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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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‘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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