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Marijuana’s first legal day is surprisingly mellow

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The sky didn’t fall. The Americans didn’t invade. Cats and dogs didn’t start embracing in the streets.

Unlikely as it seems, Canada’s first day as the world’s largest legal marijuana marketplace turned out to be pretty much just another day.

A bit hazier here, a bit giddier there, without doubt — but by nightfall, legalization was unfolding so smoothly there was even room for other news amid coast-to-coat cannabis coverage.

Buyers were able to vote with their feet in every province but Ontario and buy they did, lining up at newly unveiled bricks-and-mortar shops starting in Newfoundland, where at the stroke of midnight Ian Power, 46, become the first Canadian to possess a fully legal, fully taxed gram of marijuana. Powers, unlike most, said he had no intention of ever smoking his bounty, vowing instead to have it mounted on a plaque with the date and time. “I’m going to keep it forever.”

In Canada’s highest office, the man who made it all happen told reporters he has no plans to ever get high on recreational cannabis, despite having previously acknowledged smoking it a few times before.

Ontario may be the laggard on the national cannabis landscape — though online sales began at a frantic rate of 100 purchase a minute beginning at 12:01 a.m., no storefronts will open here until next April. Yet in a flurry of legislative activity Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford’s government passed legislation to regulate the new federal law, spelling out how and where Ontarians can buy and consume cannabis.

Although the Ford government has been criticized for loose consumption guidelines that will allow for cannabis use wherever cigarettes can be smoked, including public parks, the premier emphasized his intention to let municipalities fine-tune those rules as they see fit.

“Our number one priority is to make sure our children are safe, make sure we keep it away from schools, and make sure we let municipalities decide if they’re even going to sell it, where they can smoke it,” said Ford.

Under Ontario’s rules, the province’s 444 municipalities have until Jan. 22 to say yes or no to private bricks-and-mortar cannabis stores.

Toronto Mayor John Tory offered a note of caution in a statement to the city, saying, “For those who choose to use cannabis, I hope common-sense prevails. Don’t smoke marijuana and drive. Don’t smoke marijuana and go to work. Don’t be inconsiderate about where you’re smoking marijuana and don’t smoke it around where children are present.”

Mayoral candidate Jennifer Keesmaat, who is vying for Tory’s job in next Monday’s election, said she welcomed the Ottawa’s move to pardon past convictions for simple possession, saying that without amnesty “hundreds of thousand sof people would continue to feel the effects of outdated laws whose enforcement has had a disproportionate impact on people of colour and the poor.”

Keesmaat, noting concerns of residents about the impact of legal cannabis on neighbourhoods, said she would also support zoing amendments “to prevent numerous cannabis stores from clustering in proximity to each other and driving out neighbourhood businesses from our main streets.”

With the surge in legal online sales across the country triggering the flow of HST and excise tax dollars from the moment the government-run websites went live, Day One of legalization passed with one curious absence — no sign whatsoever of an expected crackdown on black and grey market sales. Dozens of illegal websites that had been operating for months with de facto impunity remained active — but for how long is anyone’s guess.

One high-profile medical marijuana activist, Chris Enns, told the Star it was “business-as-usual, another day like any other” at his Halifax dispensary, the Farm Assists Cannabis Resource Centre, where he remained open despite advance warning that he should expect police intervention. Though Nova Scotia has established a government monopoly on cannabis sales, the newly opened stores do not have the high-strength extracts that Enns has spent years providing for many of his patients, including people with cancer.

“The oils and extracts we have in stock are 750 per cent stronger than what the government stores have available — and we’re here to stand with our patients, to ensure they can get the medicine they require at the lowest possible price,” said Enns.

“I’m grateful on this day that our community of patients is telling us they’ll support us if we face prosecution. We have legal counsel on standby, we have prepared for plans A, B, C and D for whatever happens next. But at this moment, all is well. We’re open.”

At dusk, the Ontario Provincial Police sent a message of their own with a live online broadcast of a RIDE check timed to coincide with legalization. The live feed from the OPP was a palpable reminder that, although they don’t yet have a device that can measure cannabis impairment with the accuracy of an alcohol breathalyzer, the force has spent months undergoing upgraded training to detect impairment of any sort, including driving under the influence of cannabis.

Police in Winnipeg went one step further, tweeting a photo of the first-ever ticket, not for impaired driving but for Consuming Cannabis in a Motor Vehicle, issued Wednesday to to an unnamed driver who now must pay a fine of $672. “Just like alcohol, consuming cannabis is legal — and like alcohol, consuming it in your vehicle is not,” the Winnipeg police tweeted.

Former prime minister Brian Mulroney provided the day’s most surprising twist, announcing he will join the board of directors of a large American cannabis company, Acreage Holdings, when the company is added to the Canadian Securities Exchange in November.

“Obviously we’re on the cusp of an extraordinary period of development, utilization and need in this area,” Mulroney said in an interview with Marijuana Business Daily, suggesting that while Canada is the first major industrialized country to legalize, he expects others to follow.

“This seems to be an opportunity for redemption by governments towwards their citizens, on a par that is rarely equalled … so it’s a big day in Canada, but it’s also a big day for the rest of the world who are listening.”

Apart from street-level cannabis parties, much of Wednesday’s frivolity played out online, with meme after meme riffing on Canada’s one-time moment. One widely circulated gag typical of the mood showed a supposed satellite image of Canada after legalization, engulfed entirely in smoke.

Buzzkill, however, wasn’t far away, in the form of a tweet from the Ontario Cannabis Store late Wednesday that suggested the day’s business was just a little too good, resulting in a backlog of orders that could threaten its one-to-three day delivery pledge.

“The response to cannabis legalatization has resulted in a high volume of orders,” the government-owned retailer said. “Please expected your order to be delivered within one to five business days. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

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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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