Members of Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative caucus are pushing for the expansion of outdoor patios when bars and restaurants are allowed to reopen in the province, including moving into parking lots, parks or closing off streets.
Toronto-area PC MPP Gila Martow proposed the idea in the legislature this week, asking her colleagues to work with municipalities and the province’s liquor licensing commission to expand patio locations and hours as the government considers the next stage in its COVID-19 reopening plan.
Attorney-General Doug Downey told The Globe and Mail that many MPPs have heard from businesses and municipalities on the issue, and the government is readying for when restaurants and bars can reopen safely, including removing some red tape for temporary liquor licences.
“The part that I’m working on is creating the tools so that they can get expanded when they get the go-ahead,” Mr. Downey said.
“Anything we can do to responsibly support restaurant workers and bar workers and the businesses, we have to have a hard look at, absolutely.”
Ms. Martow, who represents Thornhill, a suburb in York Region, said the idea is feasible because streets have previously been blocked off for festivals, and physical distancing is easier to maintain outdoors.
“It’s hard to imagine eating in a restaurant the way we used to in the near future. And the restaurants can’t survive much longer like this,” Ms. Martow said in an interview. “The problem is most of the patios are quite small and limited, there’s a lot of rules and regulations.”
Alberta has already allowed restaurants to expand patios onto sidewalks so more diners can spread out outside. Calls for similar moves have been made in Vancouver and on the East Coast.
Ontario reopened parts of its economy this week, but no date has been given on when bars or restaurants will resume dine-in services. Mr. Ford on Thursday said he will bring Ms. Martow’s pitch to the province’s health command table, but the move is dependent on the number of COVID-19 cases in the province steadily declining.
“It all goes back to the numbers, especially over the last four or five days, we see (them) slowly, slowly creeping up,” he said.
MPP Mike Harris, who represents Kitchener-Conestoga, said he has spoken with the mayors of Kitchener and Waterloo and is very supportive of Ms. Martow’s plan, as long as it follows health and safety guidelines.
“The last couple months have been tough, especially for people in the service industry, and we’ve heard that. Not just employees, but employers as well,” he said.
David Piccini, MPP for Northumberland-Peterborough South, which includes the towns of Cobourg and Port Hope, said many restaurants in his area operate in smaller heritage buildings where indoor capacity is limited. “Our tourism sector is critical for our broader economy, so this move is something I wholeheartedly support," he said.
The province has already loosened rules around alcohol distribution, allowing bars and restaurants to sell beer, wine and spirits with takeout meals, and temporarily lowering spirit prices.
A spokesman for Vaughan, north of Toronto, said the city is exploring the “feasibility” of expanding outdoor patios, while Toronto Mayor John Tory said last week he has asked city staff to come up with a plan “to expand patio space on appropriate sidewalks and streets.”
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