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As convoy claims unity, some truckers experience fear and loathing on the yellow vest road

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PEMBROKE, ONT.—Before Nigel Pryke joined the convoy to Ottawa, he thought he was driving for unity.

Part of a southern Saskatchewan group of truckers that fell in with the convoy on Friday, he’s a member of a cross-country cavalcade calling Canadians from east to west to demonstrate at Parliament Hill on Tuesday. Representing his employer from the driver’s seat of a company truck participating in the procession, he’s technically on the job.

Nigel Pryke of Carnduff, Sask., cleans his truck during a stop in White River, Ont., during the United We Roll Convoy to Ottawa on Sunday.
Nigel Pryke of Carnduff, Sask., cleans his truck during a stop in White River, Ont., during the United We Roll Convoy to Ottawa on Sunday.  (Codie McLachlan/Star Edmonton)

The point of the protest, organizers say, is to show support for the country’s oil and gas industry by opposing the carbon tax and legislation thought to harm the sector, among other things.

And there’s the hitch.

Rallies held in towns and cities on the route have seen supporters — along with convoy vehicles, drivers and passengers — sporting signs and slogans calling for more than just support of the energy sector.

“I like the whole idea of the unity, Canadianness,” Pryke said Sunday afternoon while travelling down a stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway between White River and Wawa, Ont. “But when I see hats that say ‘Make Canada Great Again,’ … well, that’s Donald Trump. Donald Trump is not Canadian,” he added.

“They’re basically running the show,” Pryke said of the convoy’s significant yellow vest contingent. ‘There’s so much of this out-and-out hatred for Trudeau that it’s getting in the way of everything.”

Two days before, Pryke recalled, he was enjoying himself with the Saskatchewan company climbing up to Virden, Man., a rally point on the route, where the smaller group was scheduled to join forces with the main train.

“I’m chatting to these people and then the guys from the convoy arrive,” he said. “I had no idea that the yellow vests were even involved. The whole feeling changed all of a sudden.”

Glen Carritt, a town councillor from Innisfail, Alta., and a convoy co-ordinator, speaks Sunday at a rally in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., during the United We Roll convoy to Ottawa, where a demonstration is to be held Tuesday.
Glen Carritt, a town councillor from Innisfail, Alta., and a convoy co-ordinator, speaks Sunday at a rally in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., during the United We Roll convoy to Ottawa, where a demonstration is to be held Tuesday.  (Codie McLachlan/Star Edmonton)

In mid-January, Glen Carritt, a councillor for the town of Innisfail, Alta., and lead co-ordinator of the convoy, changed the name of the event from the Yellow Vest (Official) Convoy to Ottawa to the United We Roll Convoy for Canada.

The event’s values, he explained Sunday following a rally in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., haven’t changed. The mission is to protest carbon pricing, and bills C-69 and C-48, which would change approval processes for energy projects and ban oil tanker traffic on B.C.’s northern coast. Needless to say, the convoy also packs a heavy pro-pipeline punch.

But another, more controversial, complaint that sets this convoy apart is its stance against the United Nations migration compact.

Since appearing in Canada by way of France, the yellow vest movement has been accused of taking an anti-immigrant position against the compact — an intergovernmental agreement to regulate migration in light of factors that have led to its growth, such as climate change.

Despite the fact that the agreement is not legally binding, members of the movement, including those participating in the convoy, claim it weakens Canadian borders and threatens the country’s sovereignty and security, touting as much in their signs and statements.

“We’re worried about more criminals coming into the country,” Carritt said.

Shortly before he rebranded the event, a coalition of oil and gas advocates tried to organize a similar convoy — one focused specifically on the industry, while rejecting any association to the yellow vest movement. But they cancelled it, claiming it was “no longer viable” due to “unexpected challenges associated with the event.”

Citing a “lack of professionalism” in the online forum used to promote and support the convoy under the yellow vest name, Carritt said the rebrand was born from an interest to open up the event to more people.

Denis Findlay holds a sign proclaiming "Trudeau for Prison" in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, during the United We Roll convoy to Ottawa Sunday.
Denis Findlay holds a sign proclaiming « Trudeau for Prison » in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, during the United We Roll convoy to Ottawa Sunday.  (Codie McLachlan/Star Edmonton)

“It felt like the name may be holding us back,” he explained. “This allowed everybody, including yellow vests, to be involved in this movement.

The website for the convoy notes that anyone is allowed to join. But that invitation has also opened the door to anyone willing to make the trip.

At the Sault Ste. Marie rally on Sunday night, a crowd, including a small child, chanted “Trudeau sucks.” One man wore a yellow vest with the words “flush the turd 2019” written on the back. Like the varied sea of horns that announce every convoy departure, the complaints from the crowd were as varied, and almost as loud.

Carritt acknowledged that the open invite could convolute the convoy’s message, and said he doesn’t support the negativity found at rallies like the one in Sault Ste. Marie. But he said he has no control over how people choose to express themselves in the movement.

The messages from the sidelines have also been diffuse, with those standing along the highway waving everything from the sort of signs found at rallies, to Canadian flags, yellow vests, hockey jerseys and posters of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

From his vantage point, Pryke said he recognizes that the yellow vests are inextricably linked to this demonstration (both in the convoy and alongside it), but he’s trying to find the silver lining for a trip that took an unexpected turn early on.

Despite the fact that yellow vests are “very much part of the mesh of the convoy,” Pryke said he finds comfort in the support he’s seen from the sidelines, almost every step of the way.

Supporters cheer on truckers along the Trans-Canada Highway during the United We Roll convoy to Ottawa on Saturday.
Supporters cheer on truckers along the Trans-Canada Highway during the United We Roll convoy to Ottawa on Saturday.  (Codie McLachlan/Star Edmonton)

“I don’t think the yellow vest message is the message of a lot of these people standing on the highway,” he said between Wawa and Sault Ste. Marie, a stretch of road that drivers on the radio repeatedly flag as treacherous.

Near Batchawana Bay, 50 kilometres out from the Sault, supporters launched a stream of fireworks for the drivers.

Tugging on the leather braided strap on his left, Pryke honked his horn in gratitude, like he does for every other show of encouragement seen along the way.

“I’m riding this wave,” he said. “All of this good feeling I’m getting from these people standing beside the roads.”

Hamdi Issawi is an Edmonton-based reporter covering the environment and energy. Follow him on Twitter: @hamdiissawi

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Anglais

‘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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