If childcare programs aren’t available in the near future, that is going to pose another challenge for businesses opening their doors after weeks of being shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is one of several challenges Niagara businesses face that were discussed by upper-tier political representatives during an online discussion organized Wednesday afternoon by South Niagara Chambers of Commerce.
While Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff said the top concern is ensuring children and workers remain safe, “at the same time we recognize the economic imperative” that providing childcare can be essential to allowing parents to return to their jobs.
“We do plan on reopening childcare spaces gradually in the second stage,” he said, although there’s no time line of when that might happen.
He said open childcare facilities was “a big part of the conversation” as the provincial government determined schools would not reopen this academic year.
“I know one of the considerations that was bandied about was the economic impact of people not being able to have access to childcare … but we had to make sure our kids are kept safe.”
For the time being, Oosterhoff said home-based childcare services will remain limited to five children or less. Day camp programs will be running in July and August.
“They’re not overnight camps. You’re not going to be able to send your kid away for a couple weeks, but you are able to have day camps,” he said.
While childcare is a provincial service, Niagara Centre MP Vance Badawey said the federal government is working with the province to help address it, including resources to help them reopen.
“This is a huge issue, and it’s not going to get any better … as we roll out the back to work and opening up certain sectors,” he said.
Badawey said there are programs available for all businesses to help them reopen — including childcare operators. He advised childcare operators to take advantage of programs now, so they will be ready when they are finally given the green light to restore full services.
Restoring Niagara’s idled tourism industry was another major concern for local business owners participating in the online event.
Niagara Falls MP Tony Baldinelli said Niagara’s hotels felt the impact immediately as the pandemic hit.
“It’s going to take a while for it to slowly start building up again,” he said.
Even when “things slowly start opening again” and visitors begin to return to the tourist destination, Baldinelli suspected the majority of them will be from other parts of Canada.
“But in terms of international visitation, it’s going to be a long time before it returns,” he said.
Niagara Falls MPP Wayne Gates said the province needs to listen to the tourism industry “on what they need to survive.”
He said tourism operators need additional funding assistance to help cover the costs of ongoing expenses they face.
Gates said the tourism industry has met with the province discussing the issues they face, including the costs of commercial rents. And government program aren’t doing enough to resolve those issues.
“In NF, there are a lot of people are paying $30,000 a month,” he said. “The province has to make sure the tenants are being taken care of.”
Badawey also discussed the impact of federal funding and loan programs, including several specifically designed to assist both large and small businesses dealing with the challenges they face due to the coronavirus.
“Are we going to run into a deficit. Yes, there’s no question. But like you in the business community, you readjust,” he said, adding future budgets will be amended to pay for the programs.
Oosterhoff spoke of the provincial government’s efforts to reopen businesses, stressing that it is being done safely under the guidance of public health officials.
“We do recognize there’s a great deal of stress in the business community as well as in society as a whole right now,” he said.
“If people don’t have the confidence to go out to main street or to visit your shops or buy your products, it’s going to be very difficult for the economy to move forward again … We want to reopen things, but we also have to make sure we have the capacity to do so safely.”
Story Courtesy of the Welland Tribune