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Organized labour lines up against Canada’s stance on Venezuela

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Organized labour in Canada is voicing its opposition to the federal government’s decision to embrace Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido over the regime of Nicolas Maduro — which has been accused of human rights abuses and of winning the last election through vote-rigging.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) — Canada’s largest union — the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the Canadian Labour Congress have expressed varying degrees of concern over Canada’s move to recognize Guaido as interim president.

They’re sharing that stance with the federal New Democrats, who came out against the federal government’s position late last month. « Canada should not simply follow the U.S.’s foreign policy, particularly given its history of self-interested interference in the region, » said a statement by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh issued Jan. 24.

CUPE defended its position Monday when contacted by CBC News. « The statement speaks for itself, » said a CUPE spokesman.

Canada accused of siding with Trump

CUPE goes on in that statement to accuse the Trudeau government of choosing to side with a self-declared interim leader over President Nicolas Maduro, « who was duly elected by the people of Venezuela. » It also accused Ottawa of siding with U.S. President Donald Trump and American foreign policy.

CUPE said that it « rejects any attempt by the Canadian government to interfere with the democratic processes and sovereignty of the Venezuelan people. Given the history of U.S. involvement in the region, the actions of Guaido have all the signs of a coup d’état.

A masked anti-government protester throws a Molotov cocktail towards Venezuelan Bolivarian National Guardsmen who clashed with the small group of demonstrators when they tried to block a road after the group attended a peaceful demonstration called by self-declared interim president Juan Guaido, to demand the resignation of President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. (Fernando Llano/Associated Press)

« We warn Prime Minister Justin Trudeau against playing any role in bringing about regime change in another country. »

At the news conference closing today’s meeting in Ottawa of the Lima Group of nations, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the idea that opposition to Maduro is part of a coup plot organized by western democracies « could not be further from the truth. »

She said that Guaido derives his legitimacy from being the leader of the national assembly in Venezuela. She also emphasized the temporary nature of the Lima Group’s recognition of Guaido as interim president.

Freeland said Guaido’s interim authority is meant to be used solely to order free and fair elections to return Venezuela to democracy.

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), of which CUPE is a member, also issued a statement last week, warning of the dire consequence of « international interference » in Venezuela’s crisis.

But its statement was more measured than that of CUPE, focusing on calling for the government to « promote dialogue to foster a peaceful solution to the Venezuelan crisis. »

CLC President Hassan Yussuff is also the president of the Trade Confederation of the Americas, which includes the labour movement in South America.

He said he finds the international endorsement of Guaido « problematic » but his main concern is the prospect of military intervention — something the U.S., which is not a member of the Lima Group, has mused about.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro delivers a speech during a gathering with supporters to mark the 20th anniversary of the rise of power of the late Hugo Chavez, the leftist firebrand who installed a socialist government, in Caracas on February 2, 2019. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

« I think Canada has an important role to play, but I think we have to distinguish that very differently than the interest of the United States, » said Yussuff in an interview with CBC News.

The Lima Group’s final statement out of Monday’s meeting in Ottawa emphasized the group’s « support for a process of peaceful transition through political and diplomatic means without the use of force. »

Protesters crash press conference

About 50 protesters showed up at the Lima Group’s closing news conference to denounce Canada’s moves so far. The protesters had varied backgrounds, but some represented organized labour.

National President of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers Mike Palecek said the protesters wanted to send a message that Canada should not interfere in a foreign democracy.

Palacek, like many of the protesters, said he doesn’t blame Maduro or his predecessor Hugo Chavez for the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

« There’s no doubt that there’s problems. A lot of those problems are a result of precisely of the economic sanctions levied against Venezuela and the fact that we’ve seen oil prices crash globally, » he said.

Two of the protesters, masquerading as journalists, interrupted the Lima Group’s closing news conference, shouting, « Hands off Venezuela » while holding a big black sign that read « Stop the plunder. »

« We are recognizing and supporting the right of the people of Venezuela to enjoy democracy, » Freeland said after the protesters were escorted from the room. « The kind of democracy which political protesters in Canada do enjoy and, I am sad to say, political protesters in Venezuela do not. »

Outside the venue, the protesters made speeches about the benefits to Venezuela’s poor of the Bolivarian revolution, led by the late Chavez. No mention was made of the current situation: millions of Venezuelans don’t have enough to eat, there are massive shortages of basic medicines and the country’s inflation rate is slated to rise to 10 million per cent this year.

At least three million people have fled Venezuela since 2015.

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‘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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