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Loblaw hikes dividend on higher grocery sales — but no plans to bring back pandemic pay hike, too – CBC.ca

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Loblaw Cos. Ltd. is seeing significantly higher sales across all of its brands of grocery stores, enough to hike the company’s dividend to shareholders even as it sticks by a decision to roll back a $2-per-hour pay bump for workers.

The grocery retailer reported higher profit and sales for the three-month period up to the start of October, with same-store sales at Loblaws, Zehrs, Your Independent Grocer, Real Atlantic Superstore and Provigo up 9.7 per cent, and 4.7 per cent at discount brands No Frills and Maxi. Which means company-wide, the chain “continued with its 2020 winning streak,” Loblaw president Sarah Davis said.

The company said that eight months into the pandemic, it looks like Canadians are grocery shopping less often, but buying more when they do.

“At the height of the pandemic, there would have been the panic buying,” Davis said during a conference call with investors. “But I would say now, through Q2 and Q3, it’s stabilized and people are just buying bigger-size packs.”

Revenue totalled $15.67 billion, up from nearly $14.66 billion in the same quarter a year earlier. 

But some of those higher sales were offset by roughly $85 million in COVID-19-related expenses, and higher labour costs associated with booming e-commerce sales from home delivery.

That translated to an adjusted profit $464 million, or $1.30 per diluted share, up from an adjusted profit of $458 million, or $1.25 per diluted share, a year ago.

All in all, the company was confident enough with its financial performance to boost its dividend by two cents a share, to 33.5 cents.

Sales were up across all of Loblaw’s various grocery store brand names, company president Sarah Davis said. (Cole Burston/Bloomberg)

The company did not, however, see fit, to reinstate the $2-an-hour pay raise it gave workers early on in the pandemic before rolling it back in June.

There have been calls to bring the so-called COVID pay back for front-line retail workers, but a spokesperson for Loblaw said the company has no plans to do so.

“The temporary pay premium, introduced at the height of the panic buying and uncertainty, was never about safety. It was a recognition of extraordinary effort. Our stores are now operating at a normal pace, albeit in a new way. Importantly, we have invested far more in our colleagues and customers during this pandemic than we have earned in extra sales,” Catherine Thomas told CBC news in an emailed statement, referring to the $85 million in COVID-19-related costs. 

“Those investments will continue well into the future…. The company remains absolutely committed to its investments in colleague and customer well-being. Any suggestion of profiteering is untrue and ignores the facts.”

Higher costs

The company has been squeezing suppliers, too, informing them that the cost of getting products on shelves would go up in January.

Citing plans to invest $6 billion in improving its in-store and digital operations over the next five years, the company said in a supplier letter that the grocery business has become “more challenging and costly to operate.”

Analysts say those costs are likely to be passed on to customers, but the company told suppliers that it is committed to protecting customers from the risk of higher prices.

Galen Weston, executive chairman of Loblaw, reiterated the retailer’s pledge to avoid price increases on Thursday.

“The company remains steadfast in its commitment to put customers and colleagues first, as we sustained investments and safety measures at store level, while resisting pressure to raise prices at a time when Canadians need value more than ever,” he told investors.

Finance professor Stephen Foerster at the Ivey Business School in London, Ont., said there are no easy answers to what the company should do, but there is nothing wrong with viewing shareholders as the primary stakeholders.

“If the optics look bad, that can hurt a company’s brand, and ultimately profitability and ultimately shareholders,” he said in an interview.

“The challenge is to strike that balance to make sure employees and other stakeholders are fairly treated.”

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Peel Public Health reporting COVID-19 outbreaks at Brampton schools – Brampton Guardian

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  1. Peel Public Health reporting COVID-19 outbreaks at Brampton schools  Brampton Guardian
  2. Toronto enters virus lockdown as US looks to vaccine rollout  RFI
  3. Coronavirus: Latest developments in the Greater Toronto Area on Nov. 23  Global News
  4. Record number of new coronavirus cases reported in Ontario as lockdowns begin in Toronto, Peel  CP24 Toronto’s Breaking News
  5. Ontario’s top public health official now plans to push back retirement amid second wave of pandemic  CP24 Toronto’s Breaking News
  6. View Full coverage on Google News



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Toronto rolling out 'targeted' COVID-19 response for red-hot neighbourhoods – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Toronto is launching an enhanced COVID-19 response program targeting some of the city’s hardest hit neighborhoods.

