big box stores toronto

Doug Ford admits allowing big box stores to stay open is unfair to local retailers

Not even 24 hours into Ontario's latest round of lockdown measures, people in Toronto are crying foul over new government restrictions that they say are unfair to small, independent businesses.

And you know what? According to Premier Doug Ford, they're right.

You see, all non-essential retailers have been ordered to close their doors ahead of what's normally their highest-grossing period of the entire year. This in itself sucks, but most business owners have been understanding given public health circumstances.

The problem isn't so much that small stores need to close, but that big box stores selling similar items have been permitted to stay open for indoor shopping.

Under the government's grey zone lockdown framework, non-essential retail stores must close for all but delivery or curbside pick-up with the exceptions of "supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, hardware stores, other retailers selling groceries, beer and wine and liquor stores, pharmacies and safety supply stores permitted to be open for in-person shopping."

This means that Walmarts, Costcos, Loblaws, LCBO stores and even The Bay remain open, albeit at 50 per cent capacity. Further to this, in-person shopping at big box stores is not restricted to the above-listed essential items, as it is currently in Manitoba.

HBC sells some food, for sure, but should that alone enable the department store to keep selling everything else it stocks — jewellery, clothing, shoes, cosmetics, housewares, scarves, blankets, perfume, toys and the like — while smaller retails are shuttered?

When asked this very thing during his daily pandemic press conference on Monday, Ford admitted that the situation is "not fair."

"One hundred per cent, it's not fair," said the premier when asked why superstores aren't being forced to cordon off non-essential goods.

Ford did not deny that such a move would level the retail playing field, but explained that doing so would be "a logistical nightmare" for the big box stores and Ontario's supply chain.

"As for Manitoba, after speaking to the CEO of Walmart Canada, it's creating massive problems out there," said the premier. "They have items spread out throughout their whole store, and then on top of that, how do they monitor it? And restrict people from going in there?"

Ford put forward the example of someone buying groceries who threw a pair of jeans into their cart, holding up 100 people in line behind them while associates tried to find the pants on a list of pre-determined items for sale.

"Again, I know this is not fair," said Ford. "That's why we put an additional $300 million in to support small businesses… we're doing everything we can as a province."

Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott both said during today's press conference that things will "get back to normal" once a vaccine is in place. They also announced the creation of a new COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Task Force that they say will ensure a timely and effective (albeit "challenging") rollout.

When asked how the province determined that shopping at big box stores is any safer than allowing small groups to shop at local boutiques, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe gave the following non-answer:

"I want to start by saying regardless of what's open or not, the advice we have for everybody, particularly in Toronto and Peel, but really across the province, is don't go out if you don't need to.

"If a large store is open, it would be because they are serving either one of the essential services, be it groceries, pharmacy products, hardware, so on," Yaffe continued.

"If the whole store is open… I believe that was a decision made by the decision makers in the province."

Lead photo by

A Great Capture

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