Warburg Pincus to raise stake in Asian real estate fund manager ARA

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. private equity firm Warburg Pincus is raising its stake in Asian real estate fund manager ARA Asset Management Ltd (ARA) to 48.7% from 30.7%, as it seeks to capitalise on rising investor interest in property funds, both firms said in a statement.

“We look forward to leveraging our strong capital base to help the business become the largest real estate fund management platform in Asia Pacific and one of the largest globally,” said Jeffrey Perlman, head of Southeast Asia at Warburg Pincus.

ARA said gross assets managed by it and its associates had grown to S$88 billion ($62 billion) as of end-2019 from about S$35 billion in late 2016, when ARA’s co-founder John Lim teamed up with Warburg Pincus and others to take Singapore-listed ARA private, valuing it at S$1.8 billion.

The companies declined to comment on the current valuation.

ARA, which counts Lim, Li Ka-shing-backed CK Asset Holdings (1113.HK) and Straits Trading Company (STCM.SI) as its remaining shareholders, said China’s AVIC Trust is selling its stake as part of the latest transactions, which are expected to be completed by the month-end.

ARA manages 19 public and private real estate investment trusts and over 100 private funds. Since its delisting, it has acquired stakes in real estate platforms in Japan, Australia, Europe and the United States.

($1 = 1.4217 Singapore dollars)

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COMMENTARY: How conference planners are trying to keep online events meaningful

Working from home, in the midst of a pandemic, I’m not leaving the house often these days.

Yet for someone with nowhere to go, my social calendar is surprisingly full. From virtual family meets, virtual fitness classes, virtual DJ nights to virtual Sunday service too, there is a lot going on in my living room. My inbox is also full of invitations to a plethora of digital events over the summer, as life under lockdown lingers.

Countless events and festivals have been cancelled through the summer — with many now moving to virtual platforms. Some organizers are experimenting with virtual events for the first time and the learning curve will be steep.

While there are certain aspects of in-person experiences that can’t be replicated in the digital space, virtual events also provide unique opportunities that can prove beneficial for businesses over the long haul. From breaking down geographical barriers and venue capacity limitations to creating connections that could translate into more meaningful in-person meetings down the road, there are definitely upsides to be found.

But as we move to more virtual events, such as concerts, religious services and panels discussions, it’s important that we make accessibility a priority. The digital divide is real and those without internet access or updated software will be shut out of these growing digital communities. We mustn’t allow the elderly, people in low-income communities, particularly students, to be left behind as we forge forward with new ways to support one another virtually.

What makes for a meaningful virtual event, one that you’ll want to invest your time and hard-earned dollars into?

“Choosing an experienced and engaging host is critical to the success of any event — but particularly a virtual one,” says Priya Chopra, president and founder of 1Milk2Sugars Communications.

“Not only are hosts contending with — let’s face it, finicky — technologies, they’re often fielding live questions from the audience while MCing in real-time. It’s a lot to juggle.”   

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When it comes to a virtual event, the host not only has to be comfortable in front of an audience, speaking clearly and dynamically on the fly, but also know the subject matter and understand the technology or platform they’re using, Chopra says.

“In the end, it all comes down to energy,” Chopra adds. “If you and your team are excited about the event, believe in what you’re doing and put maximum effort into pulling it off, that energy and excitement will transcend through the screen.”

Chopra agrees and hopes we will see a much-needed shift as we delve deeper in the digital space. “The whole idea of panel discussions is to represent more than one point of view. Women of colour can offer such valuable perspective on the perseverance and ingenuity it takes to succeed in a society that still underestimates us.”

Angela Osborne and Taryn Herritt, co-founders of The Atelier, which organizes business conferences, say they initially resisted the pivot to virtual events. But once they shifted their mind-sets and re-imagining what a digital event could look like, they pulled out all the stops to ensure that their event would be an unparalleled experience and would provide actionable inspiration and empowerment for their community to rebuild with resilience for the second half of 2020.

Focus and clarity are also key, for both organizers and attendees.

