Frustrated with government efforts, business groups push plan to avoid lockdowns
Published Tuesday, February 16, 2021 8:10AM EST Last Updated Tuesday, February 16, 2021 11:56AM EST
A woman dresses mannequins in a storefront window in Montreal, Sunday, February 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. Non-essential businesses such as stores, museums and hair dressers will be allowed to reopen as of February 8. Quebec has been under lockdown since December 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
OTTAWA -- Frustrations with government efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic has led major businesses in this country to decide to take some matters into their own hands to avoid further lockdowns.
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce unveiled on Tuesday an advisory group of 20 chief and senior executives to help businesses large and small manage their operations through restrictions and public health concerns.
Among the group are the presidents of vaccine-makers Pfizer Canada and Providence Therapeutics, as well as executives from Shoppers Drug Mart, WestJet and BlackBerry.
Chamber president Perrin Beatty said the businesses involved will look for ways to protect their employees and customers and help with vaccination efforts.
Among the items on the group's agenda will be coming up with ways to encourage employees to get vaccinated and protocols for using rapid tests that have languished in warehouses despite repeated requests from companies for their use.
The lack of government strategy on the use of rapid tests is a real challenge to reopening parts of the economy safely, Beatty said.
Doing nothing until everyone gets vaccinated will take time, he said, and businesses have to be willing to do whatever they can to help hurry the pace of shots and the use of personal protective equipment.
"It's not simply sitting on the sidelines and telling government what they should be doing, but taking what actions businesses can themselves to help to protect their customers and their employees," Beatty said.
The path to an economic recovery is tied to the path of the pandemic and how quickly vaccinations roll out, which the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday "could realistically take several months."
In a report about the federal fiscal response to the pandemic, the IMF said Canada should keep its eye on vaccinations, but not abandon "mitigation efforts" to reduce "the risks associated with social contact while minimizing economic disruptions."
The chamber and other business groups have pushed governments for months to use rapid tests as one way to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic instead of cycling between lockdowns and reopenings.
Business groups delivered such a message in January to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial premiers, warning of a feeling among companies and workers of being "powerless and victimized."
The letter to the first ministers noted how business groups were anxious to be part of broader solutions to manage the pandemic and return to normal conditions more quickly.
Since then, there has been a growing sense that public officials don't seem to be learning lessons from previous cycles, leading to what some businesses believe is an ineffective approach.
"There are frustrations there, but the goal is not to be critical of government, it is to assist government and to do everything that we can, either in concert with government or by ourselves, to be able to protect public health and to hurry reopening," Beatty said.
Beatty said time is of the essence for some corners of the economy, including small and medium-sized businesses and the country's tourism sector that is planning for the summer travel season.
Tourism season was mostly a washout last year as travel plummeted, and there are concerns that this year could be the same if tour operators, for instance, don't know if a hotel or restaurant is going to be open or a festival taking place.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2021.