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Students call Tories’ funding changes ‘frustrating,’ ‘terrifying’ and ‘devastating’

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Amy Mather doesn’t know what she’ll do now that the province has ended her free tuition.

“It’s terrifying, to be honest,” said the 21-year-old, who’s studying child and youth care. “I’ve been at Ryerson for two years now on free tuition and it’s still very difficult.”

Mather is one of thousands of students hit last week by the provincial government’s announcement of a sweeping package of reforms to the Ontario Student Assistance Program and tuition. It includes a 10 per cent cut to tuition fees across the board, but it also means the end of both free tuition for lower-income students and of the six-month grace period on interest being charged on loans after finishing a degree. Those are changes that many students say will make paying for their education much more difficult or impossible.

Mather says it might cost her the chance to finish her degree. The whole reason she decided to go back to school, after a year off, was the free tuition program, introduced by the Liberal government in 2016.

All her tuition was covered under the grant and she also qualified for an OSAP loan that covers living expenses, such as the $1,300 in rent she pays for a basement apartment with her partner in Ajax.

Mather has an idea of what it will be like without the free tuition because she started her post-secondary education at Carleton University in 2015, before it kicked in. She incurred $18,000 in debt from that first year alone.

“And then I took a year off because I couldn’t afford it,” she said. “I can’t even describe the amount of struggling.”

Merrilee Fullerton, the minister of training, colleges and universities, told reporters Thursday the 10 per cent tuition cut will translate to “significant savings for students and their families,” and that the goal is to focus resources on the students with the greatest need.

She said OSAP costs are out of control and noted the auditor general projected in December they could balloon to over $2 billion annually by 2020-21, an increase of 50 per cent from four years earlier.

About 300 students protested in front of the legislature on Friday to protest the end to free tuition for low-income students.

Stephanie Bertolo, vice-president of education at McMaster Students Union and a recent arts and science grad, said the decrease on the “sticker price of tuition” is a relief for students on the surface but “we are disheartened to see that it is changing to a formula we don’t think is necessarily going to help as many students.

“We’re seeing a portion of the grants turned back into loans.”

Abdullah Mushtaq, director of advocacy for the College Student Alliance, called the cuts a “devastating” move.

“It’s going to have the biggest impact on low- and middle-income students,” he said. “That couple of thousand dollars is still coming out of their pockets.”

For Donald Giancoulas, the changes will mean $800 in savings on the cost of his studies overall but also a huge change in his grants-to-loans ratio, which is now about 70/30. He’ll also face the immediate start of interest being charged on his loans.

“It will end up costing me more money,” he said of the reforms.

He’s getting what he believes the government considers a “secondary” or post-graduate degree, in accounting from Sheridan College. For these kinds of degrees, loans will be a minimum of half the aid provided, another one of the new changes announced by the province last week.

It’s a change Giancoulas estimates will cost him about $1,500 on an $8,000-a-year program. “Any time you go into something where you have a plan and then someone changes the plan, it’s frustrating,” he said, adding he’s committed to finishing his education.

“But that’s going to come with a little bit more hard work and a little more effort.”

With files from Rob Ferguson and Kristin Rushowy

What do the changes mean for you? The Star has you covered:

10 per cent tuition cut:

Across the board, the province is cutting tuition for domestic students by 10 per cent. For a student attending an Ontario college, this will add up to an average savings of $340 depending on the program, Post-secondary Minister Merrilee Fullerton told reporters.

Free tuition:

This has been scrapped by the province. Brought in by the previous Liberal government, it allowed qualifying students to have 100 per cent of their tuition covered by grants that they didn’t have to pay back, and still qualify for OSAP to cover living expenses. Now the province is converting more of the grants to loans. No one will have their tuition covered entirely by grants.

Individual impact:

It depends on your exact situation. The province said in its news release Thursday that under the new plan 82 per cent of grants will go to students with a family income of less than $50,000, up from 76 per cent under the previous government. However, those students will still have to pay for some of their tuition out of pocket through loans.

According to examples on the government’s OSAP.ca calculator, if your parents make a total of $50,000 or less a year, and you’re doing a university undergraduate degree, the ratio would break down as a $7,100 grant and $7,600 loan. If they make $70,000 under the same scenario then it’s a $6,100 grant and $8,600 loan.

Second degrees:

If you’re doing another degree, like a postgrad college certificate, graduate degree, or law school, your loan-to-grant ratio will be a minimum of 50 per cent loan, the government says in its news release.

Mature students:

The definition of a mature student, which the government calls an independent student, will change from someone who has been out of high school for four years to someone who’s been out of school for six years.

This means that you’re tied to your parents’ income longer, and your OSAP grants and loans calculation will be connected to your parents’ income for six years after you’re out of high school, rather than four.

The OSAP interest grace period:

It’s gone. Under the old Liberal government, there was a six-month grace period after finishing your degree before you had to start paying back your loans. The idea was this gave you time to get on your feet and find a job. You still have the grace period on making payments but now interest will accrue during it.

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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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