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Province’s push for private funding, additional stops puts Scarborough subway at risk of delays

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The Ontario government intends to rely on the private sector to help fill a more than $1-billion funding gap in its plan to build a three-stop Scarborough subway — a move that marks another twist for a controversial transit project and raises the possibility of construction delays that could leave Scarborough residents stuck taking the bus.

Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek revealed last week the province intends to enlist the private sector to help offset the cost of the more expensive three-stop plan, by striking deals that would offer developers public land or air rights above station sites in exchange for helping fund the transit infrastructure.

The TTC is trying to prolong the lifespan of the Scarborough RT, which was first build in 1985.
The TTC is trying to prolong the lifespan of the Scarborough RT, which was first build in 1985.  (Rene Johnston Toronto Star / Toronto Star)

The plan currently on the city’s books is to extend Line 2 (Bloor-Danforth) to the Scarborough City Centre, which would cost an estimated $3.35 billion. Pending final approval, it’s projected to start construction next year with a completion date of 2026.

Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives, who took power in June and have promised to table legislation to take ownership of the subway system from the city, wants to scrap the one-stop plan and build a three-stop version that would extend past the Scarborough Town Centre to Sheppard Ave. East, and have a stop at Lawrence Ave.

An earlier estimate for the city of a three-stop extension that was based on very little design work pegged the cost at $4.6 billion. That estimate was contingent on construction approval being given by council in 2016.

“The developer would pick up the cost of those stations … and it will not be a cost to the taxpayer,” Yurek told the Globe and Mail.

The market-driven approach to building Toronto transit projects has been floated before with little success. But in an email Monday, the minister’s spokesperson said under their government it will work.

“Unlike the last government … we have created an environment where private business can confidently invest in infrastructure projects,” said Mike Winterburn, Yurek’s director of communications.

As an example, he cited a potential agreement Metrolinx announced last fall that would see a developer partner with the transit agency to overhaul the Mimico GO Transit station.

“In future, more agreements will be reached to improve our transportation infrastructure while protecting taxpayers,” Winterburn said.

In November, Metrolinx, which is the most likely agency to take oversee the TTC subway if it’s uploaded to the province, announced it intends to use the market-driven strategy to fund future transit projects.

At the time it conceded that strategy would expose projects to risks associated with the fluctuating real estate market, which could delay transit construction. The agency said the approach could also speed up projects in some cases.

Any delay to opening the Scarborough subway extension could have major implications for transit riders who currently rely on the Scarborough RT, which was built in 1985 and is reaching the end of its service life.

The TTC is currently working to extend the life of critical components of the SRT train cars by at least another 10 years to keep the line running. Details of that plan remain secret despite formal requests from the Star. What information has been released suggest it’s possible to extend the operations of the SRT into 2026 — when the one-stop subway was earlier scheduled to be complete — but any safe operation beyond that date is in question.

If the SRT is shut down before a replacement is built, it could result in all commuters east of Victoria Park Ave. being stuck on the bus for an unknown period of time.

Councillor Josh Matlow, who has chiefly advocated for a network of LRTs in Scarborough, said pushing for a more-expensive subway will only cause more setbacks to delivering transit.

“(Premier) Doug Ford has always been more interested in merely promising subway stations than actually building rapid transit. The absurd suggestion that the private sector is going to cover a billion-dollar shortfall will only further delay delivering results,” Matlow said.

“We need to move forward now with an already approved and funded LRT network for Scarborough to ensure residents aren’t left on the bus.”

Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek signalled his Progressive Conservative government wants to enlist private funds to pay for a three-stop Scarborough subway extension.
Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek signalled his Progressive Conservative government wants to enlist private funds to pay for a three-stop Scarborough subway extension.  (Andrew Francis Wallace/Toronto Star File)

The proposed intervention from Yurek, who has cited council delays to transit projects as a main reason the province should take ownership of the subway system, comes as councillors were months away from a crucial vote on whether to proceed with the one-stop subway extension.

In April, the TTC plans to release a report, which had previously been expected this month, on the project reaching the 30 per cent design mark, including an updated cost estimate and construction schedule. Councillors would vote as early as April on whether to send the subway project to procurement.

By contrast, the three-stop plan the city had earlier considered was at less than 5 per cent design when it was abandoned in favour of the one-stop plan.

TTC spokesperson Stuart Green said he couldn’t speculate on how much of the design work the agency has done on the one-stop extension could be repurposed for a three-stop version.

Also, a 2016 business case prepared by city and TTC staff said stations on the three-stop version “were found to be much more complex” than “typical” stations. Due to difficult topography, the station at Lawrence East would have to be built at almost twice the depth as regular stations.

The stations would also require larger than normal bus terminals to accommodate the high number of Scarborough routes being diverted to feed the subway extension.

Winterburn said the government is “confident that private sector support will secure funding and help ensure that construction begins sooner.”

But he said in cases where partnering with private developers is “not applicable,” the province “can still explore traditional funding models for construction.”

Councillor Michael Thompson, whose Scarborough Centre ward would include part of the proposed subway extension, said he welcomed Yurek’s proposal to add stations by striking deals with developers. He said he has heard from residents in the run-up to October’s municipal election that they don’t want to stick with the one-stop plan.

“I would say a good 90 per cent of people I spoke to felt there was a need for additional stations to be included in the Bloor-Danforth expansion into Scarborough,” he said.

“Recognizing that the funding is always a challenge, if the province and the minister has additional ideas and so on, I think that’s something we should applaud.”

A spokesperson for Mayor John Tory — who has pushed a three-stop and then the one-stop subway plan — did not respond to specific questions from the Star about the province’s new plan.