Mayor John Tory announced the program during the city’s COVID-19 update Monday as the Toronto came under a provincially mandated lockdown to try curb the spread of the disease.

“We can’t stop the spread of COVID-19 in some parts of our city while it rages like wildfire in other parts of the city and we owe it to the most vulnerable to make sure that extra measures are provided, extra supports are provided in their fight against COVID-19,” Tory said. “We have to fight this virus everywhere, and we have to stop it everywhere.”

Data collected by Toronto Public Health have shown that case numbers and positivity rates are higher in certain areas of the city while testing rates are lower, particularly in the northwest corner of the city and northeast Scarborough.

Tory said the data show that the virus is having a disproportionate impact on people who are Indigenous, Black or racialized, precariously employed, live on low income, live in multi-generational housing, or who experience challenges taking time from work when ill.

“We are ramping up our support plan to fix this, in partnership with 11 highly trusted community based partners,” Tory said. “The city is immediately launching an urgent set of initiatives in targeted neighborhoods to increase supports and testing for residents in COVID-19 hotspots.

“This is an all hands on deck effort. Every part of the city government that we can mobilize is involved.”

Those measures will include a broader sharing of public health information, improving access to COVID-19 testing, as well as “critical supports” to those who test positive, and to their families in order to address testing hesitancy.  

Tory said the city is working on expanding the number of provincial testing sites, using buses for more mobile testing, and providing more transportation to testing sites with expanded hours.

The city is also continuing to lobby higher levels of government to continue or implement further supports to help those who are most vulnerable.

In particular, Tory said the city is renewing a request for the province to continue a ban on residential evictions during the pandemic.

Another major problem affecting some parts of the city is hesitation to get tested for fear that a positive test will mean loss pf income.

“Right now, people in the City of Toronto are waking up with COVID-19 symptoms, going to work, and giving the virus to their coworkers. Why, because they fear losing their jobs and or their paycheck, and they feel compelled to continue working without getting tested so they can put food on the table,” Tory said.

Tory said current federal and provincial supports for workers who have to take time off to isolate are either inadequate or net well understood. He said he has raised the matter with federal and provincial ministers but in the meantime is calling on employers to “do the right thing” by supporting workers who have to take time off to isolate because they have tested positive or have symptoms.

Following Tory, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa reiterated that many frontline workers are relying on those who can stay home as much as possible to do so.

“We owe it to them, those of us who can choose to keep apart more than others. We owe it to them to choose wisely and in ways that limit the risk for those who don’t have the choice to keep apart, and who may be at an even greater risk of getting sick because of it,” de Villa said. “This is truer for some communities in Toronto than others.”

De Villa said she remains “very worried” about where the city is going in terms of its progress in fighting the pandemic and urged people to reduce unnecessary trips and interactions in order to do their part.

“I urge you to act with the care and caution that we all showed last spring,” she said. “As I’ve said many times, with each choice we are able to make, we can lessen the likelihood of worse infection rates and soften the blow of what is yet to come.”

She said the possibility of allowing gatherings at Christmas and other events into next year depend on how well the city does in containing the spread of the virus during the current lockdown. 

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'This is actually terrifying': Toronto-area small businesses fight for survival as new lockdown takes effect – theglobeandmail.com

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In Scarborough, Karahi Boys restaurant owner Taha Yasin, seen here in Toronto on Nov. 23, 2020, has spent $35,000 to build a patio with proper heating and ventilation to entice winter diners. ‘All that investment has gone down the drain,’ Mr. Yasin said.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Independent retailers, bars and restaurants in the Toronto region are scrambling to figure out how they will survive the crucial holiday season as renewed lockdown measures forced them to close their doors again on Monday while some big-box store chains can remain open.

After a weekend spent dealing with long lineups and last-minute spending sprees, reality set in on Monday. Frances Watson, a clothing boutique on Toronto’s Queen Street West, typically pulls in half of its annual sales in November and December, and three-quarters of its business comes from walk-in customers – who are now barred from entry.

“This is actually terrifying,” owner Meg Watson said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s really about health when there are other huge stores packed with 60 people in them. … You’re closing me and letting Walmart open?”

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Premier Doug Ford announced sweeping shutdowns Friday for Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region that will force small businesses in the massive metropolitan area that sell goods deemed non-essential to rely on pickup and delivery – ahead of a holiday season that many entrepreneurs depend on to help them survive slow winters. Chains including Walmart and Costco, which are exempt from closing because they sell groceries, are allowed to stay open with new 50-per-cent capacity limits.

