Ottawa businesses frustrated without reopening guidance

An empty patio in Ottawa's ByWard Market. June 6, 2021. (Colton Praill / CTV News Ottawa)z

In eight days, Jamie Love hopes he’ll be re-opening his restaurant and welcoming customers back to the Back To Brooklyn patio.

He hopes that will be the case, but he can’t be sure.

“It’s extremely tough. It’s tough from the perspective of just running a business in general and it’s tough to see what’s happening to your employees. They don’t know what’s happening, you can’t give them guaranteed shifts, they don’t know how they’re going to pay their bills,” Love says.

On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford offered a glimpse of hope for business owners.

“I’m so hopeful that as things are going, we may be able to enter step one safely earlier than June the 14th,” Ford told reporters during a press conference.

A day later, Ontario’s top doctor said the chance of an early reopening looked “less promising” because of an uptick in daily case counts.

“They’re going and making changes to the dates, it’s really affecting us,” Love says.

Restaurants aren’t the only ones frustrated by the uncertainty.

Retail stores say without a firm date they can’t plan sales, schedule merchandise deliveries or plan for appropriate staffing.

“Every time it’s open and closed we lose all our in-store employees, we have to sanction off who’s going to stay working or with our online business, so one huge thing is hiring and hiring needs,” Julian O’Shaughnessy, E-Commerce Director at NRML said.

On Saturday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson told CTV News at Six it was time for the province to make a decision.

“I’d like them to come up with one clear answer ‘what is the date that the economy is going to open in phase 1,” Watson said.

Ontario has said the province will begin Step 1 during the “week of June 14,” adding that they are monitoring daily cases, hospitalizations, and the vaccination rate to determine when it is safe to begin reopening.

On Sunday, Ontario recorded the lowest daily increase in cases since October 14 and nearly 70 per cent of the province has at least one dose of the vaccine; above the Step 1 threshold of 60 per cent.

“We have to put this into context that, in Ontario, we have almost 70 per cent of people with one dose of vaccine and this makes a huge difference and I really wish this would be considered rather than just looking at numbers and news of things like variants,” infectious disease physician Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti said.

Dr. Chakrabarti argues, given Ontario’s vaccine coverage, the province should already be in Step 1.

“A lot of these things can be done safely now because the bulk of them are outdoors and what is indoors, there’s some non-essential retail with restrictions, that’s so low-risk; especially in the summer time, I think that’s something that can be done with very minimal risk,” Dr. Chakrabarti said.

Local businesses say they welcome the idea but for now are focused on staying open until the reopening begins.

“The uncertainty, when we’re going to open, when we’re going to close, if we’re going to close again, is a constant struggle and just trying to figure out how we’re going to maintain our business and keep afloat and keep on Rideau Street,” O’Shaughnessy said.