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As cannabis deadline looms, 170 Ontario municipalities still have not decided on opting out of stores

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As the Jan. 22 deadline to accept or decline cannabis shops looms, more than a third of the 414 municipalities in the province have yet to decide.

As of Friday afternoon, councils representing some 170 cities, towns, townships and regions across the province had not exercised their option to bar brick-and-mortar pot shops from their precincts.

And while some may simply choose to abstain from voting — tacitly accepting the stores under Queen’s Park rules — many still have their fingers in the air, industry experts say.

“A lot of municipalities have opted for the wait-and-see approach,” says Alanna Sokic, a cannabis specialist at the Toronto consulting firm Global Public Affairs.

“Cannabis was only legalized in October of last year,” Sokic notes. “There’s still a lot of unanswered questions and I think that’s what we’re certainly seeing.”

Nick Pateras, vice-president of strategy at the cannabis resource and information company Lift & Co., says some communities may be waiting for the communities directly around them to decide.

“There’s probably a bit of ‘you go first,’ ” Pateras says. “As well, I think generally that the market continues to evolve every single day … and (they’re) going to maybe leave it to the last minute so they can act with as much information at hand as possible.”

King Township Mayor Steve Pellegrini — who was vocal in his opposition to the shops in his municipality — says the pot-store procrastination is due to a number of factors.

“There are new councils and a lot of them are doing community outreach to get feedback,” says Pellegrini, whose 905 community was one of the first to decline the stores.

Pellegrini also says many councils may be waiting to see how many of their counterparts opt out, hoping for a bigger slice of the $40-million implementation fund the province is providing. That fund is to help municipalities who accept the stores deal with potential law enforcement, education and public health costs.

Meanwhile, 62 communities as of Friday had decided to refuse the stores’ entry, a number Sokic says is not surprising.

“A lot of municipalities have expressed concern about the lack of municipal control when it comes to cannabis retail locations,” she says. “And that creates a lot of uncertainty as they go about their bylaw and planning initiatives.”

While these municipalities will forgo their full share of the transition fund, they will be free to accept the stores at a later date.

“They’re very likely waiting to see how it plays out in other communities,” Sokic says.

Many of the municipalities saying no — like Mississauga, Markham, Richmond Hill, Pickering and Oakville — are located in the 905 regions surrounding Toronto. Indeed, this GTA region — which has been granted six of the 25 cannabis stores licences — has been the most reluctant in the province to accept the shops. Under provincial rules, regional governments can’t opt out.

(Toronto proper has five of the first stores, as does the eastern part of the province. Western Ontario will host seven stores, while there will be two in northern Ontario.)

In the GTA region Burlington, Oshawa, Ajax and Clarington have opted in while another four communities will hold votes on Jan. 21, Sokic says.

“If you look at the west region, all of the municipalities save for Windsor, which has yet to vote, have opted in,” Sokic says. Toronto, eastern Ontario and the North have largely bought in as well, she says.

The patchwork of 905 ins and outs will make it difficult for merchants and shoppers down the road, says Sokic. “It’s a minefield.”

Pateras says the spotty acceptance of stores in the 905 and other places could impede a strong retail-store market down the road.

“It will definitely result in a slower rollout than a lot of us were anticipating and hoping for,” he says.

“But hopefully the opt-out rate is low enough that even if your specific city or town doesn’t have a store, you can drive 20 minutes or 30 minutes to the next municipality over.”

Sokic says the opt-out decisions made by some 905 communities may have been due to more socially conservative values than other parts of the province. “I think it’s just waiting for them to acclimatize to this new Canadian reality,” she says.

Pateras speculates that many 905 communities have neither the general urban acceptance of cannabis, nor the financial incentives to host stores that exists in smaller rural towns.

“They kind of straddle the line between being an area like downtown Toronto, where cannabis is fairly pervasive … and a more rural area, which would be looking to collect the tax revenue and establish jobs,” Pateras says.

Pellegrini attributes the 905 reluctance in part to the desire of many of its sprawling municipalities to build vibrant downtown centres.

“We’re all trying to build attractive, livable downtown cores,” he says, adding cannabis stores might detract from these efforts. This “is just really not something that we are looking for, for our image of our unique, quaint community.”

But Pateras says the 905 patchwork resembles the store distribution patterns that have emerged in U.S. states that have legalized recreational cannabis use. “Over 60 per cent of Colorado’s counties, for example, still do not permit cannabis business at all,” he says. “In California, 70 per cent of counties and cities have opted out of licensing cannabis businesses … there’s generally a slow rollout.”

Pateras also says many municipalities that have opted out are leaving themselves open to continued black market sales.

“Obviously if you don’t have a legal place of access, you’re allowing for illegal sales to continue to occur.”

Joseph Hall is a Toronto-based reporter and feature writer. Reach him on email: gjhall@thestar.ca

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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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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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