CK man encouraging small businesses to reopen

File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo / halfpoint

A Chatham man is hoping that businesses will band together and reopen their doors later this month — in spite of a provincial stay-at-home order.

Ben Labadie is organizing Opening Day Ontario on April 30. The campaign is billed as “the return to normal where together we go back to our lives where kids play sports, businesses can prosper and people can be free to be with their families and friends.”

Labadie said the main goal is to let business owners and people go back to business as usual as well as to allow business owners to get back to earning a living and putting their staff back to work.

“I feel personally it’s a little bit unfair that I as a realtor can go on with my life and continue to earn a living and put a roof over the head of my children and earn money, yet other people are stripped of that ability,” he explained.

Labadie said he is encouraging any reopening to be done safely and adds that the initiative isn’t meant to be a debate about masks, vaccines or about the virus itself.

“All we’re simply asking is for people to have the right to open safely and earn a living,” Labadie said.

According to Labadie, he initially got a lot of support locally and decided to expand the event to include businesses across the province.

He said the feedback has been mainly positive and so far over 30 businesses have signed on to take part, including ones in other regions such as Niagara and Windsor-Essex.

“The people that are feeling that they want to support it but can’t do it openly…that support is out there as well by private messages, texting and phone calls I’ve received,” said Labadie. “Altogether I’ve received lots of positive movement.”

While he has gotten some personal attacks directed his way, Labadie said most people are ultimately in favour of the idea of small businesses reopening.

He also said he does recognize that some people may have concerns surrounding safety.

“Every business that’s been operating or trying to operate understands that [too.] The message is ‘let’s open safely and let’s do that together,'” he explained. “The minute that you can walk into a grocery store you’ve proven the point that every business can open safely.”

Municipal By-law Enforcement Officer Travis Maxwell said more information regarding the municipality’s response to the event should be made available in the coming days.

Chief Adminstrtsive Officer Don Shropshire said he understands how business owners are feeling right now and has continuously heard from individuals over the past year about the hardships they are facing.

However, he said opening and closing restrictions are strictly mandated by the province and municipal levels of government cannot overrule the restrictions and are obligated to enforce them.

“People are going to express their frustrations, it’s just you want them to do that in a way that’s going to be safe,” said Shropshire. “You also want people to understand there are consequences if they go ahead and do that. [The municipality] doesn’t have the authority to say ‘you’re not going to get charged,’ because it could happen. I think people have to realize that before they take those steps.”

According to Labadie, most businesses he’s talked with are worried about losing liquor licences or being fined as well as dealing with the public shaming that could come with going against provincial restrictions.

“It’s getting to the point now where these small businesses are either going to die not trying or die trying to earn a living,” said Labadie.

Meanwhile, Shropshire said he is encouraging local business owners to contact the municipality’s economic development department to get help with utilizing the support and funding that’s available through upper levels of government.

Labadie originally chose the April 30 date to coincide with the end of the province’s four-week emergency brake province-wide shutdown. However, an additional four-week stay-at-home emergency order was also announced by the province a few days later. Labadie said the April 30 date will remain in place regardless.

Four days before Labadie’s event,  Councillor Mark Authier plans to bring a motion to council asking that the municipality send a letter to Premier Doug Ford requesting that he stop the lockdowns in Chatham-Kent.