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Canadian doctors back carbon tax as best ‘treatment’ for climate change

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Amid an ongoing political turf war, Canadian doctors have thrown their weight behind carbon pricing calling it the best “treatment” for a major public health crisis afflicting the country: climate change.

In a series of new reports an international research collaboration details the substantial health toll that climate change is already taking and Canada is no exception.

In western Canada, smoke from raging wildfires has aggravated conditions like asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease forcing patients to emergency rooms in search of relief.

Research conducted in the wake of the unprecedented Fort McMurray wildfires show firefighters who fought the flames as they ripped through the northern Alberta city suffered significant mental health consequences. And, further east, more than 90 people died this summer as a wave of extreme heat gripped Quebec.

“We’ve seen how urgent this situation is,” said Dr. Courtney Howard, the lead author of the Canadian report and the president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

“We’re in a public health crisis with climate change and it’s important that we use the most evidence-based and effective treatment,” she said in an interview.

That treatment is carbon pricing, according to the international research collaboration the Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change. StarMetro reviewed the findings ahead of the public release.

In Canada, the recommendation is being backed by the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Public Health Association, a move Howard called “the strongest endorsement of carbon pricing by health authorities in Canada that’s happened.”

Dr. Gigi Osler, the president of the Canadian Medical Association, told StarMetro that “climate change is affecting our health, right now.”

In a statement, she added that Canada must show leadership on climate change and called it the “public health imperative of our time.”

Carbon pricing will make it more expensive to pollute.

“We know when we make more dangerous products more expensive people will gradually shift their habits,” Howard said, pointing to the taxes levied on cigarettes as an example.

Reducing pollution would have significant benefits for the health of Canadians as well as the planet, according to the Lancet report, which found that more than 7,000 people in Canada died prematurely from chronic exposure to air pollution in 2015.

The doctors’ endorsement comes amid a political struggle over the federal government’s plan to establish a carbon tax in provinces and territories that don’t implement a price on carbon themselves by January.

Conservative governments in both Ontario and Saskatchewan are now challenging the federal plan in court.

In the meantime, a new progress report from the United Nations Environment Programme says Canada is not on track to meet its Paris Agreement targets.

In response, federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said, “we have a plan to meet our Paris Agreement targets and we’re absolutely committed.”

She pointed to a plan to phase out coal power by 2030 and the carbon tax, as just two examples of the action her government has taken in its first three years of government.

The news that Canada may not be on track didn’t surprise Howard, who noted the UN update echoed the findings of Canada’s own auditor general last year.

But it is concerning given the findings of another report released earlier this year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which determined that the worst impacts of climate change could be avoided if warming was limited to 1.5 C.

Currently, even if countries fulfil their current climate commitments, the world is on track to hit 3 C of warming by 2100, according the UN progress report released this week.

“We know we need to dramatically increase ambition on a worldwide scale and Canada is a developed country,” she said.

With more resources, comes more responsibility, she argued.

“We need to contribute at least our fair share and possibly even more and we know we’re not doing that.”

The Canadian Lancet report includes seven policy recommendations aimed at reducing the health impacts of climate change.

Alongside broad implementation of carbon pricing, the report calls for standardized surveillance of heat-related illness and deaths; the inclusion of climate change in medical and health sciences curriculum; more ambitious greenhouse gas emission and air pollution reduction targets and policies that support workers to transition out of fossil fuel industries; ensure coal is replaced with mostly non-emitting sources; and funding for further study into the mental health impacts of climate change.

Ainslie Cruickshank is a Vancouver-based reporter covering the environment. Follow her on Twitter: @ainscruickshank

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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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