Niagara’s three NDP MPPs gathered in downtown St. Catharines Friday afternoon, calling on the provincial government to do more to support small and medium sized businesses as Ontario braces for a second wave of COVID-19.
The plan entitled Save Main Street was first released in April, and has been recently updated, focusing on working to keep businesses open by among other things placing a ban on commercial evictions, and providing a 75 per cent rent subsidy.
St. Catharines MPP Jennie Stevens said a plan needs to be put in place soon to ensure business doors stay open during the fall and winter months, especially for small downtown businesses in industries hit hard by the pandemic.
“We need a recovery and a plan that supports our main streets like here on St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines, and make sure that we can get people back to work.”
Also attending the event was Andrea Connely-Miele of St. Catharines who has been laid off from her full-time job due to the pandemic, and since then has taken a job at a downtown restaurant.
Connely-Miele said one of her main concerns going back to work is child care.
“One issue that is of particular concern to me is that when I do have the opportunity to return to my full-time job, I currently am not prioritized by my child care provider. Because I am not working 9-5 Monday to Friday right now, my provider took my name of the list and gave my spot to someone else.”
Adelodun Olusola-Ajayi, a Niagara College graduate, stood alongside the three MPPs on St. Paul Street to talk about her experience as both a recent graduate, and someone working in the culinary industry at a downtown restaurant.
“For me right now, as someone who has just graduated from culinary school and working in downtown St. Catharines with a business that is just a year old. The uncertainty is real.
Working in an industry that has been hit really hard and not getting enough support and making me second guess what I am even doing with my life.”
Niagara Centre MPP Jeff Burch expanded on the NDP’s plan, which includes additional support for workers including paid sick days, and increases in child care spaces.
“We would implement a made-in-Ontario plan for sick days for all, a fund to help small businesses with safe reopening costs, and remote work start up costs, more not-for-profit child care spaces for working parents, and an end to insurance gauging.”
For many in St. Catharines and around Niagara, the impact of the pandemic has meant the end of decades long small businesses
Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates spoke of a Niagara Falls business owner, evicted from her store of over 20 years.
“There was a small business in Niagara Falls called Mini Mart, it was run for 22 years by Teresa who is a single mom who had a number of employees. Because her landlord would not participate in the rent subsidy program, they ended up kicking them out on Sept. 1, after 22 years in business.”
Earlier this month, Premier Doug Ford announced the government would extend the ban on commercial evictions that expired on Aug. 31, until the end of September.
Bryan Levesque, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News