They say the goal and intention behind their upcoming event, The Atelier: Digital 2020, is for the audience to leave with an understanding of how consumer behaviour has changed, how to adjust business strategies, and how to adopt a refreshed mindset to tackle a hopefully soon, post-COVID-19 world.

Osborne and Herritt say it was absolutely essential for them to find a way to incorporate the memorable moments and interactive elements of their signature live event into this online conference.

“We still wanted to somehow activate the five senses, so for us one of the first decisions we made in planning The Atelier: Digital 2020 was incorporating a curated box to accompany our custom, virtual event venue,” they told me in an email.

“The Atelier Experience box truly enhances the virtual experience, as we’ve included gourmet snacks, a bottle of wine, coveted beauty products and a suite of wellness items, including some really special products from female-run small businesses.”

The idea resonated extremely well with their audience, and when tickets launched last week, the VIP ticket (which includes the Experience Box) sold out in two minutes.

I think much of it comes down to how we, as participants, use this technology too. Research shows that passively scrolling through posts and viral videos generates different mental effects than actively interacting online, like messaging and commenting on posts and chatting in virtual sessions.

Just like in person, interacting with people you care about can be beneficial, while simply watching others from the sidelines may make you feel worse.

We are finding creative new ways to move our real-world support systems, social gatherings and higher learning online.

Ironically, while the internet had once forced many people apart, this virus is forcing us to now use it to come together.

Meera Estrada is a cultural commentator and co-host of kultur’D! on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.

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Factbox: Fundraising spree for Reliance's Jio Platforms values it at $65 billion

(Reuters) – Reliance Industries (RELI.NS) has raised $10 billion in just a month through five stake sales in digital unit Jio Platforms, whose valuation has surged to $65 billion.

That makes it India’s second-most valuable standalone tech business after Tata Consultancy Services (TCS.NS) which is worth $99 billion.

– Reliance Industries, controlled by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, was worth about $129 billion as of Thursday’s close. Jio Platforms’ valuation puts it just ahead of the combined value of the conglomerate’s oil, gas and other businesses.

– The latest $1.5 billion investment by KKR & Co (KKR.N) comes on the heels of four other deals. Facebook Inc (FB.O) led with a $5.7 billion purchase of a 9.99% stake. Vista Equity Partners has invested about $1.5 billion, General Atlantic roughly $850 million and Silverlake $750 million.

– After the latest sale, Reliance retains 83% of Jio Platforms.

– The deals will help Reliance meet its goal of eliminating $21.4 billion in net debt by the end of the year.

– Reliance’s shares have tripled in value in the last three years coinciding with staggering subscriber growth at Jio Infocomm, which is now part of Jio Platforms.

The telecom carrier has notched up more than 376 million subscribers since its launch in late 2016, mainly at the expense of Vodafone Idea (VODA.NS). Vodafone Idea lost a fifth of its wireless customers last year and had some 329 million subscribers as of January.

– Reliance’s oil and gas, refining and petrochemical businesses once underpinned the conglomerate’s growth, but they have taken a sharp hit as oil prices collapsed. Weakness in those businesses led Reliance to post its worst quarterly profit fall in 11 years last month.

– In addition to operating the world’s biggest refining complex, Reliance also operates supermarkets and TV channels.

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Forescout sues Advent to complete $1.9 billion merger

(Reuters) – Forescout Technologies Inc (FSCT.O) sued Advent International Corp on Wednesday, after the private equity firm pulled out of a deal to buy the U.S. cybersecurity company for $1.9 billion.

Forescout shares fell 5.2% to close at $19.84.

Companies are walking away from acquisitions agreed to before the global coronavirus outbreak as economies suffer from lockdowns and recovery prospects are unclear.

Forescout asked the Delaware Court of Chancery to force Advent to complete the deal after the buyout firm notified it last Friday it would back out. The agreement was signed in early February and scheduled to close on Monday.

In a statement, Advent responded that it had informed Forescout of the company’s failure to maintain operations and financial resources as required under the agreement. It also said Forescout fared worse than its peers, triggering a material adverse effect clause in their contract allowing it to walk away.

