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Vic Fedeli suing Patrick Brown for $8 million over memoir

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Finance Minister Vic Fedeli is suing Patrick Brown for $8 million, alleging a “vicious and petulant attack” through “false and defamatory statements” in the former Progressive Conservative leader’s memoir.

In an 18-page statement of claim, Fedeli, now a key cabinet member in Premier Doug Ford’s government, said Brown and Optimum Publishing International defamed him when the book said that he “engaged in workplace sexual harassment” as interim PC leader last winter.

Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli speaks with media following meetings with federal, provincial and territorial counterparts in Ottawa on Dec. 10, 2018. Fedeli is suing former Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown for $8 million.
Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli speaks with media following meetings with federal, provincial and territorial counterparts in Ottawa on Dec. 10, 2018. Fedeli is suing former Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown for $8 million.  (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Fedeli’s statement of claim also says “numerous false and defamatory statements” were made about the minister in the book and in subsequent media interviews by Brown to promote the book.

Brown’s book, Takedown: The Attempted Political Assassination of Patrick Brown was published the same day Fedeli delivered the PC government’s first fall economic statement last November in a deliberate attempt to cause “maximum damage,” Fedeli’s lawyer, Patrick Flaherty, said in the statement of claim said.

It was “a day that the defendants knew that Fedeli would be required to give multiple media interviews, at which he would be confronted with the allegations in Takedown,” the claim said.

None of the allegations made in the statement of claim have been proven in court.

Fedeli’s lawsuit names Brown, Optimum Publishing, its parent company JF Moore Lithographers Inc of Toronto and their owner Dean Baxendale and was filed in Ontario Superior Court of Justice on Wednesday. No statement of defence has been filed.

A statement was issued by Baxendale after he and Brown were contacted by the Star.

“Neither Optimum nor the author have been served with any claim at this time. If and when a claim is served, we will respond appropriately,” Baxendale said.

The statement of claim said the false and defamatory statements include a “workplace sexual harassment” allegation, descriptions of Fedeli as having a “holier-than-thou” attitude and being a “suck up,” along with descriptions of the former North Bay mayor as toxic, power-hungry, anti-democratic and a political opportunist “who employed ‘henchmen’ to do his dirty bidding.” The false statements also include the claim made in the book that “Fedeli abused his power as interim leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario to have a sexual-harassment complainant removed from her job and improperly paid off…from public funds to silence her,” the statement of claim said.

“Fedeli has been exposed to hatred, ridicule and contempt, including on social media such as Twitter, and has suffered, and will continue to suffer, damage to his feelings and reputation,” the statement of claim said.

Brown, as a lawyer and politician, knew or should have known because of his CTV lawsuit that “the repetition and publication of allegations against an individual involved alleged sexual misconduct, particularly when the individual is an elected representative, would be widely repeated and would be highly damaging,” the statement of claim said.

“This was even more so given the “#MeToo” movement that had emerged and come into prominence in the public consciousness,” the statement of claim said.

Brown is suing CTV News for $8 million in a separate defamation action over allegations of sexual misconduct with two young women in a Jan. 24, 2018 story that prompted Brown to resign as PC leader. Brown has denied the allegations. CTV stands by its reporting.

Fedeli was interim leader after Brown’s departure and held the post until Doug Ford took over following a leadership convention last March.

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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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