COVID-19: Where we are and where we’re going

By Al Ruggero

Six months into the pandemic, most continue to have concerns about what lies ahead, despite the encouraging news of declining cases, success with treatments for COVID-19 and fewer deaths. But schools reopening, the beginning of flu season and less favourable weather means more opportunity for a second wave.

I believe we are now better prepared to fight a second wave, than we were several months ago. Our residents have mostly adapted to social distancing, sanitizing and wearing masks in public as recommended by public health officials and government. Retailers, grocers and service establishments have complied with health and safety protocols making their controlled environments safer for workers and customers.

With the onset of the pandemic, northwest Toronto has seen a disproportionate number of cases adjacent to Emery Village. The 28,000 employed in the BIA (before the pandemic) reflect Toronto’s diversity and especially the residential communities of Ward 7. Immigrants account for approximately 58 percent of the population and a large proportion (60 percent) are first generation and newcomers.

The majority of the businesses in the Emery BIA have older premises, compact buildings and lack modern facilities, making them more difficult to adapt their workspaces to the demands, protocols and measures required. Both essential and more recently, non-essential businesses were forced to scale down operations in order to open again.

And there was good news from members who successfully transitioned into the production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), sanitizing products, masks, acrylic barriers and other supplies to meet the needs for the pandemic.

Many food related industries and businesses face enormous pressures and challenges from supply chain disruptions, labour availability, pay issues, and efforts to make their work environments safer. And many found that despite their best efforts, workplace outbreaks limited recovery efforts and set them on a steep learning curve that continues to date.

In the meantime, the BIA office focused on keeping in touch with its membership and providing them with up-to-date information and resources available during the lockdown phase and in the stages of reopening of the economy.

The following initiatives to help businesses are available on the Emery Village BIA website:

The Emery Village BIA PPE Directory lists who is manufacturing and supplying PPE for businesses.

The Reopening Guidance Package - provides guidance for businesses and services to help on a safe restart of their business.

The COVID-19 Safety Training Course offers free training to businesses and employees of the BIA.

The BIA listened to members concerned that their eviction was imminent and that landlords did not wish to participate in the government rent reduction agreements under CECRA , that would have significantly reduced their rent burden in the short term. Business closures continue to date while uncertainty about COVID-19 and the possibility of a future surge dampens the immediate outlook.

Other concerns centered on the need for providing fairness and equity in their dealings with government. Moreover, members fear the price of the recovery and debt burden will fall disproportionately on their shoulders with significant increases in business taxes. This would add to the accumulated debt that business owners have to confront in order to stay afloat.

Overall, the BIA believes feedback from business membership was generally supportive of the rollout at the various federal, provincial and municipal levels of programs which helped mitigate the extensive damage to the economy and provide support to bridge workers and employers toward conditions that favour a stable economic recovery.

The compounding effects of the pandemic, which transcended a health crisis to become a global social, political and economic catastrophe with few historic parallels gives us an opportunity to restate our values and propositions to shape our future aspirations as a society.

It has forced us to look at the impacts of globalization, climate change, social justice, and the role of technology in our lives.

Finally, post COVID-19, all levels of government will be faced with serious fiscal constraints. In view of this, we will need to revisit our expectations of government to be able to deliver on the programs and priorities that will shape our future.