Just over a week out from when the premier and his government have said Ontario could be ready to move beyond Step 3 of reopening and with one of three vaccination requirements already met, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says the time is now to outline what that will mean.
"That's sort of where we're at," said Ryan Mallough, the CFIB's Director of Provincial Affairs for Ontario. "We know the province has set some thresholds about when we enter the next phase that I guess we're not going to call 'Step 4', but we don't really know what that means for businesses."
"If August 6th is the earliest we can go, we're getting awfully close to not have a public plan to allow businesses to plan for what's next," he said.
Ontario's Health Minister announced Thursday more than 80 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 or older have now had at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. That is one of a trio of vaccination requirements the province has previously laid out which it says need to be met before moving beyond Step 3. The other two are for at least 75% of eligible Ontarians to be fully vaccinated, and that no individual health unit can have a fully vaccinated rate under 70%.
"So there is a real scenario where, you know, perhaps Sudbury is being held back by Windsor or vice versa," said Mallough, alluding to the fact one individual health unit could wind up responsible for holding back the entire province.
As for what a move beyond Step 3 will entail, we still don't know, and the CFIB says that's a problem.
"The government's indicated that it's going to lift most remaining restrictions," Mallough said. "I think our anticipation or interpretation around that is probably capacity limits on remaining businesses like gyms, venues, conference centres, that sort of thing."
"But we still don't know what the rules are going to be around masking, screening, a lot of the other things that business owners still have to comply with," he said. "So we really are looking for some guidance there as we inch ever closer to those [vaccination] thresholds."
Mallough also says he would like the province to let the public in a little more when it comes to its pandemic forecasting.
"A lot of business owners are following the news very closely, they heard loud and clear when [Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore] and, I believe, the premier as well noted we are expecting an uptick in cases in the fall," said Mallough. "No one is following up with what does that mean."
"Is a fourth lockdown on the table in the government's mind?" Mallough asked, saying that would be devastating to the small business community.
If another lockdown is a possibility, Mallough says the province needs to be more open about what that means and what the government is doing to prevent it.
"Are we looking at reinstating some restrictions around capacity or tracing?" he said. "Obviously vaccine passports or credentials are a very hot topic right now. If and when that comes in, what does that look like?"