By Lynne Lund, MLA District 21 Summerside-Wilmot
Official Opposition Critic for Green Economic Development
The challenges for our local businesses have never been more complex. As sectors begin to come back online with easing of COVID-19 restrictions, it’s critical for government to add a business owner’s lens to its decision making. However, this does not always appear to be happening. Though you can be sure business owners and employees have spent a lot of time in the last few weeks thinking through what changes will be necessary to operate in our new reality. They have valuable insight into the unique challenges they will face.
Renewing PEI will require careful consideration for local businesses
Reopening an industry isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. For example, let’s take hair stylists. A number of stylists have indicated that due to their shop size or layout, operating at full capacity while adhering to social distancing and revised cleaning requirements may not simply be possible. This means for them, the number of clients who can be seen in a day will most likely be reduced, which in turn means reduced income for the business.
Added to this are employee considerations. With the business not running at full capacity, worker hours are likely to be reduced meaning staff only being able to earn part time work. Part time work means less income from their job. Depending on the amount they would earn through part time, it could jeopardize their CERB eligibility. This could then leave them in a less financially secure position than if they decided to remain safe at home.
Government needs to be fair
These challenges have not been helped by recent comments made by Premier King. In a recent CBC news story, the Premier asked the federal government to change the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) because it was making people unwilling to return to work. This comment regarding workers intentions is unfair and inappropriate. It has the potential to drive a wedge between business owners and their staff. Many employees are weighing a wide range of considerations when making a decision on their safety and ability to provide for their families.
Despite concerns from both employer and employee, they are being told Fear not, if the business case doesn’t make sense, you aren’t mandated to open. But, it is not as straightforward as that. Once the sector is considered open, businesses who are unable to renovate to accommodate social distancing requirements will be unfairly disadvantaged. Stylists who choose not to go back to work due to safety concerns or the need to provide as much as they can for their families could be at risk of losing their CERB for refusing to work. For many, it’s a no-win situation.
We must ensure local businesses have the appropriate tools
Government needs to understand these complexities, and not oversimplify them. Our small and medium sized businesses have taken a profound hit, and the implications aren’t even fully understood yet. Businesses are far from out of the woods. Decisions being made at this critical time could impact which businesses succeed and which are not able to. Government must ensure these businesses are part of the conversation moving forward. They must be provided the appropriate tools to develop a safe and successful Renew PEI restart plan.