Ontario and Alberta Take Steps to Re-Open Economies

In the last 24 hours, both Ontario and Alberta have announced measures to start re-opening sections of their economies, taking their own approaches for opening based on provincial rates of COVID-19. While both provinces appear to have entered the levelling off phase for new cases and both have similar per capita rates of infection, Ontario’s death rate from COVID-19 is over 1,100 while Alberta’s is 89.

Ontario’s First Steps

In coordination with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Premier Doug Ford announced which businesses and workplaces will be allowed to open on May 4. This announcement was made the day after the province announced the health and safety guidelines across a range of businesses. Premier Ford reiterated the need for Ontarians to continue to observe social and physical distancing rules to ensure the rate of COVID-19 infections continue to stabilize and then recede within the province.

The list of businesses permitted to open include:

  • Garden centres and nurseries – curbside pick-up and delivery only
  • Lawn care and landscaping companies
  • Essential construction projects including:
    • Construction of shipping and logistics infrastructure, broadband, telecommunications, and digital infrastructure that promotes the improved delivery of goods and services, municipal projects, colleges and universities, childcare centres, and schools
  • Automatic and self-serve car washes
  • Auto dealerships, open by appointment only.

Golf courses may prepare their courses for the upcoming season but are not yet allowed to open. Marinas may also start preparing for the season by servicing boats and watercraft, but public access is not yet allowed.

Alberta Makes Moves to Re-Open

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alberta has been beset by one challenge after another. An already depressed economic situation has been rocked by the Saudi-Russia oil fight which led to surplus supply and thus negative pricing for Western Canadian Select oil, plus a major flood in the City of Fort McMurray just three years after it experienced devastating forest fires.

While federal investments for cleaning up of “orphaned” oil and gas wells have been welcomed by the province, Albertans realize that government spending cannot replace economic activity. This has resulted in the Kenney government feeling a lot of pressure from Albertans to lift restrictions and let the private sector do what it can for Alberta.

There has also been a clear divide geographically within the province on COVID-19 infections. As of April 30, Alberta had 5,355 cases, representing about 10 per cent of the total Canadian cases. Of those cases, 85 per cent are in the Calgary and southern Alberta regions. Reasons for this include Calgary’s status as an international travel hub, combined with over 1,000 cases linked to one southern-Alberta meat processing plant alone.

The province has taken a few key steps to enable its reopening. These include Canada-leading COVID-19 testing capacity, as well as increased airport screening and border controls at the Calgary and Edmonton International Airports.

Alberta’s re-opening strategy, announced by Premier Jason Kenney and Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, consists of four stages:

Early Actions (starting May 4th) include:

  • Rescheduling of non-urgent surgeries
  • Dental, physiotherapy, social work, and optometry services to resume
  • Opening of golf courses (on Saturday, with no clubhouses or pro shops open)
  • Vehicle access to parks and public lands

Of note, limits will remain in place for visits to patients at hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Stage One Activities (as early as May 14th) include:

  • Post-secondary institutions can determine how to deliver courses online, in-person, or a blend
  • Retail businesses such as clothing, furniture, and bookstores to re-open
  • Some personal services, such as hairstyling and barber shops to provide services
  • Museums and art galleries to be opened
  • More scheduled surgeries and dental procedures
  • Daycares and summer camps to open, with limits on occupancy
  • Cafés and restaurants to reopen for public seating at 50 per cent capacity
  • Some additional outdoor recreation

As in the previous stage, there will continue to be limits to visits of patients at hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Stage Two (date TBD based on Stage One outcomes) include:

  • Potential Kindergarten to Grade 12 school reopening, with restrictions
  • Libraries to open
  • More scheduled surgeries, including backlog elimination
  • Personal services such as esthetics, cosmetic skin and body treatments, manicures, pedicures, waxing, facial treatments, and massage
  • Restaurants, cafés, lounges and bars continuing to operate at reduced capacity
  • Permitting of some larger gatherings (number of people to be determined)
  • Movie theatres and theatres opening with restrictions
  • Arts and culture festivals, concerts and major sporting events will remain cancelled

There will continue to be limits to visits of patients at hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Stage Three (date TBD and based on success of previous Stage) include:

  • Fully reopening all businesses and services, with limited restrictions
  • Permitting larger gatherings (number of people to be determined)
  • Rules and guidance for the use of masks in crowded spaces, especially on mass transit

Arts and culture festivals, concerts, major sporting events, gyms, pools and rec centres will be permitted with enhanced protection controls in place.

As noted, the overall success of the plan depends on the results of the previous stage. Premier Kenney was clear to make the point that Albertans need to respect the plan, since a new spike in COVID-19 cases would result in a return to previous restrictions.

The government has clearly established a policy position that allows for some economic activity while trusting Albertans to do the right thing.

These actions and results will be followed closely by other jurisdictions in Canada to determine the success or failure of these early experiments at reopening. No one can fully predict what will happen.