- Stephen Lecce, MPP
First Steps in Reopening our Province
As people gradually begin returning to work, the Ontario government continues preparing for the next phase of restarting the provincial economy through the implementation of its Framework for Reopening our Province. At the same time, the government has been supporting struggling business owners directly impacted by COVID-19 by providing tax deferrals and commercial rent relief, and by removing regulatory roadblocks.
Today, Premier Doug Ford, Rod Phillips, Minister of Finance, and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, highlighted the ongoing preparations for reopening the economy, including the work of the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on people's lives and livelihoods, but thanks to the incredible efforts of our frontline health care workers and all individuals and families, we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Premier Ford. "By Monday, thousands of people will be returning to work at hardware stores, retail outlets and garden centres across the province. Now with the right framework and the right guidelines in place, we can start getting more of Ontario back to work quickly and safely."
Over the past week, the government has begun easing restrictions on workplaces that can operate safely by following public health and safety guidelines. Today, garden centres and nurseries will be able to open for in-store payment and purchases. Hardware stores and safety supply stores will be permitted to open for in-store payment and purchases as soon as 12:01 a.m. on Saturday. On Monday at 12:01 a.m., non-essential retail stores with a street entrance can begin offering curbside pickup and delivery.
These actions come as the province continues to face the unprecedented economic situation created by the COVID-19 outbreak. Today, Statistics Canada released its monthly job numbers, which showed a 689,200 decrease in employment in Ontario.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Ontario's economy hard, and the latest job numbers highlight the need to get our businesses back up and running as quickly and safely as possible," said Vic Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade. "Our government is absolutely committed to working with our business community and supporting workers to ensure that they can all emerge from this period of uncertainty stronger than before."
The province is also providing $241 million of a total $900 million to the new Ontario-Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program (OCECRA), with contributions from the federal government, to deliver relief to small businesses and ensure they are ready to reopen their doors when the emergency measures are lifted.
Ontario's Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19 also includes $10 billion in support for people and businesses to improve cash flows by providing a five-month penalty and interest-free period to make payments for the majority of provincially administered taxes, deferring the upcoming quarterly municipal remittance of education property tax, and providing up to $1.9 billion in financial relief by allowing employers to defer Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) payments for up to six months.
"We stand united as a province, shoulder to shoulder with those that have been negatively impacted by this virus," said Minister Phillips. "I want them to know that we are going to beat COVID-19. The Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee is working based on the Framework to Reopen Our Province, which set out three stages, as well as core public health criteria necessary to move towards reopening. I'm confident we'll soon be in a position to take another significant step. That should give us hope."
In order to make life easier for businesses faced with the unique challenges created by the global outbreak, the Ontario government has launched the COVID-19: Tackling the Barriers online portal. Businesses working to retool their operations to produce health-related products, or those struggling to operate in this new environment of physical distancing, can submit any potential roadblocks and suggest possible solutions through the website.
"Clearly, it is not business as usual for anyone, we understand that and we want to help," said Prabmeet Sarkaria, Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction. "Our government is prepared to temporarily adjust our processes, rules, and regulations to accommodate unforeseen circumstances. I encourage everyone to visit the website to identify barriers or suggest solutions so we can get the economy up and running, and people back to work, as soon as possible."