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Culinary tourism hobbled by taxes, labour shortages, says internal report

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The Liberal government’s grand plan to make Canada a “culinary destination” for foreign tourists — think poutine or potted moose — is getting some turbulence from restaurant owners.

Internal consultations with restauranteurs show they’re bristling over a new federal alcohol tax and struggling with shortages of uniquely Canadian food items that tend to be produced for export.

They also complain they can’t keep good workers because the industry pays low wages. They’re calling on Ottawa to ease immigration rules to bring in more foreign workers willing to accept low wages.

An internal federal report on making Canada a culinary destination for international tourists says too many of our finest foods, such as Malpeque oysters from P.E.I., are exported, leaving little for consumption at home.

“The precariousness of many restaurants’ business models meant that they were forced to keep their staff on minimum wage,” says a summary of the consultations, obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

“Participants wanted the government to look again at putting in place a more favourable visa regime until the longer-term challenge of boosting the appeal of work in the food sector to Canadians could be met.”

The findings are part of a $59,212 report delivered last month by Vancouver-based Twenty31 Consulting Inc. to the tourism branch of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (formerly Industry Canada).

Twenty31 conducted in-depth “roundtables” with 43 experts in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax to get input on what the sector needs to boost culinary tourism. It’s part of a five-year tourism plan first announced by the Liberal government in May 2017.

Railing against taxes

The groups railed against taxes on restaurants — particularly an “escalator” tax on alcohol introduced in the 2017 federal budget, which bumps up the excise tax on beer, wine and spirits automatically by the rate of inflation each year.

“They felt that restaurants faced significant fixed costs, with a range of taxes on small business, as well as excise duties that created major cost pressures for them,” says the internal report.

“Participants in Toronto lamented the fact that all levels of government had so far been unresponsive to lobbying by the industry and (were) unwilling to consider looking at costs like the escalator excise tax and other small business charges.”

Beaver tails, a kind of sweet or savoury pastry. The Liberal government wants to build culinary tourism in Canada, but is being warned that it must ease visa rules to allow more restaurant workers willing to accept low wages into the country.

Many also told the roundtables they had difficulty getting access to iconic Canadian foods, such as Malpeque oysters from P.E.I., because so much is exported — and suggested imposing quotas to keep some supplies at home.

“There was widespread regret that overseas demand — and particularly from the Far East, and particularly for fish and seafood — meant Canadian produce was not as plentiful in its home country as it should be,” says the document.

“… the government should be willing to look into setting quotas to ensure that people in Canada continue to have access to it, with one suggestion of a quota of 25 (per cent) of seafood being reserved for the local market.”

The roundtable participants said the typical profit margin earned by restaurants — just four per cent — makes them unable to pay most workers more than minimum wage, which leads to heavy turnover and labour shortages.

… the government should be willing to look into setting quotas …– Food industry experts suggest in a consultation that Ottawa should set local quotas on iconic Canadian food products to prevent them from all being exported

Some pointed to Australia as a model. There, the government has built up culinary tourism partly by mandating a high national minimum wage, along with standard service charges on restaurant bills. The resulting higher meal costs are mitigated by bring-your-own-bottle policies, with a nominal corkage fee charged by restaurants when patrons bring their own wine.

“People felt this model had promise and should be investigated,” says the document. Such a policy would be at odds with the position taken by the lobby group Restaurants Canada, which has opposed higher minimum wage levels in Ontario and Alberta.

Participants also complained about interprovincial trade barriers preventing access to regional craft beer, cider and wine, highlighting the jurisdictional issues that afflict tourism policy in Canada as provinces set their own tax and labour policies.

Canada not on foodies’ radar

The Twenty31 report acknowledges that “Canada as a country is not currently on the radar as a culinary tourism brand or destination, nor does food and drink rank high on the list as a reason to choose Canada as a destination …”

But the consultant’s recommendations for boosting food tourism are blacked out in the version released to CBC News.

A spokesperson for Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Hans Parmar, said officials there are still analyzing the report’s recommendations.

Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly is developing a new visitors policy that will include measures to boost culinary tourism. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Marlee Wasser of Restaurants Canada said the group is pressing Finance Minister Bill Morneau to include money for a culinary tourism strategy in his spring budget.

“Previous budgets and throne speeches highlighted the importance of culinary tourism to the integrity of the Canadian brand, but no funding or initiatives have been proposed (or) discussed with the food service industry,” says the pre-budget submission for 2019-2020.

The department says tourism generates about two per cent of Canada’s GDP, supporting 1.8 million jobs. The Liberal minister of tourism, Mélanie ​Joly, recently announced an advisory council on the visitor economy. The government also has set as a short-term goal a doubling in the number of visitors from China and a 30 per cent increase in international overnight visits by all foreign tourists by 2021.

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Couple from Toronto buys dream home in Mushaboom

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MUSHABOOM – A couple who lived and raised a family in downtown Toronto developed a five-year plan in 2015 to purchase their dream home.

In September they moved into the home – located on Malagash Island in Mushaboom on Nova Scotia’s stunning Eastern Shore – that met and exceeded their best dreams for their retirement.

The Camerons, Bruce and Tanya, decided in 2019 they would explore the Maritimes to see what real estate was available to become their potential retirement home. In the spring of 2020, during a global pandemic, the real estate boom hit their city, and they were hearing the same for Nova Scotia. Our province was their first-choice for attaining their desire for an entirely different lifestyle – away from the busyness of the city.

“We had $300,000 to $350,000 as a home value in mind to buy. Our semi-detached located off Danforth in Toronto was priced at $850,000. We wanted to come out ahead, so we would be secure in retirement,” Tanya said.

Their century-old home had prime location near the subway and GO Transit Line for a great 13-minute commute downtown.

