Latest Ontario reopening plan criticized by advocacy groups

The next step of the Ontario reopening plan announced by Premier Doug Ford has been criticized by provincial advocacy groups as not going far enough to support foodservice and hospitality.

On May 20, Ford announced via the Roadmap to Reopen that restrictions will be eased gradually through June, July, and August. That will include restaurant patios being opened to groups of a maximum of four per table in Step 1, starting in mid-June.

Step 2, which will commence when 70 per cent of adults have their first dose and 20 per cent are fully vaccinated, will allow outdoor dining for up to six people per table.

Once 70 to 80 per cent of adults have the first dose (25 per cent fully vaccinated), the province will move into Step 3, which would reopen indoor dining. Indoor dining in Ontario has been off-limits since the start of April.

That timeline has been chastised by provincial foodservice advocacy groups.

In a statement, the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel, and Motel Association (ORHMA), said that the association is “disappointed and dissatisfied” with the late opening date for outdoor patios.

“Health Experts have been stating that outdoor settings pose very little risk and data and evidence show restaurants have not been the source of COVID-19 outbreaks,” ORHMA continued. “Restaurants have a controlled environment and serve as an alternative to home and private gatherings.”

ORHMA adds the industry “is holding on by a thread” and stresses that many restaurants and operations have been closed since October 2020.

“We appreciate the cautious approach and safety needs to be a priority, but the Province of Ontario has been way too cautious, resulting in much catastrophe to the economy and to emotions in hospitality.”

Meanwhile, Restaurants Canada stresses that further assistance is needed, noting that most dining rooms will have been closed for more than 365 days by the time they are able to reopen.

“For a restaurant that’s been through three lockdowns, the province’s $20,000 small business grant hardly covers their closing and reopening costs, let alone compensation for revenue lost while shut down,” says RC. “They’re going to need further funding and sector-specific support to ensure they have the bridge they need to survive until they can reopen once and for all.

RC proposed further assistance in the form of greater and more widely accessible funding, a sector-specific program for covering costs related to reopening and closing, an expansion of tax rebates, and an end to alcohol markup.