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TSB calls out fishing industry after deadliest year in more than a decade

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The deadliest year in over a decade for commercial fishermen has the Transportation Safety Board of Canada sounding the alarm over what it calls the industry’s « disturbing safety record. »

So far in 2018, 17 people have died aboard fishing vessels, the most since 2004.

Those deaths were largely the result of crew members not wearing personal flotation devices or deploying safety signals, the board said Monday as it released its annual Watchlist.

« The industry’s safety culture still has a long way to go before its members stop accepting more risk than is necessary, » the board’s chair, Kathy Fox, told a news conference in Gatineau, Que.

In addition to fishing safety, the independent agency’s yearly report also calls attention to railway sign safety and runway safety at Canadian airports.

PFDs and emergency signals 

While safety measures have been recommended and implemented over the years in commercial fisheries, the board said it’s disappointed with the lack of results. 

The number of fishing vessel deaths continues to fluctuate year to year. For example, there were 17 deaths in 2004, eight in 2016, three in 2017 and 17 again so far this year.

Transportation Safety Board of Canada chair Kathy Fox, left, said it’s a huge disappointment that many of the TSB’s recommendations have still not been addressed. Senior marine investigator, Glenn Budden, sits next to Fox. (Submitted by Transportation and Safety Board of Canada )

« Why? Because while more and more fish harvesters recognize the value of wearing a life-jacket or using an emergency signalling device, there are still many who don’t, » said Fox.

Of the 63 fishing vessel deaths between 2011 and 2017, almost 43 per cent were due to a crew member falling overboard and 35 per cent blamed on the stability of the vessel.

The board said in about 80 per cent of those 63 deaths, the use of a PFD « could not be ascertained » and in 44 per cent, emergency signals weren’t received by authorities.

The report said a major hazard — whether it’s on the sea, in the air or by rail — is employee fatigue.

« Pervasive, especially in a 24/7 industry where crews can work long and irregular schedules across multiple time zones, fatigue has been found to be a risk or contributing factor in more than 90 TSB investigations since 1992, » the board said in a news release.

Time for enforcement, not education

Leonard Leblanc, president of the Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia, said it boggles his mind that the message to wear PFDs still isn’t getting through to a small number of fishermen. 

So far this year, seven fishermen have died in Nova Scotia — deaths Leblanc believes could have been prevented. 

That’s why he says the time for education is done. He wants better enforcement for those who break the rules. 

« We’ve done our share. We’ve educated as much as we can and the only step that we haven’t done is to have the provincial government proceed with fines, » said Leblanc, a retired fisherman from Chéticamp, N.S.

Leblanc said his association has met with the provincial Labour Department and asked officials to step up their presence on wharves when fishing season starts.

TSB wants action 

Leblanc said he agrees with many of the recommendations Watchlist 2018 puts forward to keep fishermen safe. They come about a year after Transport Canada released updated safety regulations for fishing vessels.

The Transportation Safety Board’s recommendations include:

  • That federal and provincial authorities work together to co-ordinate regulatory oversight of commercial fisheries.
  • That Transport Canada release user-friendly guidelines on vessel stability.
  • That harvesters adopt these new guidelines and the 2017 Fishing Vessel Safety Regulations and that it results in changes.
  • That there is evidence that harvesters have changed their behaviours around « flotation devices, immersion suits, emergency signaling devices, and safe work practices. »

But Fox said the board is tired of recommending changes that are not implemented.

« There are dozens of TSB recommendations that have been active for over a decade without a fully satisfactory response, » she said. 

It should be safety first, and money after. Some tend to have money first and safety after.– Leonard Leblanc, Fisheries Safety Association of Nova Scotia

Leblanc, too, is frustrated that some fishermen don’t seem to be listening. 

But he insists that safety is improving, even if 2018 has been a particularly deadly year. 

In fact, in the last decade, Leblanc said commercial fishing companies in Nova Scotia have spent far less on workplace injury insurance. He said fewer accidents mean assessment rates for employers have dropped by 40 per cent. 

« This is a bad year, but it’s a year that reminds us that the work of promoting safety is never over, » he said.

« A life is precious, it’s priceless, and to me, that should be the first thing that should happen on a vessel. It should be safety first, and money after. Some tend to have money first and safety after. »

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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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