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News of a warmer spring will warm weary, frozen Torontonians

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A sunny thought, as you bundle up to chip the ice off your walkway for the umpteenth time this month: Environment Canada is projecting a warmer than usual spring.

There’ll be a few more weeks of winter pain first, but then ….

“Our outlook for March and April is showing milder than normal,” says David Phillips, senior climatologist with the government department.

“We may have to be patient, because we can’t say when in March that’s going to begin. It could be in the second week. You can’t just pick a date and say, ‘Shed the parka and balaclava and take the snow tires off! Spring has sprung.’

“But, right now, (the climate models are showing) spring is coming, and, certainly, it will be better than what we saw last year.”

April 2018 is likely frozen in the memories of many Torontonians. It was the coldest on record; a cruel trick on the salt-stained masses. Then, bizarrely, it was followed by a May that sizzled. The average temperature in April was 3.4 C. The average May temperature rocketed to 17.2 C.

“It absolutely was like winter to summer. I’ve never seen anything like that and I’ve been at this 50 years,” says Phillips.

“We’ll have spring this year. We won’t go from slush to sweat. I wouldn’t bet my pension on it, but I’m not just saying that to make people feel good.”

An average March high temperature is about 5 C, while April tends to be about 12.5. Phillips says that when the projection is for a temperature to be warmer than normal, that usually means an increase of about 1.5 C; not dramatic, but enough that people should notice.

“But, I wouldn’t take the lawn furniture out just yet,” says Phillips, noting that we’re likely still in for a few more bouts of “shoveling, plowing and pushing” before the crocuses appear.

The Weather Network doesn’t release its spring forecast until later this month, but Doug Gillham, a meteorologist there, cautions that “winter is by no means finished with southern Ontario.

“Once we get toward the first week of March, (the) first two weeks of March, it’s going to feel like winter. Instead of these back-and-forth swings, we think the cold will lock in at least through mid-March.”

A hint of warmer weather, even if it’s only on the horizon, will be welcomed by Torontonians longing for a brrrr-eak after a brutal four-week stretch of bracing cold, snow storms and freezing rain.

At Pearson Airport, 77.6 cms of snow has fallen since Jan. 15. Typically, an entire winter brings 108.5 cms of flakes.

We’ve received about three-quarters of a year’s worth of snow in four weeks.

Causing that, says Gillham, is the massive amount of severe Arctic air that has western Canada in a bitter deep freeze. It has spread widely, and, in the Toronto area, it is meeting warm moist air, surging up from the Gulf of Mexico. The Arctic air is dense and doesn’t like to give way.

“We’ve been the battle zone,” says Gillham. “You bring that warm air and run it into the cold air; that’s how you can effectively make a lot of precipitation.”

New Toronto Raptor Jeremy Lin, arriving in the aftermath of a storm Wednesday, couldn’t resist tweeting, “This Canada weather not playin’ around.”

It may sound odd, given what this city has shivered through, but this has actually been a warmer February than usual.

The average high so far has been 1.5 C, where, historically, the average high for February is minus 0.4 C. Gillham said the current number is skewed by a couple of warm days — Feb. 4 hit 12.7 C, for example — and a few daily highs that occurred overnight.

Phillips said a good indicator of the kind of month February has been so far in Toronto is that we’ve already had 22 hours of freezing rain spread over five days. Typically, we have seven days of freezing rain, totaling 35 hours, over an entire winter.

And this month isn’t likely to get more pleasant.

“You might as well write off February as being more winter-like. I just don’t see melting going on,” Phillips says.

While Torontonians like to complain about the weather, he says that, if there was an award for the worst winter in Canada so far, it would likely go to the nation’s capital.

“It’s almost as if every storm made a bee line for Ottawa,” he says. “Ottawa has had truly a tough winter. Every month has been colder than normal. We can’t say that in Toronto. They’ve had a record amount of snow. They had more snow in January than Toronto has had all winter: 104 centimetres of snow, a record for January.”

At midweek, 250 cms of snow had fallen in Ottawa this winter, compared to 98 in Toronto.

It’s been a crazy few weeks for dramatic weather, and Environment Canada warnings from coast to coast. On Wednesday, Phillips said he got a call from a media outlet in Winnipeg that was effectively looking to gloat because Manitoba was the only province not experiencing extreme cold or snow alerts.

Even ever-mild Victoria, B.C., where Phillips says “people don’t even own shovels,” had tee-times interupted. That city has already set a February record for snow with 68.3 cms.

“We had so much Arctic air across the country, and, what was most unusual, was that we had winter storm warnings or snowfall warnings for Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto at the same time,” said Gillham from The Weather Network.

“The cold has been severe in the Prairies and that Arctic air has been spreading west into B.C. and east into the Great Lakes. It’s just a remarkable air mass that has been very persistent.

“A lot of people a month ago were saying, ‘Where’s winter?’ Now they’re saying, ‘Make it stop! When’s it going to end?’ ”

Paul Hunter is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @hunterhockey

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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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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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