The Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce is calling for the province to take a coordinated approach to reopening the economy.
The local chamber joined the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) Feb. 5 in asking the premier for a coordinated effort to ensure society reopens from COVID lockdown in a way that provides both individual safety and economic stability. They asked the province for a readiness plan for hard-hit sectors and regions, proper advanced notice and clear guidelines.
The province announced Feb. 8 that most of Ontario would remain under a stay-at-home order until Feb. 16, delayed from the expected Feb. 11.
Haliburton chamber executive director, Amanda Conn, said the forewarning is positive, but the government must ensure its updated opening guidelines are clear.
“No business owner out there – as much as they want to get their business open again – wants to put the community at risk,” Conn said. “They want to do it in a safe way and have the communication.”
“Knowing that it’s coming on the 16th gives companies and businesses time to properly prepare,” she added. “We all need to see the revised framework that they’re going to put out.”
Premier Doug Ford said though the top priority is public health, the government is considering the severe impact of COVID-19 on businesses.
“We have been listening to business owners, and we are strengthening and adjusting the framework to allow more businesses to safely reopen and get people back to work,” Ford said.
The chamber provided a list for the government to consider in reopening, including fulsome communication, evidence-based decision-making and more rapid COVID testing.
“Even as we continue supporting our families and community today, we must also begin considering the future to ensure businesses are prepared,” Haliburton chamber president, Andrea Strano, said.
The province has not confirmed what colour-coded restrictions Haliburton will be under Feb. 16. But district acting medical officer of health Dr. Ian Gemmill said he would assess the area as an “orange” zone under previous protocols, and businesses could review those.
Conn said businesses need ongoing support, even after they can reopen. She added connectivity remains a significant hurdle.
“Some people don’t always completely qualify for as much as they really need,” she said. “Not everyone is going to get their business up and running because the government said, ‘okay, you can open your doors now’.”
The OCC released its Ontario Economic Report Jan. 28, highlighting the pandemic’s impact over the past year. Forty-eight per cent cent of survey respondents in the MuskokaKawarthas region said they had let go staff. Half of respondents in the area said there was enough economic activity for them to thrive, while 37 per cent said they could not thrive. Only 20 per cent of small business respondents across Ontario expressed confidence in the economic outlook.
“Our small business members are the least confident in the province’s economy, as they continue to face unprecedented liquidity constraints, increased costs, and reduced revenues,” Strano said.
“We want to make sure that we’re reopening in a safe manner,” Conn said. “So, we don’t have to keep experiencing these lockdowns.”