Let shops reopen or limit big-box retailers, council urges province

·2 min read
Let shops reopen or limit big-box retailers, council urges province

Ottawa city council wants the province to either allow small businesses to reopen or restrict what big-box retailers are allowed to sell, arguing it's a question of fairness.

Wednesday's council meeting wasn't the first time Mayor Jim Watson criticized the province for letting large retailers like Costco and Walmart continue to sell non-essential items to walk-in customers, while competing small shops have had to move to curbside service only.

He seconded a motion from Coun. Theresa Kavanagh that called for council to lobby Premier Doug Ford to force big-box retailers to block aisles of non-essential goods like furniture and books.

I'm very concerned about the equity and the fairness. - Coun. Riley Brockington

Councillors appeared to agree with the spirit of the motion, with several expressing their displeasure that the province gave big-box retailers notice before an inspection blitz last weekend. Despite being forewarned, retailers in Ottawa and elsewhere were still issued dozens of fines and warnings from provincial inspectors and city bylaw officers.

Some councillors argued that instead of restricting big-box stores, it would be more helpful to small businesses if they were allowed to reopen.

"I'm very concerned about the equity and the fairness," said Coun. Riley Brockington. "I really do think the focus should be on reopening, and not closing more."

"We should be pushing for businesses to be allowed to open safely," Coun. Glen Gower agreed. "If Costco can open with 25 per cent capacity and proper physical distancing, I think a local store should be able to open safely as well with the same rules."

Mayor to write Ford

In the end, council approved a motion calling for Ottawa stores to reopen under the same rules as big-box stores — at one-quarter of their usual capacity and maintaining two metres between customers — or else cordon off areas of non-essential goods, as Quebec and Manitoba have mandated.

"People can still go and curbside pickup at stores, including big-box stores. There's no need to go in and go down every aisle of clothes, electronic products and so on in a WalMart or a Costco," Watson told reporters after Wednesday's council meeting, adding that he would write to the premier within a day.

"So I would hope that the province moves on that relatively quickly, because it is really hurting these small businesses that see the lineups of people going into a Costco or a Walmart, and absolutely no one able to go into a small store on Main Street or Bank Street or Montreal Road or St. Joseph Boulevard."