Up to 5,000 local businesses at risk of closing; chamber of commerce seeks provincial help
Extensive plans set out in pre-budget submission to provincial government
Help for the retail, restaurant and hospitality sectors are key components in a pre-budget submission by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce to the Ontario government going into Wednesday's budget announcement.
Rakesh Naidu, the president of the Windsor Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has determined that one in six businesses across Canada could close due to the losses they have suffered in the pandemic.
Here in Windsor-Essex that translates to 5,000 businesses. He said the province needs to consider data on the spread of COVID before imposing any more lockdowns on small businesses.
"Come up with policies that are going to minimize the impact to these businesses," he said. "There isn't really a lot of stats or data available that really points to the infection or the spread of of the disease through these small- and medium-sized businesses."
Pointing to some of the unique challenges businesses in Windsor-Essex face, Naidu said 25 per cent of the revenues of small businesses in this area also depend on traffic coming from the U.S.
So getting some of the restrictions at the border eased is needed to help businesses here fulfil contractual obligations with American firms.
"That's a headache we have that other regions don't have," said Naidu. "We are concerned that if these restrictions continue then many of our businesses will not be able to get new business, in fact some of the businesses they have on hand, it will be very difficult for them to comply with their side of the contractual obligations."
The federal government has just announced the border will remain closed until at least April 21.
Mayor Drew Dilkens favours a vaccine passport and a reclassification of essential work if that's what it takes for local manufacturers to be able to travel back and forth across the border.
"I'm hearing from those businesses that it was great in the last year because the work they had done was to fill the pipeline six months or a year out. Now that we're a year in, that pipeline is getting dry, they need to be able to get across the border to get deals done with businesses over the greater Detroit area or in Michigan and Ohio," Dilkens told a panel on the CBC's Power and Politics.
The latest statistics from the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario shows Windsor was the city with the second-lowest recovery rate over the pandemic, with only Barrie being lower.
Naidu attributes that to the fact our area is among those which have spent the most time in lockdowns, and our dependence on the border traffic.
The chamber is calling on the province to enhance small business financing which would include but not be limited to loan guarantees and tax incentives.
Hair salon owner Kim Spirou wants to see the province provide grants to small businesses like hers. She said she has lost thousands of dollars over the past year. She too said the province has to stop locking down small businesses that are not statistically contributing to the spread of COVID-19.
"We take every precaution possible to keep people safe," said Spirou, owner of Salon Brush on Ottawa Street. "And I believe we can operate fully."
The pandemic has also been rough on restaurant server Shelby Martens. The 27-year-old has only worked four months out of the last year due to lockdowns. She describes how she feels with one word: "anxiety."
"I feel that I'm constantly walking on eggshells and that we may be headed toward another lockdown any month now," she said, taking time out from her job at the Michigan Diner on Tecumseh Road East.
Among the recommendations the Ontario Chamber of Commerce has sent to the province:
- Review and reform the property tax system to help municipal fiscal sustainability
- Target funding toward the hardest-hit sectors such as accommodations, food service, arts, entertainment, recreations and retail sectors.
- Accelerate broadband expansion
- Providing training to laid off workers in skills that are in high demand
- Give energy customers more payment flexibility
- Decarbonizing Ontario's transportation system, making it a priority to expand the use of electricity, green and blue hydrogen and renewable natural gas in transportation systems.
The provincial budget will be tabled on Wednesday, March 24.