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‘Living the Newfoundland dream’ for 8 years, St. John’s trainer must now leave the country

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Like so many other Newfoundlanders, Machel Rayner had to leave the province for work.

It was September and the personal trainer had accomplished a goal of his own: he received permanent residency in Newfoundland and Labrador, the province he’s called home for eight years.

However, there was one more thing he had to do.

Rayner needed to find a good paying job. One that could support him, his two younger siblings, and his mother back in his home country of Jamaica.

But that one move — temporarily relocating to Halifax for work — put him at odds with the rules of the Newfoundland and Labrador government immigration program, which insisted that he stay put inside the province. The expulsion threw his life. and the lives of his family, into flux. 

« I was distraught. I was weak in the knees, » Rayner, 31, said in an interview Wednesday.

« I cried at the airport. I … feel as if I let everyone down. »

Love of Newfoundland

Nearly a decade ago, while working at a Sandals resort in Jamaica, Rayner was approached by a couple from Newfoundland who sold their province as a place where the charismatic Rayner could live and thrive.

Intrigued, he applied to do his undergrad at Memorial University and was accepted.

Machel Rayner, seen in a CBC story from 2011, was known for his singing and dancing when he worked at Tim Hortons in the Aquarena in St. John’s. (CBC)

The province upheld all his expectations, he said.

I had to think on my feet as I have been doing since I was 19, sending them to school right through since Kindergarten. I have to find a way to keep providing for them– Machel Rayner

« Everyone here is friendly. They go out and beyond to make sure that I’m comfortable here, » he said.

« The university professors, they are as helpful as they possibly can and it’s always a first name basis, which is quite a bit difficult for me, » Rayner laughs. « Because back home it’s all sir and madam. »

Rayner’s contagious laughter, positive outlook, and big smile caught the attention of CBC cameras in 2011, while he was working behind the counter at Tim Hortons at the Aquarena in St. John’s.

Machel Rayner holds a photo of himself from his Memorial University convocation. It’s one of many items he is packing into storage as he leaves the province behind. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

He would sing and dance for customers to brighten their day.

After completing his degree in kinesiology at MUN, Rayner brought his positive outlook to the gym, where he sang and danced for clients looking to improve their physical fitness.

He was « living the Newfoundland dream, » taking chilly walks along the edge of the North Atlantic with his Newfoundland dog Jam Jam and giving a hearty nod and « whattaya at, b’y? » to anyone who passed by.

Cash-strapped in the city

But after his employer cut one of the fitness programs Rayner taught at a local gym, he suddenly found himself losing out on $10,000 a year — or about 25 per cent of his annual income.

« With that reduction in income, I was financially stifled. I couldn’t meet my bills with my regular livelihood and also take care of my diabetic mom back home, » Rayner said.

« So, I had to think on my feet as I have been doing since I was 19, sending them to school right through since kindergarten. I have to find a way to keep providing for them. »

Rayner had already saved enough money to bring his younger brother Shaquille, 23, to the province, where he’s currently studying to be an electrical engineer at the College of the North Atlantic.

Machel Rayner, 31, and his brother, Shaquille, 23, pose in front of an iceberg perched in the chilly North Atlantic ocean. (Submitted)

His youngest brother, who is 21, is set to arrive next year.

Rayner needed to find money to fulfil the wish he made his mother eight years earlier to get his little brothers to Canada.

« I wasn’t thinking. I was just thinking about how to provide for my family because if my income is cut, there’s a ripple effect on everyone else. »

He didn’t have any luck securing a higher paying job in Newfoundland, but Rayner did get an offer in Halifax.

« I was hesitant in going because Newfoundland is home, » Rayner said.

« This was a temporary move because my other brother is coming. I have to prepare for him and be here when he arrives. »

Axed from N.L. program

By leaving the province for work — albeit temporarily — Rayner said he was automatically removed from the Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Nominee Program.

While it wouldn’t discuss the case, the Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour said that the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Immigration Agreement requires immigrants to live and work in this province as they pursue permanent residency.

The certificate is granted to people who have skills that the province can use to address specific economic development and labour market needs.

Federal immigration and refugee protection regulations require that people « must intend to reside » in the province which nominated them.

Machel Rayner is leaving behind his three-year-old Newfoundland dog named Jam Jam. (Submitted)

Without the program, Rayner either has to leave the country voluntarily within two weeks and start the process over again, or appeal — and run the risk of being banned from Canada for a minimum of one year.

The appeal hearing is too risky, Rayner said. Instead, he is leaving his younger brother, his fitness clients and dog behind.

« I never had a pet in my life, » he said. « I truly am going to miss my Newfoundland dog. She meant a whole lot to me. »

Packing 8 years of memories

If Rayner was told about the stipulation, it simply slipped his mind, he said, adding he originally applied for his residency three and a half years ago.

On Wednesday, Rayner and his brother Shaquille packed a small storage unit in St. John’s full of Rayner’s things. His framed diploma from Memorial University perched atop a pile of possessions collected over eight years.

Working two jobs and seven courses, Shaquille will shoulder the family financial burden — for now.

It was something I did wrong, by not reading the fine print.– Machel Rayner

« All my mom has been doing is praying that I don’t return [to Jamaica] and that there’s some sympathy, » Rayner said.

« But it will [end] up on my little brother now to continuously send $100 back home so they can eat for two weeks. »

It’s on me, Rayner says

In recent years the Newfoundland and Labrador government has put a big push on immigration.

With more citizens dying than being born, the population is dwindling and is in desperate need of a boost.

A provincial Liberal immigration action plan released last year indicated the province has a « roadmap » to welcoming 1,700 newcomers annually by 2022.

Machel Rayner had hoped to bring his mother to Newfoundland and Labrador with him and his two brothers. It’s a promise he still wants to keep. (Submitted)

Now, one of their long-time residents is leaving.

Rayner may have worked on the beach at a Sandals resort, but he grew up in one of Jamaica’s toughest neighbourhoods, Trench Town in the capital of Kingston.

He doesn’t know how long reapplying to come back to Newfoundland will take or if he’ll ever be allowed back, but remains his upbeat, optimistic self.

He’s not jaded by his experience. Nor does he blame the province.

« It was something I did wrong, by not reading the fine print. And I will just have to see what’s the best route to come back. »

The Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour did not accept CBC’s offer for an interview with the minister, citing privacy concerns over discussing specific cases.

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Anglais

‘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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Anglais

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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