Owners of several restaurants in rural communities across the province — including the most recent addition of a Lakeland eatery in Bonnyville — are actively breaking provincial health orders by opening their doors to dine-in traffic.
While some businesses owners are choosing to challenge the provincial restrictions that have been in place since last December, there has been no indication that restaurants in Lac La Biche County are following suit yet.
Social media comments about the owners of a downtown Bonnyville restaurant who plan to open up for sit-down lunch service on January 27 have been met with considerable support. One posting, from Bonnyville's Jamie Beaupre said that despite understanding 'both sides of the argument," he had "100 per cent support" for the openings. He said his opinion on the matter is a Constitutional right.
Education is key
Lac La Biche County's manager of Protective Services says a decision to go against provincial pandemic measures is not permitted under provincial law. Chris Clark says that while no businesses in the Lac La Biche region are currently challenging the law, it is something that peace officers, as well as RCMP across the province, can enforce if it were to happen.
"We have no restaurants that are in violation or have expressed any interests in opening to our knowledge," said Clark on Tuesday, explaining that the last resort for his department would be to issue a violation ticket if a restaurant chose to ignore the Public Health Order. "If a business was to open and breach COVID regulations, our Peace Officers would work with AHS to conduct education with the owner and follow the AHS lead in the investigation and the recommendation."
Struggle staying afloat
A violation ticket for a business in contravention of the Public Health Order can be as high as $1,200. The fact that some business owners are willing to risk such a fine in order to open their doors to business, is an indication of the dire situation many are facing.
Lac La Biche County's Economic Development Officer Jana Rowe has heard the stories from business owners in the community as they try to navigate changes and restrictions to their livelihoods.
"They are definitely struggling — with all of the closures and openings and reduced capacities, it has really hit them hard," said Rowe, who has been visiting Lac La Biche and area businesses for the last several months, collecting information on issues dealing with the pandemic measures and the overall economic situation.
With statistics and forecasts showing that one out of three small and medium-sized businesses will likely be forced to close because of the economic and viral strains, Rowe said the local small business sector is definitely feeling the pressure.
To combat those pressures, many have been forced to make tough decisions and pivot their core services, like restaurateurs forced to cut back on staffing and switch to robust take-out and delivery options. Those drastic measures, says Rowe, are just "keeping afloat" some restaurants as they struggle to find revenues and wait for the restrictions to ease.
In the daily provincial COVID-19 update the afternoon before the Bonnyville restaurant was planning to open its lunchtime doors, however, the province's Chief Medical Officer of Health said restrictive measures are likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future.