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Big city mayors seek new relationship with Ottawa amid provincial-federal tensions

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OTTAWA—The mayors of Canada’s big cities have launched an election-year appeal for a new relationship with the federal government in the face of rising tensions between Ottawa and some provinces, a reality that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admits has created “challenges.”

The big city mayors’ caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities met with Trudeau and three key cabinet ministers Monday in Ottawa to lay out requests for the coming federal budget.

On the list was a call for an enhanced relationship meant, in part, as an insurance policy against municipal needs getting lost in provincial-federal tensions, something that Trudeau suggested may already be happening.

“We all serve the same citizens. We need to be doing it in a smart, strategic way,” he said.

“I think we all know how the political context is changing right now. We’re having sometimes certain challenges with the provinces in various ways,” Trudeau said at the start of the meeting.

Trudeau’s Liberals are odds with several provinces, including Ontario, notably on the issue of its climate change strategy. Municipal leaders fear those tensions could impair progress on initiatives, such as refugee settlement, that require discussions among all three levels of government.

“We need to be also thinking about scenarios where provinces are not co-operating. Unfortunately we’re seeing more of that than we’d like,” said Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson, chair of the mayors’ caucus.

That’s why the mayors want the next federal budget — the Liberals’ last before the October election — to announce a “clear federal intention and timeline” to create an intergovernmental forum for federal-municipal discussions that would also be open to provincial and territorial leaders.

The mayors say the forum would recognize that the issues facing cities, such as refugees, opioid addictions, are increasingly complex.

“When it comes to almost everyone of these issues, transit, community safety, housing, the people who deliver the actual product … are cities. They’re just not at these tables where these kind of decisions are being discussed,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory, who was at the meeting.

The appeal for a new relationship stirs memories of former prime minister Paul Martin’s “new deal for cities,” which sought to give cities better funding and a better relationship with Ottawa.

Yet federal politicians have generally been reluctant to formalize relations with municipalities, which under the Constitution are the direct responsibility of the provinces, a concern the mayors are trying to put to rest.

“This does not require a constitutional amendment,” Iveson said. “This is just common sense and it requires political will,” .

But the mayors’ proposal for a new forum got a decidedly cool reception in the private meetings with ministers and later in public.

“I think we have to be respectful of the provinces and the reality that provinces do work directly with municipalities,” Finance Minister Bill Morneau told reporters after his meeting with municipal leaders.

And Dominic Leblanc, the minister of intergovernmental affairs, refused to speak to reporters at all about the municipal requests.

The mayors might have better luck with their other budget demands. Those include a request to make permanent federal funding for public transit, beyond the existing 10-year, $3.4-billion commitment that began in 2016. The promise of funding would facilitate planning for these long-term projects, the mayors say. In the meeting with Trudeau, Tory said he cited the example of plans for a new relief subway line — on accelerated time line, it would be finished in 2029, two years after the current federal funding expires.

Also on the wish list is $2 billion more to help municipalities adapt to climate change.

Trudeau struck a more hopeful note on the topic of infrastructure spending.

“From our particular perspective, investing in infrastructure in our big cities is one of the best ways to create jobs in the short term but also meaningful growth and support for our citizens in the long-term,” he said.

Tory used the session with Trudeau to add another priority to the list — federal funding to build new housing across the country to support people with mental illness and addictions.

The failure to provide adequate support now is taking a heavy social and financial toll, Tory said, estimating that it costs each Toronto resident $50 a year.

“That is for the cost of emergency services, policing, homeless shelters that are trying to cope with people,” he said.

“That’s just the monetary side. The other side of it is that these people who are suffering from these illnesses are not getting proper care,” Tory told the Star in an interview.

A city-led survey of some 2,000 people who have been homeless found that 32 per cent reported a mental health issue and 27 said they had an addiction issue.

Last year, Toronto city council asked the federal and provincial governments to fund up to 1,800 new units of supportive housing a year for 10 years. “We have to be looking at that kind of ambition on this,” Tory said.

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier

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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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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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