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Is the SNC-Lavalin scandal’s biggest victim Trudeau’s relationship with Indigenous people?

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The appointment of Jody Wilson-Raybould, a We Wai Kai First Nation woman, to serve as the first Indigenous minister of justice was a powerful symbol for Indigenous people and a signal to all of Canada.

Her resignation from cabinet is equally powerful.

Trudeau was elected promising that the relationship this country has with Indigenous people was, to him, of the utmost importance. When Wilson-Raybould was appointed attorney general, it signalled that maybe he meant it, that maybe this time would be different. Maybe Wilson-Raybould would finally be the one to uphold basic human rights and fairness for Indigenous people.

A First Nations woman was the top lawyer in a country that still has the paternalistic Indian Act on its books, that consistently fails to properly “consult” Indigenous communities on decisions that profoundly affect them, that claims it desperately wants to reconcile yet fights not to deliver equitable health, education and social services to Indigenous kids.

Perhaps, it seemed for a moment, she could change history.

But it wasn’t long before that old familiar feeling of doubt crept in.

There was double speak on what nation-to-nation actually meant. There was little progress on bringing clean drinking water to First Nations. There was big talk but no action on revising the Indian Act. More inadequate consultations. And on and on.

It must have been increasingly uncomfortable for Wilson-Raybould in cabinet, watching as the government ignored its promises on making First Nations, Métis and Inuit proper partners in everything from drafting legislation to fulfilling funding commitments.

And then, abruptly, she was no longer the country’s top lawyer, fired from her historic role and shuffled off to Veterans Affairs.

Why?

There were planted whispers in the corridors of power that she had been demoted because she was a “thorn in the side” of the Trudeau government, because she was “difficult to get along with,” because she was someone people had “trouble trusting.”

Read more:

Trudeau ‘frankly surprised and disappointed’ by Jody Wilson-Raybould’s sudden resignation

Opinion | Susan Delacourt: ime to break the silence that has defined the relationship between Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould

Opinion | Thomas Walkom: Wilson-Raybould resignation from cabinet overdue

How much of that perception was created because she was too honest and too blunt about the government’s empty rhetoric on reconciliation?

Incensed, First Nations leaders stood staunchly by Wilson-Raybould.

The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs accused the Trudeau government of racist and sexist overtones in a whisper campaign against her after she left Justice.

“I’m familiar with her work ethic, her deep dedication and commitment,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the union, who has known Wilson-Raybould for years.

“She is an amazing individual but to see her publicly humiliated and the subject of a deliberate smear campaign is infuriating,” he said.

“We are completely disgusted with the Trudeau government and its handling of this issue … I know Jody. She is full of integrity.”

Eventually, of course, a new story about her demotion emerged — that she had been pressured to intervene in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and was punished for her refusal.

She said on Tuesday that she resigned from cabinet with a “heavy heart.” When she first sought elected federal office — after practising law on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and serving as the British Columbia regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations — she truly felt she could make a difference. She wanted to pursue “a positive and progressive vision of change on behalf of all Canadians,” she wrote in her resignation letter, “and a different way of doing politics.” Maybe she could change things using the master’s tools in the master’s house.

But that is harder than it looks. Even the purest of intentions and hope are rarely a match for 150 years of colonial history.

Then, on Tuesday night, the prime minister seemed to throw Wilson-Raybould under the bus. He said if she had any problem with what was happening, it was her “responsibility” to come directly to him, and she did not. Trudeau said he was “disappointed” with her decision to leave cabinet. He also mentioned that Canadians are “puzzled” by her resignation and so was he.

Not all of us are. She clearly had her reasons.

Perhaps she had enough of the colonial power system.

In any case, the result is the same: she is no longer in a position potentially to overhaul that system from within, and so yet another symbol has soured.

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald tweeted, “Ninanaskamon 4 your groundbreaking work as the 1st Indigenous woman to serve as the top lawyer in Canada. I know this will only be a temporary setback for you. Your kind of strength and leadership is unstoppable in the long run. Remember who you REALLY are @Puglass.”

Wilson-Raybould signed her letter with her traditional name, Puglass. It means “a woman born to noble people.”

We should wait and listen to hear what this noble woman has to say.

Tanya Talaga is a Toronto-based columnist covering Indigenous issues. Follow her on Twitter: @tanyatalaga

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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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