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At least 65 municipalities across Ontario say no to cannabis retail

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Dozens of Ontario cities, towns and villages have hung keep-out signs on their borders, opting out of hosting pot shops.

It was not clear late in the afternoon on Tuesday — deadline day — precisely how many had chosen to bar the brick-and-mortar establishments, 25 of which are supposed to open April 1 across the province.

Stouffville council vote in favour of allowing cannabis shops on Jan 15, 2019.
Stouffville council vote in favour of allowing cannabis shops on Jan 15, 2019.  (Steve Somerville / Metroland)

But at least 65 municipalities had decided to prohibit the shops. These included large centres like Mississauga, Markham, Oakville, Pickering, Richmond Hill and Vaughan in the 905 regions surrounding Toronto. Toronto itself voted yes to the shops and is scheduled to see five open April Fool’s Day.

Municipalities that have chosen to opt out can reconsider and welcome the stores anytime. But a decision to allow them is irrevocable.

Communities that refused the stores, however, have forsaken their full stake in a $40-million implementation fund the province is providing to help defray any increased policing, education or public health costs the shops may bring to welcoming municipalities.

The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will release a full list on Wednesday morning showing how all 314 communities granted the opt-out right by the province voted, spokesperson Ray Kahnert said in an email.

Read More: Which GTA cities voted to opt-in to allow pot stores? Which ones opted out?

Rod Elliot, a senior vice-president and cannabis expert at the consulting firm Global Public Affairs, says the decision to opt out was largely made by older, more conservative councils that still saw a shady haze around cannabis.

“Most local governments rely on the advice of staff reports and I don’t think I came across one city staff report that recommended opting out,” Elliot says. “So the decision by some councils to opt out I think was purely political.”

He saw two main factors. First, the stodginess of older, more socially conservative councils and communities, who frowned on the concept of legal cannabis. Second, “I think the big shocker was Mississauga opting out early and I think that got a lot of people’s attention,” he says.

On Dec. 12, the decision to bar the stores in Mississauga (population 722,000) shocked many — and gave other GTA communities cover to do the same, Elliot says. As well, he says, many opt-out communities resented the lack of control granted them by the province to decide where stores could be located within their precincts.

Even Toronto, which opted in Dec. 13, did so with an attached provision that the city be given greater control over shop placements.

Nick Pateras, vice-president of strategy at the cannabis resource and information company Lift & Co., says large store-free stretches of territory anywhere could draw black-market operations.

“If there’s a whole territory of municipalities that opt out there is a risk that you have a secondary market that would be illegal,” he says.

And aside from traditional dealers, these areas could also invite ordinary people from opted-in communities to stockpile products and sell them to acquaintances or friends in dry districts. While online sales are available to shopless districts, many pot connoisseurs prefer to buy products they can see and smell, Pateras says.

Brampton, the 905’s second largest community, voted overwhelmingly this week to accept the stores, giving cities to the west of Toronto easier access.

A large majority of the communities that said yes, however, will not see stores opening there anytime soon. The first 25 licences — for which a lottery earlier this month gave winners a chance to apply — can only be used in communities with populations greater than 50,000.

But many in the industry expect pot production shortages that badly disrupted recreational rollouts — both online and in physical operations following legalization Oct. 17 — will be remedied by year’s end.

And the rush of store openings that should follow will see the free-for all market anticipated earlier become a reality. Reticent communities may find it harder to deny the stores as retailers open shops along their borders, some experts says.

In the meantime, Pateras says the Ontario map has been sufficiently covered by opt-in communities that a healthy retail cannabis market could emerge across the province in coming years.

“After today’s deadline, the ball is now in the court of the retailers to open welcoming storefronts with well-trained employees who will guide informed consumer purchase decisions,” said Lift’s CEO, Matei Olaru. “Anything less will bolster the black market and discourage other municipalities from opting in later with a greater degree of comfort.

“In general, I’m seeing municipalities opting in who have a stake in capitalizing on the economic benefits of retail. Border cities like Windsor and Niagara Falls stand to benefit from cannabis tourism from the U.S., and Barrie has the potential to capture cottage country. There is also an opportunity for well-placed retail in cities like Hamilton, Brampton and Oshawa, who can draw traffic from the string of GTA cities surrounding Toronto who have opted out.”

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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