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Bad news about conflict of interest: Morneau isn’t an isolated case





Minister of Finance Bill Morneau speaks with the media after touring a day care centre earlier this week.


Finance Minister Bill Morneau must feel quite lonely in his infamy. Most of us, after all, cannot relate to having tens of million of dollars’ worth of shares; or, if we do have them, cannot relate to having the power to regulate the very company those shares are in. To whom can he turn for sympathy, then, when pushing regulations that may have benefited him financially cost him a great deal politically?

In the midst of his seeming isolation, this solitary figure, the people’s representative, may find some small measure of comfort in one fact: When compared to politicians in similar democracies recently, Morneau isn’t alone at all. He’s merely keeping bad company. 

Western democracies have been preoccupied of late with the rise of many bad things: The rise of law-flouting separatism, the rise of Euroskepticism, the rise of white supremacy, the rise of illiberal bully boys pretending to be statesmen. Lost amidst all the horribleness rising, and perhaps heightening its appeal, is the rise of possible conflicts of interest.

According to Transparency International, in virtually every single western democracy, citizens’ perceptions of corruption rose or held steady; throughout the world, the sense that such things are getting worse increased in more countries more than it decreased. 

Democracies have always had to grapple with conflicts of interest, but still haven’t learned how to do so in a wholly satisfactory way.

In the United States, the most flagrant conflicts of interest begin with the civil war and end, as all the world must, with Donald Trump. During the war, many politicians owned plantations, implicating them in a clear conflict of interest; which is to say, they were biased in favour of owning people as slaves. Meanwhile, federal employees often moonlighted as horse and military garb salesmen. 

American ethics laws tightened up to address the most industrious entrepreneurs in the public service. Today, however, the woman who lost the 45th presidency was married to a man who started a foundation that accepted donations from foreign governments. The man who beat her owes tens of millions of dollars to a German bank, and as journalist Craig Unger puts it, “owes much of his business success, and by extension his presidency, to a flow of highly suspicious money from Russian” oligarchs and mobsters. He’s also indebted to whichever countries send their diplomats to stay at his hotels.

Morneau can find more like-minded friends further abroad. 

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Theresa May was criticized when she refused to disclose the contents of a blind trust that she set up not when she was home secretary but only after becoming prime minister.

In France, one-quarter of President Emmanuel Macron’s cabinet ministers were felled by ethics scandals even as the government prepared an ethics bill; one had awarded his partner a rental contract.

In Finland, the parliamentary ombudsman received dozens of complaints against Prime Minister Juha Sipilä in 2016 when the state-owned miner contracted an engineering company owned by the prime minister’s children and uncles.

In Iceland, former Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson was discovered last year to have set up a secret company in the British Virgin Islands with his rich wife.

The list goes on of course, but as my mother might say to Morneau, “One friend is enough.” The minister has many!

The problem with Morneau is not that he is alone, then. It is that he looks to be part of an isolated clique: Transcendent in their wealth, power and ability to use their power to increase their wealth, his peers seem above and apart from it all, including the people they are meant to serve. And when their élite status is compromised, it is our collective political fortunes that suffer, not merely their own. Conflicts of interest, real or perceived, inflame populist bitterness toward groups with real or imagined power. The groups with which Morneau seems affiliated are not the ones hurt most of all in the resulting attacks.

And so, having reassured Morneau that he is in bad company, perhaps it is time for the bad news: Many of his friends resigned. 

Shannon Gormley is an Ottawa Citizen global affairs columnist and freelance journalist.


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Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics to commercialize Canada’s first automated heavy duty trucks





Canadian Tire Corporation and Toronto based start-up NuPort Robotics, Canada’s first autonomous trucking company, are partnering with the Ontario government to invest $3 million to undertake an automated heavy duty trucking project to test a “first-of-its-kind-in-the-world” technology. 

The breakthrough technology provides a transportation solution for the middle mile, the short-haul shuttle runs that semi-tractor trailers make between distribution centres, warehouses and terminals each day.

It is designed to enable next-generation automated trucks that are more fuel efficient, safer to operate, and provide an enhanced driver experience.

Backed by $1 million in support from the Ontario government through Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network and matched by $1 million investments from Canadian Tire and NuPort Robotics, respectively, the two-year project is applying proprietary, artificial intelligence technology from NuPort Robotics to retrofit two conventional semi-tractor trailers – which will always be attended by a driver – with high-tech sensors and controls, a touchscreen navigation system, and other advanced features such as obstacle and collision avoidance.

Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, says: “Ontario is proud to be a global leader in automated and connected vehicle technology and this innovative project is an exciting milestone toward automated vehicle tech in the trucking industry.

“Ontarians rely on goods being delivered by trucks across the province every day and projects like this are demonstrating the ways that automated truck technology could help businesses meet delivery demands more efficiently while supporting a strong supply chain in Ontario.”

Vic Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, says: “This project applies unique and made-in-Ontario Artificial Intelligence technology that offers increased safety and efficiency, with a reduced carbon footprint, to the goods supply chains on which we all rely.

“This is the latest example of how Ontario’s Autonomous Vehicle Innovation Network acts as a catalyst, fostering partnerships between ambitious technology start-ups and industry to develop and commercialize next generation transportation technologies that strengthen our economy and benefit society.”

