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2021 Francophone Games could cost taxpayers seven times more than expected




The Francophone Games could cost taxpayers seven times more than expected.

The Moncton-Dieppe bid was selected to host the 2021 Games — considered the biggest sporting and cultural event in the French-speaking world — based on a $17-million budget submitted back in 2015.

But Radio-Canada has learned the request for funding by the Games’ organizing committee, first submitted to government back in April, is for $130 million, raising questions about whether hosting the games in New Brunswick is still a viable option.

The municipalities of Moncton and Dieppe were supposed to contribute $750,000 each, with the rest of the money split evenly between the federal and provincial governments.

But various levels of government are now saying they might not be able to afford the difference.

New Brunswick’s Progressive Conservative government said it was shocked to find out the price tag when it took office.

« To our surprise, there were no funds approved in the budget for the Games, » said Louis Léger, Premier Blaine Higgs’s chief of staff.

« We were incredibly surprised.

Louis Léger, chief of staff to Premier Blaine Higgs, said the province is concerned about the inflated price tag. (CBC)

Léger said he is not ready to say the Games are in jeopardy, but he is unsure where the funds will come from.

« We have to recognize New Brunswick is a small province, » he said, leaving the ball in the court of the federal government.

But Ottawa said it will not contribute more than 50 per cent of the cost of running the Games.

« We’re obviously worried by the potential cost, » said Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.

« It’s important now for New Brunswick to assume its responsibility, and we’ll be an important partner in the Games. »

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said he can’t imagine Moncton-Dieppe won’t host the 2021 Francophonie Games. (CBC)

LeBlanc said the federal government could pay 50 per cent of the new costs but, according to federal policy on funding for international sporting events, it would not go beyond more than half the overall price tag.

The minister said he is looking forward to continuing discussions with the province.

« I can’t imagine the provincial government would give up on the Games, » he said.

« I can’t imagine the Francophonie Games wouldn’t take place in New Brunswick in 2021. »

No false pretences

The $17-million bid was based on a suggested financial framework in the International Organization of the Francophone Games guide, explained Eric Larocque, executive director of the 2021 Games organizing committee.

The $130-million price tag, he explained, is the full business plan, which the committee wasn’t required to submit as part of its bid.

In contrast, the City of Sherbrooke, Que., who also made a bid to host the games and lost, had a $50-million business plan as part of its application.

Larocque rejected the idea the committee won its bid under false pretences but agreed it would have been « the right thing to do » to submit the business plan from the get-go.

Eric Larocque, executive director of the 2021 Games organizing committee, said the committee wasn’t acting under false pretences when it submitted its $17-million bid. (CBC)

« Of course, yes, » said Larocque. « But it was not asked from us, so we didn’t.

« There were some volunteers, and there were some public servants. I’m not here to pinpoint or to blame somebody. It was a group decision, and that’s it. »

Larocque said he could not provide details about what items were part of the business plan, short of confirming a request for infrastructure was made.

When Moncton won the bid, the city said « the beauty » of its bid was that it already had all the infrastructure required — referring to the stadium at the University of Moncton and the new Avenir Centre — and there wouldn’t be any costs associated with that.

Officials from the International Committee of Games of La Francophonie met with Moncton-Dieppe officials and organizations to talk about bid for 2021 games in the 2015 file photo. (Jennifer Choi/CBC)

Larocque said governments could decide to provide only a portion of the money requested by the organizing committee.

« I don’t think we’re going to lose the Games. They need to talk and to find a solution, » he said.

« We’re going to do the best with the money we’re going to get. »

He said the funds would have to be approved by January for the committee to be on schedule.

The City of Moncton said it approved a financial contribution of $750,000 toward the Games, as part of its 2017 budget deliberations, and that no further request for funding has been made to the city by the local organizing committee.

The province meanwhile remains concerned.

« We inherited this situation, » said Léger. This worries us to the highest degree. To see that such an important event had not been as well planned as it should have…

« It’s a 664 per cent increase. It’s not just forgetting a small element of the project. »

Since they were created in 1989, the Games have been held in Morocco, France, Lebanon, Ivory Coast, Madagascar and Niger.

Canada last hosted the event in 2001 when it was held in Ottawa and Gatineau, Que..

The Games are expected to draw 4,000 visitors to the Moncton area in 2021.


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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal




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




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




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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