Ottawa business groups call on governments to provide financial support amid disruptive protests

Business organizations in downtown Ottawa are calling on governments to roll out monetary support for businesses that have been forced to close during a week of protests over COVID-19 measures, protests that show no signs of abating.

A coalition of central Ottawa business improvement areas said they surveyed more than 200 downtown property owners and found that 75% had lost income due to the protest and 48% had closed due to safety concerns. . He also said that almost half of the employees surveyed were embarrassed when coming to work.

“Ottawa businesses and citizens need immediate action and support because of this protest,” read a letter to local MPs from Michelle Groulx, Executive Director of the Business Improvement Areas Coalition. from Ottawa.

“The financial blow, at a time when many businesses were set to reopen on January 31, 2022, is immense.”

The protests in Ottawa, which began as a rally of truckers against cross-border vaccination mandates, have turned into a larger protest against all COVID-19 restrictions. Ontario Premier Doug Ford called the event an “occupation,” and hundreds of protesters dug in long term building wooden structures; establish a command post; and storage of supplies such as fuel, propane and firewood.

Police continue to warn people to stay away from downtown, where commercial trucks honk and cause traffic jams in central Ottawa.

Kevin McHale, executive director of the Sparks Street BIA in the heart of the city, said many businesses have been forced to close for their own safety amid reports of employees being harassed for wearing masks and large groups of maskless protesters ignoring health and safety rules indoors.

“We want to make sure it’s clear that this event is unlike any other protest we’ve ever seen downtown, and… that’s the nature of it. [demonstration] and the disruption it causes” which led to the request for financial support, Mr. McHale said.

Ottawa Chief Financial Officer Wendy Stephanson said in a brief statement Sunday that the city is considering providing support.

“The City of Ottawa is working with other levels of government on options to support downtown businesses impacted by the ongoing protest,” Ms. Stephanson said.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson declared a state of emergency on Sunday, saying it would help the government deliver services and move smoothly to procure equipment needed to manage the protests.

Ian Lee, an associate professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, said companies are unlikely to be able to make a claim with their insurers in the current situation.

He said business interruption insurance is a very finely-defined policy that often causes a business to suffer physical damage from events such as a natural disaster.

“Businesses here have closed on their own on their own, and I just don’t see that being covered by business interruption insurance,” Lee said.

“It just opens the door to such an open precedent…the cost would be so high that insurance companies would stop offering this insurance.”

Meanwhile, the Ontario Ministry of Finance said that over the past two years the province has provided “targeted relief from provincially administered grants, rebates and tax deferrals” to affected businesses. by the pandemic, but did not comment on specific compensation for businesses affected by the protests.

Instead, a spokesperson for Ontario’s finance minister called on protesters to stand down.

“Too many businesses in Ottawa have felt the need to close for health and safety reasons associated with the ongoing protest,” said Emily Hogeveen.

“As the Prime Minister said last week, it’s time to go home and let small businesses open their doors safely for the people of Ottawa.

While the coalition is still studying the amount of financial support needed, Mr. McHale suggested that rent and utility bills could be one measure that could inform compensation amounts.

He added that the timing of the protests is particularly painful for restaurants, which were eagerly waiting to reopen for indoor dining last week when Ontario lifted some pandemic restrictions, allowing restaurants to reopen at 50% of their capacity.

“It was meant to be a kickstarter, and businesses have seen good returns from repeat customers in other areas of the city who have been able to open,” Mr. McHale said.

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