Government needs to step in to save our local businesses

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we live, work and do business. Thousands of Ontarians have lost their jobs, and hundreds have tragically, lost their lives.

In my riding of Davenport, where I am privileged to represent the largest community of Portuguese-Canadians in Canada, my office has seen record requests for assistance. In the midst of all this, we’ve seen so many of our small and medium-sized businesses step up to support our communities. Nosso Talho butcher and grocery on Bloor St. West offered free groceries to anyone in need.  ‘Unboxed’ in Little Portugal – the first zero-waste grocery store in Toronto – owned by Michelle Genttner and Luis Martins -, have stayed open and continued to find ways to provide neighbours with affordable, waste-free food. And Bairrada on College St has delivered food to frontline workers. These are just a few examples. Residents have supported local businesses, in turn, by continuing to shop local and ordering take-out to support local restaurants.

Sadly, many of these same businesses tell me they are not getting the support they need from government. According to a new survey conducted by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas, 63% of businesses said they could not make all of May’s rent, and 60% said they don’t think their landlord will apply for CECRA. 43.9% said they were afraid they will be locked out. Without a moratorium on commercial evictions, these tenants have no leverage to negotiate and risk losing their storefronts entirely.  Still other businesses are telling me they are not eligible for federal wage subsidies, and nervous about taking on more debt after already pouring so much of their own money into their businesses.

Our small, local businesses – including those serving the Portuguese community – are what make our neighbourhoods liveable, walkable places – and if we want them to survive, we need the Ontario government to step up and do the following:     

Provide substantial rent subsidies for commercial lease holders, retroactive to April 1st, providing up to 75% of their rents capped at $10,000 per month so that they can pay their rents and so small landlords who depend on their rental income can survive.

Freeze utility payments during the pandemic.

Declare an immediate moratorium on commercial evictions and back it up in law. 

These are proposals that the Official Opposition NDP have been calling for since the extent of the pandemic became clear and my colleagues, Leader Andrea Horwath, and I remain committed to working to bring in these measures with the speed they require.   

As we start to see more businesses re-opening under loosening of restrictions, we know that this will be a long road to recovery. We must also ensure businesses get clear guidelines from public health to operate safely, proper equipment to protect their staff, and financial supports to help them adapt to this new way of doing business.   

Every action you have taken – physical distancing, washing hands, wearing masks, staying home – is making a difference. Let’s act now to ensure our local businesses survive and thrive in this new reality.

By Marit Stiles, MPP for Davenport

Note: The views expressed belong to the respective author and does not necessarily represent the views of Milenio Stadium.

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