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The 9 faces at the centre of the Jody Wilson-Raybould, PMO affair

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This week, the House of Commons justice and human rights committee held an emergency meeting to probe allegations that the Prime Minister’s Office applied pressure to the minister of justice to help the Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution in a bribery case.

During that meeting, Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs sparred over which witnesses would appear before the committee. Nine key names came up in that debate; some are high-profile political figures, while others are more obscure to anyone outside the Ottawa bubble. Here’s a who’s-who list for the upcoming committee hearings.

Jody Wilson-Raybould

Wilson-Raybould, the former justice minister sent to Veterans Affairs in the recent cabinet shuffle, resigned from cabinet days after the Globe and Mail quoted anonymous sources saying members of the Prime Minister’s Office tried to get her to help Quebec construction giant SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution on bribery and fraud charges through a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), sometimes referred to as a remediation agreement.

SNC-Lavalin is before a court in Montreal, charged with fraud and corruption in connection with payments of nearly $48 million to public officials in Libya under Moammar Gadhafi’s government and allegations it defrauded Libyan organizations of an estimated $130 million.

During the political firestorm that followed the report, Wilson-Raybould refused to comment on the case, saying she was still bound by solicitor-client privilege. She has since retained former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell as counsel to advise her on what she is allowed to say publicly.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has publicly stated that the allegations in the Globe and Mail report are false.

Gerry Butts, Trudeau’s principal secretary

Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Gerry Butts. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Gerry Butts, Trudeau’s most senior adviser, did — according to the lobby registry — meet with officials from SNC-Lavalin early in 2017. Both the NDP and the Conservatives want Butts to appear at committee. The Liberal majority on the committee, however, voted down a motion that would have made this possible.

Cameron Ahmad, a spokesman for Trudeau, told the Globe and Mail that Butts had spoken to Wilson-Raybould about the SNC-Lavalin case. Ahmad went to say that Butts told Wilson-Raybould to take the issue up with Canada’s top civil servant, Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick.

Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney General Nathalie Drouin

Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney General, Nathalie Drouin. (facebook.com/JusticeCanada)

Drouin was appointed in June 23, 2017, and worked under Wilson-Raybould. She was one of three names put on the witness list by the Liberal members of the committee. The New Democrats also want Drouin to appear but the Conservatives have left her off their witness list. Drouin has not been lobbied by SCN-Lavalin on issues related to justice since the time the Liberals came to office.

Justice Minister David Lametti

New Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

He’s Wilson-Raybould’s immediate successor as both justice minister and attorney general of Canada. In the Trudeau government, he served first as parliamentary secretary to the minister of international trade. He was moved to the position of parliamentary secretary to the minister of innovation, science and economic development in January of 2017, a position he held until his promotion to minister in the Jan. 14, 2019 cabinet shuffle.

Lametti has stated many times that neither he nor his office were directed to take any specific actions by the Prime Minister’s Office. All three parties want Lametti to appear as a witness before the Justice committee.

Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council of Canada

Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council. (Julie Ireton/CBC)

Wernick is Canada’s most senior public servant and an adviser to the prime minister. All three parties on the justice committee want him to appear as a witness. According to sources that spoke to the Globe and Mail, Wernick reprimanded Wilson-Raybould for a series of critical remarks she made in speeches about the Liberal government’s reconciliation efforts last fall.

In a Nov. 29 speech in to the provincial cabinet and Indigenous leaders, Wilson-Raybould said:

« Thinking that good intentions, tinkering around the edges of the Indian Act, or that making increased financial investments — however significant and unprecedented — will in themselves close the gaps, is naive. Transformative change and new directions are required. »

Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff Jessica Prince

Chief of staff to former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. (twitter.com/jesshwprince)

As the former justice minister’s chief of staff and policy adviser, Prince would have worked closely with Wilson-Raybould. Prince was put on a list of desired witnesses by the Conservative Party, but not by the Liberals or NDP. She may be able to shed light on what, if anything, Wilson-Raybould was told by the PMO.

Public Prosecutions Director Kathleen Roussel

Public Prosecutions Director Kathleen Roussel. (ppsc-sppc.gc.ca)

Roussel was appointed to her position in June of 2017. As the director of public prosecutions she is responsible for the management of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. The Conservative members of the justice committee have requested that she appear and give testimony; the NDP and Liberals have, so far, not requested her presence.

Roussel is the official who informed SNC-Lavalin that the company was not going to be invited to negotiate a remediation agreement. Less than two weeks later, the company filed for a judicial review of that decision.

According to sources that spoke to the Globe and Mail, Roussel’s decision provoked a debate at senior levels of government over how to proceed.

Senior adviser to Trudeau on Quebec issues Mathieu Bouchard

Senior adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Quebec issues. (twitter.com/mbouchardmtl)

According to the federal government’s lobby registry, Bouchard met with officials from SCN-Lavalin more than a dozen times between early 2016 and late 2018.

Both the NDP and the Conservatives want to speak to Bouchard. The PMO has not said whether Bouchard spoke to Wilson-Raybould about the SNC-Lavalin case..

Senior policy adviser to Trudeau Elder Marques

Elder Marques, senior adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (LinkedIn)

Marques was moved from his position as chief of staff to Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains in the fall of 2017 to take up his role in the PMO as a senior adviser. Marques was lobbied by SCN-Lavalin at least a half dozen times in his position as chief of staff to Bains and in his PMO role.

The Conservatives have asked for Marques to appear before the Justice committee. So far, the PMO has not said whether Marques has spoken to Wilson-Raybould about the SNC-Lavalin prosecution.

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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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Anglais

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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