The spread of COVID-19 in Ontario has been the reason for government-mandated restrictions on non-essential services since mid-March 2020.
The lockdowns, deemed necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 according to public health officials, have been hard on small businesses, threatening the livelihoods of small business owners and their staff, including the permanent closure of many businesses.
During the first half of 2021, frustrations around repeated lockdowns peaked. Many small business owners felt neglected after an ‘emergency break’ lockdown was announced after a previous lockdown in early April. Petitions for a safe plan to open their businesses started to emerge to fight back, including one from the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB), who started a petition addressed to Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
The petition reads: “Enough is enough. Never-ending lockdowns are crushing my business and our local economy. Ontario’s reopening plan, (“Roadmap to Reopen“) reads more like a plan to make the province the last jurisdiction on the continent to allow even a trickle of business activity to resume. This is not the glimmer of hope that many small businesses were desperate to see.”
“I hope there will be government incentives to help small businesses, especially artistic venues,” said Coko Galore, who runs Bad Dog Theatre Company in Toronto, who also would like to see more incentives for business owners. “Our entire livelihood and industry disappeared overnight, and the reopening plans are challenging for the arts because we have to do prep stuff. Especially for businesses like Bad Dog because we lost our venue.”
Toronto business owner Pegah Akbari, the owner of a pastry and baked goods company called Peu de Creme, believes when it comes to lockdowns small businesses are at a disadvantage compared to the big guys.
“While the lockdown hasn’t been easy for any business, it’s been disproportionately difficult for smaller independent businesses,” said Akbari, who started her business in March 2020 when the first lockdown order was announced in Ontario.
“While so many larger companies had the means to switch over to online stores and delivery services, many small businesses that relied on their storefront really took a lethal hit, she said. “While I was lucky enough that this didn’t affect my small business directly, I also often found that the business closure guidelines put out were so wide-sweeping, and with such a broad brush stroke, that it didn’t even give many small businesses a chance despite their concerted efforts to abide by all required safety measures.”
Akbari, who operates her business out of her home, said these factors will affect how she votes in the next election cycle.
“Among many other factors related to the decisions made in the handling of the pandemic, treatment towards small businesses during lockdown will also impact the direction that I vote in,” she said.
To help small businesses stay afloat, the Ford administration announced the Small Business Support Grant in December of 2020 and the portal to apply was launched in January. For those who are eligible, the grant is a one-time only payment of between $10,000 to $20,000 depending on their recorded losses. According to the site, eligible small businesses include those that:
- Were required to close or significantly restrict services due to the Provincewide Shutdown being imposed across the province effective 12:01 a.m. on December 26.
- Have fewer than 100 employees at the enterprise level.
- Have experienced a minimum of 20 per cent revenue decline in April 2020 compared to April 2019. New businesses established since April 2019 will also be eligible if they meet the other eligibility criteria.
The response to these incentives however has been mixed.
“The government has provided some aid like the Ontario Small Business Support Grant and the Main Street Relief Grant, but the window to apply for some of these was so small and the one-time financial aid that they provided is negligible for most small businesses that are struggling or are on the tipping point of foreclosure,” Akbari said. “I’d like long-term incentives – measures that can help businesses throughout the duration of lockdown.”
While it is a start, these two small business owners say the need for incentives is exceeding what is being offered. Small businesses are mobilizing and vocalizing their struggles in hopes that they will receive an adequate response.
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