Just 24 hours after announcing his new role within the Provincial NDP caucus, Kingston and the Islands MPP Ian Arthur said he’s been flooded with inquiries.
Arthur was appointed the critic portfolio for Small Business Recovery & Opening Main Street on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, a position where answers are currently in high demand.
“I’ve been in this role officially since 10 a.m. yesterday and we’re receiving hundreds of emails and phone calls to the office from people who own these businesses, saying that the system is not working for them,” Arthur said.
“The consistent message is that they don’t know what is going to happen to their businesses. They’re looking for clarity and they’re looking for the sort of supports that would meaningfully allow them to make it through the second wave.”
The Ontario PC government announced $10,000 relief grants in December, for small businesses affected by the Provincewide Shutdown. The grants became available starting in mid-January for small business owners that meet the eligibility requirements. The government is also offering $1,000 grants for personal protective equipment (PPE) support, and property tax and energy cost rebates.
“The grants should have been available from the get go,” Arthur said. “Not after Christmas, not two-thirds of the way through the second wave. I think that businesses have done everything that has been asked, and I think that they have a very reasonable expectation that the government is there to back them up, and it simply hasn’t been.”
Arthur shared some of the feedback he has already received from his constituents with Kingstonist.
“I am a small business owner in Kingston,” one of them wrote. “I do, fortunately, fall within the essential services parameters. However, as a result of restrictions, my business is significantly impacted… I am permitted to stay open but my clientele is being ordered to stay home… As a result, I don’t qualify for this service yet I am significantly impacted by the restrictions.“
“What used to be a comfortable living has devolved into a struggle for survival,” wrote another. “[I] have spent over $35,000 of my retirement money trying to keep the shop afloat for the past year.”
Arthur said he’s also received complaints about the uneven restrictions on small and large businesses during the stay-at-home orders. “Non-essential” retailers, or those which do not sell grocery or pharmacy items, have been reduced to curbside pickup.
Larger retailers such as Costco, Walmart and Loblaws have been allowed to continue operating, including offering in-store sales of those ‘non-essential’ items such as toys, stationary, home decor or tech gadgets.
“They’ve handed a massive gift to big box stores, to chains,” Arthur said. “Their profits are through the roof during a pandemic while small businesses are closing their doors unfortunately. They’re being evicted because they can’t make rent.”
Arthur said the Ontario PC government missed an opportunity to have a shorter, more intense lockdown back in the fall.
“We certainly called for a circuit breaker approach in the fall, when we had significantly lower case numbers. The circuit breaker approach has been used in Australia, and there are a couple other international examples of it. It’s a much more stringent lockdown but it’s only for two weeks,” he said.
“I think at that time we were around 700 cases a day. This lockdown is extremely long, but that’s a reflection of how high this government allowed cases to get before they actually swung into action,” he added.
Arthur said people should be prepared for more restrictions ahead. “We will likely see a similar pattern to last year as restrictions are eased and the weather warms up. And then it’ll be a race to prevent the third wave with vaccinations.”
He added that he thinks scientists and medical experts should determine the timing and extent of lockdowns, rather than politics.
“Epidemiologists know how pandemics play out,” he said. “This information was available to the government last summer.”
Looking ahead, and coming from a small business background himself, Arthur said his new role is one he won’t take likely.
“I’m extremely thrilled to be working on this. It’s going to be some of the hardest and most meaningful work I could do during the pandemic.”