“We enjoyed our community,” explains Bruce “… we had great neighbours, young children around and street parties – lots of social activity.”

Bruce says, “Our agent suggested a starting quote of $899,000. We did not do any renovations and only some staging. Fifty couples went through and we received four significant offers. Six days later we sold – with zero conditions – and a price of over a million dollars. We just requested a closing of September 2020 to get the kids off to school – which we got.”

The couple got more than they had anticipated.

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Rabobank Announces Leadership Changes in U.S., Canadian Offices

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NEW YORK, Dec. 16, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Rabobank, the leading global food and agribusiness bank, has appointed two of its top executives, Tamira Treffers-Herrera and Robert Sinescu, to become Co-Heads of North American Client Coverage, positioning the Bank for future growth in the region.

Treffers-Herrera has also assumed the role of Vice Chairperson and Head of the Atlanta office, where she additionally oversees Rabobank Mexico, which is led by Eduardo Palacios. Sinescu is the Head of the Chicago office, and also oversees Rabobank Canada, led by Marc Drouin, who was recently appointed as Canada’s General Manager.

Treffers-Herrera and Sinescu report to David Bassett, Head of Wholesale Banking North America, the Bank’s corporate and investment banking business for the region based in New York.

“Both Tamira and Robert have a demonstrated history of strong leadership, operational excellence and passion for our clients,” Bassett said. “Their broad experience and deep sector expertise will be invaluable in delivering dynamic results for clients while accelerating our growth trajectory in North America.”

Each office will have an even greater focus on key Food & Agribusiness sectors and clients: The Chicago office will drive growth in sectors including Dairy, Farm Inputs and Grains & Oilseeds, which are also key areas of focus for the Canada office. The Atlanta office will focus heavily on sectors such as Animal Protein, Beverages, Sugar, and Supply Chains, which are important sectors in Mexico as well.

“Rabobank is fully committed to our clients throughout North America, and we believe our new sector-focused coverage will improve our ability to provide knowledge-based, value-added solutions that benefit our clients,” Bassett said.

Treffers-Herrera was most recently based in London as CEO of Rabobank’s European Region from 2016-2020, where she took the organization through Brexit. Prior to that, she worked in the Atlanta office from 2002-2016. During her tenure in Atlanta, Treffers-Herrera served as Global Sector Head – Consumer Food & Beverages, and prior to that she was a senior banker for a portfolio of large beverage and consumer foods clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Kentucky, a Master of Arts from the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce and has studied at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and Harvard Business School.

Sinescu has been with Rabobank for over 21 years and was previously General Manager of Rabobank Canada, where he oversaw all operations, business development, commercial strategy and relationships with regulators. In addition, he continues to serve as CEO of Rabo Securities Canada Inc. Prior to Canada, he was a senior banker, Head of Corporate Banking, European Sector Head for Sugar, and a member of the Management Team for Rabobank France. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Business from the Bucharest School of Business, a Master of Business Administration & Management and a Master of Science in Banking and Corporate Finance from Sorbonne University in Paris, and has studied at Brown University.

Drouin has worked with Rabobank’s Canadian team for more than nine years and most recently served as a senior banker, Head of Rabobank Canada’s AgVendor Program and a member of Rabobank Canada’s Management Team. He brings extensive wholesale banking experience within the Dairy, G&O, CPG and Supply Chain sectors. Drouin holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from McGill University and a Master of Business Administration in International Finance, Marketing and Management from the Schulich School of Business at York University.

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Real Estate

Greybrook Realty Partners & Marlin Spring Brand Jointly Owned Asset Manager – Greyspring Apartments

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TORONTO, Dec. 14, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Greybrook Realty Partners and Marlin Spring are pleased to announce the new branding of their jointly owned investment and asset management firm, Greyspring Apartments. With a portfolio of more than 2,000 units and CAD$375 million in assets under management, Greyspring Apartments is focused on the acquisition and repositioning of multi-family assets throughout Canada.

The new name and branding is an important step in Greyspring’s evolution as an independent operating business. Formed in 2018 by long standing-partners Marlin Spring and Greybrook Realty Partners, Greyspring Apartments was established with the goal of building a leading asset management firm with a robust portfolio of residential rental real estate assets in primary and secondary markets across Canada.

Greyspring’s talented team of real estate, asset management and finance professionals is overseen and guided by the Management Board, whose members include Benjamin Bakst, CEO, Marlin Spring; Elliot Kazarnovksy, CFO, Marlin Spring; Sasha Cucuz, CEO, Greybrook Securities Inc.; Peter Politis, CEO, Greybrook Realty Partners; Chris Salapoutis, President & COO, Greybrook Realty Partners; Ashi Mathur, President, Marlin Spring; and Karl Brady. In addition to his role on the Management Board, Karl Brady leads Greyspring Apartments as its President. 

“We are pleased to announce the official name and branding of a business we formed with our partners at Marlin Spring a few years ago,” said Peter Politis, CEO, Greybrook Realty Partners. “Greyspring has been diligently focused on the execution of strategic value-add programs across its portfolio that are improving the quality of housing for tenants and overall asset values. For Greybrook investors, expanding from our core business in real estate development to the value-add space through Greyspring, has allowed us to provide our clients with investment opportunities that diversify their real estate investment portfolios.”

“Marlin Spring and Greybrook have partnered on many residential real estate projects in recent years,” said Benjamin Bakst, CEO and Cofounder, Marlin Spring. “To a great extent, Greyspring illustrates our approach to partnerships. We believe in, and strive for, responsible growth through deepening our relationships with our trusted partners. With Greyspring, we’ve formalized our focus on providing better and more affordable living experiences for Canadians. This vision aligns with our mission to deliver exceptional real estate value to all our stakeholders with an uncompromising adherence to our core values.”

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