OHS Canada Magazine

Ontario mayor angry, frustrated over continued closures

Leamington, Ont., remains in lockdown due to COVID-19


By Shawn Jeffords

WINDSOR, Ont. — The mayor of one of Ontario’s last communities still locked down due to COVID-19 says small businesses are being driven to bankruptcy by the closure while shops in neighbouring communities in Windsor-Essex reopened Thursday with a mix of relief and joy.

Premier Doug Ford announced Wednesday that most of Windsor-Essex could move to Stage 2 of the province’s pandemic reopening plan, but held back Leamington and Kingsville, Ont., because of COVID-19 outbreaks on local farms.

Hilda MacDonald, mayor of Leamington, Ont., said she remains angry about the decision, and was “livid” when the tight restrictions were kept in place. The measures could push small businesses to close if not moved eased soon, she said.

“What you’re doing is hurting these businesses that are just hanging on by their fingernails,” MacDonald said. “The big companies, they can weather this, but these small businesses, they have no safety net.”

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Farm outbreaks need addressing: Ford

The two communities in southwestern Ontario will stay in Stage 1 until coronavirus outbreaks on farms can be addressed and case counts lowered, Ford said.

MacDonald said her community received no warning about the decision to let the rest of Windsor-Essex proceed to Stage 2, and then received “hard, cruel, and uncalled” for social media messages when the move was announced.

The province needs a more co-ordinated approach to battling the virus and the lack of cohesion at the provincial level is holding her community back, she added.

She called on the province to create one agency tasked solely with overseeing Ontario’s pandemic response.

“No one has taken charge and I think that has been the problem,” she said.

Kingsville, Ont., mayor also disappointed

The mayor of Kingsville, Ont., Nelson Santos, called the decision a disappointment but added it was not unexpected. He called on farmers to co-operate with COVID-19 testing efforts.

“I am adding all of our community voices to strongly encourage our farm operations to take all steps necessary to help control the spread of COVID-19, so that we can join the rest of Ontario and move to Stage 2 and reopen our vibrant business community,” he said in a statement.

Dan Wiper, president of the Leamington District Agricultural Society, said the local fairgrounds has already seen revenues drop substantially after cancelling a fair earlier this month. He was blunt in his assessment of the split reopening.

“I think it’s stupid,” he said. “It’s killing the region right now. I’ve heard there are a lot of different businesses already starting to close down that can’t come back. So this is just going to injure it more.”

Leamington’s chamber of commerce said the changes have caused “worry and concern.”

“We know the impact is weighing hard on us and we look forward to working with our partners and all levels of government to help mitigate the situation for the betterment of our community,” chamber general manager Wendy Parsons said.

Relief in Windsor, Ont.

Meanwhile, in Windsor, Ont., after tensions mounted earlier this week when the city was left out of the announced reopenings in Toronto and Peel Region, businesses such as hair salons and restaurant patios have begun reopening.

Sitting in a stylists chair, resident Sharon Rossi said it was a relief to finally get her hair cut. The last time she was in for a trim was February.

“It feels very good to be here,” she said. “I’ve been at home, like most other people, isolating … so it’s been a long time waiting.”

The owner of the salon, Kim Spirou, said she moved quickly to reopen after the provincial announcement and was able to put in place a slew of COVID safety precautions. Gone are the reusable caps during a haircut, replaced by single-use versions, and each stylist’s chair is separated by a sheet of plastic hanging from the ceiling.

The measures haven’t discouraged customers who have been calling steadily since Ford made his announcement. Spirou said she is now booking appointments into August.

“It was a miracle,” she said of the reopening. “We’ve been hoping week after week that we’d be moved to Phase 2. It was pure, unbridled joy.”

Just hours before Ford announced the reopening in Windsor, business owners had rallied outside of the local health unit in protest of the continued closure.

Some, like Filip Rocca, had even threatened to reopen his restaurant on July 1, with or without provincial permission. Rocca said on Thursday he’s happy to reopen his patio but it still mean margins will be tight with all his business now weather dependent.

“It’s a step forward because we need to get to Stage 3,” he said. “But with just 50 per cent capacity on my patio it’s not going to do it. I’m lucky to have a sidewalk wrap around me … but if it rains on Saturday my busiest night is a wash.”