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We’re ignoring Canada’s alcohol problem, chief public health officer warns

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Canada’s chief public health officer says she’s worried about the rise in heavy drinking among Canadian women.

In recent weeks, Dr. Theresa Tam has tried to sound the alarm on Canadians’ problems with substance abuse, making it the focus of her 2018 report on the state of public health in Canada. (A snapshot of this country’s health.)

While the report touches on the deadly opioid crisis and health concerns linked to legal recreational marijuana, Tam said alcohol abuse also deserves the nation’s attention.

« We have lost sight of the fact that continued high rates of problematic alcohol consumption are leading to a wide range of harms, » she writes.

A deeper dive into the numbers shows a troubling trend for Canadian women: they’re dying from alcohol abuse at a faster rate than men.

Tam’s report points out that between 2011 to 2017, the alcohol-attributed death rate for women increased by 26 per cent, compared with a roughly five per cent increase over the same period for men.

Girls aged 10 to 19 have higher hospitalization rates for alcohol abuse than boys the same age.

« Men still have higher rates of alcohol consumption … but women are catching up and this is really a worrying sign. There’s an increase in the rate of heavy drinking among women, » Tam said in an interview for CBC’s The House.

Tam said researchers are still trying to figure out why the numbers are rising — but part of the reason could be that women are using alcohol to cope with stress and anxiety. 

« We need to understand the reasons why women are consuming alcohol in a way that leads to harm. So women do have different experiences with trauma, sexual abuse, bullying — those underlying factors are important when you’re looking at prevention, » she said.

Selling booze as equality 

While Canada might be losing sight on its drinking problem, it’s hard to ignore alcohol’s presence in Western culture.

From the « purple-toothed » characters on Courtney Cox’s Cougartown to wine-guzzling heroines on shows like The Good Wife and Scandal, pop culture presents alcohol as a normal way for women to unwind at the end of a work day. 

Beyond traditional TV and magazine advertising, a quick scroll through Facebook and Instagram turns up ads selling wine as « Mommy juice. »

A shopper’s confusion over why anyone would need to buy a « wine preserver » made the punchline of a recent segment on CBC TV’s Baroness Von Sketch show.

The link between alcohol consumption and a desire to reduce stress could be part of the problem, says Tam.

« I think, overall, more needs to be done to normalize alcohol in Canada. So 80 per cent of Canadians consume alcohol. Rising rates in women tells us that we ignore alcohol, » she said.

Catherine Paradis, a senior researcher and policy analyst with the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, said there’s been a steady trend of alcohol makers and marketers targeting women since the 1990s.

While she said there’s nothing necessarily wrong with advertisers tailoring their messaging, Paradis has a problem with ads borrowing the messaging of the women’s liberation movement to sell booze.

« What I find extremely disturbing is advertising has been using the pretext of sexual equality to encourage women to drink like men, » she said.

« Would it ever cross your mind to ingest the same amount of calories as your father, your brother, your spouse? Of course not. But the alcohol industry has somehow managed to make us believe that, when it comes to alcohol, that should be sort of a measure of gender equality. »

The problem with trying to keep up with men at the bar, said Tam, is that women and men metabolize alcohol differently.

« Our water content is different. The body enzymes that metabolize alcohol are different in women, » she said. 

Changes coming from Ottawa

The federal government was forced to wade into the binge drinking conversation earlier this year after a 14-year-old girl died after she reportedly consumed an 11.9 per cent alcohol malt liquor drink called FCKD UP on her school lunch break.

« As you know, following the tragedy in Quebec, we took action to begin work on restricting the amount of alcohol in highly-sweetened alcoholic beverages, » said a spokesperson for Health Minister Ginette Petitpas-Taylor.

« We are still reviewing recommendations of the Health Committee and working on regulations we will be introducing in the near future.​ »

Paradis said it’s a good first step but more should be done to curb marketing.

Dr. Theresa Tam said Canada has lost sight of its problematic alcohol consumption. (Public Health Agency of Canada/Canadian Press)

« Companies are now using social media strategies to appeal specifically to young people and women and we’ve argued that it is necessary to place new restrictions on the marketing of these products, » she said.

« We need to start to think more about alcohol. It’s been trivialized way too much in past years. »

Shifting consumption patterns will take political commitment, but Canada already accomplished something similar with tobacco use, said Tam.

« We managed to reduce consumption of tobacco through a suite of policies, educational measures and regulations, » she said.

« That takes a considerable effort. »

CBC News reached out to alcohol industry associations for comment but has not received a response.

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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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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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