Quebec allows mechanics, landscapers, garden centres and home builders to return to work

Businesses across Quebec have been shuttered since March 25 unless they were deemed essential services, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But that list is growing.

Some businesses to open April 15, home construction on April 20, but all must respect physical distancing

Quebec's construction industry won't be allowed to get back into full swing this month, but those residential projects slated for completed by July 31 will restart next week. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

While Premier François Legault still hasn't said definitively whether children will return to school this year, more people are definitely headed back to work.

The list of new services deemed to be essential now includes:

  • Residential construction as of April 20, assuming a project is slated to be finished by July 31.
  • Landscaping and lawn maintenance, including swimming pool stores, as of April 15.
  • Garden centres and nurseries, as of April 15.
  • Products, parts and other equipment necessary for transportation and logistics services, as of April 15.
  • Service stations, vehicle maintenance and repairs, tow trucks and roadside assistance, as of April 15.

The changes mean people can finally complete their renovations, buy plants for their gardens, start getting yard work done and change their winter tires.

The Ministry of Transport, however, isn't insisting those tires get switched immediately.

The deadline for removing studded tires has been pushed back from May 1 to June 5, so vehicle owners don't have to rush down to their local garage, where mechanics and other workers will still have to stay two metres apart at all times.

Construction workers will have to respect the two-metre distancing rules, and employers will have to provide access to soap and water, or hand sanitizer on site.

Following rules will slow work, association says

Guillaume Houle, a spokesperson for Quebec's construction association, said the hygiene guidelines won't be a problem, but keeping workers two metres apart all the time won't be easy. At times, he said, people will have to be close to each other, but the aim will be ensure it is done as little and as quickly as possible.

"It's going to slow some construction sites, but in the end, we'll join our forces with the workers to develop new guidelines — develop new practices," Houle said.

Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet told CBC News allowing residential construction was a carefully thought through, but necessary decision.

"So many people have been waiting to take possession of their new residence, and in order to avoid a potential human crisis at the end of June or the very beginning of July, we decided reopen the residential construction sites," Boulet said.

Quebec's public health authority guided the decision, in collaboration with construction unions and employer groups, Boulet said.

Quebec Labour Minister Jean Boulet says certain construction sites can reopen on April 20, but strict sanitary protocols must be followed. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

The change was welcomed by residents like Sean Kovac, who has been renting a house for his family to live in for several months while their Beaconsfield home undergoes major renovations. They hoped to move back in this summer.

"There is no kitchen. There is no Gyprock. There is no ceiling," Kovac said. "COVID-19 hit, and then it just completely blew our timeline right out of the water. We have no more wiggle room. It now has to get done."

Garden suppliers opening just in time

As for garden supplies, owners of nurseries and shops are breathing a sigh of relief after so much uncertainty in the run-up to their busiest time of year.

"We're a seasonal business. The spring time is the big chunk of our business," said Dario Di Marco, co-owner of Pépinière Pierrefonds.

"We were worried it would be delayed to the point of no return, and we'd lose a big portion of our sales."

Distancing customers won't be too hard for his company as most of the work is outside, he said, and the garden centre offers home deliveries. 

Pépinière Jasmin in Montreal's Saint-Laurent borough is among the nurseries and garden supply stores allowed to reopen on Wednesday. (Daniel Thomas/Radio-Canada)

Pierre Jasmin, president and co-owner of Pépinière Jasmin, also said he is working to ensure customers can easily keep their distance at his business in Saint-Laurent.

"We're going to make sure the consumer has a safe trajectory — a safe pathway — in the store," he said. "We're going to restrict the number people per building."

Earlier this month, nurseries across the province decried rules that allowed big-box stores to sell gardening products while locally owned nurseries were forbidden to open.

Jasmin said 10 per cent of his sales happen in April, so he's looking forward to getting his shop up and running.

But that may take until April 20 to prepare the premises, he said, because "we want to make sure that the consumer is confident if he comes to our store."

"We don't want a hectic shopping experience. Security is going to be the first thing we have to make sure of."

With files from Matt D'Amours and Valeria Cori-Manocchio

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