Andrea Strano, president of the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce, says many local businesses are at their ‘breaking point’ after the Ontario government extended its third provincewide lockdown.

Haliburton businesses ‘at the breaking point’

By Mike Baker

Commerce has condemned the latest raft of COVID-19 measures implemented by the provincial government, saying further business supports will be required to help entrepreneurs through this prolonged third lockdown.

On Friday [April 16], Premier Doug Ford announced an extension of Ontario’s state of emergency and provincewide stay-at-home order until at least May 20, while introducing a string of other measures, including the closure of recreational amenities such as golf courses and tennis courts, increasing police powers to allow officers to question anybody who is outside of their home and limiting capacity at essential businesses such as grocery stores to 25 per cent.

Speaking to the Echo on Monday, Andrea Strano, president of the local chamber, said many Haliburton County-based businesses were at their breaking point even before Ford announced the current lockdown, and subsequent closure of all non-essential businesses, would be extended.

“Business owners are already financially strained to the max, and anxieties and tensions are at the breaking point,” Strano said. “I don’t think there’s a
sector that isn’t feeling the effects of this lockdown in some way, shape or form.”

She singled out the tourism and restaurant industries as two areas that would be hit hardest by the extension of lockdown measures into late spring.

“We are entering what is supposed to be our busy season. Everyone is exhausted – we all thought by now that we would be on the recovery side of things, and we clearly aren’t and it hurts,” Strano added.

The chamber represents more than 250 businesses across Haliburton County. Since the onset of the pandemic 13 months ago, Strano has made it her mission to ensure all members are notified about any changes to provincial regulations and are properly supported as they navigate through the various programs available to them.

Securing government funding has been a challenge for many local business owners, Strano admitted.

There was some concern within the offices of the Haliburton County Home Builders Association [HCHBA] on Friday after Ford said he would be putting a stop to all non-essential construction projects across Ontario. Aggie Tose, the organization’s executive director, was quick to allay any fears, however, once she received official word about what would, and wouldn’t be allowed moving forward.

“The restrictions do not change a whole lot for construction in Haliburton County. Residential construction is considered an essential service, therefore, with curbside service at our lumber yards, other suppliers and Home Hardware stores we can continue working on the homes in Haliburton County,” Tose said. “The Ontario regulations are not as clear as we would like concerning the building permit process. There does not seem to be clear direction on what is accepted before or after April 17. I am still waiting on clarification for that.”

Tose said examples of non-essential construction sites may include shopping malls, hotels and office towers.

Construction is one of the main economic drivers in Haliburton County, Tose said, with the industry employing more than 1,200 people across 56 HCHBA member companies. With that in mind, she was pleased to learn that local businesses will be allowed to honour contracts they have committed to and move ahead with renovation and construction projects.
On Monday the province reported another 4,447 new cases of COVID-19 and 19 deaths. Here in Haliburton County, there were three new cases reported bringing the total number of active cases up to 12.

Dr. Natalie Bocking, medical officer of health with the Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit [HKPRDHU] said Friday’s announcement of prolonged and enhanced lockdown measures were “extremely difficult, but absolutely necessary.”

She said that, due to the surging number of COVID-19 case counts in the province, many hospitals, ICU units, health care providers and public health agencies are facing overwhelming pressures in keeping up with the demand for service.

“All aspects of our health care system are stretched to the limit, so decisive action is needed to try and reduce the number of COVID-19 cases,” Bocking said. “These new measures are extremely difficult to enact, but absolutely necessary at this point in the pandemic. I implore everyone to follow these new measures and do all they can to stop the spread. Our region has not been immune to seeing a significant rise in COVID-19 case numbers in the last week. We’re at a really critical tipping point, and unless we follow the new restrictions, we risk losing complete control of the situation.”