Nfld. & Labrador

As provinces open up, N.L. economy remains most closed: CFIB

In a survey of small businesses across the country, the CFIB says Newfoundland and Labrador has the fewest fully open operations in the country.

Canadian Federation of Independent Business conducted cross-country survey

According to a survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Newfoundland and Labrador has the least-open economy among provinces due to COVID-19. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

When it comes to how open each province's economy is, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says Newfoundland and Labrador is in last place. 

"The public health measures have been effective and obviously successful, but what we need to consider now is how we can operate our economy within those public health measures," said Vaughn Hammond, CFIB's director for the province. 

Most non-essential businesses were ordered to close in March under the province's public health measures to control the spread of COVID-19, with some stores offering online shopping and restaurants doing takeout only instead. 

"They are looking at other jurisdictions and they are wondering — given our numbers on the public health side — why is it that they can't operate a little bit more freely than what they currently are," Hammond said. 

Stacking up the provinces

The CFIB conducted a survey of business owners across Canada and said just under one-third of businesses are fully open as of May 21, compared with 21 per cent a month ago. 

Alberta has the most small firms fully open at 47 per cent — with roughly 970 active cases — followed by Manitoba and New Brunswick which are both at 44 per cent. Newfoundland and Labrador has the least-open economy with 22 per cent, but Ontario and Nova Scotia are close at 26 per cent and 27 per cent respectively. 

Vaughn Hammond, director of provincial affairs in N.L. for the CFIB, says businesses in this province are questioning public health measures keeping them closed. File photo. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Each province has its own public health measures to manage the spread of COVID-19 based in part on their number of cases and capacity of the health-care system to handle the virus. 

More businesses in Newfoundland and Labrador will be able to open under Alert Level 3 of the COVID-19 management plan, which could come as soon as June 8, and Hammond said local businesses are preparing. But those permitted to open at Alert Level 2 have no time frame to work with. 

Risk of setbacks

When asked about the CFIB's survey at the daily COVID-19 update on Thursday, Premier Dwight Ball said N.L.'s plan will see more businesses reopen safely and understanding their requirements. 

"The problem is if you open ​too early and you have a flare up or a setback, that will have a further impact on businesses," Ball said.

He said if things reopen too early, the virus could spread quickly and prompt tightened restrictions. 

In terms of reasons businesses cited to the CFIB for not being fully open, government-mandated closure was No. 1, given by 49 per cent of respondents. Sales being too low to make opening worthwhile was next, at 36 per cent, and concerns about the health and safety of staff and customers was at 35 per cent. 

Fear of being forced to permanently close is an issue for 26 per cent of those who took the survey, and 36 per cent worry about accessing personal protective equipment. 

Hammond said members in this province are mostly trying to adapt to life with COVID-19, confident they can make it through the long term if they can get through the short term. 

The CFIB is a national association of small- and medium-sized businesses with 110,000 members that advocates for the interests of business owners.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Carolyn Stokes


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