Ontario’s Economic Re-opening: The Latest Developments

October 14, 2020

As Ontario moves toward economic re-opening, the provincial government is releasing information about sectors that can re-open as well as about the guidelines that will apply to each of those sectors. In this post, which will be updated regularly as developments occur, we discuss the latest Ontario relaunch developments. The most recent update, on October 14, 2020, concerned the announcement on October 9, 2020 that several regions of the province from Stage 3 to Stage 2.

October 9: Ontario Announces Plans to Move Three Regions to “Modified” Stage 2

On October 9, 2020, after an extended period in which all regions of Ontario were at Stage 3 – the most advanced stage of the province’s “Restart” phase – the Government of Ontario has introduced additional targeted public health measures in the Ottawa, Peel, and Toronto public health unit regions. This announcement, which comes after a surge of infections in those regions, essentially returned Ottawa, Peel and Toronto to Stage 2 (with some modifications to the previous Stage 2 requirements) as of 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, October 10, 2020. Toronto and Ottawa are the two largest cities in Ontario, while Peel Region is home to over 1 million people and lies immediately west of the City of Toronto.

These new restrictions, which will continue for at least 28 days, will generally require the following types of business to close (in the Ottawa, Peel and Toronto regions only):

  • Indoor gyms and fitness centres (i.e., exercise classes and weight and exercise rooms);
  • Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments;
  • Indoor cinemas;
  • Performing arts centres and venues;
  • Spectator areas in racing venues;
  • Interactive exhibits or exhibits with high risk of personal contact in museums, galleries, zoos, science centres, landmarks, etc.;

Other prohibitions include:

  • Prohibiting indoor food and drink service in restaurants, bars, nightclubs, food court areas in malls and other food and drink establishments;
  • Prohibiting personal care services where face coverings must be removed for the service (e.g. makeup application, beard trimming);
  • Limiting team sports to training sessions (no games or scrimmages).

Businesses in Ottawa, Peel and Toronto will generally be subject to indoor and outdoor gathering limits, which will be decreased to 10 people (indoors) and 25 people (outdoors), with the proviso that physical distancing and other safety requirements are met. These new gathering limits also apply to wedding receptions as of October 13, 2020. Schools, childcare centres, and places of worship may remain open in these communities provided that they continue to follow the public health measures in place. Before-school and after-school programs will also be exempt from these new restrictions.

In all other regions of Ontario, the Stage 3 rules that were announced on July 13, 2020 are still in effect (see below).

July 13: Ontario Announces Plans for Advancing Most Regions to Stage 3

On July 13, 2020, the Government of Ontario announced that many of the province’s health regions will proceed to Stage 3 of the reopening plan as of 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 17. Because the Chief Medical Officer of Health requires at least four weeks of Stage 2 data to approve a region for advancing to Stage 3, a number of regions that were delayed in reaching Stage 2 will not move to Stage 3 at this time. These include a number of the most populous areas of Ontario:

  1. Durham
  2. Haldimand-Norfolk
  3. Halton
  4. Hamilton
  5. Lambton
  6. Niagara
  7. York
  8. Peel
  9. Toronto
  10. Windsor-Essex

The first seven regions in the list above may be approved to move to Stage 3 as early as July 24, with Peel and Toronto potentially following one week later. The final region to move to Stage 2, Windsor-Essex, is likely also to be the last to move to Stage 3, with possible further delays in the Essex County communities of Leamington and Kingsville.

All regions not listed above will be moving to Stage 3 on July 17.

According to the Minister of Finance, about 99% of businesses will be able to operate in Stage 3, provided that they are in compliance with physical distancing and other safety requirements. The reopening order allows for the remaining businesses to propose safe reopening plans that the Government, in consultation with health authorities, can approve within the scope of Stage 3. Businesses and commercial activities that are not approved for reopening in Stage 3 include:

  • Amusement parks and water parks;
  • Buffet-style food services;
  • Dancing at restaurants and bars (other than professional performers following specific requirements);
  • Overnight stays at children’s camps;
  • Private karaoke rooms;
  • Sporting activities involving prolonged or deliberate contact;
  • Saunas, steam rooms, bathhouses and oxygen bars;
  • Table games at casinos and gaming establishments.

