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All eyes turn to tiny P.E.I. as electoral reform put to voters

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Tiny Prince Edward Island has a chance to send a big message to the rest of the country about electoral reform when voters are asked to consider proportional representation in a referendum as early as this spring.

Voters in British Columbia rejected making such a change in December, and while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to abolish the first-past-the-post federal voting system during the 2015 election, he later abandoned the plan, saying Canadians were not eager for change.

Now, advocates hope Canada’s smallest province will lead the way.

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“We were really counting on British Columbia. This was really devastating for our cause,” said Real Lavergne, president of Fair Vote Canada, a group that promotes proportional representation.

“We thought if a referendum was ever going to win, the conditions were good for that referendum to win. In the end, voters voted more along partisan lines,” he said.

Information sessions are now being held across P.E.I. to educate the public on the pros and cons of switching from the current first-past-the-post system to a mixed member proportional voting system.

The P.E.I. vote will be binding.

READ MORE: Proportional Representation for Dummies

But this isn’t the first time P.E.I. voters have been asked to consider electoral reform.

In fact, they voted 52 per cent in favour of switching to mixed member proportional reform during a plebiscite in 2016, but Liberal Premier Wade MacLauchlan rejected the results because of a low turnout of about 36 per cent.

“I think turnout will be much higher this time because the referendum is being held in conjunction with the next provincial general election. We usually get election turnout around 80 per cent,” said referendum commissioner Gerard Mitchell.

“This is a great exercise in direct democracy for the people. So they should vote and be informed what their choices are,” he said.

In 2016, voters were given five choices, but this time it will simply be a chance to vote “yes” or “no” to the question “Should Prince Edward Island change its voting system to a mixed member proportional voting system?”

A “No” vote would see no change in the way members are chosen for the 27 seats in the legislature, while a “yes” vote would see 18 members chosen in redrawn electoral districts and nine others chosen in province-wide ballots.

WATCH: Proportional representation defeated in referendum






Mitchell said under such a system, people would get two votes.

“One for district MLA and the other would be for the party list candidate. The party list is used to top-up the seats of those parties who did not get enough seats at the district level to reflect their share of the popular vote.”

About 90 countries, including New Zealand, Germany and parts of Scotland use such a system.

Lavergne said it has been difficult to convince Canadians to make the change because most politicians feel secure with the status quo.

“The interest of politicians is always for the first-past-the-post system because whoever is in power got elected by first-past-the-post. MLAs look at it and say maybe I wouldn’t be re-elected if we changed the system,” he said.

Still, he expects Quebec’s new CAQ government, which campaigned in part on the issue, will adopt a mixed member proportional system in the next year or so.

Don Desserud, a political scientist at the University of Prince Edward Island, said many Islanders didn’t pay any attention to the last plebiscite until the government decided not to accept the results.

“That’s a question of trust in government, integrity and worrying whether governments are serious when they make these promises to have a vote and respect the results,” Desserud said.

READ MORE: Referendum defeat dooms reformers’ hopes for foreseeable future

Lavergne said switching from the first-past-the-post system would give third parties a greater chance of winning seats, and would allow the results to better reflect the way people actually voted.

“In Ontario you have a majority government that was elected with about 41 per cent of the vote. People have to ask themselves if they are really comfortable with that,” he said.

No date has been set for the P.E.I. election, but Mitchell said the general wisdom is that it will be held this spring, and the referendum will be ready to go.

Desserud said he believes it could be as early as May.

“The last election was May 4 in 2015, so four years from that would be a reasonable time to call an election and won’t look like an early election or an opportunistic election. I expect there will be an election in May or early June,” he said.

The Island government could wait until the fall, but most expect it to go early to avoid any conflict with the federal election in October.

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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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