Premier Jason Kenney will meet with the Alberta Chambers of Commerce to discuss their concerns according to Jerrica Goodwin, press secretary for the Premier’s office.
The Alberta Chambers of Commerce sent Kenney and the UCP caucus a letter on April 7 calling for more transparency around how decisions regarding COVID-19 restrictions are made.
In an e-mail, Goodwin confirmed the letter was received and said they are “scheduling a virtual meeting to discuss their concerns.”
According to Alberta Chambers of Commerce President Ken Kobly, one of the key issues they would like to see addressed is a clear process for businesses to take if they feel they have been miscategorized in the province’s re-opening plan.
“The official point is to send queries and comments to Biz Connect, however what we’re hearing from businesses is that they don’t get responses,” said Kobly.
“Ideally it would be nice if government could set up some additional access point where businesses could call it and get perhaps an inspection by their local medical officer,” said Kobly.
Asked how long would be a reasonable response time from making such a call to having an inspection or a re-opening plan made, he said “given that businesses are fighting for the lives right now I would say no longer than one week.”
He said a lot of businesses in the province are cash depleted and further in debt, “and to be honest when they close they may not in fact reopen when the restrictions are lifted again.”
Since Tuesday’s announcement of a return to Phase 1 of the Path Forward, small businesses across the province have announced plans to defy the restrictions and remain open for business, including Wheel Fit Co in Cold Lake, Bonnyville, and St. Paul.
Kobly said he would never counsel someone to be open against the orders of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, but it’s easy to see how businesses have made the decision to given the lack of enforcement from the province.
“I think we’ve gotten to our situation where we are now because the government has lacked enforcement. Even things like masking, where there is legislation requiring people to wear masks and that’s not that’s not being enforced,” said Kobly.
He cited the situation with GraceLife Church west of Edmonton. A fence was erected around the building earlier this week after months of continuing to host services that did not comply with health regulations. The church was initially ordered closed on Jan. 29 according to a release from Alberta Health Services.
“Businesses probably look at that situation and say, ‘Well if that church can get away with it for weeks or over a month, what are the consequences of ignoring the orders?’ But I would never counsel anybody to open in defiance. Never,” said Kobly.
According to Lac La Biche Chamber of Commerce President David Phillips, they have a town hall with the premier scheduled for later this month, but what’s really needed from everyone in the business community is some certainty.
“The province and Dr. Hinshaw seems to be reactive more than certain about what’s coming next,” said Phillips.
He said there’s a lot of frustration in Lac La Biche. Some businesses are thriving, but others are closing their doors permanently.
Phillips also sits as the Board Chair for Community Futures Lac La Biche which has been administering some of the relief funding for businesses. He said when the first round of loans went out in August, there were a small number of people who were taking advantage of them.
“There was a level of desperation in the second round in November and December. And now we’re in April and some of the businesses are just wondering ‘how can we survive,’” said Phillips.
He said when things do open up again, “the economy will have to bounce back in a rapid fashion if some of these guys are even going to survive.”