Businesses in categories that are not included in the general Stage 3 reopening can visit www.Ontario.ca/reopen to submit their own reopening proposals.

Businesses generally will be subject to indoor and outdoor gathering limits, which will be increased in Stage 3 to 50 (indoor) and 100 (outdoor), with the proviso that physical distancing and other safety requirements are met. Childcare businesses will be able to operate with cohorts of 15 children, up from 10 currently.

June 22: Toronto and Peel Region Advance to Stage 2; Special Measures for Windsor-Essex Announced

On June 22, 2020, the Government of Ontario announced that as of June 24, the City of Toronto and the adjacent Region of Peel will become the 32nd and 33rd of the province’s 34 public health regions to reach Stage 2 of the reopening process. At Stage 2, the following types of business activity may resume:

  • Outdoor dine-in services at restaurants, bars and other establishments;
  • Personal care services such as hair salons, barbershops and tattoo parlours;
  • Shopping malls (under existing restrictions, e.g. against sit-down service at restaurants);
  • Tour and guide services (bus and boat tours, winery tours, etc.);
  • Private campgrounds;
  • Outdoor recreational facilities;
  • Drive-in and drive-through theatres, concert venues, animal attractions etc.;
  • Film and TV production activities;
  • Weddings and funerals (with social gatherings limited to 10 people).

As of June 24, the only Public Health Region remaining at Stage 1 will be Windsor-Essex in the extreme southwest of the province, where the elevated incidence of COVID-19 among agricultural workers continues to be a priority for provincial, federal and local health authorities. The June 22 announcement includes new funding and other measures to increase testing and reduce transmission in Windsor-Essex. The Government of Ontario anticipates that all 34 regions will be at Stage 2 in the near future.

June 8: 24 of 34 Public Health Regions Advance to Stage 2

On June 8, 2020, Premier Doug Ford announced that, beginning Friday, June 12, the majority of Ontario’s public health regions (24 of 34) will advance to Stage 2 of the reopening process. The exceptions are the regions that form the GTA (including the City of Toronto) as well as Hamilton, Niagara, Windsor and Haldimand-Norfolk. Other than Haldimand-Norfolk, these regions are among the most heavily populated in the province. The reason that they will remain at Stage 1 is that they continue to be more affected by COVID-19 than other regions.

The regions that are advancing to Stage 2 (which include Ottawa, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, Middlesex-London, Waterloo, Peterborough, Kingston, Simcoe-Muskoka and nearly all northern and rural districts) will see the reopening of the following:

  • Outdoor dine-in services at restaurants, bars and other establishments;
  • Personal care services such as hair salons, barbershops and tattoo parlours;
  • Shopping malls (under existing restrictions, e.g. against sit-down service at restaurants);
  • Tour and guide services (bus and boat tours, winery tours, etc.);
  • Private campgrounds;
  • Outdoor recreational facilities;
  • Drive-in and drive-through theatres, concert venues, animal attractions etc.
  • Film and TV production activities;
  • Weddings and funerals (with social gatherings limited to 10 people).

In all cases, businesses falling under these classifications will be required to ensure that health and safety measures applicable to them are complied with.

Until all regions have proceeded to Stage 2, the Government of Ontario will review the status of those regions that remain at Stage 1 at its Monday news conferences. Re-openings announced at those news conferences will normally be scheduled for the following Friday.

The Government plans to release details on the availability of services that support employment – such as childcare, summer camps and public transit – in the near future.

May 14: Additional Sectoral Re-openings Announced

At his May 14, 2020 media briefing, Premier Ford announced further re-openings around the upcoming Victoria Day long weekend.

Specifically, as of Saturday, May 16:

  • Golf courses, marinas and public boat launches can open to the public (with golf course clubhouses limited to washroom and take-out restaurant services only);
  • Private campgrounds and parks can open to prepare for the summer season and may also open to trailer and RV owners with full-season contracts; and
  • Stables and similar facilities can allow owners of animals that they board to visit, care for or ride their animals.