“Mayor Tory is committed to building transit — that’s what he was elected and re-elected to do by Toronto voters,” a statement read.

This is not the first time the Fords have pitched to pay for a controversial, costly subway project by calling for private sector investment.

In 2012, city staff and an expert panel panned a plan by then mayor Rob Ford to have developers finance an extension of the Sheppard subway — a plan for which no private investors actually signed up.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

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Anglais

12 strategies to manage credit card payments and debt

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Today, almost everyone carries a credit card in their wallets. It is used to pay for almost everything from groceries to flight tickets to gas.

If managed properly, credit cards can be an essential financial tool that allows users to build credible credit, earn money back and gain great perks, like purchase protection and insurance. However, carrying a poor credit balance can plunge you into massive debt.

“Credit card debt is very high-interest debt, typically in the neighbourhood of 20% or more,” said Scott Hannah, president and CEO of Credit Counselling Society in a report.

If you have a balance payment on your credit card, clearing it off can be a difficult task if you’re a low-income earner—or you’ve already incurred too much debt that after using a credit card payment calculator you know you’ll be unable to pay back.

However, no matter how terrible you think your current situation is, there’s always a way out that works best for you. With interest on loans compounding everyday, there’s little wonder why clearing a credit card debt is so difficult. In fact, according to MNP, an accounting firm, nearly half of all Canadians are less than $200 per month away from becoming financially insolvent.

Tackling credit card debt can seem quite tedious, especially with many people choosing to ignore the problem and just keep making the minimum payment. Here are some practical strategies you can take advantage of to effectively tackle credit card debt.

1. Gain a complete understanding of your debt problem

This starting point for anyone trying to get out of debt is to understand why you’re in debt, in the first place.

Critically examine all areas of your finances to determine if your expenses don’t match your finances or if it was due to an unforeseen circumstance such as a medical emergency. Whatever the case may be, it is very important to know the reason why you are in so much debt so you can effectively tackle the root cause.

2. Look into your spending habits

Typically, one quick way to stop yourself from running into credit card debt is to examine your spending habits. What are the things you spend your credit card on? Are they essentials or things that can be easily done away with?

According to Hannah, most people can only account for about 75 to 80 per cent of their monthly expenditures and the remaining gets blurry. It is important to track your expenditure—whether it’s an extra shot of drinks at the bar or a box of cereal from the supermarket. Knowing what you spend money on allows you to build a better financial strategy against debt.

3. Build a budget

Once you have a clear picture of what your monthly expenses are, building a budget becomes the most important step towards managing your income better. Having one central location for tracking both your income and expenses is great in curtailing unnecessary spending and getting you out of debt.

Your budget needs to contain all of your expenses incorporated from essentials like groceries, mortgage, medical care and insurance to others such as utilities. While most people struggle to stick to their budget, you can create some margin for flexibility to make it easier for you.

4. Increase your minimum payment

For most credit cards, the minimum payment is approximately 2 per cent of the last month’s balance. But therein lies the problem because if you consistently pay only the minimum, then the lump of that money goes straight to your interest and not the principal.

Paying some extra money every month would go a long way in helping you clear your credit card debt faster and reduce the compounding interest.

5. Ask for a lower rate

It is very possible to negotiate for a lower rate with your bank; only thing is, most people tend not to do so. If you find yourself struggling with paying back your credit card debt, you can reach out to your lender and ask them to offer you a lower rate.

Long-time customers who have a history of making timely payments have more advantage with getting their request approved.

6. Take advantage of a balance transfer promotion

In a bid to entice new customers, lenders run promotions periodically on balance transfers for their credit cards. Basically, these offers involve having a low-interest rate between 0 to 2 per cent for a limited period—usually between 6 to 10 months.

Always be on the lookout for a lender that offers the lowest rates and longest promotional period, which would give you enough time to clear your debt.

7. Switch to a low-interest credit card

Once you have critically examined your spending habit and created a budget, yet it is obvious that you will always carry over a credit card balance, then it is time to switch to a low-interest credit card.

While these types of credit cards usually have little perks, they are quite useful in wiping a couple of percentage points off your interest. Typically, rates on low-interest credit cards vary but they could be as low as half the interest on a regular card.

8. Begin an avalanche

The avalanche method is great for those who have a lot of debt with several creditors. This method means you’d make the minimum payments on all your existing debts and then add any extra income to the debt that has the highest interest rate.

Using the avalanche method allows you to reduce the interest paid while clearing multiple debts.

9. Use the debt snowball approach

Another debt repayment strategy that you should consider is the debt snowball method. In this strategy, you would focus on paying off your small debt first before moving to the larger ones—all whilst still paying the minimum on all other debt—regardless of interest rate.

10. Get an extra income source

Creating additional streams of income goes a long way in helping you clear your credit card debt. By finding a better paying job or choosing a good side hustle, you can easily put down more money towards your debt repayment.

There’s a lot of gigs you can offer today to raise extra money such as writing, graphic design, proofreading, teaching and programming.

11. Use a personal loan

If your credit card balance is quite high, paying it off using a personal loan may be very advantageous. While the interest rates on credit cards can be as high as 29 per cent, with a good credit score you can qualify for a personal loan at a lower rate.

The main advantage of using this strategy is being able to pay off multiple credit card debts and focus on making single but fixed monthly payments on the remaining loan. Also, you spend lesser money on interest costs and repaying the loan in instalment would boost your credit score.

12. Spend more cash

Despite being very valuable items, credit cards can quickly run you into massive debt when not used properly. If you already have some debt yet to be paid, it is better to spend more cash than accumulate more debt on your credit card.

Get a low-interest credit card but only use it in emergencies once you know there isn’t enough money in your bank account to pay off the accumulated debt.

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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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