Special financial aid possible for small businesses, says Ford

The Uptown area on Talbot St. East in Leamington on May 3, 2014. (Photo by Ricardo Veneza)

Premier Doug Ford is considering all options to help small businesses in Leamington and Kingsville still in stage one of re-opening, just as other jurisdictions in the province talk about moving to stage three.

Ford spoke with BlackburnNews.com Friday morning about the plight of small businesses in those two municipalities, and the challenges of testing all migrant farmworkers, documented and undocumented.

The mayors of both Leamington and Kingsville, as well as Essex MP Chris Lewis, have asked for financial aid for business owners in those municipalities.

Last Friday, small business owners spoke publicly at a news conference in Kingsville about being kept in stage one while the rest of Windsor-Essex is in stage two. They call it unfair and fear their businesses will close for good if they cannot open soon.

“That’s the part that’s really nonsensical about all of this,” said Trevor Loop, co-owner of Jack’s Gastro Pub and two other businesses in Kingsville. “The farms are literally bordering on these towns have been allowed to open.”

PC Leadership Candidate Doug Ford speaks to reporters while on a stop in London, March 5, 2018. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford. File photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News

Ford said his heart breaks for those business owners, and he has inquired if there are other ways Leamington and Kingsville can open further.

“I’m leaving it up that up to the Medical Officer of Health, Doctor [Wajid] Ahmed, along with our Chief Medical Officer of Health, Doctor [David] Williams, to make the decision,” he said. “I’ve even asked if we can separate the farms.”

However, Ford said it is all about the number of new cases the region recording each day. Those need to come down, and a big challenge is testing all 8,000 migrant farmworkers.

Mobile testing clinics, along with provincial and federal public health officials, have been visiting some farms.

Farm owners have taken a lot of criticism for the lag in testing, but Ford does not blame them.

“They try to be cooperative, but a lot of the workers are scared,” he admitted recalling how public health officials attempted to retest 191 workers on one farm, but only four showed up. “The rest went and hid. That kinda breaks my heart when I hear that because they’re worried. I just want to tell the workers that you’re protected.”

Some reports suggest there are another 2,000 undocumented foreign farmworkers in the region working as well. Many may not come forward, fearing deportation, but Ford said public health officials are not about to turn them over to federal officials.

A group of Erie Shores Healthcare employees and Essex-Windsor EMS paramedics gather for a briefing before testing agri-food workers for COVID-19, June 2, 2020. Photo submitted by Kristin Kennedy/ESHC.

A group of Erie Shores Healthcare employees and Essex-Windsor EMS paramedics gather for a briefing before testing agri-food workers for COVID-19, June 2, 2020. Photo submitted by Kristin Kennedy/ESHC.

“We aren’t about sending people back. That’s up to the federal government. We aren’t giving them names — I just want to make sure they’re safe and healthy,” he insisted.

If the provincial government turns anyone over, it would be the temp agencies that recruit undocumented workers.

“There’s a lot of fly-by-night agencies, and that just pop up, and they get a bunch of people, and they’re making money on the backs of these hard-working people,” said Ford. “Those are the people we want to go after.”

Ford said the province has its way of holding those agencies accountable by working with farmers and workers.

“That’s who we report to the federal government, the CRA, and we throw the book at them every way we can,” he added. “We can’t have that happening here.”