In its lawsuit, Forescout argued the clause excluded pandemics, and that Advent already knew the coronavirus had spread widely by the time it signed the deal.

Forescout said its operations complied with the deal’s “ordinary course” covenants, and that the claim it was heading toward insolvency was “manufactured.”

Advent said it would defend its position in court.

The legal standard for acquirers to prove a “material adverse effect” in court has occurred is high. The only occasion in which a judge has ruled in Delaware, where many such cases are litigated, that this effect allows the acquirer to walk away was in Fresenius SE’s (FREG.DE) $4.75 billion deal to buy generics drug maker Akorn (AKRX.O) in 2018.

To avoid protracted litigation, acquisition targets often allow the acquirer to walk away or settle for less.

Earlier this month, L Brands Inc (LB.N) let private equity firm Sycamore Partners terminate a $525 million deal to acquire its Victoria’s Secret lingerie business after the two exchanged lawsuits.

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Breaking up is hard to do – why China is a key node in supply chains

This month, the chief executive of a company that runs the Performance Bicycle Web store in the United States sent a letter to customers entreating patience for what was a happy problem for the firm – the inability to fulfil orders fast enough, caused in part by increased sales.

As shelter-in-place – or stay-at-home – directives started spreading across the country from March to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, most Americans had little choice but to shop online, leading to a spike in demand for the cycling Web store’s products.

However, because the demand surge was coupled with a shortage of workers, as some were uncomfortable about going to work, the e-tailer was not able to deliver the products within the usual timeframe. And even when it was able to hire more staff, it was hit by another problem – product shortage because of the coronavirus outbreak in China that led to factory closures from just before Chinese New Year in late January to late February when factories started reopening.

CEO Kendall Bennett wrote: “Although only a portion of the products we sell come directly from China, many we found have parts or components that rely on their manufacturing, and that has made it difficult to procure enough inventory to meet demand.”

While China has opened up, “the shipping lanes were flooded with the backlog of orders that never got out before Chinese New Year”, he wrote, adding that he believed “inventory scarcity could last another 60-90 days”.

The product shortage problem of an American bicycle shop during this Covid-19 pandemic underscores the importance of China’s role in global supply chains, not only as an assembler but also as a producer of intermediate products.

As IHS Markit Asia-Pacific chief economist Rajiv Biswas noted, China – over the last three decades – has established itself as the “factory of the world”, playing a key role in global exports of a wide range of industrial materials, intermediate goods and finished products for the global industrial supply chain in many sectors, including textiles, electronic components and engineering products.

Indeed, China is the top manufacturing country in the world and is responsible for 28 per cent of global output. Many countries, especially in Asia, rely on Chinese intermediate goods, said Rabobank senior economist Raphie Hayat. Asian countries import on average 29 per cent of their intermediates from China. For the US, it is 10 per cent.

However, the problem of Performance Bicycle multiplied many times throughout the world has led to what one analyst described as a “clarion call” to diversify supply chains away from China.

In fact, such diversification has already been taking place over the past decade. Rising factory wages have led to many companies gradually shifting their manufacturing supply chain for low-cost goods such as textiles and electronic components away from China. This process accelerated last year as a result of the US-China tariff wars. The massive supply chain disruptions arising from pandemic-induced factory shutdowns will intensify pressures for firms to reassess their reliance on China.

The trade war and Covid-19, said Dr Hayat, “are a bit of a wake-up call for international companies that they might not want all their key inputs to come from one country”.

Some governments are getting into the act, providing assistance to their companies to pull operations out of China. Japan, whose carmakers have had to scale back production in February because Covid-hit Chinese factories could not supply needed parts, has earmarked US$2.2 billion (S$3.1 billion) to help its companies move their production away from China. The US is exploring tax incentives and reshoring subsidies to nudge American companies to move out of China.

