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Child poverty plagues every corner of Toronto, census data shows

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Upwards of 125,000 Toronto children — more than one in four — are growing up in poverty, a problem that plagues pockets of every city ward, says a new report being released by Social Planning Toronto on Monday.

It is a disturbing reality all candidates vying for office in the Oct. 22 municipal election need to address, says the advocacy organization in its sixth annual report.

Neil Donaldson, an artist and community activist, has lived near Oakwood Ave. and Vaughan Rd. for more than two decades. He said it wasn’t easy growing up in a struggling single-parent family so close to the affluent neighbourhoods of Cedarvale and Forest Hill.
Neil Donaldson, an artist and community activist, has lived near Oakwood Ave. and Vaughan Rd. for more than two decades. He said it wasn’t easy growing up in a struggling single-parent family so close to the affluent neighbourhoods of Cedarvale and Forest Hill.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star)

“Toronto is a city of great wealth and prosperity,” report says. “We can do better and … we must do better.”

With an overall poverty rate of 26.3 per cent, the city maintains its dubious status as the child poverty capital of Canada, said Peter Clutterbuck, the organization’s acting executive director.

“But there’s no question, poverty gets a bit more hidden in the larger 25-ward structure,” he said of the provincial government’s bombshell move to cut the city’s 47 wards to 25 midway through the municipal campaign.

Unlike past reports by the organization, which looked at child poverty by ward, the latest edition uses newly released 2016 data to examine the problem by census tract.

The data shows child poverty exists in all 25 of Toronto’s new city wards. Even in wards with lower rates, there are pockets where it is double or triple the ward’s overall percentage, the report notes.

“There is a tendency to assume poverty and child poverty are concerns only in certain areas of the city,” Clutterbuck said.

“But we should recognize in our own neighbourhoods, maybe a couple of blocks away, there is a community with a child poverty rate that is 10 per cent to 20 per cent higher,” he said.

For example, in Ward 8, Eglinton-Lawrence, 55 per cent of residents own their homes, the average after-tax household income is about $119,500, and child poverty runs at 15.1 per cent, the lowest in the city. And yet, child poverty more than triples to 52.6 per cent in the ward’s Lawrence Heights social housing community near Lawrence Ave. W. and Allen Rd.

In nearby Ward 12, Toronto—St. Paul’s, where the overall child poverty rate hovers at 15.5 per cent, the rate more than doubles to almost 38 per cent in the northeast corner of the ward near Eglinton Ave. E. and Mount Pleasant Rd.

Child poverty hovers around 24.7 per cent in the northwest corner of Ward 12 near Oakwood Ave. and Vaughan Rd., where Neil Donaldson has lived for more than two decades.

The artist and community activist said it wasn’t easy growing up in a struggling single-parent family so close to the affluent neighbourhoods of Cedarvale and Forest Hill.

“There was no community centre, no programming and nothing to motivate us culturally,” said Donaldson, 36. “I was lucky to have a diverse range of friends and to be driven to find my own supports.”

But he has peers who weren’t so fortunate.

“Many are unemployed, in jail or victims of violence. It’s just tragic and it doesn’t have to be that way,” he said.

Through his social enterprise, called Stolen from Africa, Donaldson is using his experience to help mentor and motivate young people in low-income neighbourhoods in Scarborough. And he is showcasing his provincially funded youth-resilience project — a multimedia art project called Crystals as Crowns — in his home neighbourhood on Oakwood Ave. on Oct. 25.

“I am hoping to be doing more work in the area because youth services and programming are still lacking,” he said.

Ten city wards — almost half in the new 25-ward system — have child poverty rates between 30 per cent and 45.2 per cent. But at the census tract level, rates soar as high as 72.3 per cent.

The report shows children in Indigenous, racialized and newcomer families are struggling the most, with child poverty rates of 84 per cent, 33 per cent and 40 per cent respectively.

Among children from various racial groups, poverty rates ranged from 36 per cent for Latin Americans to almost 44 per cent for Black families, 58 per cent for Arabs and 60 per cent for those of West Asian descent (which can include Afghans and Iranians).

Although youth who were born outside of Canada have extremely high poverty rates, children of West Asian and Black backgrounds continue to experience higher poverty rates even when they were born in Canada and have parents who were born here, according to the report.

The data “presents a disturbing picture of the reality of child and family poverty in Toronto (and) underscores the need for the next mayor and city council to make a serious commitment and take real action to improve conditions for families struggling in this city,” the report says.

“In particular, council will have to address the disproportionality of poverty impacting particular communities including Indigenous children, racialized children, and children in families of West Asian, Arab, Black and Latin American backgrounds.”

Sara Wolfe, an Indigenous midwife with Seventh Generation Midwives, said she sees the disparities up close among the patients she serves.

“Poverty impacts these families on so many levels,” she said. “It impacts their ability to have a healthy pregnancy, to take care of their other children, to just eat one meal, let alone a nutritious one.”

The Social Planning report focuses on children under 18. It considers children to be living in poverty if their annual family income is below Statistics Canada’s low-income measure, after taxes, which in Toronto was $31,301 for a single parent with one child and $44,266 for a couple with two children in 2015.

The report urges all candidates for city council to commit to fully fund Toronto’s poverty reduction strategy, anti-Black racism action plan and strategies for newcomers, youth equity, child care and affordable housing. It also wants the city to adopt measurable targets and timelines to assess its progress.

Toronto residents can’t afford four years of “inaction and half measures,” the report says.

“The well-being of Toronto’s 125,000 children living in poverty is at stake,” it warns. “These children and families deserve better.”

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb

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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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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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