On Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that the province would slowly go back to the COVID-19 Response Framework, which will allow businesses to gradually open. The framework puts regions into a colour-coded system, with green being the least restrictive, and grey being the most.
The government also modified the rules for the grey-lockdown zone to allow small businesses to open at 25 percent capacity, something that people like Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) president Dan Kelly had been calling on the government to do.
The Post Millennial spoke to Dan Kelly and got his thoughts on the announcement from the Premier. "There's a little bit of, light at the end of the tunnel for some businesses in Ontario, and that is a positive" Kelly said. "But still at the end of this, thousands and thousands of businesses are simply going to see a province-wide lockdown replaced with a local lockdown."
Kelly adds that small retailers will benefit the most from the policy change. "I guess the big winners out of this are going to be retailers who are finally going to see the end of the ridiculously stupid Ford government policy of allowing big-box stores to open while small firms are required to be closed."
However, he remains furious the Ontario government had the audacity to shut down small retailers while allowing big-box retailers to stay fully open, and thinks small business owners deserve an apology. "I'm hoping one day that we'll have an apology issued to the Ontario small business community for the failings of that measure."
"Some restrictions make sense, given that we're dealing with a deadly pandemic. But the way that Ontario has handled the restrictions has been ridiculously bad, and in some cases, I believe they made COVID worse rather than better life piece, like the stupid big-box policy that only Ontario has been foolish enough to do," adds Kelly.
When asked if he thinks the lobbying that the CFIB had been doing for the last few months had contributed to the government to finally start treating small businesses fairly, Kelly said yes. "We've been just slamming the government left, right, and centre for months. And I know for sure that it's made many conservative MPPs extremely nervous."
Kelly also said that he has gotten many emails from conservative small business owners saying they will never support Doug Ford again. "I have been flooded with emails from small business owners who supported Doug Ford saying that they would never, ever consider voting for him again."
He also mentions that British Columbia's NDP government has had a more pro-business approach than Doug Ford's Progressive Conservatives. "The NDP government of British Columbia has had a far more responsible approach dealing with the economic ramifications of programs than the conservatives in Ontario. That's something the Ford government should be deeply ashamed of."
The Ontario government's reopening plan is slow compared to the ones of Quebec and Alberta, something which the government blames on new variants. Kelly understands the concern related to variants, but notes that other provinces that have variant cases are safely reopening quicker.
"I guess the government has a difficult balancing act to do, but the new variants are affecting every province, and every single other province has adopted a much faster pace to reopen its business community, then Ontario."
The new faster-spreading variants have caused a third round of lockdowns in countries like the United Kingdom and Israel. When asked about a possible third lockdown in Ontario, Dan Kelly said that this would devastate small businesses who are already struggling.
"On top of the 60,000 business failures that we've already seen due to COVID-19, the CFIB is predicting there could be another 180,000 permanent business failures directly attributable to COVID. If there is a third wave, we're going to have to reassess that number, and I'm certainly going to go far higher than that."
Some epidemiologists predict that the third wave will likely begin at the end of March and result in more lockdown measures. Premier Doug Ford has made it clear that he will reimpose lockdowns if cases rise, and introduced a new "emergency brake" option that allows the government to immediately lock down a region if cases rise.
Hastings Prince Edward, Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington, and Renfrew County and District will reopen on Wednesday. All other regions will reopen on February 16, except Toronto, Peel and York, which will remain under a stay-at-home order until at least February 22.