Small businesses urge Ontario government to share its plan to remove remaining restrictions and stay open

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As the province begins to meet its stated vaccination thresholds, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is calling on the Ontario government to communicate its plan to lift all business capacity restrictions and to develop a “Stay Open” contingency plan that ensures small businesses will not be shut down for a fourth time if the COVID-19 case count rises in the fall.

The province has committed to removing nearly all COVID restrictions when 80 per cent of eligible Ontarians have had one vaccine dose, 75 per cent are fully vaccinated, and no less than 70 per cent are fully vaccinated in every public health unit across the province. On Tuesday, the province met the first of these thresholds, setting the stage for a full reopening as soon as August 6, 2021. CFIB is seeking clarity on details on the timing and nature of the removal of remaining COVID restrictions and what will happen if individual public health unit targets are not met.

“While it is encouraging that nearly all small businesses are allowed to be partially open in Ontario, capacity restrictions on businesses like gyms, recreation facilities and wedding and event businesses are hamstringing the recovery for some of the hardest hit sectors in the province,” said Dan Kelly, CFIB president. “The wedding industry has lost a second consecutive year. Tourism has lost most of the summer season. Gyms can only use half their space. We are still a long way from business as usual. Government needs to let these businesses know now when they can get back to full capacity and truly begin their recovery.”

“CFIB also urges the government to allow all public health units that have hit the 70 per cent fully vaccinated target to immediately remove all capacity restrictions as has already happened in several provinces,” added Kelly.

Only 57 per cent of Ontario’s small businesses are fully open, 33 per cent are back to normal levels of revenue, and an alarming 18 per cent are actively considering bankruptcy, according to CFIB data.

“Ontario’s small business owners report that it will take an average of about two years to recover from government-mandated lockdowns. The sooner capacity restrictions are lifted, the faster they can start seeing real progress in making up for lost revenues,” said Julie Kwiecinski, CFIB’s director of provincial affairs for Ontario. “What struggling business owners fear most is that the Ontario government will force them to close yet again if case numbers tick up in the fall. They need the certainty of a ‘Stay Open’ plan to run their businesses with confidence.”

In addition to calling on the Ontario government to devise a “Stay Open” plan, CFIB is again asking the government to announce a third round of funding with expanded eligibility for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant. This program ended on April 7 without helping the thousands of small businesses left off the eligibility list.

“Businesses desperately want to replace subsidies with sales, but government capacity restrictions continue to stand in the way of their recovery,” said Kwiecinski. “Being allowed to open their doors is just the first step to full recovery. Ontario’s small business owners need a full recovery strategy and a ‘Stay Open’ plan that guarantees no more lockdowns.”