TORONTO — In the midst of another wave of business shutdowns and restricted operations, there have been renewed cries that public-health orders are unfair to restaurants and other small businesses — particularly in Ontario.
In an open letter to Premier Doug Ford, Restaurants Canada and the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA) have called for a number of the latest restrictions in Ontario to be reversed. The organizations state that “for public health measures to be fair and effective, all industries must be impacted equally.”
The letter calls for patio dining to be available as an alternative to private gatherings and further financial support for restaurants, including additional funding and amended rules for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant program and a sector-specific program for cover re-opening/closure costs.
“Our Ontario members have told us they lose about $10,000 every time one of their establishments is suddenly ordered to shut down dining services,” says James Rilett, vice-president, Central Canada, Restaurants Canada. “For a restaurant that’s been through three lockdowns, the province’s $20,000 small-business grant hardly covers their closing and re-opening costs, let alone compensation for revenue lost while shut down.”
The B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association (BCRFA) has also indicated that it is looking to B.C.’s provincial government for additional support for the industry in light of restrictions under its current three-week ‘circuit-breaker.’
“[These] health orders to close in-restaurant dining are deeply frustrating for our industry, who have heavily invested in making sure dining is safe…The impact of closing in-restaurant dining on our economy is staggering. A three-week closure that reduces customers by around 60 per cent results in close to $500,000,000 in lost sales and $150,000,000 in lost food sales. On top of this many thousands of workers (likely up to 90,000) have lost hours, have reduced paychecks or are subject to layoff,” reads a statement from BCRFA. “This closure is not a reflection of the herculean efforts of operators or the behaviour of our customers.”
“It is unconscionable that, over a year into the pandemic, governments continue to rely almost exclusively on blanket lockdowns,” says Dan Kelly, president, Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). “Small businesses are tired of being a scapegoat for governments’ lack of planning or foresight. Too often businesses are closed to send a message to the public to stay home while there is scant evidence that shopping at a local store, getting a haircut or having dinner with the family is a real danger to public health. CFIB urges all provinces to reject Ontario’s bizarre approach of shuttering small retailers while keeping big box stores open.”
According to CFIB’s report One Year of COVID-19: 7 Ways the World has Changed for Small Business, only 11 per cent of Canadian small businesses strongly agree that their provincial government has done a good job of handling lockdowns and business restrictions. The report also indicated that 91 per cent of the hospitality sector’s small businesses have taken on debt, with the average debt for the sector at $213,000.
The Toronto Star recently analyzed data from Toronto Public Health and reported that 68 per cent of all workplace COVID-19 outbreaks so far have taken place in offices, warehouses, construction sites and food-processing plants, which have largely been allowed to remain open through the pandemic. The data also revealed that, as of March 30, food-processing plants, offices, warehouses, shipping and distribution centres and construction sites have been responsible for 378 outbreaks, compared to 51 in bars, restaurants and nightclubs and 53 in retail, grocery stores and malls.
“Despite being told lockdowns were a short-term measure to ‘flatten the curve,’ many small businesses — including those in Canada’s largest city — remain locked down one year after COVID-19 began,” says Kelly. “It is well past time to shift gears, as small firms have done more than their fair share in the fight against COVID-19. Until vaccines are widespread, lockdowns should be replaced with rapid testing and contact tracing to allow all small firms to safely serve Canadians once again.”
A recent CFIB survey found that two thirds of small businesses would consider using COVID-19 rapid tests to remain open.