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Councillors want London businesses impacted by health measures to have access to provincial funds

London, Ont. City Hall. Matthew Trevithick / 980 CFPL File

Three London, Ont., councillors are hoping businesses impacted by new public health measures on a local level will be able to seek some more relief from the province.

At Monday’s meeting of the Corporate Services Committee, councillors Josh Morgan, Arielle Kayabaga, and Steve Lehman put forward a unanimously-endorsed motion asking that the province extend access to $300-million made available for businesses in areas that moved to a modified Stage 2.

Specifically, the motion advises the province that the city supports the measures being put in place to assist local economies and businesses in off-setting the financial impacts resulting from the implementation of public health measures.

It also asks the mayor to engage with the premier and finance minister to request that London businesses impacted by local Section 22 orders be provided with access to the support fund.

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At committee, Mayor Ed Holder said he appreciates the spirit of the motion and will “certainly support this going forward,” though he raised some concerns about how it would be received.

“In so far as the jurisdiction of deciding to go into different stages — such as the modified Stage 2, which are in four regions of the province — are the purview of the province, not a local medical officer of health. Clearly, I don’t know. And as my Cape Breton mum would ever say, ‘it never hurts to ask.’ And we’ll see where this goes.”

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Councillor Maureen Cassidy noted that the premier has supported a regional approach to addressing the pandemic, so she’s hoping that he will be receptive to the request.

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“His remarks in his press conference a few days ago were gratitude to Middlesex-London for taking the approach that they have. For issuing the order on a local level in our region and not, in his words, expecting the province to step in and do it for us,” she said.

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“So you have the premier’s gratitude and perhaps that gratitude may make him more receptive to looking at this at this request that we’re making.”

She also stressed that city council does not direct the medical officer of health, “which is a good thing because it reduces the chance that decisions like this will be made on a political basis rather than a scientific basis.”

“I also want to make sure that everybody understands in the public, I know the council understands, but based on the e-mails that we are getting: medical officer of health is an independent and autonomous figure and it’s a role that is legislated under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.”

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Lehman, one of the three who brought forward the motion, stressed that on a municipal level, the city has “limitations in what we can do.”

“What we can do is advocate on behalf of our small businesses and bring to the attention of the provincial government the effects seen at the local level by local health directives so our restaurants, fitness facilities, personal service shops, indoor sports and recreational facilities can continue to provide needed services and continue to welcome Londoners who are supporting our local economy, ensuring London will land on its feet as we win this fight on COVID.”

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Councillor Shawn Lewis says that the funding should be based on restrictions in place, not based on who imposed the restrictions.

“This will have my full support when it comes to council and I think the three of you have brought forward a really, really important motion.”

Councillor Jesse Helmer supported the motion but also took the opportunity to say that the hope is that “these interventions, public health measures will prevent us from getting to the point where we do have to go into modified Stage 2.”

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“The pandemic is worse now than it was at the beginning, in terms of the number of cases. And we had almost a thousand people yesterday in new cases. So London, I think, is doing pretty well. We need to really stick with the public health measures,” he said.

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“So, you know, supporting our local businesses like a restaurant? Wonderful. Order takeout. Get it delivered to your house if you can. Don’t get together with five or six friends, all from different households.”

The motion will next move to full council for approval.