But these incentives are unlikely to entice many firms beyond those that have already decided to leave. This is because subsidies may be withdrawn in times of fiscal austerity. For companies, what matters more are factors such as wages, skills of the workforce and ease of doing business, and for those looking to sell goods within the country, the domestic market size and growth, said Dr Hayat.

Indeed, most foreign firms have no plans to move out of China because of Covid-19, as surveys by business groups show. Instead, many are finding other ways to build resilience into their supply chains. The reasons for this are myriad.

REASONS FOR STAYING PUT

Commenting on two surveys conducted recently, Mr Alan Beebe, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China (AmCham China), said last month: “In contrast to some global narratives, our China-based data suggests that the majority of our companies will not be packing up and leaving China any time soon.”

AmCham China conducted the two surveys with the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai (AmCham Shanghai) – one in October last year and another in March this year – to study the supply chain impacts of the trade war and Covid-19 respectively on US companies operating in China.

The earlier survey of 70 companies showed that less than 20 per cent of responding firms had begun relocating manufacturing outside of China in the prior two years to mitigate the negative impact of increasing tariffs. This is despite 90 per cent of the firms saying their supply chains were affected by the trade dispute.

Instead of relocating, most firms were focused on operational improvements and digital transformation to improve the competitiveness of their supply chains in China. They have also increasingly adopted an “in China, for China” supply chain strategy with respect to manufacturing and sourcing to meet the demand in the China market.

The second survey – of 25 firms from the original group – showed that in the short term, over 70 per cent of firms had no plans to relocate production and supply chain operations or sourcing outside of China because of Covid-19. Only 12 per cent planned to shift production while 24 per cent planned to shift sourcing out of China.

While certain companies in certain industries may diversify away from China or even expand manufacturing operations in the US, given the current climate, “this is a costly, time-consuming and largely irreversible process”, Mr Beebe said.

Mr Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, said a recent survey showed only 10 per cent of European firms were considering leaving China because of Covid-19, while another 10 per cent were considering going to China. “So it’s like a revolving door,” he said.

That China is able to get a head start in recovering from the global pandemic-induced production paralysis may blunt the push to get out. As OCBC Bank head of Greater China research Tommy Xie noted, “multinational companies may feel lucky their factories in China are the only ones still open in April”.

Another reason for companies to stay put: China’s huge market with a population of 1.4 billion.

Mr Wuttke pointed out that the China-US trade war had actually led German carmakers BMW and Mercedes-Benz to expand their production of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) in China because the additional tariffs had made their US-made SUVs, which were being exported to China, uncompetitive.

“What will keep us here is that growth potential is just enormous,” he said, noting that China’s gross domestic product per capita, at close to US$10,000, is just 16 per cent of the US’ and 21 per cent of Germany’s, leaving plenty of room for growth.

“So where do you want to go?” he asked. “Size matters.”

Beyond its huge market potential, China has stronger manufacturing clusters, better infrastructure and higher-skilled workers compared with places like Vietnam, which has attracted firms relocating from China. Also, while some parts of China have become costly for manufacturers, it is less so for less-developed areas such as Zhengzhou, Chongqing, Chengdu and Xian.

And then there is the sheer capacity of China to supply specific inputs on a very large scale that cannot be matched by most individual countries. As one analyst put it: “There are more migrant industrial workers in China than people in Vietnam.” (China has 288 million migrant workers; Vietnam’s population is 95.5 million).

Given these advantages and the difficulties of moving supply chains, some firms are adopting a “China plus one” strategy, shifting some production out of China for diversification, but not all of it.

ONE OF SEVERAL NODES

There is no denying that the trend of diversification of global supply chains away from China will continue – if not at the speed and scale predicted – as costs rise and spurred on by the trade war and Covid-19.

Some of this is encouraged by China as it seeks to move up the value chain and improve the environment of its cities. As some analysts point out, a move to cleaner, less space-intensive manufacturing will free up land for other uses such as much-needed residential estates.

Some of the diversification will be driven by other governments for security reasons, to move production of critical goods like pharmaceuticals closer to home or to the home country.

