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Prime Minister pledges compensation for dairy farmers hit by USMCA deal

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says dairy farmers will be compensated for their expected losses under the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, making the pledge directly at a meeting with their representatives on Thursday.

Trudeau met privately with dairy representatives in downtown Montreal amid concerns in the industry that they’re bearing the brunt under the recently concluded free-trade pact.

Canadian dairy farmers stand to lose 3.59 per cent of their market to U.S. producers under the new trade deal, known as USMCA.

« That’s why we’re going to be working with them over the coming weeks and months to figure out exactly what is the compensation they need, » Trudeau said after touring the offices of Montreal company Seville Films.

« How we can ensure not just that they’re OK, but that they continue to have confidence in the future of the dairy sector in Canada. »

The USMCA is the third free-trade agreement in which Canada has agreed to open access to its supply-managed sectors, this time including increased access for eggs, chicken and turkey.

While touting USMCA as a good deal for Canadians by securing access to its largest trading partner and the largest market in the world, Trudeau acknowledged those sacrifices.

« They told me they were worried, » Trudeau said of his meeting with milk producers. « They told me they felt they have continued to give through a number of trade deals they’ve signed, and they’re right. »

For example, under the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership — with 10 countries including Mexico, Japan and Australia — dairy farmers ceded 3.25 per cent of the market.

‘Producers are right to be dissatisfied’

Dairy Farmers of Canada president Pierre Lampron wasn’t satisfied with what he heard.

« We recognize the symbolism of the gesture of Prime Minister Trudeau in offering to meet with our industry to hear our concerns firsthand, » he said in a statement. « However, the absence of details on measures to mitigate the impact of the concessions made within the USMCA, as well as the absence of a vision for the future of our industry at this time, cannot appease the concerns of the dairy farmers. »

Raymond Bachand, Quebec’s chief free-trade negotiator during the recently concluded negotiations, said the number one objective for Quebec was to preserve access to the American market and that was done.

Watch Raymond Bachand, Quebec’s chief free-trade negotiator, weigh in on the USMCA

Sometimes people cheat, so you need arbitration,’ says Quebec’s chief NAFTA negotiator Raymond Bachand. 6:56

« However, Ottawa has sold a portion of the milk market and it is clear that it hurts when added to European (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) and the TPP deals, » Bachand said on the sidelines of a metallurgical conference.

« This is eight to 10 per cent of the market. Producers are right to be dissatisfied. But it’s not just compensation, but also strategic thinking to see how we make our businesses more competitive. »

Bachand said USMCA compensation would have to come quickly, noting compensation from the TPP deal took an extended period.

« If I tell you that you are going to lose some of your business, you do not want to wait five years to find out what you are going to have as compensation to be able to manage your finances and knowing where you are investing, » Bachand said.

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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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