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Canada and Saudi Arabia rekindle diplomatic ties after 2018 spat



Diplomatic rupture began in 2018, with tweets from Canada’s foreign ministry denouncing human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia and Canada have both announced that they will resume diplomatic relations, ending a bitter 2018 dispute over human rights.

In separate statements, the two countries said they would “restore the level of diplomatic relations” that had been in place prior to the 2018 spat.

Each side will also appoint a new ambassador. Saudi Arabia has yet to announce its selection, while Canada named Jean-Philippe Linteau, a longtime member of its Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

The move was prompted by discussions between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum. Canada cited “mutual respect and common interests” as motivation for the rekindled ties.

Diplomatic ties first ruptured in 2018 when Saudi Arabia arrested several high-profile female human rights activists.

They included Samar Badawi, whose brother, the dissident Raif Badawi, was also imprisoned at the time. His wife and children had fled to Canada, where they were granted citizenship.

The new arrests prompted a series of social media messages in support of the activists, first from Canada’s foreign minister, then from the foreign ministry itself.

“Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi,” the ministry wrote on its official Twitter page in August 2018.

“We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.”

Those messages prompted a Twitter feud with Saudi Arabia, which retorted that Canada’s interference in its affairs was a “breach of the principle of sovereignty”.

“The Canadian position is a grave and unacceptable violation of the Kingdom’s laws and procedures,” Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote in response, in a string of messages announcing it would recall its ambassador to Canada.

It also declared Canada’s Ambassador Dennis Horak a “persona non grata” and gave him 24 hours to leave the country.

Relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia remained frosty, particularly after allegations in October 2018 that journalist Jamal Khashoggi had been murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Canada, among other countries, denounced the killing as an “unconscionable attack on the freedom of expression” and imposed sanctions against Saudi nationals linked to the attack.

But recently, Saudi Arabia has been on the world stage for a series of rapprochements. In March, the kingdom re-established diplomatic relations with Iran in a deal brokered by China, and this month, it resumed ties with Syria. It also hosted Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for Friday’s Arab League summit.

Saudi Arabia has also worked to broker peace in Sudan, hosting talks between representatives for the country’s two warring generals. The United States has also been party to those negotiations, and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has also met Saudi officials to discuss peace in Yemen.



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Fuel spill sparks evacuation worries for Nunavut community



SANIKILUAQ, NVT. – A gasoline spill in Nunavut prompted what some officials characterized as an evacuation, although the territory’s government says no evacuation was ordered.

The Department of Community and Government Services says an estimated 5,000 litres of fuel spilled because of a tank overfill Monday afternoon in Sanikiluaq, an island community of about 1,000 people in southeast Hudson Bay.

The department says the risk to the community is minimal and no fumes were detected beyond the facility’s containment area.

Nunavut MP Lori Idlout said on Facebook she hoped “the gas leak they experienced forcing them to evacuate” was addressed safely.

But the Nunavut government says it has not issued any form of evacuation notice regarding the leak.

A First Nation in northern Quebec that had been prepared to take in evacuees said it did not receive any flights from Sanikiluaq.

“We are happy to announce that the evacuation of Sanikiluaq has been cancelled and that no flights were made into Whapmagoostui/Kuujjuaraapik,” Whapmagoostui First Nation wrote on Facebook.

“As far as we know, an assessment has deemed it safe for the members to enter back into their community after a fuel spill that occurred today.”

Nunavut officials say an environmental firm is in Sanikiluaq to investigate and help with remediation efforts.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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Sleep Country to be acquired by Fairfax Financial for $1.7 billion



TORONTO – After fielding calls from private equity firms looking to buy Sleep Country Canada Holdings Inc. over the years, CEO Stewart Schaefer has chosen to sell to Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. for $1.7 billion in a deal he says will “unleash” its true value.

The deal announced Monday would see a subsidiary of the Toronto-based financial holding company acquire all issued and outstanding common shares of Sleep Country for $35 per share, a 28 per cent premium to Friday’s closing share price.

While the press release announcing the agreement did not detail Fairfax’s plans for the mattress retailer, Schaefer said Fairfax doesn’t plan to change anything.

“One of the things that was the most appealing to us is they said ‘Nothing’ (when asked about potential changes),” Schaefer said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“It appears as though they have an enormous amount of respect for the brand that has been built.”

That mean’s Schaefer, who is staying on to run Sleep Country, doesn’t anticipate job cuts nor store closures under new ownership.

“If anything, it’s the opposite,” he said. “Maybe this will even accelerate our growth.”

Schaefer’s remarks come as Sleep Country marks its 30th anniversary year. The chain began with a single mattress store in Vancouver that opened in 1994, but eventually becamea household name in Canada alongside co-founder Christine Magee who starred in a steady stream of company advertisements.

