Ontario has now moved out of the stay-at-home order, yet the vast majority of restrictions on businesses remain in effect. Although the new provincial plan commits to begin reopening when the adult vaccination rate reaches 60%, that reopening is still planned for the middle of this month, despite the 65% milestone having been passed last week.
The Step One restrictions are still onerous, with essential retail able to open only at 25% capacity and non-essential at only 15%, for instance. If the United States and the United Kingdom are indicators of Canada’s future, ahead of us in vaccine deployment, we can likely expect vaccination to slow and stall as we run into the limits posed by those who cannot – or will not – get vaccinated. If this is the case, Ontario could be stuck in Step One or Step Two of the plan for some time, with heavy restrictions continuing to hamper our economy.
“As our vaccination program continues to progress, we can begin to see a return to normalcy,” said Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce (GNCC) CEO Mishka Balsom. “However, with most Ontarians still not fully vaccinated and reports that our current vaccines are less effective against new variants, we should remember that we are not out of the woods. We have come so far, and we do not want to stumble now. The government should focus on keeping as much of our economy intact as possible and keep as many Ontarians working as it can, so that we can fully benefit from recovery.”
“Recovery is in sight for the province with daily case counts dropping and over half of adult Ontarians having received their first shot. We need to ensure our small businesses are supported to make it through to the other side of the crisis,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario chamber network, including the GNCC, are calling for a third round of funding for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant. The Government of Ontario should also create a formal appeals process and dedicate staff to reviewing applications, as the GNCC has heard from many businesses who have been refused the grant over minor technicalities such as spelling errors, including mistakes made by third parties such as Revenue Canada, but have no way to appeal the decision outside of a complaint to their M.P.P. and cannot get a response from the government.
The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy are set to begin tapering off this month. Unfortunately, the crisis is not over, and business reserves have been exhausted by over a year of restrictions. Two in five businesses with fewer than twenty employees cannot take on more debt, and about the same number said lack of cashflow over the next three months was a danger to their business.
These federal programs are still needed by many businesses, and the GNCC is asking the Government of Canada to consider extending them again. The GNCC is grateful to both the governments of Ontario and Canada for the generous programs that have allowed many businesses and individuals to get this far while remaining solvent.
If funding were to be cut now, however, much of the public funding that has gone into supporting businesses will be wasted if those businesses then go bankrupt. Although mounting public debt is causing concern, it would be of greater concern if much of that investment, including not just subsidies and grants but CEBA loans, for instance, were lost altogether.
The Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce is the voice of business in Niagara, the largest business organization in the region and the second-largest Chamber of Commerce in Ontario, with 1,500 members representing 50,000 employees. More information on the GNCC is available at gncc.ca.
Mishka Balsom, CEO, GNCC
Mishka@gncc.ca or 905-684-2361