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No one likes paying student fees, but some campus clubs say axing them is a ‘direct attack’

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Student organizations say the Ontario government’s decision to allow college and university students to opt out of the fees that fund campus groups, student newspapers and clubs will make the province’s post-secondary institutions less transparent.

The change to fee payments was announced Thursday alongside other reforms to higher education that included scrapping free tuition for low-income students and imposing an across-the-board tuition fee cut.

Merrilee Fullerton, the minister of training, colleges and universities, said some fees — including walksafe programs, health and counselling, athletics and recreation and academic support — will remain mandatory.

She said each institution will be tasked with deciding which of these additional fees are deemed essential and which students can choose to bypass.

Fees often went to services students didn’t use: minister

« These fees often get allocated to services students do not use or to support organizations they do not support, » she said. « In most cases, students do not have a clear understanding of what these fees are paying for or any choice about paying them. This must change. »

Fullerton said she believes there are many programs that haven’t been deemed essential that students will consider important and support.

Several student groups expressed concerns that colleges and universities would be determining the fate of organizations meant to hold school administrators and the provincial government to account. 

Nour Alideeb, chairperson of Canadian Federations of Students Ontario, said the move seems targeted toward certain campus organizations.

« What’s really scary is that I feel like this is a direct attack on the groups that actually try to hold the government accountable when it comes to student issues, » she said.

‘They may well have to shut down’

Canadian University Press, a national co-operative owned and operated by student newspapers across the country, said campus newspapers rely heavily on student levees and may not be able to function if students opt out en masse.

« Without that source of revenue, they may well have to shut down, » said Emma McPhee, CUP’s vice-president.

Aside from job losses, there would also be a huge hit to transparency at the post-secondary level, she said.

« Without student associations, there is no one to hold institutions accountable for decisions surrounding fee increases, programming, or strategic plans, » said the group’s president Brittany Greig.

It would be a shame if some campuses were to suddenly lose … the campus paper or radio station.– Emmett Macfarlane, University of Waterloo

Students could also lose access to transparent academic appeals, services such as on-campus food banks and breakfast programs, and scholarships as well as student employment opportunities, she said.

Former premier and current Liberal legislator Kathleen Wynne said the fee changes would weaken student governance and student voices. « It looks like there’s an attempt to make sure that there is no student activism on campus, » she said.

Emmett Macfarlane, an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, said the changes to student fees are likely to appeal to the Tory government’s base.

« The policy idea is very attractive to conservatives because the ancillary fees are an additional, compulsory tax on attending university, » he said. « If you are a student who doesn’t like the politics of the Canadian Federation of Students and you see that some of your fees are going to the body, now you’ll not be required to pay that. »

Macfarlane said the fee opt-out could have « unintended consequences » depending on how universities are required to implement the policy.    

« What happens to the vibrancy of student life on campus without some of the institutions and institutional supports that they have? » he said. « It would be a shame if some campuses were to suddenly lose … the campus paper or radio station. »

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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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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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