Calling for answers

Business associations call on Ontario government to explain capacity decision to small business owners

A NUMBER OF business associations, including the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce are calling for answers from the Ontario government after several small business sectors were left out of Friday’s capacity increase announcement.

Backlash among restaurants, gyms, dance studios, bowling alleys and other recreational fitness businesses has been swift as they continue to face capacity restrictions ranging from mandatory distancing to a 50 per cent capacity limit, while major sports venues can pack fans in at 100 per cent.

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According to the CFIB, small business owners are left wondering how major-league sports teams can now seat full capacity while a bowling alley can’t open more than half its lanes. 

“Ontario government and public health officials must come forward and explain in detail why they’ve once again chosen to provide flexibility to some big businesses while keeping small businesses restricted,” says the CFIB. 

“Facilities like gyms, yoga and dance studios, swimming and martial arts venues and bowling alleys have been limited to a 50 per cent capacity since July 16, when they reopened after one of the longest lockdown periods in the world. Only 37 per cent of Ontario’s small businesses are at normal revenues and their average Covid-19-related debt is a whopping $190,000. All provincial support programs for these businesses have ended, and the most significant one – the Ontario Small Business Support Grant – stopped on April 7, a day before the third lockdown began.”

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The association is urging the Ontario government to immediately level the playing field and increase small business capacity to 100 per cent.

For its part, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) is calling for evidence-based metrics and transparency when it comes to lifting capacity limits.

“Lifting capacity limits for some businesses and not others, without presenting data, public health indicators, or a clear rationale has left many in the business community completely frustrated,” says OCC president and CEO, Rocco Rossi. “As we have said from the beginning, transparency and clear communication from the Government of Ontario are critical for confidence in public health measures during this time.

Likewise, the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association is questioning the province’s decision.

“The industry is discouraged when they see larger venues being opened with huge attendance, compared to hospitality rooms where it’s easier to manage, and easier to follow safety protocols,” The association’s CEO, Tony Elenis, said in a statement.

“Restaurants are operating with a mandated vaccination program and this is the tool that can make it possible to increase capacity,” Elenis adds.

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A survey by Restaurants Canada shows that 80 per cent of restaurants are just breaking even or are losing money.

“Their current expenses are overwhelming,” said Elenis. “They are paying bank loans, personal loans and some of them have mortgaged their own homes. Prices have gone up, labour costs have gone up and the capacity limitations prevent the necessary revenue needed to sustain a business. They need that extra seating.”

Restaurants Canada has called on the province to immediately lift all further restrictions on the industry and provide additional support to recognize the cost of implementing the vaccine passport program. Calling for answers capacity COVID-19

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