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Higher drunk driving fines, static minimum wage: These are the changes taking effect in Ontario in 2019

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Fines for drunk driving are going up starting New Year’s Day while the minimum wage holds steady at $14 and politicians will once again be allowed to attend their fundraising events under Ontario law.

Other changes taking effect Jan. 1 under Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government include a tax credit for low-income families, higher political donation limits and new rules for collection agencies.

New requirements for unpaid leave days under Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government, which repealed the previous Liberal government’s mandatory paid leave days, also take effect Jan. 1.
New requirements for unpaid leave days under Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government, which repealed the previous Liberal government’s mandatory paid leave days, also take effect Jan. 1.  (Graham Hughes / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE)

Impaired drivers with blood alcohol concentrations in the “warning range” between .05 per cent and .08 per cent will now face fines of $250 for a first offence, $350 for a second offence and $450 for third and subsequent offences.

The same penalties apply for failing a roadside sobriety test or violating “zero tolerance” rules for new and commercial drivers.

Police will also be able to issue $580 fines to drivers who refuse to take a drug or alcohol test, whose blood alcohol hits .08 per cent or who are determined to be impaired by an officer trained as a drug recognition evaluator.

While the government said in a statement these measures will “ensure Ontario’s roads are safe for everyone,” Andrew Murrie, president of the lobby group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, told the Star that increasing fines isn’t much of a deterrent.

He called on Ford’s government to pass a law that vehicles be impounded for three days if drivers are caught with a blood-alcohol level in the warning range, as several other provinces do.

“That makes an incredible difference in driver behaviour,” Murrie said. “People do not want to lose their car at roadside.”

B.C., for example, saw drunk driving-related deaths halved and Saskatchewan has seen a 40-per-cent reduction, he added.

On minimum wage, Ford is keeping a campaign promise to hold it steady at $14, axing the previous Liberal government’s plan for a $1 raise to $15.

The move, widely applauded by business groups and criticized by anti-poverty advocates, comes with other measures to tone down Liberal labour law reforms Ford said would cost employers too much and hurt job creation.

“When business succeeds, workers succeed, families succeed, communities succeed,” he said this fall in touting his “open for business” strategy.

Mandatory paid leave days have been repealed and replaced with requirements that employers allow a minimum of three unpaid days for personal illness, two unpaid bereavement days and three unpaid leave days for family emergencies.

The minimum wage will be frozen until 2020 and then increase by the annual rate of inflation, meaning the $15 level won’t be reached for another four or five years.

To offset the impact of the static minimum wage, the PCs are bringing in a new tax credit called LIFT — short for low income individuals and families.

“It will provide low-income and minimum wage workers up to $850 in Ontario personal income tax relief and couples up to $1,700 when they file their 2019 tax returns,” the government said in a year-end statement.

Critics say low-income workers would be better off with a minimum-wage increase because the money comes right away in their pay — instead of waiting another year to file their 2019 tax returns — and that many low-rate workers don’t pay income tax.

As Ontario’s political parties recover from expenses incurred in last spring’s election campaign, allowable donations are being increased to match the federal maximum of $1,600.

The previous Liberal government’s ban on MPPs and prospective candidates attending fundraisers is being lifted, raising the spectre of “cash for access” events where donors get to lobby politicians.

Donors will no longer have to certify their contributions are being made from their own funds — a move criticized as a “back door” way for unions and corporations to bankroll political parties.

In a measure aimed at discouraging collection agencies from using unsavoury tactics in recouping funds, agencies employing more than 10 people will be required to record all telephone calls and to keep them for one year.

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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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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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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