Ontario businesses locked down for the last three-and-a-half weeks were finally allowed to re-open up to 50 per cent capacity on Monday, so problem solved, right? Not so fast, says Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner. Joined by Dufferin-Caledon Green Party candidate Laura Campbell, who owns a restaurant in downtown Orangeville, Schreiner said that there’s still a role for government to play as businesses try and get back on their feet.
“Today is the first step of re-opening, and while it’s going to be welcome news for many small businesses, the reality is that many are still struggling, and many will be operating at 50 per cent capacity, which means they will still, in many cases, be operating at a loss,” Schreiner said. “Small businesses shouldn’t be penalized for doing the right thing, and all the Premier offered was empty platitudes and a little bit of support that might be delivered a month later.”
Schreiner called on the Provincial government to expand eligibility to the Small Business Relief grant to all impact businesses whether they were closed or not, and to add an additional month of funding for February given that most businesses will only be allowed up to 50 per cent capacity until February 21 at the earliest.
Schreiner also asked the government to expand the “staycation” tax credit to include indoor dining, and add specific sector supports for business like restaurants and gyms who’ve been hit particularly hard by lockdowns and restrictions.
“The issue is that the support Doug Ford has announced is almost too little too late,” Campbell explained. “So many businesses are already so behind, and they really needed the holiday period, including early January, to help make up for the losses that they’ve experienced throughout the pandemic.”
Campbell added that she knows from her experience as a small business owner – and those of her fellow downtown business owners in Orangeville – that the removal of restrictions is not going to create an immediate economic boom. The government, she said, needs to help promote confidence and consistency in the provincial economy.
“Our citizens have very different conceptions of personal safety and whether or not they can actually afford to go on living life as they did before the pandemic began,” Campbell explained. “Whether it’s inflation, low consumer confidence, or perhaps there’s going to be another variant, perhaps interest rates are going up […] The last time we reopened our dining room, we didn’t see people rushing back. A lot of businesses are still having to really get creative in how they’re paying their bills, and how they’re making ends meet.”
In recent days, public health officials including Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore have begun talking about living with COVID going forward. Schreiner said that doesn’t mean pretending that COVID-19 doesn’t exist any more, but it does meaning adapting and making public health measures work with everyday life.
“I want to really emphasize that yes, we want our schools to be open to in class learning. Yes, we want our economy to be open and not locked down again, and yes, we want to make sure we do that in a way that doesn’t overwhelm our healthcare system,” Schreiner said. “That’s why we can utilize other mitigation measures, such as proper masking, proper ventilation, and shoring up our healthcare resources.”
“I think the most important measures we can be taking right now is actually utilize all the tools we need, and in our toolbox to manage and mitigate the spread of the virus as we reopen our economy,” Schreiner added, while also calling on the government to expand public health actions like creating more access to N95 masks, speeding up the accreditaion of internationally trained healthcare staff, and repealing Bill 124.
“I think there are steps that can be taken that can allow us to open up our economy, to make sure we can keep schools open, and mitigate the spread of the virus at the same time if the government is willing to take those steps,” Schreiner said.