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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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‘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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