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Ontario government cuts $25M in funding for specialized school programs

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The Ontario government is slashing $25 million in funding for specialized programs in elementary and secondary schools across the province. 

The cut will mean the end of a number of initiatives for at-risk youth, including an after-school program run by teens in low-income areas that was established in the wake of the so-called « Summer of the Gun » in Toronto. 

According to the city’s public school board, the move will also affect programs that encouraged physical activity among  students and offered in-class tutors to children, as well as supports for racialized youth.

Marit Stiles, the NDP education critic, says the cut will be « deeply felt » by Ontario students.

The Toronto District School Board said the cut affects 11 grants administered through a special fund known as the Education Programs — Other (EPO). It is separate from the general operating fund. Programs that will lose funding addressed issues that were deemed to be priorities by previous provincial governments, as well as the federal government, it said.

Government says cut follows review of fund

On Friday, the government sent a memo to school boards about its decision.

« Despite only accounting for less than one per cent of school board funding, this fund has a long track record of wasteful spending, overspending and millions of dollars of unfunded commitments, » Kayla Iafelice, press secretary for Education Minister Lisa Thompson, said in an email to CBC Toronto.

« We have performed a thorough review of the EPO fund to ensure that it better aligns with the needs and priorities of Ontario parents, teachers and students while respecting taxpayer dollars. »

Kayla Iafelice, press secretary for Education Minister Lisa Thompson, pictured here, said in an email to CBC Toronto: ‘Despite only accounting for less than one per cent of school board funding, this fund has a long track record of wasteful spending, overspending and millions of dollars of unfunded commitments.’ (CBC)

Iafelice said, for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, EPO transfer payments will total $400 million to third-party organizations and school boards. The amount represents a $25-million reduction over allocations made in the previous fiscal year, she said.

In a news release, Stiles said the cut shows disregard for school boards and students.

« Doug Ford’s cuts in classrooms are callous, and will only make the education and learning outcome challenges Ontario is facing even worse, » she said.

The NDP said memos were sent to school boards across the province after hours on Friday and that they arrived the day before a public consultation on education was scheduled to end.

Robin Pilkey, chair of the Toronto District School Board, said she is disappointed at the timing, lack of information and lack of detail about whether costs already committed to programs will be covered. (Robin Pilkey/Twitter)

Robin Pilkey, chair of the TDSB, said in an interview on Sunday that the board is trying to make financial sense of the impact of the cut and very little information has been provided. Pilkey is the school trustee for Ward 7, Parkdale-High Park.

Board called in staff to make sense of the cut

« On Friday, after 5 o’clock, an email was received by school boards indicating that there had been changes to the EPOs, » she said. « The information was not very clear. At this point, we do not know the financial implications. We’re not going to know that for several weeks, I don’t think. The impact of this cut is unknown at this time. »

She said she is concerned about the cut, disappointed at how it was handled, but not surprised. The government has been talking about its deficit for months now, she said.

« I think it was disappointing that it was dropped so late in the day. I think it was disappointing that it wasn’t very clear. I think it was disappointing because they cut programs and they don’t say whether boards will be kept whole on these programs because we were obviously running these programs. I mean, we’re in December now, » she said.

The timing of the memo was also surprising, given that the government had not yet completed its consultation on education, which ended on Saturday, she added.

The cuts apply for the 2018 school year, which is well under way. The board called staff in on Saturday to try to make sense of the memo. 

The email had a number of attachments about individual grants, she said. Some of the programs are continuing, some had their funding reduced, some had their funding cut completely. Others were not mentioned at all and the board doesn’t know the status of those ones, she said.

« We don’t why they chose these ones, why these ones and not other ones, » she said.

Staff will have to determine how much has been received for each program and how much has been spent. 

Programs to be cut include Focus on Youth

The programs funded by EPO grants, considered « focused funding areas, » are determined every March by the government and the board has already committed funds to cover staff for programs in this fiscal year, she said. The board doesn’t know if it will be covered for the funds already committed to programs slated to be cancelled.

In March, when the board is told where to spend the grant money, it begins to make plans to do so, she said.

Not every school board has every program funded by the EPO, she added.

The programs to be cancelled immediately include Focus on Youth after school, Tutors in the Classrooms, Experiential Learning for Adults, Indigenous Focused Collaborative Inquiry, Daily Physical Activity – Elementary, Physical Activity for Secondary Students, and Speak Up. The summer program of Focus on Youth is continuing. 

Focus on Youth, for example, was set up to provide activities for students in schools in areas that are considered under-served by other agencies. Students were hired as group leaders and peer mentors in the program. 

Originally, part of the idea behind the program was to steer students away from gangs. « It certainly is an unusual program to cut, » she added.

« It is a program that served students directly. And I think, for that, it is a loss. It doesn’t seem to me that it could be good. »

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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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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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