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MPP Smith talks to Chamber

MPP Todd Smith and MPP Prabmeet SIngh Sarkaria, Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction, joined regional Chambers of Commerce on Thursday, Jan. 28,  to discuss the current provincial lockdown, financial support for business and more. 

Not all questions were able to be answered during the live session, but answers to these questions have been provided by MPP Smith's office.

Question from: Melissa Haig, KKP a division of Kwik Kopy Printing
When will the regions outside of the hot zones be able to resume more normal operations for businesses? The province wide restrictions are punishing lower case count areas unnecessarily. We need to push back on province wide lockdowns. Allow stores to open up and allow people to decide if they want to go public places or not.

  • As I mentioned, we’re looking for a decrease in the trend in case counts and ICU admissions across the province.  We’re under 2,000 daily cases now so the numbers are moving in the right direction to return to a regional framework when the stay-at-home orders end.  The medical advisors are concerned about the new variants, however. 
  • Our region was able to go back to school more quickly based on our low numbers and if we stay low, we are putting ourselves in a position to be among the first to go back.

Focus for COVID management needs to change – is real consideration being made to alter management tactics to protect most vulnerable while letting the rest of the population (who have significantly less negative outcomes) continue on and keep our economy going? Case count management doesn’t seem to be protecting our most vulnerable still, while causing serious and severe hardship for many economically.

  • We are making investments to protect our most vulnerable, like the $850,000 in additional prevention and containment money for long-term homes in Bay of Quinte announced recently.  We also believe we will get many of those most vulnerable people vaccinated before March.
  • Hospitalizations and ICU admissions due to COVID-19 doubled twice since November and we’re seeing and hearing about people of all ages contracting this virus.  Some recover faster than others.  We’re hearing about long haulers with lingering impacts.  We don’t know entirely which people will have lasting effects, so we’re asking everyone to follow the public health advice. 

Children activities – outdoors this spring and summer – will these be permitted to resume? Serious physical and mental health issues are cropping up, a year+ in children’s lives is a huge percentage of their development. Allow it to open up and allow parents to decide if they want to participate.

  • It is hard to predict where we will be in the spring and the summer. Last year, we had fewer case counts in the summer when interactions could be outdoors.  I’d like to see those activities take place, but imagine there will still be enhanced safety protocols.

Question from: Paul Moran, The Co-Operators
Given the change in legislation regarding the authority of the regional conservation authorities as it relates to wet lands, how will the province ensure that development doesn’t occur in wetlands or flood plains, which lead to issues with flood due to rising water levels?

  • Conservation authorities still have permitting authority under the Conservation Authorities Act, though there are instances where the minister can intervene in the provincial interest.  Instead of individual regulations, there will be province-wide regulations on permitting developed to encourage consistency.  A working group, comprised of conservation authority representatives is  now working with the government to develop those regulations.
  • Municipalities are still mandated to consult conservation authorities as part of the site planning process under the Planning Act for zoning approvals.  Those authorities can also participate in the appeal process, both in an advisory capacity to municipalities or the province, and as a party when it involves hazard prevention.

What are the province plans to develop a comprehensive strategy for long term care homes in Ontario? Specifically, HR strategies to ensure adequate compensation and a focused hiring strategy to provide sufficient staffing. Additionally, a better strategy for oversite and adherence to provincial standards

  • My colleague, Minister Fullerton, released a comprehensive staffing strategy last month. 
  • The plan offers incentives for graduates joining the sector, opportunities for training and development for existing staff, and policies to encourage more full-time positions.
  • There will be additional investments for staffing annually, culminating at $1.9 billion annually by 2024-2025. It is estimated this will create more than 27,000 new positions.
  • The Province has committed to four hours of care per resident daily.
  • We have a plan to create 30,000 new beds in five years after only 600 in the previous 15 years.  The Province has also adjusted its funding model to ensure money for new homes is delivered in a more timely fashion and created design standards that eliminate ward rooms.
  • Our risk-based inspection protocol ensures each home will be inspected at least once annually and it allows homes to be prioritized based on risk.

Question from: Norah Rogers, The Waring House
Does the provincial government plan to hand over covid vaccination to Public Health and if not why not ? If it does in fact plan to make the handover , when will that be and will everything be in place to allow it to happen smoothly as soon as vaccines are available.

