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Thousands ‘may be eating something cold by candlelight’ on Christmas as B.C. power outage continues

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VANCOUVER—Chief William Seymour of Vancouver Island’s Cowichan Tribes booked five hotel rooms for displaced families and will be attending a funeral on Christmas Eve.

The tragedies that befell the First Nation were echoed throughout much of British Columbia this holiday season following a powerful storm that battered the province on Thursday. Tens of thousands of people have been left without power.

But locals are banding together to make the most of a gloomy situation.

“We are a pretty tight-knit community. If we have the means to help, then we do it. Looking after each other is the way that we are getting by,” Seymour said in a phone interview. “Everybody is praying they’re going to get hydro today. They would love to be home for Christmas Day.”

Heavy rain and 100 km/h winds uprooted hundreds of trees, one of which struck and killed a woman in her early 20s on Thursday morning. Then in the evening, as 16 community members sat by candlelight, one candle tipped over, causing an out-of-control house fire. A falling tree sliced through the living room of another home, which housed 12 people.

As for the rest of the community, “they have no idea what they’re going to do for the holidays,” Seymour said.

“We are looking at families that have to find someplace else to get together. They can’t have their usual turkey dinners, and I don’t know how they’re working that out … They may be eating something cold by candlelight.”

Though the largest First Nations band in B.C. has been hit hard, Seymour said community members with power — just under half of the population of 5,000, he estimates — are opening their doors for people in need of a hot shower, a stove or even filtered water. Roughly 35 households are struggling to access clean water.

But his biggest concern is for elders with mobility issues, given that they’re not expecting power to be back on until the new year. Seymour spent Monday morning phoning around to ensure there’s plenty of dry wood to burn on their wood stoves.

BC Hydro reported there were roughly 20,000 British Columbians without power as of late Monday morning. A large number are on Vancouver Island including the Cowichan Valley and Galiano Island, said Tanya Fish, the Crown corporation’s spokesperson.

Repair crews have been working 24-7 in the face of hundreds of downed power lines and trees. The Ministry of Transportation has been assisting with cleanup.

But the most affected areas will be without power on Christmas Day, Fish noted.

“Customers in these areas have been really amazing. They’re bringing coffee, hot chocolate and food out to crews to show their appreciation,” Fish said.

Meanwhile, on Galiano Island, several residents told StarMetro that their cellphones have been their “life blood.”

When the power went out Thursday, resident Tobi Elliot said, the community naturally stepped up to help one another. She spoke to StarMetro for 10 minutes on her way to deliver drinking water on Sunday as her cellphone dwindled to one per cent battery life and died.

Locals immediately “grabbed their own chainsaws” and started clearing trees from roadways, she explained. Since debit and credit machines were down, people were sharing cash for essentials such as gas. Others were delivering jugs of fuel for those who needed gas. Clean water was also a commodity, as it was completely sold out by Saturday.

Then late Sunday night, six boats came loose from their moorings and proceeded to thrash violently in the water. One Galiano resident, who lives on a houseboat in the harbour, spent the night unhooking boats and fending others off.

“He and other people worked through the night to make sure there was minimal damage to the boats. He saved three, and three were beached,” Elliot said on Monday morning.

The town prepares an annual “spirit feast” on Christmas Day that serves roughly 250 people. But the community hall is located on the south end of the island, without generators or heat. Elliot said the dinner was almost cancelled.

“Everybody’s families are arriving today, and we’ve all been wondering how to cook a turkey dinner when you have no power,” she said.

But organizers and volunteers decided “we need to do it this year, more than ever.” They’ll be serving hot turkey sandwiches, cider, coffee, tea and cookies — all made in a propane-powered commons kitchen.

While speaking to StarMetro by phone Monday morning, Elliot said power was starting to go back on around the town centre. She was hopeful she would get a chance to bake some sockeye salmon, which is thawed completely after more than 72 hours without power.

“I’d already accepted Christmas would be a lot different this year,” she said. “We are potentially cut off from services in cities. You learn to look after yourself and your neighbours.”

BC Hydro will continue to update its website with outage repairs.

Melanie Green is a Vancouver-based reporter covering food culture and policy. Follow her on Twitter: @mdgmedia

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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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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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