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Sudden snow days ‘little less problematic’ for some parents, challenging for others

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When the Toronto District School Board made the rare move to cancel classes across the city because of Tuesday’s winter storm, it was the first time it had done so in eight years — in part because of the impact a decision like that has on thousands of families.

As the country’s largest school board in Canada’s largest city, the TDSB represents some 246,000 children. An email sent Monday ahead of the impending storm by John Malloy, the board’s director of education, noted that closing all schools « causes significant hardship for many families, some of which have no other options readily available for their children. »

British Columbia, too, has had to deal with unlikely school closures this week. Snow forced the shutdown of almost every school district in the Lower Mainland, including Vancouver, Surrey and Abbotsford.

For some single parents, challenges persist. But technology, including social media, has made it easier for some parents to unexpectedly work from home for the day or find caregivers for their children.

‘Little less problematic’

« I think with more and more companies providing their employees with the tools to work from home, it’s a little less problematic than it might have been in years past, » said Kim Shiffman, editor-in-chief of Today’s Parent magazine.

« I know, for example, the parents on my team, everyone brought their laptops home last night in anticipation of this possibility. »

Shiffman herself has two children, aged five and 10, and said she was able to work from home on Tuesday.

« Luckily they are at an age where they don’t require constant supervision, » she said. « And I can get a pretty significant amount of work done with minimal distraction. »

Vehicles make their way along a snow-covered highway in Victoria on Tuesday. A winter storm has pounded British Columbia’s capital, as well as Vancouver and the Lower Mainland. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

There are certainly parents in jobs who cannot work from home, but Shiffman believes those parents are a little more prepared for these kind of snow-day situations, from having to deal with staying at home with a sick child.

In her community, she said she noticed some stay-at-home parents and those on maternity leave offering assistance through messages posted online. Facebook has been a boon in creating tight-knit communities that allow people to reach out to try and support other parents, she said.

« I saw home daycare providers in my neighbourhood Facebook mom group saying: ‘I usually have this many kids, but today I only have one. So I actually have room to take two kids if anyone’s desperate. »

Not everyone has flexibility

But for some single parents, friends can’t step in, and grandparents and family don’t live near enough to help, according to Marianne Sorensen, executive director of the 1Up Victoria Single Parent Resource Centre in B.C.

« There isn’t another parent who can maybe take a day off work and stay home or help figure it out, » Sorensen told CBC’s On The Island.

« Lots of the single parents we work with are relatively isolated, » Sorensen said. « They’re really busy taking care of their kids and working jobs to make ends meet, and so many of them don’t have a strong social network of support. »

Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, said hundreds of thousands of children can be at loose ends when their schools and daycare are shuttered, causing a considerable impact on parents and on the companies who employ them.

High school teacher Melissa Watson takes advantage of a snow day by cross-country skiing on the streets in Burlington, Ont., on Tuesday. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

In some cases, kids are able to come to work with their parents. But in other cases, that’s just not possible.

« One of the things that has been helpful though over the last little while is … increasingly people are able to work remotely, where that was just not possible a decade or two ago, » he said.

« We’ve got people that are taking telephone calls, small-business owners across the country [where] that can be done using VoIP and other systems — they can pretty much be done from wherever. »

Kelly acknowledged, however, that if you’re in if you’re in bricks-and-mortar retail, a restaurant or a factory, that doesn’t give you very much flexibility — or comfort.

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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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