Struggling business owners are not taking advantage of government relief programs designed to help them stay financially afloat through the pandemic, said Premier Doug Ford.
In his Jan. 8 media web conference, Ford said he was informed only a few days ago that retailers and entrepreneurs have only tapped into $11 million of an $660-million bundle aside to help small business tackle many of their fixed costs to get through this challenging time and the provincially-imposed lockdown.
"I'm just not seeing the uptick," said Ford. "We're trying to take care of all the overhead to help people keep going."
He implored business owners to take advantage of the array of easy-to-access programs providing rent and property tax relief, wage subsidies, and covering heating and electricity costs.
Just before the Boxing Day lockdown, the province launched a new Small Business Support Grant providing a minimum of $10,000 and up to $20,000 for those non-essential businesses that would be restricted to curbside service, delivery, drive-through, for pharmacies and grocery stores reduced to 50 per cent capacity.
"Folks, please, take us up on the offer," said Ford.
In responding to a question from a Kenora reporter, Ford didn't give any indication that the province will allow ski slopes to be reopening anytime soon during one of the winter tourism industry's prime months.
An online petition is circulating asking the premier to consider reopening ski hills for the physical and mental benefits provided by this recreational activity. Ford said he would consider this, but offered: "This is crunch time right now, and honestly the last thing on my mind are the ski hills."
In taking advice from his health table and the "scary numbers" forecasted in their COVID-19 modelling, Ford said provincial health officials are trying to discourage Ontarians from indulging in winter getaways.
They're concerned skiers and snowboarders from southern Ontario hot zones might journey north to spread the virus through hotels, restaurants and into communities with healthcare facilities with neither the equipment nor capacity to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients.
"We need everyone to avoid travelling," Ford said. "Right now we have to hunker down."
He urged Ontarians and small business owners to "hang in there" as the vaccination roll-out gains steam through April, May and June. The province's target number is to vaccinate five million people every month.