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Wednesday , 24 February 2021

Two Bonnyville restaurants open doors, local leaders dine-in to lobby province for eased restrictions

Despite current health orders, at least two Bonnyville restaurants opened for dine-in service on Wednesday and received support from local mayors and reeve who sat down and ate.

Jennie’s Diner and Lakeland Grill opened their doors allowing residents to sit and eat for a couple of hours.

Current public health orders do not allow for in-prsonal dining.

“We’re a small business. I’m trying to pay my bills, I put everything into this building, my heart and soul, my life savings. So to tell me I don’t know when I get to open my doors and to pay my bills–that’s unacceptable,” said Jennie Hamel, owner of the diner.

M.D. of Bonnyville reeve Greg Sawchuk, Bonnyville mayor Gene Sobolewski, and Lac La Biche County mayor Omer Moghrabi were among local officials who chose to dine-in at Lakeland Grill, saying that restaurants should be allowed to open and can do so safely.

“We think it’s important to support our local businesses,” said Sawchuk.

“They [restaurants] were low sources of spread, as was spoken about by the government in December. We saw the salons open up. And I think that restaurants throughout all of last year showed that they could operate in a safe manner.

“Everyone still takes it seriously. And as far as the infections in the area go, we have said all along, I think the province was on the right track when they talked about private responsibility, collective responsibility–where everyone, if they’re self aware, and they realize that they are immunosuppressed or whatsoever, that they take precautions,” said Sawchuk.

Lac La Biche County mayor Omer Moghrabi said he made the over-an-hour drive to Bonnyville to support the region and the small businesses struggling.

“I don’t think our businesses can take this yo-yo, up and down, up and down close [and open]. I’m hoping that the government would allow [it] or listen–and they have been listening. At the same time, we’re trying to bend the curve. It’s a delicate balance,” said Moghrabi.

“Where a lot of the spread is, is the parties, the large groups, the bars, nightclubs, those are the biggest spreaders.”

Bonnyville mayor Gene Sobolewski, left, M.D. of Bonnyville reeve Greg Sawchuk, middle, and Lac La Biche County mayor Omer Moghrabi, right, dine-in at Lakeland Grill on Tuesday.

‘We can run like before’

Jennie Hamel decided on Tuesday that she was going to open her doors for two hours around lunch for customers to dine-in.

Having revenues fall as much as 85 per cent compared to rougly a year ago, she has sent letters to MLA David Hanson and Premier Jason Kenney. She said after there was no date given on when the restrictions could be relaxed on Jan. 21, she got frustrated.

Hamel said they kept some tables empty to limit the number of diners and patrons wore masks when not eating, despite a busy dining room.

“I want to prove that we can run like before. We ran it at half capacity. We ran it, we just cleaned, we disinfected, we wore masks, right? We’re doing everything that Alberta Health has told us to do up until December 13,” said Hamel.

“I’m really hoping that there was enough businesses that are open today that Jason Kenney and Hinshaw will see that we are serious and that they need to open us up.

“Do I think it’s going to happen right away? No. I think we need to take some time. They’ll take some time. And I’m hoping that next week, early next week, they’ll give us a decision that, hey, if the numbers don’t increase by February 6, you guys get to open on the 8th,” said Hamel.

Hamel said she did not receive a fine from the public health inspector, but was told she would be penalized if she re-opened again, which she will not be doing.

When asked what she would say to the premier or chief medical officer, Hamel said, “I wish they would walk a day in my shoes, or a small business and see what their decisions are doing to us. Come in and see how much it’s hurting us. See how many people are going to lose everything.”

Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul MLA David Hanson said he was made aware of these restaurants opening and that this topic has been presented to the provincial caucus.

“I understand the frustration out there. I’ve been pushing for a more regional approach, which would put a little bit more autonomy in our local leadership and dealing with local businesses,” said Hanson.

“I’m hoping that there’ll be some announcements coming soon, lifting some restrictions specifically on those areas.”

Hinshaw responds

During Wednesday’s daily COVID press conference in the province, chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw was asked to respond to the news that Lakeland officials were supporting these businesses.

“I would say that while it may be in one town or one county that a particular group of people haven’t seen the impacts of COVID-19, that we are continuing to see the impacts of COVID-19 in the acute care system coming from places in rural Alberta,” said Dr. Hinshaw.

“I recognize how frustrating it is to have to wait on some of these activities and particularly seeing the impact that they’re having on businesses and unemployment, and those who have health impacts as well, and I recognize that.

“And yet, what I would say to those leaders is to think about not just what they see in front of them in their own town, but to look at the province, and to recognize that every action that we take as individuals, has repercussions and connections to our own communities and to the communities around us.

“And unfortunately what we saw in the fall, is when we take early targeted steps to try to minimize risk, but not have businesses closed, we continued to see our cases climb. And we saw our healthcare system come very close to a tipping point.

“We want to avoid that, and we need to make sure that we are taking slow measured steps. And I would ask them to hold on just a little bit longer to watch for the framework that’s coming so that we have those targets in front of us and know what we’re working to achieve, to be able to safely start to reopen some of these activities in a staged way.”

This all comes as there is 55 active cases of the virus within the M.D. of Bonnyville, 49 active within Cold Lake, 53 active in the County of St. Paul, 61 active cases within Lac La Biche County, 39 active in Smoky Lake County, 26 active in the County of Vermilion River, and four active in Two Hills County, according to the province’s virus data map.

About Michael Menzies

Menzies is the editor-at-large for Connected Media Inc. Born and raised in Vermilion, he started in May 2018 during his NAIT Radio and Television practicum and reports on local politics, sports, and community issues. He became the Bonnyville Pontiacs play-by-play voice during the 2019-20 season. He also comments on provincial and national issues. Menzies hosts Connected! Evening Monday-Thursday at 5 o’clock. He also likes to buy books and read some of them.