, the head of the global security program at the Centre for Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.

“The role of an ambassador is to convey messages from your government, not to write the script or go off script as McCallum did,” said Hampson, also a professor at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, where Nickel graduated in the late 1980s.


READ MORE:
McCallum’s firing an opportunity to ‘reset’ relations with China: former diplomat

Hampson described Nickel as a “smart career diplomat who knows exactly what his brief is, and he will not vary from it one inch. He is rock solid in that sense.” He is also highly skilled in Asian diplomacy.

Nickel did not respond to an interview request from The Canadian Press on Sunday.

News of McCallum’s firing was not well received in China, said Lynette Ong, an associate professor with the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

Ong said McCallum was viewed as a friend to China even before he came up with several arguments he thought could help Meng’s legal fight against extradition. She’s not sure whether Nickel will be seen the same way.

WATCH: McCallum admits he “misspoke” on Meng Wanzhou extradition case






She pointed to an editorial in the government-owned China Daily newspaper, which praised McCallum’s comments about the Meng file.

“Although what he said is 100 per cent true, his words seem to have fallen on deaf ears at home. Those who had attacked McCallum should feel ashamed of themselves,” the editorial reads.

“Trudeau’s firing of the ambassador shows how sensitive Ottawa is to the pickle it has got itself into at the behest of the U.S.”

McCallum’s firing complicates Canada’s efforts to win the early release of the detainees, said Yves Tiberghien, director emeritus at the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia.


READ MORE:
Huawei CFO has ‘strong’ case that Donald Trump politicized her arrest: McCallum

“One thing that he had achieved was gaining some trust from the Chinese side, which is critical for a diplomat,” said Tiberghien. “We are back to square one on this.”

Roland Paris, a University of Ottawa professor who was Trudeau’s first foreign policy adviser, said the damage caused by McCallum will be limited and could “even strengthen Canada’s position because it demonstrated the government’s resolve. It’s important not to give Beijing any reason to believe that its pressure tactics are working or will work.”

But he said the government needs to quickly appoint a new ambassador to keep the focus on helping the detainees.

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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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