Business owner Shawna Schimnowski has stopped tuning in to Premier Brian Pallister’s news conferences.
"It’s just easier not to, because I’m forever disappointed," said Schimnowski, who runs Organic Tan Winnipeg on Provencher Boulevard. "I get that they can’t just hand us money to keep our businesses open — there just has to be something they can do though to keep us from going into further debt, when these restrictions are only significantly impacting us and not necessarily the larger stores or chains.
"It could be better just to close down and restart when this might be over, hoping that my clientele is still there. But I’ve worked years and years to get thousands of clients. What do I do now?"
Premier Pallister is adamant that allowing more leeway for larger retailers and wedding or church events under public-health orders is not a political decision. "That’s a groundless assertion," he said, answering a question from the Free Press at a media availability Thursday.
"The likelihood of us getting together in a small group setting or mid-sized group setting fairly soon is probably less likely than other restrictions we might lift," said Pallister. "We continue to be in constant focus in protecting the vulnerable in our province and will stay focused on that."
However, many storefront owners believe very little epidemiological rationale has been provided about the new pandemic protocols that go into effect this weekend — which continues to affect them far more than larger businesses.
The province is capping fitness centres at 25 per cent capacity, wedding sizes have been increased to 25 people and retailers are allowed 500 people or 50 per cent capacity (whichever is lower).
On top of that, commerce stakeholders are wary about the province not sharing all of the data from EngageMB surveys that the premier said has helped guide the government’s decision to lift or maintain certain code-red restrictions.
And, business advocates said, sector-specific financial support must continue to be extended like the new $6-million arts and culture funding announced Thursday — rollout details for which are yet to be determined.
Loren Remillard, president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, understands the pressure the province is facing. "Our criticisms are not to say they haven’t done enough because there’s no playbooks on this," he said.
"But businesses have been severely struggling for months upon months; leveraging their personal assets, homes, cars, investments, retirement plans. When you give them some emergency support, the need doesn’t go away for more in the community. How can you then say, ‘Oh, that’s enough.’"
Jonathan Alward, Manitoba director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, is worried about the lack of an overall plan for economic reopenings.
"I know that nothing can be black and white, and that it might change," he said. "But a generalized plan that says this is what would need to happen for us to give you more capacity limits or even a sense of something like that just isn’t there right now. And while we keep asking, lots of owners are losing money every single day."
For Dino Camiré, who runs One Family Fitness Centre on Britannica Road, it’s a "mockery" to say his business is open. He’s operating at a loss, can’t book more than a handful of people at a time and is paying more overhead than he was a year ago.
"It’s just frustrating how this has been extended so unsustainably," said Camiré. "At this point, I could have a wedding at my gym and have more people allowed inside because of these rules. And where’s that sector-specific aid for us?"
Manitoba will only reconsider loosening restrictions after Easter and Passover, Pallister said Thursday.
Temur Durrani reports on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for this Free Press reporting position comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.