On Friday, January 8, 2021,Premier Brian Pallister and Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief provincial public health official announced that the public health orders were being extended from January 8thuntil January 22ndin order “...to continue to protect Manitobans and reduce case numbers, test positivity rates and hospitalizations”.An adjustment to the Code Red restrictions was made to provide an exemption to allow exemptions for professional hockey, but no restrictions were lifted in terms of essential and non-essential sale of goods.The press release issued also stated that, “Beginningnext week, the Manitoba government will be consulting with Manitobans for feedback on potential future changes to the orders, should case numbers allow.” Members of The Pas & District Chamber of Commerce met with The Honourable Ralph Eichler, Minister of Economic Developmentto discuss the lifting of restrictions placed on Northern Communities. Also present were members of the Thompson Chamber of Commerce, along with a representative of theManitoba Chambers of Commerce. Discussedin the meetingwas that situations vary across the province with issues being different from one area to the other. What is applicable in southern Manitoba is not necessarily the same as that in the north. Our Tri-Community neighbours, on Opaskwayak Cree Nation, have implemented restrictions, and their businesses have been able to effectively manage being open and selling non-essential items. We feel that The Pas and District should be able to function in the same manner.While our initial hope from that meeting was that the restrictions would be lifted in time for the holiday shopping season, the restrictions stayed in place, and have since been extended, now until January 22, 2021. Changing the restrictions for the North have not yet been addressed. The Manitoba government acknowledges that they have been seeing increases in rates from holiday gatherings and states that the extension of restrictions stems from that. However, we question the wisdomof allowingprofessional athletes to practice and play their games, while letting the small businesses that are at the heart of our economy lose their livelihood. “Our small and medium business are the heart of our community” states Chamber Vice President Alan McLauchlan. “Forcing them to close their doors while others 50 kilometers away are open makes no sense” “The Manitoba Government has not been able to explain why thecommunities of The Pas, Flin Flon and Thompson have been singled out for additional restrictions, while communities in the south have not been”
Jill Wilkinson,President of The Pas & District Chamber of Commerce observed, “At this point, this is ludicrous,especially for our Tri Community Area in the North. OCN has effectively managed being open for businessand have been able to maintainlow COVID numbers. I have to questionhow can you can put a hockey team together,but businesses in Rural Manitoba can’t be allowed toimplement social distancing protocols,or have one or two customers in and out of their store?”Wilkinson continues, “The gap funding that our businesses have been given is only $5000. For business that have been closed for several weeks, this amount is not enough to pay their bills, nor does it support the business owners and their families.”When contacted, Cheryl Zaharia, owner of Cheryl’z Hair Densaid, “Imaybe be looking for a job. It’s hard to care about my business anymore. I’ve reached that point.” Jerome Conaty, owner of Funky Threadz commentsin his letter to the Provincial government, “It is well known that the vast majority of the unfortunate deaths in the Province are in Care Homes, and those that are elderly or suffering from various other serious ailments. Two weeks to “flatten the curve.” That’s what we were sold. We are not underestimating the disease; we understand it is real, and here. We do want our healthcare workers to be able to continue to handle caseloads. However, the economy can open safely and small businesses especially are properly positioned to follow proper protocols. To date, no data has been presented to small businesses showing that we are the drivers of this disease, so why do our livelihoods pay the price? Why is feeding our children not considered “essential?”The Pas and District Chamber of Commerce plans to further the discussions with the Provincial government in a hope to ease the restrictions placed on northern businesses.