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Trouble filling up the tank this week? Here’s why

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There are plenty of reasons for drivers to get cranky with Mother Nature. This week, you can add “trouble fuelling up” to the list.

Dozens of gas stations across the Greater Toronto Area ran into supply issues this week — including in some cases being completely sold out — thanks to the wintry conditions on area roads.

Getting into and out of fuel storage depots, as well as the slippery, snowy road conditions around stations in tightly packed urban areas, is especially hazardous when you’re driving a tanker filled with gasoline, said Suncor spokesperson Nicole Fisher.

“We always want to make sure our drivers are safe, and because of this weather, they wouldn’t have been,” said Fisher, who wasn’t able to provide an estimate of how many of Suncor’s PetroCanada stations were affected. “There wasn’t a shortage of gasoline. This was about distribution.”

While deliveries started back up again Wednesday, not every station will be filled up instantly, Fisher added.

It’s been five years since the GTA has seen a similarly widespread rash of empty pumps, said former Liberal MP Dan McTeague, who’s now a fuel analyst at GasBuddy.com

“This doesn’t happen too often, but it happens. The last time it was this big was probably 2014,” said McTeague, who estimated roughly 140 stations across the GTA were affected. The worst-hit ones were stations in Toronto itself, McTeague said.

“Usually, it’s areas to the east and west of Toronto which get hardest hit when there’s weather like this, but this time, it was worst downtown,” said McTeague.

Busy stations usually get deliveries every two or three days, McTeague said.

The supply troubles were exacerbated by a run on gasoline as drivers tried to take advantage of pump prices which dropped to an average of 98.9 cents per litre for regular gas, the lowest the GTA has seen since October 2016, McTeague said.

Still, the situation could have been more dire.

“It would have been a lot worse if the depots or refineries had run out of gasoline, but that’s not what happened here,” said McTeague. The Toronto area is supplied by a handful of major fuel terminals, including one in Oakville and one near Keele St. and Finch Ave.

Those terminals typically have enough gasoline on-hand to survive for a while without being restocked by refineries.

“It would be a few days before they’d run out, if it came to that,” McTeague said.

It isn’t just gasoline deliveries which have been disrupted by the frigid, snowy weather across much of eastern North America. In storm-struck Michigan, auto plants and other big energy users Michigan have shut down or limited operations due to a natural gas shortage caused by a fire and frigid weather.

Eighteen factories and other facilities run by General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler were affected Thursday. It’s not clear when they’ll resume normal operations.

The fire hit a Consumers Energy natural gas compressor station north of Detroit on Wednesday as record-cold temperatures swept over the region.

Elsewhere, beer delivery trucks in Milwaukee were pulled off the roads because distributors worried that the brews would freeze. In Chicago, train tracks were being deliberately set on fire by railroad crews, to avoid tracks from freezing and keep trains running.

With files from The Associated Press

Josh Rubin is a Toronto-based business reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @starbeer

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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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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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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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