Peel council passes motion asking province to 'level the playing field' for small retailers amid lockdown

·3 min read
Evan Mitsui/CBC

A motion calling on the province to "level the playing field" for small retailers amid the COVID-19 lockdown was passed by Peel regional council on Thursday.

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie initially put forward the motion Thursday morning, asking Peel's medical officer of health to consider temporarily banning the sale of items deemed "non-essential" at large retailers in the region's three municipalities: Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon.

Crombie says it was a bid to help small businesses unable to compete with big box storres that are selling the same goods but can remain open under provincial lockdown rules if they operate a grocery store that sells "essential" items.

"It's our attempt to level the playing field," Crombie said.

"What's fundamentally unfair is that our local stores have been forced to close while people are flocking to the big box stores."

The motion was amended instead to ask the province to revise the rules for areas under lockdown to address the "inequity created between small businesses required to close and businesses permitted to open and continue sales, to avoid unfair competitive advantage between businesses and to provide consistency with continued effective health risk management in consultation with Public Health."

"While [the amended motion] doesn't limit big box stores from selling non-essential items, it's a strong message that we need more help for small businesses," Crombie said in a tweet.

Retailers considered non-essential in COVID-19 hotspots, including Toronto and Peel region, were forced to close their doors to shoppers on Monday, as the province imposed a lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 just as holiday shopping was set to begin.

Under Ontario's current lockdown orders, non-essential retailers can only offer services such as curbside pickup and delivery, while larger stores that sell groceries and other essential items are able to continue operating with no restrictions at all on what they sell — something Crombie says is simply "unfair."

But earlier this week, Premier Doug Ford said restricting big-box stores to selling only essential goods would be too logistically difficult for retailers.

Crombie also called out large stores for not monitoring lineups, allowing people in without face masks and being "over capacity."

"We want to do everything we can to support our small businesses," Crombie said on Thursday. "And often our residents feel more comfortable shopping in small businesses where the capacity can be controlled."

Meanwhile, Crombie is encouraging residents to shop locally to support these businesses whether it is through online delivery or curbside pickup — to keep them afloat.

During the council meeting, Crombie asked Peel's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh when small businesses could reopen so they are able to compete with the big box stores who are selling the same items.

"Certainly, if our numbers start to improve and we're starting to see a change in the transmission patterns in our community — I'm certainly happy to consider [it]," Loh said. "But I do want to be very clear and not raise expectations."

Loh said while he sympathizes with small business owners who were following the rules pre-lockdown and are being hurt by current restrictions, this is what is necessary to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus in the community at this time.

"This is definitely very discouraging, I understand, for our small businesses and certainly for all of our community that I know had taken all sorts of measures and had really tried to do their part to keep things under control," Loh said.

"The reality is that we are seeing widespread community transmission in all three of our municipalities at this point in time."