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Rejecting cannabis stores would cost Toronto millions, John Tory says

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Following Mississauga’s lead by banning cannabis shops would cost Toronto millions of dollars in provincial funding, Mayor John Tory warned Wednesday.

Tory told reporters he will urge city council at Thursday’s meeting to opt into Premier Doug Ford’s plan for regulated by privately run pot shops, but lobby Ford to give municipalities more control over where those shops will go.

“I think to say no would … do us out of quite a lot of money, millions of dollars,” in provincial funds earmarked for cities and towns who say they are willing to host stores legally selling recreational marijuana, Tory told reporters Wednesday after an unrelated announcement.

Tory said he will vote to opt in to regulated shops rather than see a black market continue, but plans to send a letter to the Progressive Conservative government asking that municipalities be given “some latitude” to prevent clusters of shops together, or shops too close to schools or playgrounds.

A report going to Toronto council from city staff recommends opting in to retail sales. It says Toronto stands to get $3 million as part of a first provincial payment to all municipalities, and then millions more through a per-household formula for cities and town that agree to host shops.

They advocated a wait-and-see approach based on how retail stores affect other municipalities over the next six months to a year.

“I don’t want Mississauga to be a guinea pig,” said Councillor Dipika Damerla. “I think we’re better off taking a prudent approach.”

Markham’s council also voted Wednesday to opt out of hosting retail cannabis stores.

Tory said provincial officials told him on a conference call that municipalities must decide if they will host privately run pot shops by Jan. 22. If they opt out, he said, extra funding to cover the costs of regulating the shops disappears.

“I asked the question on the conference call I had repeatedly — ‘If you opt out and you don’t then get the millions of dollars, can you opt in later and get the money?’ And they said no, once you opt out, you’re out.

“I think we want to have an orderly regulation of cannabis sales in Toronto, and we want to have the financial assistance which I think we rightly deserve for the costs that are being incurred to regulate this. I think the wiser approach is to opt in with conditions, » Tory said, while acknowledging the province has given no indication it would let municipalities supersede provincial rules that, for example, say the buffer between pot shops and schools can be as little as 150 metres.

The federal government legalized recreational cannabis on Oct. 17. Ontario residents can buy it now at the Ontario Cannabis Store website.

The Ford government scrapped a plan by the previous Liberal government that would have seen cannabis sales tightly regulated through LCBO-type stores that would not have been allowed to within 500 metres of schools.

The province plans to let private licensed and approved retailers start selling pot April 1.

But some municipalities are saying the province is moving too quickly and being too inflexible. Tory, for example, is unhappy that, under current guidelines, a municipality would be just another party to a shop licence application, with no right to appeal the provincial regulator’s decision.

Councillor Jim Karygiannis (Ward 22 Scarborough-Agincourt) says he’ll ask Toronto council to say he can ban cannabis stores in his ward, and other wards can opt out, too. But an Ontario government official told the Star there is no provision allowing specific parts of a municipality to opt out.

Tory said he doubted the argument would work, calling it a “difficult proposition.”

Meanwhile Councillor Paula Fletcher, who had seen a proliferation of pot shops in Ward 14 Toronto-Danforth, says some of the dispensaries are now closed but display a phone number for people to call and get cannabis delivered to them.

“Under the Ford model it’s still the wild west because you’re going to have a proliferation of home delivery” by unauthorized sellers operating among private providers licensed by the province, said Fletcher, who wants a return to the plan for LCBO-type cannabis stores.

“You can’t put a sign up on your door and say if you want booze, phone such and such a number, but now we have this new delivery model emerging and we need the government to have control,” she said.

With files from Francine Kopun and Ali Raza, Mississauga News

David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider

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‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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Anglais

Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar is the Latest to Hatch in West Island’s Bubbling Restaurant Scene

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Wings are the thing at the latest restaurant to make its mark on Montreal’s West Island: Birdhouse Wingerie & Bar.

At the buzzy new Dollard-Des Ormeaux eatery, the bird limbs come aplenty, with a menu listing eleven “wet & messy” wings, including smoked apple habanero, sriracha lime, and cherry cola BBQ; and four — cacio e pepe, ketchups chip, Nashville hot, and the garlicky, lemon pepper “vampire slayer” — dry rub flavours. They come 10 for $18 or 20 for $34, plus the option of ranch, parmesan, or blue cheese dipping sauce.

Tacos, nachos, poutines (one made with bone marrow, another with tater tots), smashed burgers, salads, and a classic buttermilk fried chicken dinner are just sampling of the other dishes that round out the offering. On the drinks side, there are cocktails, sangrias, and spiked milkshakes in popular chocolate bar flavours: After Eight, Skor, Bounty, or Reeses.

Opened on July 5, Birdhouse is among a recent influx of restaurants to grace the island’s western end, including birria taco slinger Tacos Don Rigo and barbecue joint Smoke Box — a double whammy in the same Pierrefonds area strip mall. That comes in addition to plans for Fairview Pointe Claire’s incoming “District Gourmand” (slated to usher in Tommy Café), and, of course, a number of the area’s longer-standing stalwarts — from southern belle Bistro Nolah to old-school casse-croûte Smoked Meat Pete — that have helped bolster the West Island’s culinary credentials.

The brand-new Brunswick Boulevard restaurant is the brainchild of Montreal entrepreneur Lorne Schwartz, restaurateur George Massouras (of Madisons and Arahova Souvlaki), and among the other partners involved, Brahm Mauer, son of the founder of beloved buffalo hot wings expert Wings ‘n’ Things. Mauer has tried his hand at reviving the original Wings ‘n’ Things recipe — the restaurant originally opened in 1986 — over the years, including with a Royalmount Avenue location in 2012, then as a roaming summertime food truck and NDG pop-up. That same truck has now been made over with a Birdhouse-branded livery to be deployed for private events.

A likely draw to many, Birdhouse is reprising the “famous flavours, untouched” of the once-upon-a-time NDG staple, represented on its menu as “The Legendary WNT Buffalo” chicken wing.

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