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Local Chamber of Commerce responds to Ontario’s ‘Roadmap to Reopen’

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The Tillsonburg District Chamber of Commerce, through a May 31 letter prepared by CEO Suzanne Renken, shared its concerns with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, letting him know what they thought about the Roadmap to Reopen.

“I want to make this very clear,” said Renken, noting the Chamber agrees with the province’s policy of following public health guidelines. “That (disagreeing with that policy) would never be something we would stand for in terms of safety for people.

“But there are some alternatives that could help, and more than anything to perhaps follow some of the more regional details that could help. And some sectors for sure, like the hair salons and others like them, can safely open by practicing protocols and adhering to the physical distancing.”

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In her letter to the premier, Renken stated, “I am writing on behalf of the hundreds of businesses in Tillsonburg, Ont. that are being impacted by the recently announced Roadmap to Reopen. Tillsonburg and area businesses have been operating under the strengthened enforcement of the province’s Stay-At-Home order since its announcement April 16, 2021.”

Businesses that have been designated ‘non-essential’ have been closed or operating with severely limited capacity (curbside or take-out only) for 20 of the first 22 weeks in 2021, she wrote.

“These businesses and the entire community have been eagerly awaiting the return to reduced restrictions. We have all worked incredibly hard to control the spread and reduce case counts.”

Ontario’s Roadmap to Reopen was a “significant disappointment” to the local business community, said Renken.

And that feeling was shared by many chambers across Ontario.

“We raised it together at our network call.”

Individually, and as a collective group chamber, Renken said the conversation has continued with the province trying to find a way to get the economy going faster.

“It’s so disturbing.”

Renken said the premier’s office did not reply to her letter, but some chambers communicated with Ford’s chief of staff last week.

“We have been calling for more supports for business and we do have a round table today (Monday).

“We firmly believe the plan should be reconsidered for a number of reasons,” she wrote, stating Ontario’s plan is regressive, setting out operating measures that for many sectors are more restrictive than those implemented in the previous colour-code system despite high vaccination rates that will greatly reduce COVID transmission. That the plan’s one-size approach is based on province-wide health indicators that do not consider the regional realities of Ontario’s southwestern and rural communities where transmission is lower and hospital capacity is high. That the plan is inflexible and does not encourage innovative approaches such as outdoor commerce, customer scheduling/capacity limits and rapid testing that could allow all businesses to operate safely. And that the plan is out-of-step with the reopening plans of many other provinces and could delay Ontario’s economic recovery and deter interprovincial tourism opportunities.

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“We strongly encourage you to immediately revise the Roadmap to Reopen to ensure that it offers measures that allow all businesses to reopen with appropriate safety measures and capacity limits; consideration of regional health indicators; flexibility for businesses to innovate to increase sales opportunities while ensuring staff and customer safety; and alignment with Canada-wide best practices for re-opening.”

Renken’s letter referred to a policy known as ‘Responsible Business Protocol.’

“We recently supported the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’ adoption of the Responsible Business Protocol as a key point for advocacy, a policy that was adopted with 100% approval from the Ontario Chamber membership.

“The protocol states that businesses are accustomed to following rules and regulations, including those that pertain to health and safety, in order to maintain their operations. The recommendations in the Responsible Business Protocol are: Establish a Safe Operating Framework with a uniform and equitable set of safety standards, in line with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, for all businesses regardless of products/services or establishment size – not based on a perception of essentiality – enabling businesses to continue serving the public during a health crisis, including the current COVID-19 pandemic. Also to establish a Community Contact Reduction Framework that applies the same capacity limits for all public-facing businesses based on regional virus spread, identifying a clear framework for reducing individual contacts.

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“We believe it is in the best interest of the health of our province, our economy, and the Government of Ontario to include in Step 1 of the Roadmap to Reopening the re-opening of all businesses to the same capacity limits, so long as they adhere to the proper health and safety protocols.

“The current process of choosing who can open based on perceptions of essentiality or the needs of Ontarians is problematic. Picking and choosing who can open leaves other deserving businesses behind. Often, it’s the same businesses and sectors that pay the steepest price for our recovery while the same large, international and online businesses reap the most benefits,” Renken concluded.

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