“Doug Ford signed the death warrant for thousands of small businesses over the weekend,” said Dan Kelly, head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) in an interview. He hopes the Ontario government will turn around and offer additional subsidies to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), and suggests the province could top up the differentials businesses receive from federal rent and wage subsides, which were recently expanded and extended.

“The Ford government has been the slowest in providing any degree of substantive support to independent businesses,” Mr. Kelly said. In a tweet Monday, he decried another apparent provincial inconsistency as people began tweeting that The Bay department store at Queen and Yonge Streets in Toronto was open because it sells food in its basement. Though Ontario later clarified that only big-box retailers with “a full grocery store component” were eligible to stay open (and it specified The Bay is not eligible), it added to the confusion.

Mr. Kelly tweeted that if The Bay could stay open selling groceries, the province should allow “every shuttered small firm to sell chips and chocolate and declare themselves as an essential retailer.”

The CFIB has offered other suggestions to keep small businesses open, including extra-cautious customer limits for indoor shopping. But Ontario’s Associate Minister of Small Business, Prabmeet Sarkaria, declined on Monday to say whether the province was considering the CFIB’s proposals or reversing course in other ways. “The decisions that were made and put forward were with the best advice of health officials advising the government,” he told reporters.

Entrepreneurs in Toronto, Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon, where COVID-19 cases have been rising faster than in other parts of the province, now face at least 28 days with no foot traffic, while stores and restaurants in neighbouring jurisdictions such as Vaughan and Oakville are far less restricted. Meanwhile, in Manitoba, even big-box stores can only sell essential goods such as food in-store, with the rest left for pickup.

Manitoba is also offering up to $5,000 in “bridge grants” to locked-down entrepreneurs to cover costs as revenues collapse, with the possibility of more to come, while Quebec has offered locked-down businesses in affected cities up to $15,000 a month to cover eligible costs. Ontario’s new lockdown subsidies have been limited to topping up an existing pool of funding to reduce electricity and property-tax bills, doubling it to $600-million.

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“The next five weeks is the biggest time of the year for retailers,” said Steve Long, president of musical instrument and equipment retailer Long & McQuade, which was forced to shut down six locations Sunday evening.

Picking out a guitar or drum kit is often a purchase based on feel or experience – and now Mr. Long worries consumers will instead turn to still-open big-box chains such as Walmart to find other holiday gifts instead. “If you’re going to close retail, don’t close half of retail,” Mr. Long said.

As lockdowns tighten, the country’s economic outlook has dimmed. Prior to the second wave, Bank of Montreal estimated that Canada’s GDP would grow at about an 8-per-cent annualized rate in the fourth quarter. Now, it projects zero growth in the quarter, “which might be optimistic,” strategist Benjamin Reitzes said Monday in a note to clients.

“The structure of the lockdowns in Toronto and Peel will likely have the largest impact on small businesses who are now forced to shut down, driving shoppers to big-box stores,” he said. “This is where the real damage is going to be from this government decision.”

SMBs in Toronto and Peel spent the weekend scrambling. Some bars discounted draught beer to empty their kegs for customers sitting on patios that will no longer be used, while some retailers saw block-long lineups. Mr. Long, of Long & McQuade, said foot traffic was up about 50 per cent on Saturday.

In Scarborough, Taha Yasin has spent $35,000 to build a patio with proper heating and ventilation to entice winter diners to his Pakistani restaurant, Karahi Boys, which specializes in Lahori foods and has another location in Mississauga.

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The patio is still not finished, and he expects take-out and delivery revenues to be 25 per cent to 30 per cent of usual levels this winter. “All that investment has gone down the drain,” Mr. Yasin said. “That could have gone to other bills.”

With gyms fully closed, Habitual Fitness & Lifestyle in Mississauga is focusing again on virtual classes. “We had a good turnout in the spring” for online classes, general manager Silvio Mazzulla said. “But it was nothing compared to what we would have [normally] done in revenue during those months.”

The business improvement association in Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood has joined forces with the ad agency Local Collective to launch a new shop-local campaign on Tuesday with a stunt meant to starkly illustrate what is at stake. Dozens of shops will be wrapped in “For Lease” signs to warn residents of the ghost town that could result if they desert their local stores for Amazon or big-box shopping this season.

“It’s a visual representation of what you could come to, six months from now, a year from now, if main streets are forgotten during the pandemic,” said Adam Langley, the association’s vice-chair.

With a report from Jeff Gray

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