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U.S. congressman’s bid to lift lifetime bans on Canadian cannabis workers hinges on mid-terms, say policy experts

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VANCOUVER—Whether Canadian cannabis workers will be permitted to cross into the United States may hang on the outcome of the November midterm elections, says an American policy expert.

Rep. J. Luis Correa, a Democratic congressman from California, sent a congressional letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen last week expressing concern that Canadians engaged in “lawful business activities” were being penalized unnecessarily, citing reporting in StarMetro Vancouver.

But a power shift in the House of Representatives is necessary for Correa to truly make waves with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said Sanho Tree, director of the Drug Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.

“It all hinges on what happens Nov. 6,” Tree said in an interview, referring to the date of the upcoming U.S. midterm elections.

American politics, said Tree, is a “winner-take-all” system. And since Correa’s Democrats are currently the minority party in the House of Representatives, they have little power to affect meaningful political change. If they were to claw back a majority in November’s mid-terms, however, they could cause “all kinds of problems” for the DHS, he said.

Correa himself was blunt in a Wednesday interview. Lifetime bans for Canadian cannabis workers are a result of American laws lagging behind contemporary, reputable evidence on the potential health benefits of cannabis and the economic benefits of cannabis legalization, he said.

“This is one of those cases where politics has prevailed over good, common sense public policy,” Correa said. “This is an unintended consequence of our legal environment being seriously flawed.”

He said many of his constituents are veterans suffering from conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who have personally attested to cannabis’ effectiveness as a medicine that has improved their quality of life. Economically speaking, he added, banning Canadians from the U.S. for participating in a legitimate business practice north of the border would have a chilling effect on relations with the States’ largest trading partner.

With that in mind, said Correa, the congressional letter to Nielsen represents two things: a request that DHS clarify what rules and regulations it uses to administer lifetime bans on Canadian cannabis workers; and a nascent push to determine what needs to be changed to permit those Canadians access to the United States.

“What we want is common sense regulations when it comes to our Canadian brothers and sisters,” he said. “That’s the end goal.”

But resolving this issue with any finality will require a change in law, Correa said in a followup statement by email. Cannabis is currently a federally controlled substance, and immigration law has various regulations and restrictions on controlled substances and persons associated with them.

Determining what, exactly, needs to change and how, wrote Correa, is what he and his staff are working on now.

The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment, but Correa stated in an email that his office has received a response from the department acknowledging his submission.

Under past presidential administrations, a congressperson might find purchase across the party aisle for her or his ideas, said Paul Quirk, a professor in the department of political science at the University of British Columbia. But the unusual deference shown by Republicans to Trump — and intense federal Republican opposition to easing cannabis laws — means Correa will almost undoubtedly need a big Democratic win in the November mid-terms to make real headway, he said.

Correa’s next moves may include making speeches, reaching out to other members of Congress and trying to drum up enough support to prompt action, said Quirk.

“(But) at this point, with the election coming up, he’s probably counting on a Democratic House and a better chance for action, (or) at least critical oversight, beginning in January,” he said.

The response of Canada’s federal politicians to the ongoing issue has been less definitive, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself citing the impotence of foreign governments in influencing drug policy in the U.S.

Whether Ottawa is involved in or is even aware of Correa’s push for change is unclear. Bill Blair, minister of border security and organized crime reduction and Canada’s new lead on the cannabis file, did not respond to a request for comment.

Back in the U.S., Scott Railton, an immigration and naturalization lawyer based in Bellingham, Wash., said that even if there is a power shift in the House of Representatives, the U.S. federal government moves slowly.

“Sometimes it takes a while for Homeland Security or even Washington D.C. to get real action on something,” Railton said. “And in the absence of a real perceived fire, it might take a while (for Correa to see results).”

The long-term success of Correa’s bid for change in border policy, he added, may ultimately be decided by whether other interests step up to show support.

Senators in the northern border states will likely show interest in the issue once cannabis legalization officially takes effect in Canada on Oct. 17, he said. But whether business owners, other elected representatives or even voters take notice remains to be seen.

“If there are slowdowns at the border or anything affecting local commerce that can be directly pinned on changing law in Canada,” he said, “that’s going to inspire action on the U.S. side.”

Correa, however, was adamant that he is in it for the long haul.

“As both our nations continue to advance legal cannabis, it is vital we work together and grow together,” he wrote in his email to StarMetro Vancouver. “With the cannabis industry poised to be a multibillion-dollar industry, ensuring our two countries can work together will allow us to share in the economic boom legal cannabis will bring.”

Perrin Grauer is a Vancouver-based reporter covering Canada’s cannabis economy. Follow him on Twitter: @perringrauer

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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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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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