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Mixed messaging and unfair targeting: Hamilton bars and restaurants are frustrated with the Province

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Mixed messaging and unfair targeting: Hamilton bars and restaurants are frustrated with the Province

Restaurants using part of King William St. in Hamilton as a patio during COVID-19. (Twitter/@JasonThorne_RPP)

This week Hamilton was officially moved to the Red ‘Control’ level of Ontario’s COVID-19 response framework.

With it, the foodservice industry may have been hit the hardest.

Under the new guidelines, the maximum number of patrons that can be seated indoors is 10, with no more than four people at a single table.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said James Rilett, VP of the Central Canada region of Restaurants Canada. “The fact that a large restaurant and a small ice cream shop are faced with the same restrictions doesn’t make any sense to us.”

Restaurants Canada calls itself “the voice of foodservice” and James told In The Hammer that he speaks with members of government “almost daily”, hoping to get an answer as to why restaurants and bars seem to be getting targeted whenever new restrictions are announced.

“I’ve asked [the provincial government] for data that shows restaurants are a major source of the spread of the virus,” continued James. “They’ve told me, ‘yes, they are’, but they can’t provide any data.”

“We just want some proof—some kind of data. They haven’t been able to show me any.”

According to Restaurants Canada, even though most establishments were allowed to re-open in the summer, around 60 per cent of those surveyed said they were operating at a financial loss.

“If I can make one plea, it’s to support local foodservice as much as possible,” added James. “Even if it’s buying people restaurant gift certificates for Christmas.”

Customer limits also affect staffing and food inventory; not to mention staff morale, as employees have been thrust into the role of COVID-19 bylaw enforcement.

Related: Which Hamilton postal codes are COVID-19 hotspots

Hamilton City Council recently voted in favour of “outing” bars and restaurants that defy COVID-19 protocol.

Those establishments were already facing a $3,000 fine under provincial law.

“If it is part of a larger program to highlight any business or individual who breaks protocol, we would be supportive,” concluded James. “We have always maintained that the bad apples should face discipline, but naming only one industry gives a false impression of that industry as a problem.”

Meanwhile, Ontarians are trying to decipher mixed messages altogether.

While announcing that Hamilton was moving into the Red ‘Control’ level of Ontario’s COVID-19 response framework, Premier Doug Ford insisted that residents should “stay home”.

“The Province is telling us that we’re allowed to be open, but also telling people to not come,” said Jason Hofing, co-owner of Relay Coffee Roasters on King William St.

On Nov. 13, in response to a question regarding quarantining and rapid testing, Ford said, “I need the federal government’s help on this, and if they don’t want to do it, then we’ll go it alone, even though it’s not our jurisdiction.”

Three days later, Ford was asked whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should step in and use the federal government’s emergency powers.

“That’s not their jurisdiction,” Ford said. “We don’t need the nanny state telling us what to do.”

It’s easy to see why people are confused.

“I think the federal government needs to step in and dictate the rules to each province,” added Jason of Relay Coffee Roasters. “This is a global pandemic. It affects us all and the provincial government seems to be struggling with how to handle it.”

Regardless of which level of government is dictating the COVID-19 safety rules, business owners and the community at large seem willing to follow, as long as the rules are concise and at the very least, driven by medical expertise.

Well, the latest pandemic protocol set-out by the Ontario government was neither.

Getting people to buy-in to a pandemic response in the name of public safety becomes even more difficult when those people lose confidence in their leaders.

Heading into the winter season, that confidence appears shaky, to say the least.

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