Some firms will relocate to other countries in Asia to build resilience into these chains. Even Chinese companies are doing so, noted Mr Xie, adding that regionalisation is a trend that China will pursue. China and Chinese companies need friends, he said, and the region is their first choice, given the large domestic markets and number of skilled workers.

The Economist Intelligence Unit sees the outcome of recent trends as leading to an Asian supply chain network that is less China-focused and more diverse. The same will happen in other regions, so there will be quasi-independent regional supply chains that will provide global companies with a hedge against future shocks to their network.

As Hong Kong-based economist Alicia Garcia-Herrero put it in a webinar recently: “The world is going to move to several nodal points in the global value chains in different continents”, and China will be an important, but not the one and only, nodal point.

When this happens – in the long term as supply chains are hard to set up and move – China need not lose too much sleep over it if the country carries out the economic reforms that it has pledged to implement in the wake of Covid-19, including measures to enhance migrant worker mobility and boost domestic consumption. For it will remain an important player in global supply chains, particularly in high-tech industries such as telecommunications, robotics and artificial intelligence. And it should be transitioning to a consumption-led economy from its investment and export-oriented one now.

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COMMENTARY: As COVID-19 hits Canada’s bottom line, MPs should share the pain

Jacinda Ardern, the cool, young prime minister of New Zealand, recently revealed that she speaks regularly on the phone to her Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau.

The next time they talk, perhaps she could encourage Trudeau to follow her example and take a personal pay cut as the planet struggles through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ardern has emerged as one of the world’s most dynamic political leaders. “Jacindamania” caught on following her sensitive and compassionate leadership of New Zealand after last year’s shocking mosque shootings in Christchurch.

She has demonstrated her leadership skills again during the coronavirus pandemic, directing one of the globe’s toughest anti-virus lockdowns.

As the country’s economy suffered under the restrictions, Ardern announced she would share the pain.

“If there was ever a time to close the gap between groups of people across New Zealand in different positions, it is now,” Ardern said last month, announcing she and her cabinet ministers would accept a 20 per cent cut in salary.

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“I am responsible for the executive branch and this is where we can take action,” she said, noting the move was to show “leadership and solidarity” with the New Zealand people.

Other world political leaders have made similar personal sacrifices. Politicians in India, Singapore and Japan took pay cuts, while municipal mayors and councillors have tightened their belts, too.

But what of Trudeau and other federal MPs in Canada?

There’s been no pay cut, though most MPs announced they would donate their recent two per cent pay raises to charity.

That’s not good enough for Aaron Wudrick of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which has launched a campaign to pressure MPs to reduce their $181,000 annual salaries.

“They’re working hard and I give them credit for that,” Wudrick told me.

“But this is not about how hard they’re working. A lot of Canadians are working hard, but they’ve seen pay cuts, they’ve had their hours cut. Millions have lost their jobs.”

Most Canadians appear to agree with him. An Angus Reid opinion poll suggested about two-thirds of Canadians support an MP pay cut.

“Canadians are in favour of this in every part of the country, every demographic, every age group, every political party affiliation,” Wudrick said, adding “tens of thousands” of Canadians have signed an online petition supporting the idea.

But would an MP pay cut be anything other than a symbolic gesture?

Perhaps, but Wudrick said a 20 per cent MP salary reduction would still save Canadian taxpayers $12 million a year.

“People have said to me, ‘Isn’t it a little mean-spirited?’ But I would say it’s all about the math. When this is all over, we are going to have to pay down a massive deficit, 10 times larger than we’ve had,” Wudrick said.

“We will have to pay the piper eventually, and MPs should show they’re willing to lead by example right now.”

I’d say the “right now” part is crucial. Trudeau and other MPs would be wise to take a pay cut sooner rather than later if they want taxpayers to give them credit for their sacrifice.

Don’t forget MPs pocket generous perks and benefits. And Trudeau and his cabinet ministers receive large salary bonuses.

They can afford to shoulder a little of the burden. And if they do take the pay cut, it could actually help their political careers if Canadians believe the move is sincere.

