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“Another Crippling Blow” as Ontario Government Extends Pandemic Lockdowns for Retailers and Businesses into June [Interviews]

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The extension of the Stay-at-Home Order in Ontario until at least June 2 is another crippling blow to small businesses across the province that have been devastated in the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, the Ontario government, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, announced the decision, adding that all public health and workplace safety measures under the provincewide emergency brake will also remain in effect.

“While we are seeing positive trends as a result of the public health measures put in place, we cannot afford to let up yet,” said Premier Doug Ford in a statement. “We must stay vigilant to ensure our ICU numbers stay down and our hospital capacity is protected. If we stay the course for the next two weeks, and continue vaccinating record number of Ontarians every day, we can begin looking forward to July and August and having the summer that everyone deserves.”

NICOLAS STORE ON CUMBERLAND STREET IN YORKVILLE, TORONTO. PHOTO: CRAIG PATTERSON

Nicolas Kalatzis, owner of multi-brand luxury retailer Nicolas which opened in 1991 and is located in the heart of Yorkville, said Toronto has been the most penalized city in North America throughout this pandemic.

“Today’s announcement is disgusting for two reasons. The government was very slow rolling everything out as far as vaccines go and the other problem they’re going to have is with landlords attempting to foreclose on businesses that have no chance,” he said.

“This is a business I’m in. It’s killing me financially to be closed. And the problem is the landlords are after all the money they made in 20, 30 years of very good times. They don’t give a crap that things are slow now. They want full rent. I find that absolutely outrageous and very unsympathetic. Not all landlords but most of them.

“If an A-class retailer with an extensive history can’t pay full rent, how are the others going to do it? And if a landlord kicks a tenant out, who’s going to take the space?”

“The smart landlords want to keep their tenants. They’ve got to play it smart. It’s a two-edged sword. I know they’ve got to survive but if I was a landlord I’d be happy to accept either percentage rent at this time or the tenant can pay me (the maintenance) to keep the lights on.”

Queen Street West (May 2021) – Photo by Dustin Fuhs

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said that only 25 per cent of Ontario businesses are at normal revenues while bills continue to pile up and the latest lockdown extension comes without any additional financial supports for shuttered small businesses.

“The Ontario Small Business Support Grant should be immediately reinstated with a third payment and a broad expansion of eligibility. Every business affected by stay-at-home orders should have access to financial help, including dry cleaners, contractors, and caterers, just to name a few,” said the national organization in a statement. “It is further disappointing that despite significant expansions to rapid testing availability for small businesses, the government continues to favour blanket shutdowns and full closures. Rapid tests should be another tool to get closed businesses open sooner and safely.

“While there is reason for optimism that this really will be the last stay-at-home order extension, we have yet to see a comprehensive reopening plan. Waiting until at least early June to see a plan will be too late. Businesses need to know now exactly when and how they will be able to reopen to customers, and what metrics the Ontario government will use to further relax restrictions. We urge the government to follow Saskatchewan and make a reopening plan public immediately.”

Photo: Julie Kwiecinski

Julie Kwiecinski, the CFIB director of provincial affairs for Ontario, said the extension is “another crippling blow to businesses that are in Ontario.”

“We expected that the government would recognize that small businesses have done so much already for the greater good by staying closed and so in addition to saying that the stay-at-home order was extended that they would announce a third round of funding for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant in recognition of the struggles that these businesses are going through, through no fault of their own,” she said.

“It’s not that they made a bad decision. The government said you must be closed. The second point that is kind of troubling for us is the government refuses to think outside of vaccinations when there are other tools they can be looking towards to get businesses open safely and faster. I’m talking about rapid testing.

Toronto Eaton Centre (May 2021) – Photo by Dustin Fuhs

“Right now in Ontario there are some programs where you can get free tests or tests at a very, very small cost, but the problem is those tests are geared at essential businesses. So the businesses that are allowed to stay open, letting them stay open, so they don’t have to worry about getting closed if they have five cases or more. We’re saying why not take that rapid testing model and apply it to small retailers that right now in Ontario are confined to only curbside pickup and delivery. Why not put in place a system where it incentivizes them? If you want to stay open, you have to put in this program of rapid testing so your asymptomatic employees if they have COVID the tests will catch it and maybe put in a capacity restriction at the same time.”

