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Toronto voters give John Tory second chance to build a legacy

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In a city where the only constant in recent years has been rapid change, Torontonians have voted for more of the same.

That’s the most obvious conclusion to be drawn from Mayor John Tory’s convincing re-election win — capturing about 64 per cent of the vote — in Monday’s municipal election.

John Tory greets supporters after his resounding win in Monday’s mayoral election.
John Tory greets supporters after his resounding win in Monday’s mayoral election.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

For as long as he’s been mayor, and throughout the campaign, people have told pollsters they’re pretty happy with the job Tory is doing and the direction the city is going in. Tory’s campaign platform could be best summarized as “steady as she goes,” avoiding any big, bold new promises and instead focusing on incremental progress on initiatives he’s already introduced, and on trying to get along with whoever governs the province and the country. In an election that offered confusion and surprises (mostly courtesy of the premier’s office), the incumbent mayor’s flavour of bland worked.

No huge surprise.

What was a surprise, midway through the campaign, was that the former head of the city’s planning department, Jennifer Keesmaat, jumped into the race and made it interesting. Though she’ll surely be disappointed with her 24 per cent of the vote and second-place finish, she can hold her head high. As can political newcomer Saron Gebresellassi, who, despite drawing only about 2 per cent of the vote, brought much-needed energy to every debate in which she appeared. Both losing candidates surely have a future in politics, if they want one.

That’s most obviously true of Keesmaat, about whom rumours of political ambition have long circulated and who some suggest might be a potential provincial Liberal leader. From a standing start on the last day of nominations in July, she provided a genuine challenge to Tory’s leadership, injecting new ideas along the way.

It’s interesting to observe that in the last week of the campaign, a poll conducted by DART Insight and commissioned by the Toronto Sun showed that a large majority of voters in the survey favoured Keesmaat’s main policy proposals (including a “luxury levy” on high-value properties, tearing down the eastern Gardiner Expressway, and turning some municipal golf courses into public parks), even while a similarly large majority of them were planning to support Tory for mayor.

Tory said at one point during the campaign that he admired that Keesmaat had a lot of ideas, and we all might benefit if he borrows some of hers now that he’s been re-elected.

The composition of the newly shrunken, 25-member city council will help determine whether he does — or even can — effectively embrace some of those ideas. The slashing of the size of council guaranteed a lot of familiar faces would be leaving, from all around the political spectrum. After Monday, city council will say goodbye to familiar faces from the left (including Joe Mihevc and Mary Fragedakis) and right (Giorgio Mammoliti, Vincent Crisanti). The very setup of the contest didn’t leave room for many fresh faces, although Brad Bradford in Beaches—East York, Jennifer McKelvie in Scarborough—Rouge Park, and Cynthia Lai in Scarborough North arrive as newcomers to city hall.

My own insta-prediction, based on my guesses about likely political leanings, is that this appears to be a council that will remain split almost equally between left and right, with a handful of centrist and relatively unknown newcomers holding the balance of power that determines the course of the city.

Of course, the other wild card in the new term of council is the same one who stirred up the election itself — Premier Ford, up the road at Queen’s Park. Decisions he and his government make (about uploading transit ownership and costs, about continued funding for city programs, even about allowing council to make its own decisions on key questions) will dictate much of how effective this mayor and council can be. How they work with him, influence his decisions, or work around him, will be defining elements of Tory’s eventual legacy. And Toronto’s future.

After a campaign in which there was a remarkable degree of consensus on what the major issues should be — affordability of housing, transit, public safety — Tory’s mission is clear. He has said he doesn’t intend to run for a third term, so after a lifetime of seeking public office, his next four years as mayor should be the legacy-defining capstone of his career.

Many, including me, have often accused him of being too cautious and tentative in his approach. He argued in this election that his low-key manner is the formula to solve these big problems facing this great city. He said it again in his acceptance speech, claiming his approach of “competence, collegiality, compassion and a huge amount of love” would “make sure this city reaches its full potential.”

Voters seemed to agree, and have given him the chance to prove it.

Read more: For up-to-the-minute results, visit the Star’s municipal election page

Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire

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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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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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