If Trudeau won’t listen to ordinary Canadians on this, maybe he will listen to the political opposition.

If Conservative leader Andrew Scheer was smart, he and his Tory colleagues would take a unilateral pay cut right now, while challenging Trudeau and the other parties in the House of Commons to match their efforts.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.

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BlackRock's top investor PNC Financial to sell entire stake

(Reuters) – PNC Financial Services Group Inc (PNC.N) plans to sell its entire 22% stake in the world’s largest asset manager BlackRock Inc (BLK.N), the U.S. bank said on Monday, exiting one its most attractive investments after more than two decades.

PNC, BlackRock’s largest shareholder, will sell its common and preferred shares in a secondary offering and BlackRock will repurchase $1.1 billion in common shares, assuming the sale goes well.

The Pittsburgh-based lender currently owns about 35 million shares in the asset manager, which is valued at roughly $17.3 billion, based on BlackRock’s last close on Monday, according to Reuters calculation. It also holds preferred shares.

The divestment puts an end to longstanding questions about when PNC would sell its lucrative position that had over time become a burden amid tighter capital regulations.

“We feel the time is now right,” PNC Chief Executive Officer William Demchak said in a statement.

Edward Jones analyst Kyle Sanders said besides the regulatory pressure, PNC may want additional liquidity to deal with the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Since share prices are down 40% year-to-date, it may also be looking at acquiring another regional bank, he said.

“The sale of BlackRock shares likely signals that PNC is looking to make a sizeable deal during a period of market disruption, which is consistent which their actions in the past,” Sanders said. During the 2008 financial crisis, PNC had acquired National City Corp in an opportunistic way.

PNC acquired a stake in BlackRock in 1995 and spun it off after a few years while retaining a large stake.

Shares of BlackRock slipped nearly 3% in after-market trading, as investors prepared for pressure from the offering, while those of PNC Financial rose 5%.

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Kimberley City Bakery selling 100-year-old business amid pandemic

In a town of about 8,000 people lies a bakery with a lot of history.  For the past 100 years, the Kimberley City Bakery has attracted people from all over the country–and beyond.

“We’re known, not just here in the Kootenays, but right through B.C., Alberta, right through to Europe,” owner Eric Forbes said.

Calgarians are a large part of their clientele, according to Forbes, with many travelling nearly four hours to pick up goodies.

Forbes apprenticed at the bakery in the 1990s, learning European-style baking from his beloved mentor.

He says he fell in love with the town of Kimberley, B.C., and in 2013, bought the bakery with his family and moved into the five-bedroom apartment above the shop.

One regular customer has been impressed by quality for many years.

“The best apple fritters I’ve ever had in my 49-years of life,” said Kimberley resident Mike Betker. “Small bakeries like this, you don’t find very often anymore.”

Kacee Kennedy, who works across the street, says it’s not just the food that makes the bakery special.

“The atmosphere… going in and feeling like you’re treated like family,” she said.

Waking up at one in the morning and running the store for hundreds of customers hasn’t been an easy task, but Forbes says it’s the dedication to their craft that has made them such a success.

“We have really anchored ourselves as a bakery that bakes from scratch.” he said.

That from-scratch baking includes making their own yeast, doughs, and much more. They sell everything from croissants, to sourdough, to lunch specials and pretzels.

The bakery is also still equipped with old mixers and a rotary oven from the 1930s.

The Kimberley City Bakery has expanded since it first opened 100 years ago, from a small storefront to a two-story, 3,200 square-foot fully-equipped operation.

It has stayed open through The Great Depression, multiple recessions, and even survived a fire in a neighboring building.

But due to COVID-19, for the first time in 100 years, the bakery has had to close its doors. Being two metres apart is impossible for staff and clients, according to Forbes.

Even before the COVID-19 health restrictions came into place, the family had been trying to sell the store. They moved to Calgary to be closer to the Children’s Hospital to attend to health issues within the family

“I hate to say it but I’ve kind of enjoyed this month off,” Forbes admitted. “I’ve been able to be with my family.”

