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Ottawa to detail Canada’s new official poverty measure on Tuesday

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OTTAWA—The federal government will detail a new way to measure poverty across Canada on Tuesday, as it pledges billions of dollars to reduce homelessness and build more affordable housing over the next decade.

Adam Vaughan, the Liberal MP for Spadina—Fort York and parliamentary secretary to the social development minister, confirmed to the Star that the government will explain details of its official “poverty line” on Tuesday. Vaughan said the poverty line will be set at different levels in regions across the country to reflect social and economic circumstances such as the cost of housing.

A homeless person is seen in downtown Toronto in January 2018. The federal government is pledging billions of dollars to reduce poverty across Canada.
A homeless person is seen in downtown Toronto in January 2018. The federal government is pledging billions of dollars to reduce poverty across Canada.  (Christopher Katsarov / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The goal, he said, is to establish a better way to measure who needs more social assistance as Ottawa works to reduce poverty by 50 per cent over the next 12 years.

“It’ll give you a clearer understanding of who has been lifted out (of poverty), who is still in,” Vaughan said, pointing to a government announcement in August that promised legislation to create an official poverty line.

Families, Children and Social Development Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told the Huffington Post last week that the Liberal government would introduce that legislation in the coming days. He told the website that such a bill would hold future governments accountable to poverty reduction efforts like the Liberal goal of lifting 650,000 Canadians out of poverty by next year. “Future federal governments will need to live up to that unless they change the law,” he said.

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Duclos is scheduled to make an announcement at an Ottawa food bank Tuesday morning.

As Vaughan explained, Canada currently uses a series of measures for poverty, such as the “market basket measure,” which defines low income based on the cost of basic goods and services like transportation, food, clothing and housing. Statistics Canada also uses a “low income cut off” that counts Canadian households that spend a larger share of income on necessities like food, shelter and clothing. There are different cut offs based on the size of a community and how many people live in a household.

Anti-poverty groups such as Campaign 2000 have advocated for an official poverty line because they say it is necessary to establish reduction targets and timelines.

The Liberal government has pledged to spend $40 billion from 2017 to 2027 on its national housing strategy. The plan aims to create 100,000 new housing units and repair 300,000 units over that decade to address urgent housing needs of low-income Canadians and cut chronic homelessness by 50 per cent. It also includes $2.2 billion over 10 years to tackle homelessness.

The NDP has accused the government of being too slow to spend this housing money, much of which isn’t scheduled to roll out until after next year’s federal election.

On Monday, Duclos announced details of how the money will roll out — with $43 million going to the territories over nine years and cities gaining more access to $1.25 billion available through the government’s homelessness strategy.

With files from The Canadian Press

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

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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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