While Ontario gears up for the first step of its reopening on Friday, many retailers and small business owners across the province are angered and frustrated that they are still left on the sidelines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The level of anger and despair we’re hearing from business owners is alarming. They are watching their life’s work crumble due to the province’s inaction. The Ontario government needs to let more businesses reopen more quickly, so they can catch up to their counterparts in the rest of the country,” said Dan Kelly, President and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
“Ontario businesses are incredibly frustrated as they have had little or no opportunity to make sales, while the rest of the country is reopening much faster. At this rate, many provinces will be back to normal business operations before Ontarians can even get a haircut. We need to pick up the pace now, or many businesses won’t even make it to reopening.”
Gyms, hair salons, barbers, stores located in malls without a street-facing entrance and many others will remain closed in Ontario despite the launch of the province’s reopening plan on Friday.
According to the CFIB, only 44 per cent of small business owners in Ontario say they are currently fully open and 66 per cent say the province is too slow in reopening.
“At Over the Rainbow, during all our open periods, health and safety was our number one priority. As a result, there were no reported cases coming from our retail environment. Despite our best efforts, Ontario continues to be the most locked down retail environment in all of North America since the beginning of this pandemic,” said Daniel Carman, Vice President of the company. “Small businesses know what they have to do to protect their customers and their staff. All we need are the proper protocols.
“Our government is not interested in doing the heavy lifting. They refuse to regulate, monitor and hold irresponsible retailers accountable for their actions. The government has instead rolled out blanket restrictions that are arbitrary and unfair to small businesses inside of shopping centres. We should be given an even playing field instead of having to remain closed for at least another 21 days. Why are small businesses in malls being punished because of one social media clip? The government needs to do better than this.
“Over the Rainbow has been in business serving our community for 46 years. It’s an insult that this government believes they can still treat responsible business owners like this by shutting us down on and off for the past 16 months. In all this time, we’ve searched everywhere for sound reasons and understanding for why small businesses must sacrifice. To this day, we’ve received no answers or explanations.”
In a public statement, the Retail Council of Canada implored the Ontario government to allow all retail to open at the same time – including those within malls.
“Ontario has endured the longest lockdown in the world. Our members have absorbed unbearable financial, emotional stress, job losses and business closures, all without improving health outcomes. There is no medical evidence to support the continued lockdown of businesses. In fact, the government’s own data shows that in-store COVID-19 transmissions are almost non-existent. Despite this, new job numbers released last week by Statistics Canada show that Ontario has now lost 85,500 retail jobs in Ontario since pre-pandemic levels – 32,300 of these are from May 2021 alone,” said the organization.
“Ontario’s health trends are encouraging and we are ahead of what was forecasted when Ontario’s three-step plan was introduced. Positivity rates are the lowest they’ve been in nine months, vaccination rates are high and hospital ICU numbers are steadily falling. And yet, too many of our retailers will remain in lockdown on June 11 when Ontario moves into Stage 1. Jurisdictions across all of North America , as well as around the world, have shown that stores can reopen safely and responsibly.
“We strongly encourage the Ontario government to let all retailers reopen on June 11 at reduced capacities, including those within malls. Retailers have had no choice but to swiftly rewrite their plans throughout the past year and we are now asking the government to do the same.”
“It’s been a very long time here and certainly for restaurants with patios and retailers who have been shut down for a great length of time since April 8 provincewide, it is good news. And it’s good to see that we’re on the path of reopening,” he said.
“But on the flip side of it, it’s been immensely frustrating for all of the other businesses in particular hair salons, fitness studios, dance studios, gyms, who are not only still closed but remain closed for another three to six weeks depending on the sector while watching every other province, BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec, get to reopen those sectors if not already over the next days as they head toward the second stage of their reopening.”
The CFIB is urging the Ontario government to:
- Add hair salons, barbers and other personal care services to the reopening list for this Friday;
- Add some capacity for gyms, fitness, and dance studios this weekend;
- Add limited capacity this Friday for indoor dining as is in place in most provinces;
- Immediately provide retailers in malls with no street-facing entrance with an option for in-person sales;
- Shorten the three-week interval between further rounds of reopening and bring in a new, faster plan that is more in line with other provinces;
- Immediately add a third round of Ontario Small Business Support Grant funding to help those facing ongoing restrictions as they reopen; and
- Resurrect the PPE grant at a greater amount to help businesses with the potentially high cost of safe reopening.
Mallough said only 35 per cent of Ontario businesses are fully staffed (last in the country) and only 27 per cent of businesses are at normal revenue levels.
“The province is very much lagging (other provinces) and it is very much noticed by the small business community. When the Ontario government is making decisions, it’s kind of looking at Ontario as a silo. I can tell you Ontario business owners are very much looking at the rest of the country and are going ‘you can get a haircut in Alberta today, you’re going to have to wait another three weeks minimum to get one in Ontario’. Looking at the conversations at the federal level, it’s possible the (US) border will be open again before you can get a haircut in Ontario, which is kind of ridiculous,” added Mallough.
Details of Ontario’s reopening on Friday can be found here.