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Mayor John Tory wants to keep a lid on Toronto police salary hikes, he tells the Star in a year-end interview

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Mayor John Tory wants to keep a lid on Toronto police salary hikes but says officers don’t compare themselves to other city employees who got below-inflation raises.

Tory made the comment in a year-end interview with the Star Thursday, as he reflected on four years in office and the fresh four-year mandate that lies ahead, thanks to his commanding autumn re-election win.

Tory said he and fellow members of the police services board will soon give negotiators guidelines for talks with the Toronto Police Association, which represents more than 8,000 officers and civilian employees.

In 2015, under Tory, police won pay hikes of 8.64 per cent over four years.

Tory’s administration bargained hard in 2016 with city inside and outside workers represented by CUPE locals, winning below-inflation hikes of about 5 per cent over four-year contracts.

The mayor said he is inclined to see a “relevant comparison” between contracts, but said they aren’t “apples to apples.” Police union officials “negotiate more within the context of what other police officers in the province are making,” rather than other workers paid by the city, he said.

Toronto police first-class constables this year earned a $98,450 base salary, but those receiving maximum “retention pay”, a bonus that survived the last negotiation, earned $107,312. The total police budget will cost taxpayers just over $1 billion this year, most of it in salaries.

“Being a police officer is the most complex policing job that probably exists in the province and they do a very good job at it …,” Tory said. “Ideally, you would have something that is consistent with the overall desire I have as the leader of the council, which is to run a government that can expand services and manage affairs responsibly, but within the context of a low (property) tax increase.”

Another big challenge for Tory in 2019 will be dealing with Premier Doug Ford, the former councillor who settled into office by slashing the size of council in mid-election over the objections of Tory and his council colleagues.

The mayor said the two have since had productive meetings, but acknowledged the busy agenda of Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has not included passage of regulations allowing for the use of traffic wardens, rather than paid-duty police officers at busy intersections, or for the city to issue traffic tickets using photo radar in school zones.

Tory said much of the city’s wait on those safety initatives happened under the previous Liberal government but he remains frustrated. “To me, it underlines that, on these matters, we shouldn’t have to go and ask. We should have the latitude to … make the decision ourselves.”

Nor has the Ford government committed to honoring his predecessor’s pledge to reduce GO train fares within Toronto to $3 to integrate with TTC prices.

“All (the province) has said to me so far is they’re looking at reducing those fares to reduce the gap between the two (fares), but I have no commitment that they are going to do what had previously been agreed upon” and was to have taken effect Jan. 1, Tory said.

Fare integration could help relieve acute congestion on Toronto’s subway lines because riders, especially those in Scarborough, have told him they’d switch to GO for daily commutes if the prices were the same, the mayor added.

It is unclear what say Toronto will have over SmartTrack stations it has agreed to fund in conjunction with provincial Metrolinx’s regional electric rail expansion; the province wants to develop new GO stations in partnership with private developers in exchange for “air rights” to build above the stations.

“I’m not afraid of any of this,” said Tory, who added that the city should examine provincial requests-for-proposals on station development, but, if it doesn’t like the proposals, should be allowed to stick with paying for a station, itself, and deciding on the design.

“I’m quite willing to take a look at the results of such a process, but (am) always quite mindful of the need to have proper planning, and the need for us to have development which is compatible with what is going on in the rest of the city,” Tory said.

Any provincial attempt to using ministerial zoning orders to overrule city zoning guidelines for SmartTrack station construction would be “a serious issue between the City of Toronto and the province of Ontario”, Tory said. “I just don’t anticipate that is what their plans are.”

In his 2017 year-end interview with the Star, Tory said if he won a second mandate he would work more closely with progressive downtown councillors.

His recent choices for committee chairs leaned heavily on past suburban allies, with only, Ana Bailão, from the Toronto-East York community council, a downtown representative. The mayor says now that he honoured his pledge because he tapped Joe Cressy and Paula Fletcher for key posts at city agencies.

“I looked (the pledge) as being a greater inclusion of downtown councillors in the decision-making process of the government … consistent with my own obligation to move the mandate forward that I’ve been given by the people,” to expand transit, increase affordable housing and keep taxes low.

Since re-election Tory has opened the door to the possibility of seeking a third term, something he previously said he would not do. He now says that door remains open, but, as he starts his second term, he is not giving it any thought.

“It’s nothing to do with legacy; it’s everything to do with trying to address transit and housing and build a great city,” the mayor said. “If I saw a threat to that, that might cause me to make a decision that would be more likely to try to continue as mayor.”

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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