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Family rallies around Wilson-Raybould as First Nation chiefs blast Trudeau over reconciliation ‘farce’

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After Bill Wilson got off the phone Monday evening with his daughter Kory Wilson he said he got the sense that there was something wrong, but he couldn’t quite place the unease or link it to his other daughter, Jody Wilson-Raybould.

He immediately remembered the phone call on Tuesday, when he heard the news Wilson-Raybould had resigned from cabinet.

« There was something wrong, she seemed to see something was pending, » said Wilson, a Kwakwaka’wakw hereditary chief who faced off with former prime minister Pierre Trudeau in heated constitutional talks in the 1980s.

Wilson said that as the scandal evolved, triggered by the Globe and Mail reporting that Wilson-Raybould was pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in the criminal prosecution of multinational engineering firm SNC Lavalin, he started to doubt she could remain in cabinet.

« If this moves out the way it is, it’s not because of Jody, but because of what I consider to be a crime committed at the highest level, » said Wilson. « It could very well bring down a government. »

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly denied he directed Wilson-Raybould to intervene on the criminal prosecution of SNC Lavelin. On Monday, Trudeau said he had « full confidence » in her as Minister of Veterans Affairs. Justice Minister David Lametti has also denied the PMO exerted any pressure on Wilson-Raybould on the SNC Lavalin case.

Kory Wilson, Jody Wilson-Raybould’s sister, says the family is rallying around the former cabinet minister. (BCIT)

Kory Wilson said she went out for supper in Vancouver with her children and Wilson-Raybould on Sunday, but their conversations focused on personal matters. 

Wilson said her sister expressed excitement about her new portfolio at Veterans Affairs.

« I feel bad for the veterans, she was very excited to have that file, » Kory Wilson said. « She enjoyed the meet and greets. »

‘I text her I love her’

Wilson said she is in constant communication with her sister via texts and phone.

« I text her I love her, » said Wilson. « In difficult times, family rallies around their family and that is … what we do. She is a very strong person. »

Shortly after news of the cabinet resignation surfaced, Wilson tweeted:

Wilson said she was referring to the rubber boots people wear in the village where their grandmother comes from.

Wilson said it has been hard for her to see her sister go through this ordeal and face sniping from unnamed Liberal sources in the press.

« I think no one likes to see a family member thrown under the bus, » she said. « It’s a hard road to go … I am behind her and a whole pile of people are behind her. »

B.C. First Nation leaders alarmed

In B.C., news of the resignation rocketed through First Nation political circles.

B.C. First Nation Summit Grand Chief Ed John said it will be a year on Feb. 14 since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s House of Commons speech where he declared the beginning of a new chapter in Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples, through the tabling of an Indigenous rights recognition framework.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is embraced by Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould after delivering a speech on Feb. 14, 2018, on the recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights in the House of Commons. Wilson-Raybould resigned from the federal cabinet on Tuesday. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Wilson-Raybould embraced Trudeau after the speech and the moment was captured in a photograph.

The framework promise — which allegedly caused friction between then Minister of Justice Wilison-Raybould and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett — is now essentially dead.  

« It’s just staggering to see how this is transpiring, » said John.

John said he last spoke to Wilson-Raybould while they were on a flight from Vancouver to Ottawa on the day before the Jan. 14 cabinet shuffle. He said she didn’t give anything away.

« It’s a pretty drastic move on her part, to take this step, we don’t know where the chips will fall at the end of the day, » he said.

B.C. First Nations Summit Grand Chief Ed John said chiefs needed to bring proposals to the table on the Indigenous rights recognition framework. (CBC)

B.C. Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Terry Teegee said he brought up his concerns about the cabinet shuffle during a meeting between the AFN chiefs executive and Trudeau along with some of his ministers held the day of the shuffle.

Teegee said he thinks Wilson-Raybould, based on her speeches as Justice Minister, was facing resistance from Trudeau’s inner circle and the senior bureaucracy on moving the Indigenous rights file forward.

« She was seeing push back from her colleagues … and perhaps the party, » Teegee said.

Terry Teegee, a regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, says he believes Jody Wilson-Raybould faced resistance on her push for Indigenous rights from within Trudeau’s Liberal government. (Courtesy of Terry Teegee)

Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said the narrative around Wilson-Raybould has destroyed Trudeau’s credibility on reconciliation.

« To me it smells and reeks of collusion within cabinet … the words that the prime minister spoke about reconciliation and the (UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples) are simply a farce, » said Chamberlin.

Chief Bob Chamberlin, vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, says the Jody Wilson-Raybould affair has undermined the credibility of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on reconciliation. (CBC)

Sending a message

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former Saskatchewan judge, has watched the arc of Wilson-Raybould’s career for about 20 years. She said Wilson-Raybould would not have resigned over something trivial or personal.

« My instinct is that she is standing up for an impartial justice system and a nation based on the rule of law, » said Turpel-Lafond, currently director of the University of British Columbia’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre.

« It is a hard stand to take, but it’s essential. »

Turpel-Lafond said she saw a connection between Wilson-Raybould’s resignation and Trudeau’s statement Monday.

Trudeau said on Monday that he had a recent discussion with Wilson-Raybould where « she confirmed for me a conversation we had this fall where I told her directly that any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone. » 

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former Saskatchewan judge, said she sees a link between Trudeau’s revelation of a conversation he had with Jody Wilson-Raybould and her decision to quit cabinet. (CBC)

The Globe and Mail reported that the PMO pressured Wilson-Raybould to intervene with the director of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to drop the criminal prosecution of SNC Lavalin in favour of a plea bargain deal.

« This comes on the heels of the prime minister’s statement yesterday where he said certain things about their conversation, » said Turpel-Lafond. « One can’t help but think if this [resignation] was linked to that. »

Turpel-Lafond also said that Wilson-Raybould’s choice of lawyer, former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell, sent a message.

« She has retained a very noted individual who is a person of high expertise and integrity. That also sends a signal that there will be some kind of defence of the rule of law and the administration of justice, » said Turpel-Lafond.

« It sends a bit of a message to me. »  

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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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Anglais

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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