In an open letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business is urging the provincial government to immediately begin reopening the economy to save thousands of businesses from being forced to shutter their doors permanently.
“Tomorrow is supposed to be the day that our retailers, our restaurant patios, our gyms and our hair salons finally reopen their doors after two long months of province-wide lockdown. Instead, Ontario’s reopening plan has them remaining closed for at least another two weeks, and many for much longer,” said the national organization representing 95,000 small and medium sized businesses, including 38,000 in Ontario.
“Meanwhile, COVID cases continue a strong downward trend, and estimates show vaccinations have already hit the first-dose threshold for Step 2. Only 42 per cent of Ontario’s small businesses are fully open and only 37 per cent are fully staffed. A mere 27 per cent are at normal revenue levels. All these indicators lag CFIB’s national average and are among the worst in the country, ahead of only Nova Scotia. The situation is dire, and the cost of not moving sooner will be immense.”
The organization said restaurants in Toronto have been closed to indoor dining for 367 days across the various provincial lockdowns, shutdowns, and emergency breaks. An entire year’s worth of business has been lost and the industry is looking – at minimum – at another 67 days of being closed to indoor dining under the current plan.
“This lockdown is the longest in the world and we don’t think it needs to continue on any longer,” he said. “The government needs to open us as soon as possible.
“The consequences have yet to be seen. I think there are a lot of people who don’t know whether they’ll even be able to continue in this industry and not until they’re open will we see all the consequences. But they’re dire in this industry and it really needs all the help it can get.”
Julie Kwiecinski, director of provincial affairs for Ontario with the CFIB, said while vaccinations are ahead of schedule and COVID cases are trending rapidly downward, businesses are hanging on by a thread.
“And every extra week of closure is an extra week without much-needed sales to help keep businesses afloat. And if you look at other jurisdictions, for example BC non-essential retail was never closed and even under Manitoba’s latest restrictions, retail can stay open at 10 per cent capacity. I mean you look at businesses around Ontario, they are struggling,” she said. “They are struggling to stay afloat.
“This lockdown has continued . . . This is the highest point of desperation for an Ontario business owner. You’re almost at a point where you have nowhere else to go except to slap a closed forever sign on your door.”
Bruce Winder, author of RETAIL Before, During & After COVID-19 and President of Bruce Winder Retail, said it is time to open up Ontario’s economy in a measured way.
“Based on the current case counts and the percentage of the population that have received the first dose of a vaccine, we should be able to allow retailers, restaurants and other sellers to conduct business to a greater degree at once,” he said.
“For many, June is the most important month from a sales perspective and could help recover some of their year – already brutal based on lockdowns. We must balance the containment of the virus with the economic and mental health of our citizens. A delay would only deepen the damage done to merchants and customers. Unfortunately, the pandemic has become a political football at the expense of everyday business people.”
Karl Littler, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs with the Retail Council of Canada, said the organization has been urging the Ontario government to reopen all retail prior to the currently announced date of June 15, since additional delays are not warranted and are not based on scientific evidence.
“If retailers have to wait until June 15, those in Toronto and Peel specifically will have been closed for 144 consecutive days – or a staggering 230 days since the start of the pandemic. It will be even worse for retailers within malls as we remain concerned to hear that they cannot reopen on June 15 unless they have an externally facing door. Opening all businesses with capacity limits can work for health and the economy. Evidence shows that we are not part of the problem, but we are on board to be part of the solution and to implement reopening measures safely,” he said.
The CFIB said event spaces, concert halls, wedding venues and conference centres haven’t been at full capacity since the pandemic broke out over 400 days ago. Florists, caterers and décor businesses are telling the CFIB that the 2021 wedding season is already a lost cause. If current trends continue, Alberta is expected to be fully open around the same time Ontario allows haircuts, added the organization.
“Yes, other provinces have used business lockdowns at various points during the pandemic. But no jurisdiction in North America – and very few in the world – have locked down businesses for the length of time businesses have been closed in Ontario. From decisions like closing ski hills and golf courses, to completely shutting down non-essential retailers and hair salons, the phrase “only in Ontario” has been far too common throughout the pandemic. In British Columbia, retailers were never closed to in-store customers,” said the CFIB’s letter to Premier Ford.
The CFIB urged the Ontario government to immediately reopen:
- All retailers at minimum 20 per cent capacity;
- Restaurant patios and limited indoor service;
- Hair salons and barbers by appointment; and
- Gyms and recreational activities by appointment.
It is also urging Ontario to go back to the drawing board on the reopening plan to:
- Announce significantly earlier reopening dates in line with other provinces;
- Provide a detailed timeline for the full economy to reopen, including events and entertainment;
- Allow regions with low case numbers and hospitalization rates to reopen much faster; and
- Announce a third round of Ontario Small Business Support Grant funding and expand coverage to all businesses that have been locked down or significantly affected by a shutdown or stay-at-home order.