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Children’s minister Lisa MacLeod urged to resign over accusation she bullied autism group

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Ontario’s largest public sector union and the NDP education critic are calling on Lisa MacLeod to resign, saying her behaviour toward an autism group was akin to bullying and inappropriate for a cabinet minister.

The Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysts said MacLeod — who is minister of children, community and social services — pressured them to provide a quote in support of changes to the province’s autism program, but without details they refused.

A spokesperson for Lisa MacLeod said the group levelling accusations against her was unwilling to work with the government on changes to the system.
A spokesperson for Lisa MacLeod said the group levelling accusations against her was unwilling to work with the government on changes to the system.  (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)

They say MacLeod then told the group it would be a “long four years” if they didn’t.

A senior source in MacLeod’s ministry who is familiar with all meetings with ONTABA said different representatives attended the fourth and final meeting, and the tone had changed. The source said the ministry had been led to expect public support from the group.

The source said he “did not recall” MacLeod making such a statement.

A spokesperson for MacLeod said ONTABA was unwilling to work with the government on changes to the system.

On Thursday, Warren (Smokey) Thomas, head of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union and New Democrat Marit Stiles said MacLeod should step down.

In a statement, Thomas said “I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in Lisa MacLeod … It’s unbelievable she would bully others to pay lip service to (Premier) Doug Ford’s attack on autistic children.”

On Twitter, Stiles said: “From our most vulnerable children& youth, to women & families fleeing violence, Minister Lisa MacLeod has consistently made decisions that cause them harm. As we head back to Queen’s Park next week, I’m hoping she does the right thing: #ResignLisaMacLeod.”

At a news conference in Woodbridge on Thursday morning, Ford said he had yet to speak to MacLeod about the controversy, but would — in part to ensure reports on the issue are “factual.”

Ford, however, also said he would “never” ask MacLeod to resign. “She’s an absolute all-star … she’s done an incredible job” on a difficult file, he told reporters.

A memo Wednesday to ONTABA members said of the Jan. 29 meeting: “The minister and her staff requested that ONTABA provide a quote of support, without providing full details on the program, and indicated that failure to do so would result in ‘four long years’ for the organization.

“The minister also indicated that if a quote of support was not forthcoming, a communication that behaviour analysts are ‘self-interested’ would be released from her office … In spite of the implied risk, the organization refused.”

One analyst who attended said it was “more akin to meeting with a mob boss than an elected official.”

The rift with ONTABA is part of an escalating division between the Ford government and some in the autism community in the wake of the Progressive Conservatives’ system overhaul, which MacLeod has pledged will make funding more equitable and clear the massive wait list for services within 18 months.

While several service providers and hospitals issued public endorsements of the plan after it was announced, parent support group Autism Ontario — which was praised for supporting the changes by MacLeod — released a statement Tuesday saying the organization “neither proposed nor endorsed” the revamp.

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb

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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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