Raghavender Sahdev, CEO of NuPort Robotics, says: “The trucks are currently transporting goods between a Canadian Tire distribution centre in the Greater Toronto Area and nearby rail terminals within a 12.5 mile radius, and early results are promising.

“The aim of the project is to develop a system that incorporates an autopilot feature for conventional trucks with a driver, leading to the most efficient way to drive and increase safety.

“The sensors work as a ‘safety cocoon’ to cover blind spots and prevent accidents and the end result is peak fuel efficiency, meaning lower carbon emissions, and peak driving performance for an overall more optimal transportation experience.”

NuPort Robotic’s approach to autonomous trucking is unique in the industry because it focuses only on solving the middle mile challenge, using a known set of predetermined trucking routes that are repetitive and high frequency as opposed to general highway driving.

Ultimately, when implemented on fixed routes in the future, Canadian Tire will benefit from faster commercial deployments and improvements in supply chain sustainability.

Gary Fast, vice-president of transportation, Canadian Tire, says: “Canadian Tire embraces innovation and is always testing new technologies to improve our operational efficiency and safety.

“As proud Canadian companies, the safety of all stakeholders, including drivers, employees, customers, and public will be the top priority as we work together towards deployment of this technology.”

Cari Covent, vice president of intelligent automation, Canadian Tire, says: “Over the last three years, Canadian Tire has made a significant effort to solve complex business problems by using the Canadian start-up Artificial Intelligence ecosystem, and NuPort Robotics exemplifies what we look for in a start-up with a focus on innovation, automation and artificial intelligence.”

Sahdev says: “As NuPort Robotics continues to develop new technologies to overcome middle mile supply chain problems and advance autonomous trucking, I am extremely grateful for the support of the Ontario Government through AVIN and the Ontario Centre of Innovation.

“With their continued support, we are striving to position Canada as the leader in autonomous transportation.”

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Constellation Software is money in the bank, this fund manager says





If you’re looking for a long-term hold in Canadian tech then Constellation Software (Constellation Software Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:CSU) should definitely be on your radar. So says Jason Del Vicario of Hillside Wealth Management who likes not only Constellation but its recent spin-off Topicus (Topicus Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSXV:TOI) which Del Vicario says could do even better than CSU over the next ten years.

Software consolidator Constellation has been running on the same game plan for years, buying small vertical market software companies providing so-called mission critical software solutions globally. Over the years CSU has completed over 500 such acquisitions, buying the top names in their respective niche verticals and then using its clout and breadth to grow the business and expand into new markets. The resulting cash flow is then plowed back into more acquisitions and the cycle repeats.

The strategy has worked wonders for Constellation, which has grown its revenue from $631 million in 2010 to almost $4 billion for 2020 while taking earnings from $4.12 per share in 2010 to $20.59 per share this past year.

Shareholders were given a special treat last month when Constellation spun out recently acquired Topicus, giving CSU owners about 1.9 Topicus shares for every Constellation share as a dividend-in-kind. Constellation bought Netherlands-based software company Total Specific Solutions BV (or TSS) in 2013 and that subsidiary recently acquired Topicus BV, a Dutch information service company focusing on sectors such as healthcare, education and finance.

Topicus was singled out by Constellation founder Mark Leonard for its ability to grow without using outside shareholder funding. Leonard said the spin-out was part of the intention since a purchase agreement was struck last year.

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Nuvei wins price target raise from National Bank





Strong quarterly results and an even brighter outlook for 2021 are reasons to celebrate for Canadian payments company Nuvei (Nuvei Stock Quote, Chart, News, Analysts, Financials TSX:NVEI), according to National Bank Financial analyst Richard Tse. In an update to clients on Wednesday, Tse left his rating unchanged at “Outperform” while raising his price target from C$85.00 to C$100.00.

Montreal-headquartered Nuvei is a provider of payment technology solutions to merchants and partners around the world, with a platform geared for high-growth mobile commerce and e-commerce markets. Nuvei’s solutions include a fully integrated payments engine with global processing capabilities, a turnkey checkout solution and a suite of data-driven business intelligence and risk management tools and services.

The company released its fourth quarter and full year 2020 financials on Wednesday, showing Q4 revenue of $115.9 million, up 46 per cent year-over-year, and adjusted EBITDA of $51.3 million, up 61 per cent year-over-year. Total dollar value of transactions processed by merchants (‘total volume’) with Nuvei rose by 53 per cent to $13.9 billion. (All figures in US dollars except where noted otherwise.)

The 2020 year featured revenue up 53 per cent to $375.0 million and adjusted EBITDA up 87 per cent to $163.0 million, with total volume rising a full 76 per cent year-over-year to $43.2 billion.

“Our performance continues to be driven by strong momentum in the high-growth verticals we serve, as well as by our customizable, scalable and feature-rich technology platform which provides one of the industry’s most complete payment technology solutions going well beyond merchant acquiring,” said Philip Fayer, chairman and CEO, in a press release.

The company said the fourth quarter represented the strongest growth yet experienced by Nuvei, driven by wallet share expansion from current merchants along with accelerated uptake of new merchants. New e-commerce business almost tripled compared to a year earlier, Nuvei said, while the company expanded its connectivity coverage over the quarter, introduced new product innovations on its platform and continued to execute on M&A.

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