Their hope is to find a buyer who will continue the legacy of the bakery for “another hundred years”.

Despite the pandemic, Forbes is confident a buyer will bite, because he believes it’s an opportune time to do any renovations without losing sales.

But if they don’t– the store will stay in operation.

“I’m staying here until it sells,” he said. “I don’t want to close the doors, it’s not fair to my family, the current staff, previous staff who have put blood, sweat and tears into this place, and to the residents of Kimberley.”

While in Calgary, the family has started a new venture in the food truck world — KCB Streetfood.  They hope to bring some of their traditional baking and new recipes to the big city starting this summer.

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Roy Green: VE Day and stories from WWII my father was never able to tell me

The initial notification reached my British grandparents in April 1940.

“Sir,” the notice began. “I regret to have to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office to the effect …” (here appeared my father’s name, rank, serial number and regiment) “… was posted as missing on the’date unknown.’”

It continued, “The report that he is missing does not necessarily mean that he has been killed, as he may be a prisoner of war or temporarily separated from his regiment.”

Notifications exactly like this one were being received daily by families of members of all allied militaries.

My father, as a member of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), had been dispatched to France to fight alongside French military forces and against the Nazi invasion. He was 19.

A subsequent notification to my grandparents arrived on July 31, 1941. “Sir, I have to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office (here again appeared my father’s name, rank, serial number and regimental attachment) is a Prisoner of War interned in Switzerland. Instructions as to the method of communicating with Prisoners of War can be obtained at any post office.”

On this VE Day, I found myself reading and rereading these pieces of yellowing with age official correspondence and remembering, as best I could, the little my father had shared about his war experience.

As the BEF was being backed toward the French port of Dunkirk by the German Wehrmacht, my father and fellow soldiers were captured. They never made it to Dunkirk and the French beaches, from which over eight days during Operation Dynamo, 338,226 allied soldiers, including Canadians, were repatriated to Britain in the historic evacuation.

Four Royal Canadian Navy destroyers joined 39 Royal Navy and several French Navy counterparts in that mission. In turn, the warships were assisted by what would be named The Little Ships of Dunkirk. Hundreds of fishing boats, merchant marine vessels, pleasure cruisers, yachts and lifeboats all plucking allied troops from the beaches to save them from internment or death.

My father somehow hooked up in France with the resistance fighters, the Maquis, and fought with them for a year. It proved either impossible or too difficult for him to get back to England, and so he made his way to the French-Swiss border (I think on orders from London) where he turned himself over to Swiss authorities.

The Swiss held him in an internment camp with other allied military members who had by various means made their way to Switzerland. The Swiss also held German and Italian military in similar internment camps, maintaining their neutral position.

My understanding of my father’s war, including the time he spent with French underground partisan fighters, remains incomplete. He died weeks before my 13th birthday. Over the years, whenever I’d ask my mother for details of what dad had shared, she would invariably reply, “Let’s talk about it another time, Roy.”

I did overhear bits of occasional exchange between my parents and recall a quiet discussion about a life-and-death decision made concerning the fate of a German officer. That conversation ended as mom and dad became aware of my eavesdropping.

During his internment in Switzerland, my father met my mother and that began a forever love. His and long after his death, hers.

I have always wondered about my father’s full war experience and regretted never having the opportunity to speak with him as son to father about those times.

There are literally millions of individual experiences of war no doubt being shared and remembered on this VE Day, the experiences of the men and women of the Greatest Generation.

Today, as we face our own generational challenge with COVID-19, let us use their courage and determination as a template.

Roy Green is the host of the Roy Green Show on the Global News Radio network.

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COMMENTARY: The Liberals promised more immigration by 2021. Can that still happen?

Justin Trudeau‘s government has not yet told Canadians whether or how it intends to keep its long list of pre-COVID-19 promises.

One signature pledge was to take in 350,000 immigrants a year by 2021, or about one per cent of the population annually. That commitment was made in October 2018. At that time Canada was welcoming 310,000 newcomers a year.

