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Quebecers stranded by Haiti protests arrive back in Montreal

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The 113 Quebec tourists who were left stranded at resort in Haiti due to protests in and around the country’s capital have landed at Montreal’s Pierre Elliott​ Trudeau airport on Saturday evening.

The vacationers, who were staying at the Royal Decameron resort about 80 kilometres northwest of Port-au-Prince, were transported by helicopter to the Haitian capital’s international airport, then flown to Montreal.

Air Transat, the company through which the tourists booked their vacation packages, put out a statement Saturday afternoon saying that it would be a relief to have the affected passengers back on home soil.

« Our clients and their loved ones had a difficult week, » said Annick Guérard, chief operating officer for Air Transat, in a statement.

Guérard was on site in Port-au-Prince along with company president Jean-François Lemay, overseeing the efforts to fly the 113 travellers home.

« Since tensions came to a head in Haiti, our team has been mobilized and working hard to repatriate our clients safely and as quickly as possible, » reads the statement.

Cinthia Pietrantonio, left, is greeted by her mother at Trudeau airport. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Starting earlier this week, Haitian protesters blocked streets and highways to rally against skyrocketing inflation and the government’s failure to prosecute the alleged misuse of development funds from an oil assistance program sponsored by Venezuela.

The protesters want President Jovenel Moïse to step down, which he has refused to do. At least seven people have died since the demonstrations began Feb. 8.

Watch as a Haitian journalist explains the protesters’ motivations:

Violent protests in Port-au-Prince are calling for the president of the poorest country in the Americas to resign 0:38

The recent protests made the drive to the airport too dangerous, leaving dozens of Canadians — including missionaries and health-care professionals doing aid work — stranded in various towns and villages.

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Global Affairs Canada and the country’s diplomatic corps are working to keep Canadians who are trying to return from Haiti informed.

But Katherine O’Neil, a nurse from Montreal who is stranded in a different town, south of Port-au-Prince, says she has had trouble getting information from the government.

She and the other Canadian nurses she’s with have managed to charter a helicopter to take them to the airport on Monday.

They plan to be on an Air Canada flight that leaves for Montreal around 3 p.m.

The nurses have raised more than $17,000 through a GoFundMe page to cover the cost of the helicopter, and say they will donate whatever they don’t use for the trip home to the charity they are volunteering with, which is called Hope Grows.

The vacationers, who were staying at the Royal Decameron resort about 80 kilometres northwest of Port-au-Prince, were transported by helicopter to the Haitian capital’s international airport, then flown to Montreal. (Radio-Canada)

The Global Affairs Canada website is advising Canadians to avoid all travel to Haiti, warning the security situation could deteriorate quickly.

In a series of tweets Saturday afternoon, the government indicated the Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince is still operational and providing consular services.

Those who need emergency assistance should email sos@international.gc.ca or call 1-613-996-8885.

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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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