Restaurants demand Ford to reset the table on capacity limits

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They thought it was a joke when the Minister did not show up.

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A group of restaurant owners is doing a slow burn after Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries Lisa MacLeod did not appear on a zoom call her office organized to discuss restaurant and bars not being helped by increased capacity limits.

“Clearly someone made a bad decision here,” said Paul Bognar, president of Service Inspired Restaurants, which operates a number of brands including Reds, Jack Astor’s, and Canyon Creek.

“How can you have 30, 000 people in the Rogers Centre, shoulder to shoulder, yelling and screaming. But I can’t put four people across from each other at a table in a restaurant?”

The zoom meeting took place at 11:45 a.m. on Tuesday.

Bognar said four to five staffers from MacLeod’s office attended along with seven to ten industry representatives.

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“They asked us not to speak to the media and to keep this between us and of course we overwhelmingly said, ‘You must be joking,’” he said.

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Late Friday, the Ford government relaxed capacity rules for places including professional sports venues, cinemas, theatres, and concert halls — but not for restaurants.

“It defies logic given that you can’t go into a restaurant unless you are double vaccinated,” Bognar said.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) wants an explanation why 20,000 spectators can gather in Scotiabank Arena but restaurants are still limited.

“Ontario government and public health officials must come forward and explain in detail why they’ve once again chosen to provide flexibility to some big businesses while keeping small businesses restricted,” the federation said in a statement.

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The CFIB insists the government to “level the playing field and increase small business capacity to 100%.”

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Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that “frustration is mounting and our members are looking for the government to address this discrepancy with a sense of urgency.”

A spokesperson for the Minister of Health said in a statement that “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.”

Before the pandemic, Bognar said his company employed 4,800 people in 60 restaurants.

Nine restaurants have since closed permanently.

“What we said,” Bognar added, describing the end of Tuesday’s call, “is get off the phone. Get a hold of MacLeod, Elliott and Ford and get us a call no later than tomorrow.’”

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