Uncertainty Over Ontario’s Reopening Plan Leaves Small Businesses ‘Extremely Frustrated’: Advocacy Group

By Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.
June 6, 2021 Updated: June 6, 2021

Small business owners in Ontario are growing increasingly frustrated after a year of mandatory lockdowns and amid the province’s uncertain reopening schedule, says the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

Premier Doug Ford’s government said that its three-step reopening plan, step one of which is expected to start the week of June 14, would depend on “current trends in key health indicators,” adding that the reopening would be confirmed “closer to the expected start of step one.”

Julie Kwiecinski, the CFIB’s director of provincial affairs in Ontario, told The Epoch Times there is no guarantee that even the first step will be carried out as anticipated.

“Business owners … live by certainty as part of being able to plan properly,” she said. “[CFIB] and other organizations out there, and the small business members that make up our membership, we are extremely frustrated.”

Ford said on June 2 that Ontario could possibly start the reopening plan earlier than June 14, but that it would depend on what the chief medical officer of health recommends. He said he feels hopeful “as we see the [infection] numbers come down, and they’re dropping rapidly.”

“We’re running out of runway here to reopen early. June 14 is only days away,” Kwiecinski said. “Even if we do open sometime during the week of June 14, where are the guidelines for reopening?”

The reopening plan consists of gradually lifting public health measures, but the transition from one step to the next hinges largely on the province-wide adult vaccination rate.

Step one requires 60 percent of adults to be vaccinated with at least one dose. Step two requires 70 percent to be vaccinated with one dose and 20 percent with two shots. Step three requires 70–80 percent to be vaccinated with one dose and 25 percent with two doses.

Ford announced on May 28 that Ontario had already administered first doses to 65 percent of adults. Noting that the province has already exceeded the vaccination threshold required to enter step one, Kwiecinski said it’s nevertheless unclear what other health indicators the government has set to move to each stage.

The CFIB, which has roughly 38,000 members in Ontario, issued an open letter on June 1 urging Ford to “immediately begin reopening the economy to save thousands of businesses from being forced to shutter their doors permanently.”

“We wrote this letter because our members across the province, particularly the ones in the hardest-hit sectors, are desperate to reopen to at least some in-store business,” Kwiecinski said.

Some of those hardest-hit businesses include gyms, beauty and personal services, and companies in the tourism and hospitality industry. The wedding industry also falls into that category, and Kwiecinski noted that with Canadian couples forced to delay their weddings, the impact on the industry could have a “domino effect,” hurting numerous other related sectors.

Based on “a very conservative” estimation, roughly 75,000 small businesses were put out of work due to pandemic-mandated closures, which translates to approximately 873,000 private sector jobs, she said.

Non-essential retail was never closed in British Columbia, and retail in Manitoba has been allowed to open at 10 percent capacity under the latest restrictions, Kwiecinski pointed out.

In its open letter, the CFIB called for the immediate reopening of all retailers at a minimum 20 percent capacity, the reopening of restaurant patios along with limited indoor services, and by-appointment operation by hair salons, barber shops, gyms, and other recreational facilities.

With the Ontario Small Business Support Grant having ended on April 7, and the federal government planning to gradually phase out two key subsidy programs in July, Kwiecinski said the CFIB is calling for a “much-needed” third round of government support for small businesses.

“When you’ve been asked to close for so long, and when you’ve used up all your personal savings, and also when there’s no new grants from Ontario and the federal grant money is drying up, how are you expected to survive?”

Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen
Andrew Chen is an Epoch Times reporter based in Toronto.