Restaurants and industry groups in Ontario are calling on the provincial government to allow businesses to reopen earlier than the current June 14 target, as COVID-19 case numbers decrease and vaccinations continue increase in the province.
Ontario has said the province expects to enter the first stage of its reopening plan, which was unveiled last month, during the week of June 14. Step one of the reopening plan requires that 60 per cent of adults be vaccinated with at least one dose. While Ontario has already hit that threshold, the province is also relying on other key health indicators including declining hospitalization, ICU, case and positivity rates.
But groups such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and Restaurants Canada are hoping Premier Doug Ford and his government reconsiders and allows for some activity to restart earlier, including outdoor dining.
"We're hopeful," Restaurants Canada vice president James Rilett said in an interview.
"We understand that (Health Minister Christine Elliott) said it would be the week of the 14th or earlier, so all our hopes are hinging on that 'or earlier' comment."
The CFIB released an open letter on Tuesday calling on the Ford government to immediately reopen all non-essential retailers at a minimum 20 per cent capacity; restaurant patios and limited indoor dining; hair salons and barbers by appointment as well as gyms and recreational activities by appointment. The province's stay-at-home order is scheduled to expire at midnight on June 1.
"Time is quickly running out for Ontario small business owners to keep their firms afloat," the CFIB said in the letter. "Swift action must be taken now to begin reopening the provincial economy for the sake of saving small business."
Restaurants preparing patios
Some restaurants in the province have already started to prepare to reopen patios, in the hopes that the Ford government may lift restrictions earlier than expected.
Dean Tzembelicos, the owner of Craft Brasserie and Grille in Toronto's Liberty Village, says that while he's not hopeful that the reopening will be pushed up, he's started contacting suppliers and employees in the event that outdoor dining will be allowed.
"There's a lot of things restaurants need to prepare ahead of time," he said in an interview. Tzembelicos said that he has had to write off more than $40,000 worth of inventory in process of ramping up and then shutting down his restaurant through various lockdowns.
"A couple days heads up would be great, but at this point we've been beaten so badly, we'll take what we can get."
Andrew Oliver, the chief executive of Oliver and Bonacini Restaurants, says the company has also been getting patios ready in the hopes that the province may move up its timeline.
"We've definitely told everyone to be ready, and the reason is the only consistency with this government is their inconsistency," Oliver said in an interview, pointing to Toronto's patio reopening in March that was scaled back just two weeks later when the Ford government announced it would implement a province-wide emergency brake. "They say one thing and then it changes," he said.
When asked last week about allowing outdoor dining to restart early, Ford pointed to ICU capacity and positivity rates as factors involved in the province's decision-making process. "We're going to open up cautiously and carefully," Ford said at a press conference last Friday.
CFIB president Dan Kelly says the Ford government's decision on whether to reopen schools may impact when other businesses may be able to reopen.
"Some public health officials have said that if schools reopen, we'll need to further delay the business reopening plan," Kelly said in an interview. According to reporting in the Toronto Star, Ford is "leaning strongly against" reopening schools.
"I think that would provide a pathway for the government to accelerate its business reopening plan. If they're not going to reopen schools, then for goodness sakes, let's at least allow people to dine on a patio or get a haircut."
For Tzembelicos, reopening outdoor dining will not be what ultimately helps his business fully recover. But it will certainly provide some relief.
"It will not be a return to profitability," he said. "But it will enable us to tread water and not go further into debt."
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.