Where does that major undertaking on immigration stand now, given that virtually nobody who is not already a citizen or resident of Canada has been allowed into the country for nearly two months? Or that Canadian embassies and immigration offices have almost all been closed or placed on greatly-reduced hours with much smaller staffs since sometime in February with little likelihood of much about that changing soon?

Official figures about immigration don’t tend to be released until one or two years after the fact, so it is guesswork trying to figure out how many newcomers Canada has welcomed this year or how many are in the pipeline. Surely, though, given that there are far fewer flights from overseas and that the required interviews and medical and security checks are clearly not taking place with most of the world shut down, there will be far fewer of these folks arriving this year. Because the immigration process is chronically slow and a maze for most potential immigrants, it is possible that there will be even fewer of them next year, too.

There is little public information available to help puzzle out the future of immigration to Canada during and after troubling times. But charts showing historical immigration numbers that were published by Statistics Canada five years ago may be instructive.

Whatever the boasts of the Harper and Trudeau governments about their openness to immigration, the fact is that immigration to Canada reached a peak of just over 400,000 people a year more than a century ago under then prime minister Sir Robert Borden. It then dropped to less than 40,000 a year for 15 years from the beginning of the Depression until the end of the Second World War under the Conservative and Liberal prime ministers, R.B. Bennett and Mackenzie King.

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Considering this data and the grave current economic and logistical complications, if the current pattern mirrors the experience of the Depression, it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that what looms is a drastic drop — as much as 90 per cent — in immigration for several years.

There is no argument here about the merits of immigration, which I strongly support. It is about how many newcomers Ottawa now envisages Canada accepting and whether the public, faced with serious personal economic distress caused by unemployment and savings that have been wiped out, will be as supportive of immigration today or in, say, 2022 or 2023, as it was before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted lives and created so much uncertainty about the future.

It was the Mulroney government that decided to greatly increase the number of foreigners let into Canada. The policy was subsequently embraced by the Martin, Chrétien and Harper governments and expanded a bit further by the Trudeau government.

Recent immigrants, like generations of immigrants before them, have almost always been good for Canada. It is a generalization, but most of these settlers — if I may use a not so fashionable 19th and 20th-century term — have a reputation for working hard, often at jobs that those already lucky enough to be Canadians won’t do.

The newcomers help the economy by paying federal, provincial and municipal taxes. Their need for housing has pushed up the value of real estate, especially in the immigrant-magnet cities of Vancouver and Toronto (although a case can be made that this has sometimes been a mixed blessing).

The presence of so many immigrants can only be good for a country where the spectre of depopulation has become real since many couples who can trace their Canadian roots back decades or centuries have become famously uninterested in having more than one or two kids.

Besides, the points system used to decide who qualifies to come to Canada has attracted many highly educated, highly motivated immigrants. The longstanding family sponsorship program has been a boon to, well, families. The legal refugees that Canada has taken in have helped people otherwise trapped in hellish situations. It has also given a little relief to poor countries such as Jordan and Lebanon that have unfairly had to bear far too much of the refugee burden.

But as during the Depression, Canada’s economic landscape has shifted dramatically in the past couple of months. The federal deficit for this year alone could be $252 billion. Similarly, big deficits are a prospect for 2021 and 2022. And the books of several provinces are worse than those of Ottawa.

The federal government has been very busy with the coronavirus. It is, after all, an epochal event.

But increased immigration was a strong theme as well as a firm promise of Trudeau’s government. The current pandemic should not prevent the immigration minister and senior department officials — who have lots of time on their hands since few new immigration applicants are being processed — from sharing their thoughts with Parliament and Canadians about how the COVID-19 shock has informed and affected their thinking and planning.

It is not too soon to start a national discussion about how many immigrants Canadians, their elected leaders and various business and ethnic communities think the economy and job market can digest.

Matthew Fisher is an international affairs columnist and foreign correspondent who has worked abroad for 35 years. You can follow him on Twitter at @mfisheroverseas

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