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Liberal government will still seek deeper trade ties despite Beijing fury over Meng extradition

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OTTAWA —Two weeks ago when the Canadian government put global bonds worth $3 billion (U.S.) up on auction, Chinese investors dove in to buy up a “significant” portion of what was on offer.

It was smack in the midst of Beijing’s fury over Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.

In an auction that drew about $8 billion worth of orders from North America, Europe and Asia, nearly $6 billion are said to have come from China – a clear sign, according to a senior Canadian official, that tensions in the deepening dispute over Canada’s arrest of Huawei’s deputy chair and chief financial officer have not blown up Canada-China relations.

“Of course we’re in a difficult moment,” said the senior government insider, speaking on a background-only basis. “Many things are currently on hold.”

However, the source said, “it’s a good thing” if China is interested in holding Canadian government debt.

“We want them to invest, right?” the official said and, although bilateral relations are tense at the moment, “It’s a long-term relationship.”

In fact, if anything, the Trudeau government is determined to solidify long-term ties even as Beijing warns Canada and the U.S. of consequences for Meng’s arrest and extradition request; even as the Conservative opposition blasts Trudeau for his “naïve” approach to China; amid signs Canadians are uneasy about the Liberal handling of the affair.

One national poll by the Angus Reid Institute said nine in 10 Canadians view the diplomatic tensions as a serious matter for the government. It pegged Canadian dissatisfaction with its approach at 52 per cent.

There’s little question the Meng Wanzhou affair has set Trudeau’s government on a diplomatic knife’s edge.

After Ottawa approved a U.S. request to arrest Meng at Vancouver airport on Dec. 1, China’s state security forces jailed two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — and slapped the death sentence on a third Canadian, Robert Schellenberg.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, ignoring Beijing, told a town hall in Milton on Thursday he will continue to rally international allies to “make sure that China understands Canada is going to unequivocally stand up for the rule of law, respect our international treaties and obligations, and always put the safety of Canadians first.”

Trudeau hastened to add, “But we don’t want to escalate.” He recognized China as “an extremely important and growing economy, a significant player on the world stage.”

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He said his government looks forward to “continuing to trade with China but we need the Chinese authorities to understand that when it comes to the rule of law, Canada and an awful lot of other countries will stand firm regardless of the political pressures they put on us.”

Observers like former ambassador to China David Mulroney, speaking on CBC, argue events have shown there can be no return to the diplomacy of the past.

“The illusion dies hard, but we’ve got to let it die,” said Mulroney on CBC’s Power and Politics.

Mulroney said while Canada has economic interests in having a relationship with China, “we also need to think about risks to our democracy, we need to think about China threats at home and abroad; and we need to think about shedding the illusion that somehow it’s a democracy or a state just like us, because it isn’t.”

Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole believes the government has badly handled the Meng affair and worse, has “no coherent” China strategy at all.

O’Toole says Trudeau never understood the shifting sands in China because he was too eager to make free trade with world’s fastest growing economy his political legacy, and didn’t take into account that China had “doubled down” on state control of enterprise. He said Trudeau was oblivious to President Xi Jinping’s growing powers.

That hard-sell “rah-rah-rah Team Canada approach” led the Chinese on to think “hey, we’re growing as sort of their best friend within the Western alliance,” says O’Toole.

Certainly Trudeau’s strategy shifted away from pursuing a comprehensive free trade deal after the prime-minister’s ill-fated December 2017 trip to Beijing. That’s when the Chinese rejected outright Canada’s demand that free trade talks include gender and labour rights, according to Canadian journalists covering the trip.

Scant months later, in March 2018, China’s Xi consolidated his power and presidential term limits were formally lifted, leading Western critics to describe his ambition as “president for life.”

That is when, according to a third government source, the Trudeau government realized it had to shift its sights.

In the past year, the Liberals turned to a sector-by-sector approach to improving trade, with cabinet members like finance minister Bill Morneau and trade diversification minister Jim Carr travelling to Beijing as recently as two weeks before Meng’s blockbuster arrest.

Even if that strategy is on hold amid the current tensions, Guy Saint-Jacques, another former Canadian ambassador to China, says it too is doomed to fail because, for the Chinese, it will never be enough.

Saint-Jacques said the recent events “force us is to look at what I would call the dark side of China, which is an authoritarian regime . . . and will force the government to revise the engagement strategy . . . and work with our partners, and say what can we achieve by working together.”

He said Canada is too small a country to force Beijing to play by different rules. “They will just ignore us and punish us. That’s why we are at the stage where we need to revise our approach and be a bit smarter.”

The next big test for the Canada-China relationship is Ottawa’s looming decision whether to allow Huawei to participate in developing high speed next-generation or 5G wireless internet technology.

Several U.S. agencies have already banned Huawei, citing security fears the Chinese government would force Huawei to spy on the West. Australia and New Zealand, two of Canada’s other “Five Eyes” allies followed suit. Britain is considering it, as its biggest telecom company BT Group rejected Huawei gear for its systems.

Trudeau said Thursday the Huawei decision must not be approached with a “political mindset” but will be decided on “evidence-based” recommendations from Canadian security experts who are consulting “experts around the world to evaluate how . . . to keep Canadians safe, make sure that our data is safe, make sure that our secure communications are secure, but also that we’re taking on the best technology in the world at affordable prices.”

That leaves the door still open to Huawei. For now.

For University of Ottawa professor Roland Paris, who had a front-row seat to the early days of Trudeau’s engagement with China, a lot has transpired since 2015 when Trudeau met Xi at the G20 in Turkey on his first trip abroad as prime minister.

Paris, Trudeau’s former foreign policy adviser, says he now shares the security concerns about Huawei, and sees China behaving “much more aggressively both at home and internationally.”

But Paris says it doesn’t serve Canada’s interests “to adopt a Cold War mentality.”

China, then and now, “is unlike any power we’ve ever seen,” said Paris. “The Soviet Union was a full-spectrum enemy during the Cold War. China is not an enemy. It is simultaneously a partner and an adversary.”

What that means, he says, “is we have to defend ourselves against China when it acts aggressively but it’s also in our interests to co-operate with China in areas of mutual interest.”

That includes increasing exports to China and working with its Communist Party leaders on the environment and tackling climate change, for example.

But Paris says the Trudeau government has to also be realistic about public opinion even as it continues to engage with China.

“By detaining Canadians,” said Paris, “China has acted with a measure of aggressiveness that Canadians will not forget.”

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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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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