Posted on Feb 5, 2021
KENNEY’S “PREMATURE AND HIGHLY RISKY” REOPENING PLAN CUTS OFF ACCESS TO FEDERAL SUPPORT, PUTS SMALL BUSINESS IN AN IMPOSSIBLE BIND
EDMONTON - Premier Jason Kenney’s plan to re-open gyms and in-person restaurant dining on Monday, despite the arrival of highly infectious new COVID variants, is putting Alberta businesses in an impossible situation.
Reopening restaurants for dine-in service will disqualify businesses from accessing the federal government’s Lockdown Support which provided business an additional 25 per cent through the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy for businesses that shut their doors or had to significantly restrict their activities as a result of a public health order.
“Jason Kenney and the UCP have done very little to support small business and this move will actually disqualify them from federal support,” said Deron Bilous, NDP critic for Economic Development and Innovation. “The UCP government is forcing business owners to make a terrible choice - open their doors and put themselves, staff and customers at risk, or stay closed without any support from this government.”
“Like all Albertans, we want to see a safe and orderly return to normal life and normal business operations,” said David Shepherd, NDP Critic for Health. “But loosening public health restrictions just when we are seeing the arrival of dangerous new COVID variants makes no sense.”
On Wednesday, Alberta’s former Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. James Talbot, wrote to Health Minister Tyler Shandro and warned him against proceeding with the Monday re-opening.
“We believe the announced staged reduction in restrictions is premature and highly risky,” Talbot wrote, and cited Shandro’s own January 26 presentation of modelling that showed the new variants are dramatically more transmissible.
Yesterday, Dr. Teresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, also warned against easing public health restrictions too soon or too quickly, because the new variants could quickly reverse the general downward trend of new case numbers.
“Jason Kenney made a lot of bad decisions during the second wave, and once again I am deeply concerned he’s motivated by his own political problems and not by professional public health advice,” Shepherd said.
Business owners have pushed back against the current restrictions with some openly defying public health orders. They’ve cited lost revenue and potential permanent closure as reasons for their actions.
After widespread criticism for failing to enforce existing restrictions, or provide support to businesses who struggle to sustain them, the UCP announced it was easing restrictions on February 8.
“The UCP have imposed restrictions with almost no support for these businesses. And instead of helping them, Jason Kenney is once again pitting public health against the economy,” said Bilous.
“Opening too early and forcing our economy into another shutdown will only make the economic crisis deeper and our recovery longer. We can protect public health and the economy, but that means we need real support for small businesses for the duration of this pandemic.”
Programs like the commercial eviction ban and utility deferrals that were implemented in the first COVID-19 wave have expired. The NDP have previously called for these to be reinstated along with more support for rent, changes to the Small and Medium Enterprise Grant to treat new businesses fairly, and a cap on food delivery app fees.