  • Public health units are central to the vaccine distribution process in their respective regions now.  They are the ones handling the Stage 1 immunizations and they will be leading the increased roll-out in the upcoming stages toward mass vaccinations.

Would the government consider vaccinating the general public at the same time it is vaccinating long term care patients and staff in areas which are covid free so that when the province opens up we are protected from potentially infectious people escaping to our area from  areas of relatively high prevalence?

  • Upon the advice of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, Ontario completed a risk-assessment of populations to receive the vaccination.  In Stage 1, priority is being placed on vulnerable populations in the areas hardest hit by COVID.  While we expect later stages to go provincewide if vaccine supply is available, vaccinating where the spread is the highest reduces the chances of it being transported to lower risk areas. 

Question from: Mark Phillips, Mystical Distributing
Why is Walmart permitted to sell everything when smaller stores that have better controls over traffic flow forced to closed selling similar products? This is like make making rich American companies more successful and forcing out smaller local companies.

  • Big box and discount retailers can open at 25 per cent capacity because they have food or pharmaceuticals there.  The distinction is food, not ownership or business size.
  • The theory is that people can shop where they need to shop so that they aren’t going to additional locations and increasing community spread.  It is convenient for them and not increasing risk.  In some rural communities, there is not reliable Internet access and people may not have options for some of these products.
  • It’s difficult to regulate which products are essential and which are not and to enforce such regulation is taking resources away from health and safety enforcement.
  • We know that small retailers mostly sell different products than these stores. People will still go to a trusted retailer or brand curbside or online.
  • The government has provided support for small businesses through the Digital Main Street initiative through grant funding, student design assistance, and business counselling.   The new Ontario Small Business Support Grant of $10,000-20,000 and energy and tax rebates are also not available to those who remain open.

Question from: Maxine Holland, Preferred Personal Care
At what point in time will Private Home Care Businesses be receiving Vaccinations, given we clients in their homes. Our client's homes are in Long Term Care, Retirement Homes, with their families, or are alone. The Local Health Authority had no guidance from your government regarding the schedule for this unique category of Health Care Workers.

  • Health care workers and essential visitors in congregate care settings for seniors are scheduled to be vaccinated in the first phase, scheduled between now and March pending supply.
  •  The stages of Ontario’s plan are available at covid-19.ontario.ca. 
  • Public health, our local health authority, has full knowledge of the plan but they cannot predict supply chain issues.

Question from: Peter Coy, Zoho Advanced Solutions
Priorities and timetable?

  • Ontario’s vaccine distribution plan is in three stages.  The first includes seniors in congregate care settings, their staff and essential caregivers, health care workers, chronic home health care recipients, and adults in vulnerable First Nations Communities.  It is slated for between now and March.  
  • The second stage includes seniors, starting with those 80+ and descending in five-year groups, frontline workers, those in other vulnerable congregate care settings, and marginalized communities.  This will be April through June.   The final mass vaccination stage will begin this summer.   By Phase 2, we expect to have the capacity to administer 150,000 doses a day.
  • Timelines are impacted by supply.  A shortage of Pfizer shots due to plant retooling has adjusted some of Ontario’s timetable for Phase 1 and, instead of first doses, doses are being held to complete vaccinations for seniors within 21-27 days.   Second doses for others may take up to 42 days to complete, as part NACI recommendation.

Distribution method? Testing clinic, Pharmacist, Nurse practitioner clinic, Dr's Office, Mobile for those too infirm to attend?

  • Currently, Ontario is using hospital and public health freezer sites and it does have mobile distribution units going into long-term care homes.  In the second phase, we will see public health- and municipality-run clinics, primary care settings, pharmacies, community health centres and other venues brought online in addition to those already in place.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Publicity - Vaccination is safe and essential for everyone.

  • Health Canada reviewed clinical trial information and scientific peer review in completing its approvals process for vaccines. Of more than 150 vaccines in development in the world, only Moderna and Pfizer have been approved for use in Canada.
  •  Ontario has a dedicated vaccine safety website that offers links to Health Canada’s process and review of vaccines, offers a list of possible side effects, and explains the science behind the vaccines.

Question from John Gibson, Farmgate Gardens
We have quite elderly parents (93 yrs.) who still live in their homes.Wondering when the covid vaccine would be available to them.

