Ontario restaurant owners warn Ford government 'civil disobedience' is coming without capacity changes
TORONTO -- Ontario restaurateurs are expressing their frustration with the provincial government after a cabinet minister failed to attend a meeting to discuss capacity limits in the hospitality industry, and staff asked attendees not to raise their concerns in the media.
Restaurant owners launched a concerted campaign over the Thanksgiving long weekend to lift COVID-19 restrictions on their businesses to bring them in line with large sports venues and concert halls, which can now operate free of capacity and physical distancing measures as long as vaccination requirements are enforced.
Currently, while restaurants are not subject to capacity limits they must maintain two meters of distance between tables which, the industry says, effectively limits the number of diners.
Meanwhile, The Scotiabank Arena – which will host the Toronto Maple Leafs home opener on Oct. 13 – can welcome nearly 20,000 fans without the need to sit several seats apart or maintain any form of distancing.
According to industry insiders, the Ford government quickly sought to quell the visceral anger over the weekend by convening a virtual meeting with Tourism and Culture minister Lisa MacLeod on Tuesday – a meeting which derailed almost immediately after MacLeod failed to attend without explanation.
"We were invited by the minister to attend this call and then we were told it was a scheduling conflict," said Paul Bognar, the CEO of Sir Corp which owns Jack Astor's Bar and Grill and Scaddabush Italian Kitchen and Bar.
"There's 450,000 people employed in the restaurant businesses in Ontario," Bognar told CP24. "We've been the hardest hit sector, you would think that would be a priority."
John Sinopoli, the founder of Save Hospitality CA, said while the group hoped to meet with both MacLeod and Health Minister Christine Elliott, they were faced with political staff instead who, they say, provided little insight into what the restaurant industry could expect.
"They literally have no plan for us, that was the answer," Sinopoli told CTV News Toronto. "Twice, we got crickets from their entire staff."
"From the call this morning, we realized they haven't even given us a second thought."
Instead, Sinopoli says, attendees were told not to discuss the contents of the conversation with the media until the province finalized a plan for the sector – a request that was ignored.
The restaurant industry has been trying to gauge, among other things, a timeframe for when restrictions would be eased, the benchmarks that would be used to lift restrictions and what information has been driving the government's decision making.
"We're trying to get to the bottom of either the logic, the scientific data, the historical data, any data for the decision that was made that nobody can understand," Bognar said.
Without a plan, Sinopoli warned the government that it could soon be faced with "civil disobedience."
"Many people in our industry are talking about civil disobedience with respect to these regulations and restrictions of indoor dining," Sinopoli said.
"If you're not going to give us a reason behind the policy and you're not going to tell us that there even is a plan, then we can just assume negligent in terms of our industry."
"They've literally left us no option."
Multiple calls to Minister Macleod's office by CTV News Toronto went unanswered.