By MPP Toby Barrett
To The Haldimand Press
It has been over four months since Ontario’s first case of coronavirus, and our focus now is getting businesses up and running – and people back to work – in a safe and responsible manner.
Reopening Ontario is the toughest balancing act we’ve ever had. My staff constantly hears conflicting opinions; some are adamant we must open immediately, and there are those fearful of opening too quickly.
Across Ontario, 402,800 jobs were lost in March and 689,200 in April. Those numbers underscore the significant impact of COVID-19, and serve as a stark reminder of the personal impact of this crisis, in addition to those whose health this virus has impacted. The people behind those numbers are on our minds as we focus on creating jobs and fostering growth. The timing of our recovery continues to be informed by the advice of medical experts, and the best practices of places previously hit by COVID. We are also looking to economists, businesses and labour leaders, workers, families, and entrepreneurs for advice.
We want every Ontarian to get back to work as soon as it is safe, with a clear path to economic recovery that keeps people protected and healthy. But people want us to be cautious – a message that I hear through my office and delivering masks door-to-door in towns like Hagersville and Jarvis. We don’t want the hard work and sacrifice of people in Haldimand and Norfolk, and 14.5 million Ontarians, to be for nothing. That’s why we are taking a gradual, staged approach to opening things up. Thanks to the perseverance of people and businesses, we can start to carefully ease restrictions, get businesses open, and people back to work.
On May 19, we entered the first stage of our reopening process. Seasonal businesses like marinas, trailer parks, nurseries and golf courses are open – as are certain retail stores, with a street entrance as opposed to an entrance from a mall. Health and medical services have been allowed to resume. Constructions sites are getting back up and running. We have also provided public health guidance to keep families, employees and customers safe and healthy – with more than 90 workplace safety guidelines. It remains critical that we continue to maintain physical distancing or wear a mask, wash our hands frequently, use hand sanitizers, and keep commonly used surfaces clean. We should also get tested if we think we have come in contact with the virus, even if we have no symptoms. People are compassionate, patient, and careful – I see it at the door and hear it on the telephone – which is why we have steadily been making progress.
COVID-19 is an extraordinary threat to the health and economy of Ontario – the greatest we’ve seen in our lifetimes. It requires extraordinary measures from all of us because we’re all in this together regardless of where we live on the planet. The irony is we’re often in this together while working remotely. Between our responsibilities in Haldimand Norfolk and our work as Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs, our office has often been around the clock interacting with farmers, business people, public servants, and citizens. Our days go from teleconferences, to iPhones, to webinars, to Zoom meetings. The work is satisfying and necessary as we work to protect people while planning Ontario’s recovery.
Editors note: This column was submitted before June 8, 2020, when the Ontario government announced that it is moving forward with a regional approach to Stage 2 of reopening the province. In consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and local health officials, the government eased restrictions in communities where they deemed it was safe to do so. Haldimand was not included in the list of health unit regions allowed to move into Stage 2. However, effective Friday, June 12, 2020 at 12:01 a.m., the province increased the limit on social gatherings from five to 10 people across the province, regardless of whether a region has moved to Stage 2.