  • If they are receiving home care for multiple chronic illnesses, it would be in Phase 1, targeted between now and March.  Otherwise, they’d be at the start of Phase 2, which probably will be late March or April.

Heard Joyceville Prison inmates received BEFORE the staff. Wondering how/what logic was used to make that decision. I would have thought all our law abiding citizens would have the right to the vaccine if they wanted it first.

  • Joyceville Penitentiary is a federal institution and the decision to vaccinate inmates was taken at the federal level.  The federal government is solely responsible for administering these vaccines.
  • While Ontario recognizes some seniors living in congregate settings like correctional facilities are at higher risk, our priority is in long-term care and retirement residences.  Our expectation is that provincial corrections workers would be among front-line workers prioritized.

Since the variants are already appearing, and that the spread of the illness will likely worsen, what is the Ontario government thinking or planning as time goes on with regards to adjusting so that businesses can reopen?

  • The variants are a concern for our medical professionals.
  • We continue to advise adherence to public health guidance.
  • Our response will reflect the data on cases and hospitalizations. 

Will there be any adjustment made soon to level the playing field so to speak with regards to closing big box stores for an equal period of time so that private, independent business can have equal opportunity in the market place? If not, and this continues, who will be left to repay all the covid payments that have been made when there will be very few left standing? And who then will want to start a new business after such devastation (for years to come)?

  • Closing establishments that sell food would be unlikely.
  • The government is cracking down on health and safety violations in retail sectors that are open to in-person visitors. We recently conducted an enforcement blitz in Hastings and Prince Edward.  Some 208 workplaces were visited and 12 tickets were issued.
  • Businesses severely limited or not allowed to open can access Ontario Small Business Support Grant for $10,000 to $20,000, digital support, and rebates on energy prices and property tax in addition to federal and provincial supports previously.  Those who are open cannot.

Question from, Jane Gardner, Quinte Ballet School 
Here's a question I have about the vaccine rollout:
Will all those vaccinated receive a vaccination card, in case they are asked to prove that have received the vaccine?

  • Everyone who receives a vaccine in Ontario will receive an information card that offers details of vaccination.
  • Some businesses may require this card to provide additional access to service as a condition of their Occupational Health and Safety Act requirement to protect workers.  It may also be used to expand access to a business currently restricted, like a gym or fitness facility.  Other provinces and countries may also require as proof of entry.

Is there a central health information system within the Ontario Ministry of Health that allows family doctors to know which of their patients has already received a vaccine, and who has not?  If someone attends a vaccination clinic at a pharmacy or special clinic – will their family doctor be informed.

  • There is centralized support for administration sites with digital tools that allows for the recording of administered doses, inventory management, scheduling, and receipt of vaccination by printout or email.  

Question from Gleaners Food Bank
Will the Provincial Government be addressing the need for more housing for families. The last two badly needed builds have been for single people. Families need to know if there is a plan for their needs or some funds to help subsidize high rent.

  • The Province introduced its More Homes, More Choice Action Plan in May 2019 (https://files.ontario.ca/mmah-housing-supply-action-plan-21may2019.pdf) .  That plan is complemented by a community housing renewal strategy (https://www.ontario.ca/page/community-housing-renewal-strategy.  The Province is using the tools it has available to encourage development of mix of housing stock for rental and ownership markets.
  • Among the tools envisioned are changes to the Planning Act to encourage second units, lower tax rates for multi-residential development, changes to development charges, the elimination of red tape within the Ontario Building Code and harmonizing the Ontario code with national codes.  
  • By hiring more adjudicators for the Landlord and Tenant Board and streamlining its processes, the government is also providing for more expedient resolutions, which is positive for both landlords and tenants.
  • Ontario does provide Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative funding to municipal service managers who have the ability to invest in long-term and transitional housing projects.  Last year, Hastings County received over $2.2 million in CHPI funding.
  • Hastings County or Prince Edward-Lennox and Addington Social Services could comment more appropriately on their current and prospective investment plans.

Watch recording from Jan. 28.

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Esso Chamber
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RBC - Save on Bank charges
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Stirling Festival Theatre - Group Discounts available to members
Dinkles & Paulos Restaurants - 10% OFF
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Superior Propane - Save 5% on fixed price propane
Parsons Cleaners Member offer - 10% OFF
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