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Thanks to Doug Ford, the sky’s the limit for marijuana in Ontario

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Ontario’s cannabis conundrum is coming out of the closet.

Come Wednesday, marijuana will waft across our parks, jogging trails and beaches with impunity. For better or for worse, the pungent odour will float in the open air — while weighing down our public spaces.

The smell of marijuana will soon be present in all of our public spaces thanks to Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government, Martin Regg Cohn writes.
The smell of marijuana will soon be present in all of our public spaces thanks to Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government, Martin Regg Cohn writes.  (DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

If you have forgotten the stale aroma of cigar or pipe smoke in our past, brace yourself for a trip back in time as the smell of cannabis wends its way into your nostrils, even if it’s too far away to inhale.

Thanks to the federal Liberal government, dope has been decriminalized.

But thanks to the provincial Progressive Conservatives, marijuana has been liberalized — far beyond what Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals had announced. Where once dope was driven underground, now the sky’s the limit in Ontario.

Rather than restrict sales to an initial 40 government-owned outlets, the Tories have opened it up to as many as 1,000 privately run stores. Instead of limiting its use to private dwellings, now you can toke joints just about anywhere you can puff cigarettes — and in far more places than you can guzzle a bottle of beer, wine or spirits.

Premier Doug Ford clearly has strong views about the entrepreneurial component of cannabis sales, but relied on Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, the chief law officer of the Crown, and Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, the chief guardian of the treasury, to foist it on municipalities.

City governments will have until January to opt out of private cannabis stores in their jurisdictions, after which they will be locked in for all time. It amounts to local buy-in by default, because municipalities can hardly take it upon themselves to be cannabis-free any more than they can declare themselves dry zones.

Marijuana store too close to your school? Not the province’s problem, talk to your local mayor.

Smell of weed turning your children’s soccer field into a zombie zone as the players gasp for breath? Queen’s Park can’t help, it’s up to your local city hall.

No one ever said it would be easy for the province to find the middle ground between the freedom to consume marijuana and the right to be free of its smell. Instead, Queen’s Park is not only passing the buck, but adding costs to regulatory authorities at all levels.

By enabling a private sector free-for-all, municipal authorities will have to play whack-a-mole in scrutinizing appropriate locations (no special cannabis zoning restrictions allowed). And provincial regulators will have to enforce underage sales (no one under 19) by private owners motivated by the profit motive, rather than the unionized, public sector staff that would have operated outlets controlled by an LCBO monopoly under the previous Liberal plan.

That go-slow approach, which proved broadly popular in public opinion polls, would have restricted cannabis to private dwellings (where permitted). The PC government now argues for a misleading equivalency between cannabis and tobacco, concluding that people should be able to toke cannabis anywhere they can puff on a cigarette.

That false analogy is oblivious to the differences between odours (cannabis smells travel far and wide), and intoxication (alcohol consumption remains banned in many public places where toking weed will be permitted).

No one is suggesting these decisions are easy. But the provincial government has decided to duck.

Off-loading in-store sales on the private sector, and downloading implementation onto municipalities, makes for a cheaper rollout as Ontarians start to roll their own weed. But when problems arise, it will be much harder to rein in.

Notwithstanding the premier’s penchant for cloaking himself in the guise of family values on matters such as sex education, he is relying on a fig leaf to camouflage his naked expediency on cannabis consumption. Amid the haze, it is not so much an ideological decision as a political dodge.

Martin Regg Cohn is a columnist based in Toronto covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @reggcohn

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Anglais

‘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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