Board of Trade hoping word on fed relief for downtown businesses arrives ‘in next day or so’

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The head of one of the city’s largest business organizations says she’s hoping to hear “within the next day or so” what kind of financial aid the federal government will provide to downtown businesses that have taken a hit as a result of the ongoing demonstrations against COVID-19 mandates.

Ottawa Board of Trade president and CEO Sueling Ching told OBJ Thursday that local members of Parliament are “advocating hard” to get relief for restaurants, retailers and other enterprises in the protest zone that have seen sales plummet in the wake of the demonstrations, which have blocked traffic in much of the city’s Parliamentary precinct and nearby areas and forced some businesses to close.

“We had asked early in the game for some compensation for those businesses that are directly impacted,” Ching said. “We’re just waiting to hear.”

She said the board had no specific requests for what shape the funding would take, adding she expects the details will be hammered out soon after the relief package is announced.

“We have indicated that we are ready to work with the government to help develop the criteria,” she said. “We want it to be quick and we want it to be adequate to (address) what has been going on.”

"There’s a reputational risk to being in the news every day for 21 days – and not in a good way. We’re hoping the businesses can hang on."

Ching said the protests have dealt yet another blow to businesses that were already struggling after two years of on-again, off-again clampdowns aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus. 

She said the effects of the “Freedom Convoy” extend well beyond just the “devastating” loss of income to local entrepreneurs.

“We’re very worried about business confidence as well as consumer, employee confidence,” Ching said. “We’re very conscious of the negative impact that this can have. There’s a reputational risk to being in the news every day for 21 days – and not in a good way. We’re hoping the businesses can hang on.”

The Board of Trade, which represents more than 700 businesses across the city, issued an open letter Thursday calling on local officials from all levels of government to work together to end the protests.

“After two years of restrictions, stress and uncertainty, the last three weeks of demonstrations and blockades have further threatened the economic, mental, and physical well-being of our citizens,” the letter said. “We are in crisis.”

Fractious council meeting

The public plea came the day after Ottawa council voted to remove police services board chair Diane Deans in a fractious meeting that saw councillors hurling accusations at each other. Two other council members who sat on the board resigned in the wake of what several councillors called a “political stunt.”

The police board overhaul followed police chief Peter Sloly’s resignation a day earlier in the face of public criticism over the Ottawa force’s handling of the protests.

Meanwhile, the Liberal government’s plan to invoke the Emergencies Act to address the anti-vaccine protests was also generating heated debate on Parliament Hill on Thursday as the government and Opposition sparred over the legislation that could ban travel to protest zones and prohibit people from bringing minors to unlawful assemblies. 

In Thursday’s letter, the Board of Trade said it was time for Ottawa’s elected officials to “change the tone” of their public discourse. The board urged city councillors, MPPs and MPs to “come together, visibly demonstrate unity and share a clear message of your commitment to work without political motivation to support each other and end this crisis.”

Ching said business owners are tired of political infighting and want to see action to clear protesters’ rigs off the streets.

“We are imploring our elected officials to demonstrate respectful, thoughtful, collaborative leadership in order to get us through this crisis,” she said. “That’s what they were sworn in to do, and we would like to see them level up.”