Ottawa mayor disappointed with closures imposed by province, urges public to support local businesses
OTTAWA -- Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson says he has not seen any evidence that restaurants, bars and gyms have led to significant COVID-19 spread and he's promising to stand up for business owners during this latest round of closures.
"It's clearly a very disappointing day for those restaurateurs and those people who have lost their jobs as of today," Watson says.
Ottawa moved to a modified Stage 2 at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. Ontario is prohibiting indoor food and drink service in restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments in Ottawa, including nightclubs and food court areas in malls. Indoor gyms and fitness centres, casinos, cinemas, performing arts centres, and museums have also been ordered closed.
Earlier in the week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he would not close down businesses again unless he was shown "hardcore evidence" to support another lockdown. On Friday, that regional lockdown was announced for the province's "hot spots", which also include Toronto and the Peel Region.
Watson told CTV News at Six on Saturday he has not seen evidence to suggest restaurants are an issue in Ottawa, but his hands are tied.
"I've never seen any evidence that there are any superspreader events taking place in bars, restaurants, or gyms," Watson said, "but, at the end of the day, the chief medical officer of health for the province of Ontario advised the Cabinet on what to do and the Cabinet made the decision. […] My hope is that we'll see the evidence at the end of the 28 days that restaurants, bars, and gyms are under control and we can open up."
During a late day media briefing on Friday, Watson told reporters that Dr. Etches recommended on Sept. 30 that Ontario limit the number of patrons at bar and restaurant tables to six and limit capacity, but did not support a full closure of establishments.
CTV News Ottawa asked Watson on Friday what changed over the 24 hours between when he said on Thursday that he supported bars, restaurants, gyms and other venues staying open despite the rising COVID-19 case count.
"What's changed is the province has decided now, along with their Chief Medical Officer of Health (Dr. David Williams), that restaurants must close in the three so-called hotspots, Peel Region, Toronto and Ottawa and we will adhere to that," said Watson.
Government support promised
The Ford government promised $300 million in funding to support businesses that were forced to close under the new regulations. The help will include waiving provincial and municipal property tax bills, as well as Hydro and natural gas bills.
"This funding will assist small businesses with their fixed costs during the next 28 days," the premier said.
Watson says he be in near-constant contact with the government to ensure that aid is actually flowing.
"I'm not here to undermine the province. I'm here to stand up for Ottawa and Ottawa businesses," he said.
Watson said he spoke with the premier and the finance minister to ensure business owners are supported.
"I spoke with the finance minister to ensure programs are in place to help these people during their time of need," he said. "At the end of this whole process, we have to follow the provincial rules and regulations and we'll do our best to do that, but also to put pressure on the provincial and federal governments to make sure there is compensation to make sure these people can go about their own lives."
The federal government announced a new rent-relief program, with money flowing directly to tenants, and a 65 per cent wage subsidy will be in place through December.
Mayor wants to pull at heartstrings to keep businesses supported
Despite the government aid that's been promised, Watson says he hopes Ottawans continue to support local businesses throughout the temporary shutdown.
"It's going to be a very tough 28 days," Watson said. "These restaurants went out and supplied up all their needs for the Thanksgiving rush and most of that food could go to waste, so we're encouraging people to keep doing delivery, takeout and curbside pickup, so that we can help these individuals keep their doors open as best as possible."
Watson says Ottawa is a generous city and he hopes people will embrace that spirit again.
"We encourage the generosity of the people of Ottawa to go out and do their very best to support these businesses in their time of need," he said. "It's going to be a tough time but we're a resilient lot of people here in the city of Ottawa. We're a caring group of people and we need to pull on those heartstrings to help those individuals. Government can only do so much. We need the public to support them as well."