The company now counts 307 stores and 18 warehouses across its collection of brands. Those brands include retailers Sleep Country and Dormez-vous, bed-in-a-box companies Endy, Casper Canada and Silk & Snow, premium bedding chain The Rest and blanket company Hush.

In recent years, the company has faced increased competition with the growth of online companies selling boxed mattresses they deliver to homes. Shoppers have also been putting off big-ticket purchases like mattresses lately because of high inflation, borrowing costs and mortgage rates.

Despite the headwinds, Schaefer said Sleep Country wasn’t looking to sell itself, though private equity suitors always lurked, especially when the stock sagged.

“You always get that type of phone call that someone thinks they can maximize value, but not necessarily at the value we believe that this company is,” he said. “So it was never really a true interest for us.”

That is until late last year.

Around that time, Schaefer recalls sitting in the Ottawa airport and receiving a message from Sleep Country’s chief financial officer, who said an investor group was keen to have a call.

Schaefer only later learning of the Fairfax connection. Talks between the pair ebbed and flowed. Sometimes they’d go months without a development.

Yet he had a good feeling about Fairfax. He liked its Canadian origins and admired founder Prem Watsa, who reportedly sold air conditioners and furnaces to finance his university education.

Watsa is now a billionaire businessman dubbed the “Canadian Warren Buffet” because of Fairfax, a purveyor of reinsurance and property and casualty insurance.

However, Fairfax is also known to dabble in retail deals.

The company once owned Toys “R” Us Canada and has had majority stakes in Sporting Life and Golf Town. It has also purchased and taken private Recipe Unlimited Corp., a Vaughan, Ont., company behind more than 20 restaurant brands including Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s and The Keg.

Watsa, chairman and chief executive of Fairfax, said in a press release that his company looks forward to working with Schaefer and Sleep Country “to further develop this remarkable Canadian success story over the long term.”

Schaefer said Sleep Country went for Fairfax’s deal because the company “respected” the bedding giant’s business and 1,700 workers and realized its share price was “undervalued.”

The Friday before the deal was announced, Sleep Country’s share price closed at $27.28. News of the deal pushed Sleep Country’s share price up about 27 per cent, or $7.39, to close at $34.67 on Monday. Fairfax’s share price closed less than one per cent higher to $1,598.14.

Martin Landry, Stifel’s managing director of equity research, thinks the valuation attached to the Fairfax deal is “slightly opportunistic” considering Sleep Country is a prominent player in the Canadian mattress industry with an estimated 40 per cent market share.

“The company is well entrenched, allowing it bargaining power with mattress manufacturers,” he wrote in a note to investors. “This translates into much higher profitability than other North American retailers in the bedding industry.”

Asked about Landry’s views, Schaefer said “we don’t manage the business based on the stock price, obviously because it could be frustrating.”

Schaefer pointed out that only twice in Sleep Country’s history has its share price traded above $35 — in 2017 and at the peak of COVID in 2021 — and even as the business has grown, that hasn’t always shown up in its valuation “for whatever reason.”

Magee, who chairs a special committee of independent directors, appears to agree, saying in a press release she feels the transaction will provide “immediate value to shareholders.”

Sleep Country, however, has left the door open to other offers. It says it can terminate the agreement and accept a superior proposal in some unspecified circumstances, though Fairfax will have the right to match any offer.

In the event Sleep Country finds a better suitor, it will pay Fairfax a termination fee of $36.5 million.

“We believe that there are only a limited number of strategic players capable and interested in acquiring Sleep Country,” Landry wrote in his note.

“Tempur Sealy is the obvious strategic player that comes to mind. However, the timing for Tempur Sealy is not optimal as the company is dealing with antitrust concerns while trying to close the acquisition of Mattress Firm.”

Should Sleep Country move forward with Fairfax, it expects the deal to close in the fourth quarter of 2024. The agreement is subject to court approval and other customary conditions, including a shareholder vote.

Once completed, Sleep Country will apply to delist from the Toronto Stock Exchange.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

Companies in this story: (TSX:ZZZ, TSX:FFH)

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Canfor Corp. CEO Don Kayne to step down at the end of 2024



VANCOUVER – Canfor Corp. says its president and CEO is retiring at the end of the year.

The Vancouver-based company says Don Kayne has held the role since 2011, and has been with the company for 46 years.

Canfor says the company has grown and transformed into a global entity under Kayne’s leadership.

Current senior vice-president of business development Susan Yurkovich will take the top job upon Kayne’s departure.

Canfor says Yurkovich has been with Canfor for 12 years.

The company thanked Kayne for his contributions and said he will continue in an advisory capacity through 2025.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2024.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CFP)

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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