Long recovery ahead for Alberta: Finance Minister Toews
The Alberta government is offering a ‘mea culpa’ for its approach to business closures earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We would want a do-over for last spring if we could have one, as the premier pointed out,” Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews said in an interview Wednesday.
“We’re making decisions, like other governments, in very short timeframes to deal with the pandemic. If we had a do-over, we would do that one differently, and we have this time.”
Toews’ comments come on the heels of measures announced Tuesday to help quell the pandemic’s spread, including limiting most retailers to operate at one-quarter of their maximum occupancy. Some close-quarter businesses including hair salons, barbershops and massage parlours are limited to serving customers on an appointment-only basis.
The measures differ from Alberta’s approach in the spring, which classified some businesses as essential while others were forced to shut their doors.
“This government made, I think, a grave mistake in the spring when we made, frankly, I think a stupidly arbitrary distinction between essential and non-essential retail businesses,” Kenney told reporters on Tuesday evening.
“That had the unintended consequence of allowing Walmarts and Costcos to sell about darn-near everything because they have a grocery section where they sell pharmaceuticals, while shutting down thousands and thousands of retail small and medium-sized businesses.”
The provincial government in Ontario has come under fire recently for taking that very approach as part of its decision to move Toronto and its western suburbs into its most stringent COVID control protocols as of Nov. 23. Its definition of ‘essential’ retailers not only included the likes of Walmart Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corporation, but also department stores operated by The Hudson’s Bay Company.
The head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) put Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s policies on blast in an interview shortly after the measures were announced on Nov. 20.
“I’m absolutely shocked that the Ford government would go down this road,” CFIB president and chief executive officer Dan Kelly said on Friday. “To allow big box stores and even department stores like The Bay to remain open while shutting down every single little independent retailer in Toronto and Peel – I can’t imagine on what planet that’s fair.”
Toews said he thinks Alberta’s new measures are not only safer, but will be fairer to retailers.
“We have taken basically a capacity approach with respect to retail, and with respect to other businesses so that we can ensure that businesses can stay open, but that in fact their physical capacity will have to allow for safe social distancing,” Toews said.
“We think it’s a more defensible approach and we think it actually spreads out consumers over more stores instead of jamming consumers into fewer venues.”