Provincial government releases list of essential services exemptions from what has to be shut down to stop the spread of COVID19

opinionred 100x100By Andrew Drummond

March 24th, 2020


There are those that believe that in the current crisis there is no room for opposition to the government. I disagree. We need to dispense with political games, but it is even more critical now that we question our government to ensure that they are pressured into taking the correct action to protect us all.

Nothing in the below article is a personal attack, but it is an articulation of how the government on Monday failed to take adequate steps to protect Ontario.

Monday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford made what was possibly his most statesmanlike address to the province promising a total shutdown of non-essential businesses in Ontario for the next two weeks as we all desperately try and “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Ford - dumb thoughtful

Ontario Premier Doug Ford

He genuinely seemed to empathize with the Ontario public and promised strong action to slow the spread of the virus. After the announcement, it was made clear that a list would be provided of what was considered essential later Monday evening. As has been the case for a number of announcements from this government, the details do not match the headlines.

Ontarians know that this fight is important. There are medical experts who have made the case that it is critical to both the safety of our elderly population and to the health of our economy that we slow the spread as soon as possible. Those arguments do not need to be repeated here. What is important to know from Monday’s announcement is how little is covered by this “shutdown”.

The government has listed 74(!) different categories of businesses that qualify as essential, many of which are written in incredibly vague language so that nearly any business except a wedding dress store would qualify. Below are some of the worst examples of exemptions to the “shutdown”.

Exemption #1: Businesses that supply other essential businesses or essential services with the support, supplies, systems or services, including processing, packaging, distribution, delivery and maintenance necessary to operate. (This is so vague to include pretty much any business that sells product to a grocery store. Is a makeup supply store really essential?)

Exemption #9: Businesses that supply office products and services, including providing computer products and related repair and maintenance services, for individuals working from home and for essential businesses (So the computer paper supply store is allowed to stay open, noting that there is a separate exemption [#14] to cover IT professionals).

Exemption #47: Businesses that provide products and services that support research activities. (This would make “essential” any company that has ever sold a product to a university).

Exemption #67: Land registration services, and real estate agent services and moving services (Considering Realtors an essential service is possibly the biggest example of how little the government cares for shutting anything down at all).

Exemption #70: Businesses that support the safe operations of residences and essential businesses (A retailer of floor rugs could for example easily make the case that they are supporting the safe operation of homes).

The government either cares about letting people stay home and be safe or they do not. There is not a middle ground to this. The COVID-19 is the greatest threat to Ontario in at least a generation and it demands strong action to fight it. The action announced today in Ontario is not the strong action that is required, nor does it match the action the Premier promised Monday afternoon. The 74(!) exemptions show that the government is trying to ensure as much business remains open as possible while pretending to take a hard line.

The most dangerous aspect of COVID-19 is that an infected person is extremely contagious for up to an entire week before they show any symptoms. As a result of the actions taken today by the Ontario government, many Ontarians will be going to non-essential work while contagious. While there they will infect their colleagues. Those colleagues will then go on to infect others and the disease will spread much more rapidly.

If Ontario took COVID-19 seriously and legitimately shut down every non-essential business, it is possible that we could come through this in a “best case” period of time, even though no one at this point knows what that is. But if the government insists on taking half measures and making speeches for the sake of appearances while shirking from taking the necessary steps to combat this, Ontario is going to be suffering through this crisis MUCH longer than it had to.

The complete list of exemptions can be found here

Andrew Drummond was the NDP candidate during the last provincial election.

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6 comments to Provincial government releases list of essential services exemptions from what has to be shut down to stop the spread of COVID19

  • Phillip Wooster

    I love the disclaimer that this is not about political games and then the armchair quarterback goes on a rant about the closures–this certainly reads like political games.

    When I read the list for the first time, I thought it was a bit long but when I dissected whether the businesses were truly essential, I came to the conclusion that the government got it right. Some might question allowing LCBO, beer and cannabis stores to remain open but some people unfortunately need these products to cope–especially in a high-stress environment; further, if many of these people go into withdrawal, won’t they need to seek medical help putting a further burden on the health-care system? I might question allowing the construction industry to stay open. Many of these businesses are critical to maintaining industrial infrastructure and the supply chain to maintain the most obvious essential services. Not a perfect list, perhaps, but a good start.

    Further, I am hopeful that the businesses that remain open will take stringent measures to protect their workforce and their customers. From what I have seen recently in the several food stores I’ve visited, I believe this is being done.

    • Anne and Dave Marsden

      Anne and Dave Marsden – Well said Phillip …. Andrew Drummond analytical skills failed the test required by those who put themselves forward as “working in the best interests of our community”. He changes the government’s intent to support essential businesses do their work. We expected better.

    • Andrew Drummond

      Phillip – I was drawing a distinction between cheap political points and legitimate criticisms of the government’s actions, which I believe I have done here. I did not criticize the LCBO remaining open, nor the construction industry (though the government certainly took criticism from others on that.)

      My criticism was focused on businesses that fall under the 5 categories in the article. In particular considering office supply stores, realtors, and makeup distributors to be essential is not going to help Ontario keep people home and slow the spread of COVID-19.

      Anne – I’m sorry I’m not sure I understand your comment. Can you clarify both where you think I failed in my analysis and what I did to the government’s intent?

      • Your analysis of what the government after working with umpteen parties determined were essential services made absurd claims such as those who sell make up to our food retailers could be classified as essential services. The government worked hard to ensure their intent that they did not interfere with essential businesses such as the food chain and medical suppliers for example, by ensuring those who provide these essential businesses with what they need to do business, e.g. the packaging they rely on (for packaged meats for example) were not closed down. We rarely drink alcohol but immediately got the medical essential connection as to why the LCBO should not close down. The list will never be perfect in everyone’s eyes but our provincial government have done an excellent job and left the door open for any necessary changes. Our concern is a different one, it was drawn to our attention that a person who is now working from home has clients visiting!!! We have only heard of one but how idiotic is this!.

  • Penny Hersh

    Andrew, I agree with all that you say. I saw the list of exemptions – regulated liquor and cannabis stores???

    It will be up to the public to NOT frequent the non-essential stores that are being permitted to stay open. Perhaps lack of business will force them to close.

    Unfortunately, it seems, many people are not prepared to make changes in their lifestyle to protect others.

    • Andrew Drummond

      Hi Penny,

      Thanks for reading. I’ve been very disappointed with the public’s reaction. There is not nearly enough of a consensus to take this outbreak seriously which has led to so many things needing to be shut down.

      Many small businesses in the East end by me are closed, but still so many people not observing distancing.

      But a key component I didn’t talk to in this article is the need for the government to get money in both people and businesses hands ASAP. We need to make sure these businesses can pick up where they left off and be successful again.