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Ryerson’s student union removes president amid questions over $700K in spending

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Ryerson University’s student union has impeached its president and suspended its vice-president of operations while it waits for the results of an audit of nearly $700,000 in spending.

The union’s board voted Monday night to remove president Ram Ganesh, and elected Maklane deWever as his replacement.

Ram Ganesh was removed as president of the Ryerson Students’ Union at a board meeting Monday night.
Ram Ganesh was removed as president of the Ryerson Students’ Union at a board meeting Monday night.  (Ryerson Students’ Union)

DeWever, a business major in his final year, told the Star he “reluctantly accepted” the appointment.

“Over the next two months, we will be starting the long and slow process of earning back students’ trust through real and meaningful action,” said deWever, 23, a student union board member who has been publicly pushing for transparency and accountability after he helped bring the questionable expenses to light.

The audit will review payments and credit card charges made over the past nine months by the union’s executive committee members. The student union’s operating budget is nearly $3 million, which comes from mandatory student fees — now a hot-button political issue as Premier Doug Ford recently moved to make such fees optional, claiming they bankroll “crazy Marxist nonsense.”

Despite protests from student groups, the provincial government announced last month that most student fees, which can add as much as $2,000 annually to post-secondary costs, would become an optional expense. Student leaders fear the decision could jeopardize a variety of programs that rely on union support, including mental health and sexual assault services as well as student newspapers like The Eyeopener, which uncovered the spending scandal at Ryerson.

Credit card statements in the name of Ryerson Student Union president Ram Ganesh.
Credit card statements in the name of Ryerson Student Union president Ram Ganesh.  (Eyeopener)

“What happened at Ryerson’s Student Union undermines the 52 years of hard work that our employees and student leaders have devoted to uplifting the Ryerson community,” DeWever wrote in a statement to the Star. “It is unfair to call our food bank, 96 student groups, centres for marginalized communities, legal aid and the voice we provide … Marxist nonsense. The Student Choice Initiative will kill student life and prevent us from providing services to the most vulnerable members of the Ryerson community. This does not mean that important financial reform is not needed.”

DeWever confirmed to the Star that a formal audit will “begin very shortly.” He said he’s not sure how long it will take.

During an emergency meeting earlier this month, the student board heard that Ganesh “chose to be” the executive’s “main point of contact” with a company hired to stage a concert at a nightclub that cost more than $400,000 in January. The union’s professional accountant told the group she had received no information about ticket sales for the event or any of the $350,000 she said she was told the union would receive in sponsorship money.

When the Star called Ganesh’s cellphone for comment Tuesday, a man answered. When a Star reporter identified herself and asked to speak with Ganesh, the man said, “I’m sorry, I can’t talk,” and hung up. A followup text to the same number received no response.

Ganesh’s student status was not immediately clear. Some board members told the Star he has graduated from the school’s engineering program while others believe he is still attending classes. Ryerson University’s spokesperson was not immediately available for comment. In an earlier statement, Johanna VanderMaas said the school takes allegations of financial mismanagement very seriously but “has no ability to conduct an independent investigation” because the union is a separate entity with its own governance structure.

Ganesh attended Monday’s impeachment. He abstained from voting on the motion, according to The Eyeopener. Reporters not affiliated with campus media were barred from the meeting.

Savreen Gosal was suspended from her role as the union’s vice-president of operations until an accounting firm completes its audit.

The Eyeopener reported that Ganesh and Gosal were responsible for the student union’s credit card and may have charged more than $270,000 in unusual purchases.

Ganesh told student reporters that the union’s credit cards could be used by any part-time or full-time union staff member. Credit card statements provided to the student newspaper showed more than $2,500 spent at a Cineplex theatre, $2,300 at a bar and nearly $800 at an LCBO.

The Toronto Star has not received copies of these statements to verify the accuracy of these expenses.

Diana Zlomislic is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @dzlo

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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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