A group of Ontario chambers of commerce and boards of trade is asking Premier Doug Ford to adjust COVID-19 public health restrictions to ensure businesses are treated equitably.
The joint letter, signed by chamber presidents in Greater Peterborough, Thunder Bay, Milton, Greater Barrie, Greater Sudbury and the CEOs of boards of trade in Brampton and Ottawa, says current operating restrictions under Ontarios COVID-19 response framework are damaging the business community and will lead to rising bankruptcies and supplier and bank delinquencies, and job losses.
“Although we are optimistic about the vaccine rollout, our business communities also know that many months of safety protocols and operating restrictions are before us,” the letter reads. “Given the long-term forecast, now is the time to revisit and refine the regional operating restrictions framework to ensure it keeps Ontarians safe, builds business confidence and does not unduly harm our economy.
“The current framework is often referred to as a blunt tool because of its geographic, rather than business-specific, approach. It also does not address what many public health units recognize as a bigger spread issue — community contact reduction,” the group states.
The letter states the current model is not fair for all businesses, noting under certain colour-codes, businesses such bars, hair salons and gyms must close while retail outlets or big-box stores are still permitted to remain open.
“Businesses feel that it is fundamentally unfair that their operations are required to shut down or forced to significantly change their service model not because of their adherence to safety protocols, but because of the products they sell or the services they offer,” the letter states. “This shuts down some businesses while allowing others to operate with very few restrictions.”
The group’s “Responsible Business Protocol” framework would refine Ontario’s current colour-code response system and provide more refined definitions of safe operating protocols by each business sector. They say the refined model would put the onus on businesses to adhere to a common safe operating framework that allows them to remain open. For example, a barbershop could have multiple chairs but still maintain consistent operating safety protocols (such as spacing, dividers) to ensure it is treated equitably.
“It is a solution that implies understanding of rules by sector, addresses community contact reduction and most importantly, minimizes damage to our economy while fighting the spread of COVID-19. At the heart of the protocol is the understanding that compliance with safety standards is an integral part of running a business. It impacts every size and sector, from retail and restaurants to construction and manufacturing.”
The group also says capacity limits be reduced by 20 per cent for each increasing level beginning with 100 per cent at green, yellow at 80 per cent and down to 25 per cent for a grey zone. They say the model would “build consumer and business confidence” and “not unduly harm the economy.”
“This allows more businesses to stay open and changes the message to the community,” the letter states. “Essentially the message to Ontarians is that these operating restrictions are about the community’s actions to reduce their own contacts rather than the current messaging, which unfairly closes or restricts trade for small businesses.
Stuart Harrison, president and CEO of the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, says the province has had a year to learn and develop better ways of enacting restrictions for the business community.
“We see the Responsible Business Protocol as a way to bring in public health restrictions equally across business sectors and give businesses the stability they need to continue adapting and investing,” he said.