Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman is calling on the province to treat restaurants the same as large venues which have been allowed to reopen.
In response to the province’s announcement last Friday that many large indoor spaces can operate at full capacity with double-vaccinated patrons, Lehman wants the premier to allow the same for restaurants, which "continue to be burdened by disproportionate restrictions on their ability to do business."
Capacity limits were lifted Saturday for some spaces requiring a vaccine passport where COVID-19 outbreaks have been limited.
The province announced the changes late Friday afternoon. The move affects some indoor spaces where proof of vaccination is required, as well as certain outdoor settings that have a capacity of less than 20,000.
But while many sports facilities and concert venues will be allowed to open up to more people, restaurants were left off the list.
On social media Wednesday afternoon, Lehman posted his letter to Ontario Premier Doug Ford requesting support and fair capacity rules for restaurants. He indicated if large gathering spaces with thousands of individuals "packed close together" can be deemed safe, "restaurants with diners at separate tables cannot represent a greater threat."
There are more than 400 restaurants in Barrie employing at least 7,000 people, Lehman said.
In the letter to the premier, which Lehman attached to the post, he said with patio weather just about finished, time is of the essence.
“Restaurants will shortly have to survive on their indoor capacity alone. I urge you to support this sector. Restaurants aren't just a place to eat — they are creative, entrepreneurial, energetic, and places for social connection,” the mayor said. “They liven up our streets, our malls, our neighbourhoods, and are the bedrock businesses of our downtowns. They deserve our support."
As of Friday’s announcement, the province was reporting 86.8 per cent of people 12 years and over have at least one dose of the vaccine and 81.9 per cent have two doses.
For these spaces allowed to make changes in capacity, the requirement for people to be physically distanced at least two metres apart is also being removed, with limited exceptions. Other public health measures, such as face coverings, screening and information for contact tracing, remain in effect.
Lehman also asked the premier to consider some financial assistance for those in the "resilient" restaurant sector, which has been "trying to navigate ever-changing rules."
“In order to assist the sector with the labour shortage they are facing, the provincial government could offer the support of a wage subsidy for kitchen and dining room workers,” Lehman said in the letter. “This should assist in attracting workers to the sector, give a boost to workers who do a very difficult job, especially right now, and help return restaurants to full service.”
Lehman's letter was also CC'd to Barrie-area MPPs Doug Downey and Andrea Khanjin, the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, the Barrie and District Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Barrie BIA.