Restaurant industry voices frustration after minister skips meeting to address ongoing capacity concerns
Published Tuesday, October 12, 2021 6:53PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 12, 2021 6:53PM EDT
Representatives from Ontario's restaurant industry are voicing frustration after Minister for Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Lisa MacLeod failed to show up for a meeting to deal with their concerns over ongoing capacity restrictions.
“I would say extremely disappointed the Minister did not attend the meeting,” restauranteur Paul Bognar told CP24 following the meeting Tuesday. “Some of her staff did, but Minister MacLeod herself did not.”
Members of the industry were expecting to have a chance to speak directly with MacLeod in order to discuss their frustrations over the fact that capacity limits have now been lifted for large venues such as hockey arenas and movie theaters, but remain in place for restaurants.
A spokesperson for MacLeod said she was unable to attend the virtual meeting Tuesday because she had to be at another event at the Ottawa Hospital.
“Minister MacLeod has made herself available to stakeholders throughout the pandemic, including through an ongoing restaurant working group, 14 Ministerial advisory committees, and several dozen town halls and webinars,” a spokesperson said in an email. “The Ministry organized a meeting Tuesday morning for the restaurant working group that included senior leadership from the Minister’s Office, Minister of Health’s Office, and the Premier’s Office to give them the earliest opportunity to provide feedback to the government.”
The statement added that MacLeod “will continue to bring stakeholder feedback” to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore.
But Bognar said he thinks the meeting warranted the attendance of a minister, given how hard the restaurant industry has been hit by the pandemic.
“We would have thought that Minister McLeod or Minister Elliott or the premier himself would have attended this call,” Bognar said. “I mean there's 450,000 people employed in the restaurant business in the province of Ontario. We've been the hardest hit sector; you’d think that would have taken a priority.”
He said he thinks it is “nonsense” that restaurants can still only have as many people inside as physical distancing allows, despite only admitting fully vaccinated patrons, requiring masking when moving about, installing plexiglass between tables and other infection-prevention measures.
The Ford government announced Friday that it is lifting capacity restrictions at many large venues. At the Leafs home opener set for Wednesday night for example, there will be an at-capacity crowd of some 20,000 or so fans at Scotiabank Arena.
Proof of vaccination and masks are required, but fans are allowed to remove their masks for eating and drinking.
Nick Eaves, MLSE’s chief venues and operations officer, acknowledged to CP24 Tuesday that it isn’t always easy to make sure people are wearing their masks as much as they should, but he said the organization is taking the rules seriously.
“It is a requirement to be wearing a mask at an indoor event or an outdoor event, other than when you're actively eating or drinking. So certainly, when fans are in the stands, obviously they're eating and drinking sometimes and not other times,” Eaves said. “So we've been enforcing it. It's not easy, I'll be the first to admit, because obviously in an environment like this where fans are thrilled to be back doing what they love to do, sometimes they forget. But we've taken it very seriously. We have more staff in the building who are enforcing it.”
A spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott told CP24 Saturday that restaurants, bars and other food or drink establishments remain limited to the number of people that can maintain physical distancing “because they are higher risk settings – prolonged close contact in enclosed spaces where face coverings are removed for the entire duration when seated.”
“The Chief Medical Officer of Health will continue to monitor the data and evaluate when it may be safe to consider lifting limits in other settings that require proof of vaccination."
The city’s outbreak dashboard currently lists two restaurant outbreaks – one involving a popular restaurant chain and another involving a popular coffee shop chain.
While the number is relatively small given the number of establishments in the city, it is among the top four workplace categories tracked by the city after manufacturing/ distribution / warehouses (278), construction (150) and office settings (131).