Immediately after the long weekend, as of Tuesday, May 19, the following additional openings will be permitted (provided that there is not been any change in the improving public health trends):

  • Non-mall retailers with their own street-front entrances, if they have appropriate physical distancing measures in place (e.g. limiting the number of customers in the store, etc.);
  • Construction sites (existing “essential workplace” limits to be lifted);
  • Seasonal businesses and recreational activities for individual or single competitors, including certain sports competitions, whether taking place indoors or outdoors (e.g. tennis, track and field and horse racing);
  • Animal services (e.g. veterinary appointments, pet care and grooming);
  • Household services, whether indoors or outdoors, that can follow public health guidelines (e.g. housekeeping, cleaning and maintenance); and
  • Certain non-COVID related medical services that meet certain conditions (e.g. scheduled surgeries and counselling).

The Government also announced the Workplace PPE Directory, a website designed to provide businesses with information on suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE).

May 1: Certain Sectors to Re-open May 4, 2020

The Ontario government announced on May 1, 2020 that, as of Monday, May 4 at 12:01 a.m., several workplace types can get back to business, with some restrictions, provided that the pandemic-related health and safety guidelines relevant to those sectors are followed.

The sectors that can return to business are as follows (with restrictions as noted):

  • Garden centres and nurseries (curbside pickup and delivery only);
  • Lawn care and landscaping;
  • Construction projects involving any of the following (in addition to projects already permitted to proceed):
    • Shipping and logistics;
    • Broadband telecommunications and digital infrastructure;
    • Improvements to delivery of goods and services;
    • Municipal, college and university projects;
    • Schools and child-care centres;
    • Site prep, excavation and servicing for most types of development;
  • Car washes (automatic and self-serve);
  • Car dealerships (by appointment only);
  • Golf courses and marinas (preparation for the upcoming season only, as specified, with no public use or access permitted).

As noted above, these sectors are required to operate in accordance with health and safety standards and in particular are expected to follow the best practices guidance that is applicable to their sector. For example, the construction sector should follow the guidance issued in March and amended in April. The complete list of sector-specific guidance released to date is available here.

April 30: Government Releases Best Practices Guidelines for Four Key Sectors

The provincial government announced additional measures on April 30, 2020 that are aimed at promoting workplace health and safety in several key sectors. Specifically, these “best practices” guidelines apply to the manufacturing, food manufacturing/processing, restaurant/food service and agricultural sectors. They build on previously issued guidelines for the construction industry as well as recommendations developed for certain other workplaces in collaboration with industry-focused health and safety associations. Ontario is committing 58 additional workplace inspectors to the effort, who will focus primarily on communicating best practices to employers.

Overview of the guidelines

The Government of Ontario’s general resources page for all sector-specific guidelines is here. As noted above, the sectors to which the April 30 announcement applies are the following:

The guidelines are arranged in a similar way for each sector, with dozens of specific recommendations listed under the following headings (among others):

  • Protecting yourself and your co-workers (e.g. by hand-washing and staying home when ill);
  • Physical distancing (e.g. by holding team meetings outdoors or installing plexiglass barriers);
  • Workplace sanitation (e.g. by providing hand sanitizer, improving ventilation and staggering work schedules);
  • Workplace tracking (e.g. by keeping records of where each worker has been in the workplace);
  • Reporting illness (e.g. by encouraging workers to do Ontario’s online self-assessment);
  • Sharing information (e.g. by using up-to-date workplace posters re COVID-19 policies).

Depending on the industry sector, additional recommendations may also be made. For example, in the case of restaurants (and food manufacturers with associated retail operations), there is a recommendation against accepting reusable bags from customers and a recommendation that staff be assigned to monitor physical distancing by customers. In most respects, however, the recommendations are fairly similar for all sectors.

The government is also making a range of safety posters available for downloading (see an example here; others are available on the resource page).

Going forward

The best practices are recommendations and, as appropriate, will be incorporated into the advice that provincial labour inspectors may offer in the course of their on-site inspections. While the Government indicated that such inspections would at least initially be conducted primarily to help businesses understand how to comply, there will also be an enforcement element in cases where compliance efforts fall short.

DISCLAIMER: This publication is intended to convey general information about legal issues and developments as of the indicated date. It does not constitute legal advice and must not be treated or relied on as such. Please read our full disclaimer at www.stikeman.com/legal-notice.

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