In an early gift for Ontarians before the long weekend, the Government of Ontario announced that they are initiating Stage One of their plan to re-open the economy. Starting Saturday, some economic restrictions will start to lifted be, followed by a few more on Tuesday even though the provincial state of emergency was extended by the Legislature just two days ago.
“During the last several weeks, the people of Ontario have been called on to make incredible sacrifices to help us stop the spread of COVID-19, including staying home from work, closing down businesses and going without a regular paycheque,” said Premier Doug Ford in a statement today. “However, we are reopening even more of our businesses beginning this long weekend. We are taking a cautious, balanced approach to our economic reopening, to protect the health and safety of everyone.”
According to the government, the goal is to allow businesses and workplaces that are “well-positioned” to open safely with appropriate social distancing and other preventative measures, while at the same time not overburdening the healthcare system, or services like public transit.
“We are taking a cautious, practical and reasonable approach to restarting the economy, while maintaining the health and safety of the people of Ontario as our top priority,” said Minister of Finance Rod Phillips. “This will allow Ontario to emerge from this outbreak with a clear path to economic recovery that keeps people safe and healthy.”
The plan: Starting on Saturday golf course will be allowed to re-open, and so will marinas, boat clubs, and public boat launches. Private parks and campgrounds will also be allowed to re-open for trailers and recreational vehicles whose owners have a full season contract. Businesses that board animals, like stables, will also be allowed to open for people to ride and care for their animals.
Still, while the golf courses will be open, there will be no hanging out in the clubhouse after your round. Unless you need to use the washroom, or are grabbing some food for takeout, you’ll have to stay out of the clubhouse before, during, and after being out on the links.
Starting on Tuesday, retail stores not in a mall, and with its own street-front entrance, will be allowed to re-open so long as they can manage physical distancing and limit access to a set number of customers at a time. Indoor and outdoors non-team sports like track, tennis and horse racing will be allowed to recommence, as will animal services, veterinary appointments, and household services like cooking, cleaning, and maintenance. Essential workplace limits will also be lifted on construction.
Finally, some health and medical services will be allowed to resume, including in-person counselling, and scheduled surgeries. Children’s Treatment Centres will also be allowed to shift back to in-person delivery of services, and away from the virtual.
A modified sitting of the Ontario Legislature on Tuesday extended the provincial state of emergency until June 2, which will continue to bar public gatherings bigger than five, and keep other restrictions in place for the time being. The government also promised an update on school closures and childcare sometime next week.
While some will embrace this as a good news story, Ontario’s opposition leaders are skeptical.
“Everyone is eager to start easing restrictions, but Doug Ford needs to dramatically ramp up testing and contact tracing to make it safer for everyone when we do that,” said Official Opposition leader Andrea Horwath in a statement. “No one wants to see Ontario take one step forward and two steps back. We don’t want to see more people getting sick, and freshly re-opened businesses having to close again.”
Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner agrees. “Every jurisdiction that has safely reopened has had robust testing and contact tracing in place, and Ontario is not there yet, which the Premier himself has repeatedly admitted,” he said in a statement. “We cannot send people back to stores and workplaces without guaranteeing that everyone who needs a test will get a test. And public health needs additional resources for effective contact tracing.”
While the Provincial government is trying to open as much as it can for the long weekend, local governments in Ontario are becoming increasing concerned about their bottom line.
The Large Urban Mayors’ Caucus of Ontario (LUMCO) issued another statement on Thursday calling on both the Federal and the Provincial governments to provide emergency financial relief, and to make Canada’s cities a partner in planning for the post-COVID-19 reality.
“Municipalities are working diligently to maintain the critical services that our constituents rely on. However, this is becoming increasingly challenging due to the growing financial shortfall, and our legislative and regulatory requirements still need to be met,” said Guthrie in a statement.
LUMCO is asking higher levels of government to endorse their three-phase plan, which involves immediate fiscal stimulus, including $415 million in lost revenue from transit from April to Jun, as well as a comprehensive recovery plan for COVID-related impacts, plus the creation of a long-term partnership agreement between all governments to find a sustainable revenue stream and realign service delivery responsibilities.
“We are urging Premier Ford and Prime Minister Trudeau to come to the table quickly and provide much-needed support for the vital services that keep our communities functioning,” Guthrie added.