Lack of clarity on business reopenings 'frustrating' for BIA boss

Dennis Van Staalduinen
Dennis Van Staalduinen is the head of the Wellington West BIA. Photo by Mark Holleron

Provincial officials left Ottawa off a short list of Eastern Ontario regions cleared for a gradual economic reopening later this week, leaving at least one Ottawa business leader seeing red over what he calls a lack of clarity in the government’s announcement.

The province is expected to announce some easing of the current restrictions on Ottawa businesses next week.

But as Ontario returns to its colour-coded framework – which lays out five stages of increasingly severe regulations – for regions across the province, it’s not clear where Ottawa might fall.

Mayor Jim Watson tweeted Monday that Ottawa could be placed in the “orange” zone that allows for businesses such as bars and restaurants to reopen with limited capacity “if we continue to do our part to limit the spread of COVID-19.”

According to the latest provincial guidelines, health units in the orange zone must have a weekly average of between 25 and 39.9 cases per 100,000 residents and a test positivity rate of between 1.3 and 2.4 per cent, among other indicators. As of Monday, Ottawa was well within those thresholds.

Uncertainty a 'risk'

But Dennis Van Staalduinen, the executive director of the Wellington West Business Improvement Association, said Monday’s announcement still left merchants twisting in the wind wondering when and if they’ll be able to reopen. 

Not only do businesses still not know what zone the city will be in next week, he noted that provincial officials “tell us they could pull the plug at any point” – referring to the government’s new “emergency brake” that will allow health authorities to quickly impose another widespread shutdown if new cases spike or the health-care system gets overwhelmed.

“More businesses being able to open will help more businesses survive a little bit longer,” said Van Staalduinen, whose organization represents about 600 retailers, restaurants, bars and services.

“But the continued confusion and uncertainty is its own kind of risk. I don’t understand why almost a year into this thing, we haven’t figured out a fairly clear set of rules around what is and isn’t happening when you tighten or loosen restrictions. It’s frustrating.”

Ray of hope for ski hills

Other local business leaders sounded a more optimistic tone.

Ottawa Board of Trade CEO Sueling Ching said the province’s announcement was a step in the right direction.

“We’re excited about the opportunity for businesses to re-engage (with customers),” she said, adding she still wants to see measures such as rapid testing rolled out on a wider basis in an effort to help control the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, ski hill operators in Renfrew County – which will move into the least restrictive green zone as of Wednesday – were in a sunny frame of mind after Lisa MacLeod, Ontario’s tourism minister, confirmed they will be allowed to welcome skiers back to the slopes starting later this week.

The owners of Calabogie Peaks, about an hour’s drive west of Ottawa, said the resort will resume operations on Thursday after being closed since Christmas.

“We cannot wait to have you back!” the ski hill operator said in a tweet.