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‘It’s devastating’: Barge cancellation taking a toll on Kugluktuk business, residents

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The community of Kugluktuk, Nunavut, received its first freighter flight of goods on Saturday from the recently cancelled Marine Transportation Services (MTS) barge — a relief for residents, but one that has not alleviated concerns or confusion in the community.

Earlier this month, the Northwest Territories government, which owns MTS, announced the annual barge would not make it to Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and Paulatuk, N.W.T., because of poor ice conditions. The barge was scheduled to arrive in mid-August.

For extremely remote communities like Kugluktuk, the annual barge is a lifeline that brings in much needed goods, food and vehicles.

After several emotional meetings with affected communities, MTS management agreed to fly in a portion of the goods. The rest will sit in a heated warehouse in Inuvik, N.W.T., until they can be brought in on a barge next year.

Delays put businesses at risk, say owners

For some of Kugluktuk’s local business owners, that announcement was heartbreaking. The community’s locally-owned hardware store, JMS Supplies — Kugluktuk’s main source of lumber, tools, paint, and snowmobile parts — had about $850,000 worth of stock on the barge.

« It’s devastating. You have to wonder if your business is going to survive, » JMS manager Gladys Joudrey says.

« Can it survive if we don’t get our stuff in? I don’t know. We’re just starting to run out of stuff that we sell all the time. It’s starting now to really impact us. »

JMS Supplies manager Gladys Joudrey and owner Joanne Klengenberg. About $850,000 worth of stock for their store is currently stuck in Inuvik, N.W.T., after the barge it was on was cancelled. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

On Saturday, MTS flew up a very small amount of the store’s goods from Inuvik. A local hotel, the Enokhok Inn, also received a portion of its supplies.

Even after the stock flown in on Saturday was unpacked, many of the shelves in the small hardware store still sit bare. Almost all of the racks in their lumber warehouse are empty.

« Right now, we’re losing money. People come in asking for supplies and obviously we don’t have it. Every time, we’re losing a sale, » Joudrey said.

Those lost sales are beginning to add up. Joudrey said she has had to cut down on her hours in order to help keep the doors open.

Lack of communication

The Northwest Territories government got into the shipping business when it bought the Northern Transportation Company Limited (NTCL) assets for $7.5 million in December 2016. The company filed for bankruptcy protection after racking up about $140 million in debt.

The deal included 82 barges, eight tugboats, a shipyard in Hay River, and a number of other vessels, buildings, and equipment.

What Joudrey said is most frustrating about the dilemma is the lack of communication between MTS and the community. Joudrey said she only found out about the freighter flight three hours before it arrived. She said she had no idea what stock would be coming in, or how much.

« [At a community meeting] MTS said: ‘Oh, we’re reaching out to people,' » Joudrey said. « And we’re all looking at each other like: ‘Who? Who did you reach out to?' »

While MTS claims the barge cancellation is « an act of God, » Joudrey said she doesn’t buy it.

The company claims it ran into impenetrable ice near Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., in late September. Joudrey said if the barge had left the Hay River shipyard on time and came to the community in mid-August as scheduled, it would never have run into ice.

« Of course there’s going to be ice in late September, » Joudrey said.

The N.W.T. government said the delays were caused by high water levels and late fuel deliveries out of Edmonton.

This is the second year the government’s barge transportation service has run into problems. Last summer, the barge schedule changed three times and many communities received their shipments about four weeks after the expected arrival date.

‘It’s a lifeline’

Inuvialuit elder Frank Ipakohak said this is the first time in his 71 years that he hasn’t seen a barge arrive.

« For every community, it is a lifeline, » Ipakohak said as he filleted char outside his home. « It’s how you’re going to get construction stuff and equipment and things people need in our communities. »

Elder Frank Ipakohak fillets char outside of his house. He says the barge brings in much needed snowmobile parts and sled supplies that help him provide for his family. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

Ipakohak said he uses his snowmobile to set fish nets to feed his family. Without snowmobile parts or lumber and rope to make traditional Inuit sleds called kamotiks, many families like Ipakohak’s wouldn’t be able to get the fish they need.

« I have to provide fish and animals for my family, as well as for my friends, » he said. « People here help each other and provide food for other people as well. »

Joudrey said she hasn’t been told when the next freighter flights will be coming in, or if the rest of JMS’s stuff will be on it. She said she trusts MTS will stand by its word and fly in their stock.

If they don’t, JMS may have to close its doors, she 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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