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Perth County asks province for info on impact of small businesses in COVID-19 transmission

Coun. Todd Kasenberg requested discussion of a letter from Kingsville, Ont. regarding small business closures while bigger stores remain open.

“There are many factors involved in the decisions the province has made concerning prevailing conditions for small businesses but certainly the public continues to express concern about the fact that small businesses have essentially been forced to close but large businesses remain open without a whole lot of restriction,” he said. “I have certainly taken COVID very seriously all along. As a microbiologist by training I have a lot of understanding of the kinds of things that have happened.”

He finds himself wondering whether some small businesses should have been ordered closed at this time.

The Kingsville resolution requested that small businesses be allowed to remain open to in-store sales and service with limited capacity and increased safety measures.

“I would like to see a whole lot more data, to be honest, from the province about small business versus large business and about why small business has been targeted at this point,” said Kasenberg. “I’m expressing… sympathy for the letter from Kingsville… I think the concern I have about doing it verbatim is… that this resolution was sent to the province before Christmas and pertained mostly to the holiday season.”

Kasenberg said he thinks small businesses are bearing undue pressure in the absence of seeing clear data that small businesses are in contact traces and are unequivocally showing they are a high source for COVID-19 transmission.

Warden James Aitcheson suggested a letter from the Reform Coalition of Perth East, which had also been pulled for discussion by Coun. Daryl Herlick, shared similar concerns so he asked if they could be discussed together.

“I don’t mean to echo what Coun. Kasenberg just talked of,” said Herlick. “It’s an interesting time. It’s frustrating – the lack of data.”

He pointed out that he is a livestock farmer and the members of the Reform Coalition are also livestock farmers with “an actual understanding of how viruses spread and biosecurity.”

Herlick said lockdowns are “a rather interesting way of trying to contain a virus that is so detrimental, or allegedly anyway, it’s frustrating.”

He received a text message earlier in the day alleging a store near Waterloo had almost 600 cars in the parking lot with people lined up for blocks.

“It’s so confusing and frustrating. Small businesses have done such a good job… I need to support this motion of the coalition group for sure and we really need to ask ourselves, when is the cure worse than the disease or what we’re after and in my mind we surpassed that a long time ago.”

Kasenberg wanted the two items kept separate.

“While there is some common ground between my position and Coun. Herlick’s, I think there are also some fundamental differences,” he said. “I believe COVID is a significant problem in our society. The death rates are 2.3 per cent. Yes, it affects mostly the elderly but when we allow conditions in our society to say that it’s OK for the elderly and the immuno-compromised to be at greater risk than the general population I think we’ve done society a disservice.

“I think we’re all needed and we’re all valuable and I am very concerned about a wide-open society.”

The letter from the Reform Coalition stated its “ask is not to further extend credit to or provide greater subsidies to struggling businesses, but rather that you advocate to end this game of favourites and allow ALL businesses a level playing field.”

“I think that people largely do need to stay home,” said Kasenberg. “My concern is the competitiveness between small businesses that can sell things and large big-box businesses that are reaping enormous profits during this season and have… throughout the pandemic and I don’t think an unequal playing field is appropriate in these contexts.”

Kasenberg said he would want to allow small businesses that can demonstrate responsibility towards Public Health precautions to remain open.

“I think that we can create conditions for that and in the absence of seeing the provincial data about the spread of COVID through those environments I am concerned that they have unduly affected the business climate,” he said. “Beyond that, I am firmly supportive of precautions that keep all of our people safe, our elderly, our immuno-compromised, etc. Some of that does require people being urged to stay home as much as possible but why should large stores benefit disproportionately during this period.”

Aitcheson asked for direction from council as to what they wanted to do about supporting the letter from Kingsville.

Kasenberg suggested council ask the provincial government to share the information it has more clearly and more broadly with regards to the impact of small businesses in the transmission of COVID-19.

“We are expressing concern that many small businesses have been shuttered and we need to understand why,” he said.

Coun. Doug Kellum seconded Kasenberg’s motion.

Coun. Doug Eidt asked that the request for information be sent to both the MPP of Perth-Wellington, Randy Pettapiece, and MP of Perth-Wellington, John Nater.

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Aitcheson continued to connect the Kingsville resolution and the letter Herlick had brought forward saying he thought the letter from the Reform Coalition had already been sent to Pettapiece.

“I would recommend that we send this to the Premier,” said Kasenberg. “I think the province should take responsibility for the emergency order that it has put in place and the range of conditions that are attached to that emergency order so I do think the named recipient is the Premier and the Ministry of Health but I agree that we need Mr. Pettapiece and as a courtesy, Mr. Nater, to be aware of our actions here.”

“Do you want to add the Minister of Finance on that, Todd?” asked Aitcheson.

“Interestingly it is hard for me to discern the role of the Minister of Finance but hey, the more names the merrier,” said Kasenberg.
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