She said the CFIB members are saying how are they supposed to stay open when their average debt is $208,000.

Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said the organization from the beginning has been saying “transparency and clear communication from the Government of Ontario are critical for on-going public confidence during this time.

“We have also continued to ask for more notice when public health measures change. The frustration from business owners has been palpable as they try to decide whether or not to invest in the necessary health and safety supplies, rehiring, inventory and planning required to reopen their operations,” he said.

Linkedin: Rocco Rossi

“The same type of transparency needs to be applied to communications around AstraZeneca. It is still unclear when Ontarians who received a first dose will receive their second shot.”

The Chamber is calling on the province to help restore public and business confidence in the government’s management of the COVID-19 crisis by providing Ontarians with clarity on:

  • Evidence-based metrics for reopening, namely thresholds related to daily case counts, capacity within our healthcare system, and how rapidly the virus is spreading. For instance, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer said he would like to see the number of new daily COVID-19 cases for Ontario “well below” 1,000 before easing public health restrictions. Will this be the threshold for reopening?
  • When and how Ontarians who received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine will receive their second dose, or at least when that decision will be made and what information it will be based on.
  • How public health measures will adapt when the majority of Ontarians will have received their first vaccine dose. For instance, other jurisdictions like Saskatchewan have provided a clear plan and roadmap for what can open and when, accompanied by an expected timeline.
Linkedin: Karl Littler

“We fully appreciate the need to be nimble and agile in responding to a crisis that is evolving rapidly; however, this flexibility should not preclude the government from providing Ontarians with a clear understanding about the key metrics and thresholds for a measured, safe, and carefully calibrated reopening plan,” added Rossi.

Karl Littler, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs at the Retail Council of Canada, said at 197 days and counting for some of the non-essential retailers in Ontario it’s exceedingly frustrating and challenging on a financial level.

lululemon on Queen Street – Photo by Dustin Fuhs

“We continue to believe that strict capacity limits are a much more sensible approach to retail than this kind of accordion approach where you’re open, you’re shut, you’re open, you’re shut. We continue to maintain that,” said Littler.

“For those who are running on fumes, an additional two weeks is an exceedingly difficult pill to swallow but I guess at this stage we want to make sure that this doesn’t drag on any further than the frame that we’re now in.

“Anybody who has been closed for the better part of half a year over the last year is going to be experiencing extreme strain on the financial side and little cash on hand obviously. A lot of entities are dealing with inventory that is now sort of unseasonal. They reinvested in another round of inventory. There’s a risk of obsolescence.”

Pilot Coffee Roasters in Ossington – Photo by Dustin Fuhs

James Rilett, Restaurants Canada Vice President, Central Canada, said the organization knew the extension was coming but was hoping it wouldn’t.

“It’s just another blow to an already staggering industry. We were hoping that instead of extending the lockdown they would allow some patio dining. Unfortunately we didn’t get that either. Just bad news all around and we’re disappointed that it continues.

“To that end, this protracted shutdown is a lot longer than they ever said it would be. The funding models they originally set out in the budget didn’t perceive such a lengthy lockdown. So we believe they should revisit the funding and increase the amount of funds available to restaurants that have to be closed this long.”

James Rilett (Photo Restaurants Canada)

Last August, the organization conducted a survey and Rilett said it estimated about 10 per cent of establishments had already closed.

“I think there’s a large number that are basically shut down but because they can’t be open anyway they’re not admitting it. Or they just haven’t gone through all the numbers and they’re simply not paying bills at this point,” he said.

“We think we won’t really have a good idea of who is shut down until the reopening and we’ll just have to see who doesn’t reopen basically. It’s a tough thing. It’s very hard to track.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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