Premier Ford says he’s being lobbied to reopen the economy

By Sabrina Nanji April 22, 2020

While much of Ontario is shut down, lobbyists have been busy pushing provincial decision-makers on pandemic-related policy — and the premier says he’s facing mounting pressure to reopen. 
“I’m getting lobbied hard by so many different groups and organizations, but it’s easy to say ‘open, open, open’ until we get a second wave of this and it bites us in the backside,” Doug Ford told reporters at Tuesday’s press conference. 
(Ford was also getting calls from businesses that wanted to stay open on the statutory Easter holiday weekend; the premier did not oblige, saying workers deserved a break.) 
With governments feeling spend-y toward companies and organizations advocating to save lives and jobs, Ginny Roth of Crestview Strategies says the sky’s the limit for clients.
“Their asks and their advocacy isn’t big enough,” Roth, who is also a registered lobbyist, said in a recent blog post. “Don’t limit your thinking in what you may be able to partner with government on.” 
“Even the most progressive of government that’s really open to investing in people and programs, there’s still always a tradeoff. They’ve got to look forward to the next budget,” she went on to say. 
But in the midst of a pandemic, “the pushback of the budgeters who have to account for that money later isn’t there.” 
Finance Minister Rod Phillips is charting the course to reopening the economy as part of his newly convened Jobs and Recovery cabinet committee. Phillips says reopening will be “staged.” 
The plan is expected over the next few days and outdoor workplaces will likely be among the first to come back online, the premier added. 
Here’s how some firms have registered to influence Queen’s Park during the state of emergency: 
The open-for-business push

  • Last Friday 18 lobbyists from the Ontario Chamber of Commerce registered to advocate for, among other things, “the path to economic recovery with regard to COVID-19.” 

    • While OCC is not explicitly pushing for an immediate reopening, CEO Rocco Rossi wants business to have a seat at the table in charge of reviving the economy. The organization has also called for more support for small business.

    • The OCC’s own COVID-19 working group met with Economic Development Minister Vid Fedeli Tuesday.

  • Cannabis storefronts were cut in the second round of non-essential closures but have since been cleared for curbside pickup and delivery. The Honey Pot Shop, Hello Cannabis and Superette Shop hired Omar Khan of Hill+Knowlton Strategies to lobby for that change.

  • Shoppers Drug Mart is campaigning for “on-site” coronavirus testing via Wellington Advocacy. 

  • Google Canada is pushing for “potential collaboration” on “remote work practices, chatbots, community mobile reports, and network infrastructure.” 

  • Ontario Private Campground Association’s latest registration says it wants “clarity on whether privately-owned campgrounds are essential” and if they will be able to open during the pandemic.  

  • Dollarama enlisted Loyalist Public Affairs to “discuss measures to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.” The company made its way onto both lists of essential workplaces. 

  • Popeye’s Supplements Canada has hired former PC staffer Brayden Akers of Navigator to “explore possible mitigation” of the impact COVID-19 has had on the company. 

    • According to its Facebook page, the supplement chain closed stores and moved to online-only sales on April 4 (the day the government’s second wave of non-essential closures took effect).

  • Marineland has also registered its crusade to be included in the essential workplace list.

Coronavirus testing and treatments

  • Spartan Bioscience — the Ottawa-based firm Premier Ford has shouted out at his daily briefings — is lobbying to “secure [a] contract to purchase portable COVID-19 tests that provide results in 30 minutes.” 

    • The company’s portable kits were recently approved by Health Canada.

  • Bayer hired a fleet of lobbyists from Counsel Public Affairs this month to “engage government on opportunities to help with the COVID 19 pandemic.”

    • On Tuesday, the company announced the launch of a joint project with McMaster University’s Population Health Research Institute to study the value of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment. 

    • It’s unclear if the study will get a slice of the $20-million pie for coronavirus research announced by Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano last weekend, but Romano is quoted in Bayer’s news release about the project.

  • Consultants with Loyalist Public Affairs are working for generic drug producer Apotex to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the pharmaceutical sector. Separately, pharmacists have raised concerns about a global shortage of some drugs. 

    • On Tuesday, Apotex announced it was donating two million doses of hydroxychloroquine to Health Canada for future studies.  

Continuing construction 

  • Enterprise Canada’s Melissa Lantsman and Jason Lietaer are lobbying on behalf of Purolator to “ensure that work can safely continue” on the construction of its $330-million “super hub” facility in Toronto “during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

  • Moose Ventures hired Fasken to lobby to make sure “construction continues on infrastructure critical to our digital economy, including 1 Century Place,” a massive data centre in Woodbridge.  

  • Claridge Homes picked Loyalist to lobby for residential construction to be deemed essential; Loyalist also represents Caivan Communities, which wants to discuss the impact of pandemic response on the construction industry. 

    • The Ford government has tightened restrictions on “non-essential” construction, allowing only essential infrastructure-related projects and residential construction that’s near completion. 

Seniors’ facilities 

  • Chartwell Retirement Residences has hired StrategyCorp to discuss its quest for EI changes “allowing for renewed support for Chartwell staff whose employment status is affected by COVID-19.” 

  • Caressant Care, which runs nursing and retirement homes, is lobbying over “nursing home management and admissions limits.” 

Aid seekers 

  • The Federation of Rental-Housing Providers of Ontario is registered to discuss easing the “economic disruption from COVID-19 on tenants and rental housing providers.”

    • The PCs have paused evictions, but landlords are still able to hand out eviction notices, leading to calls for stronger measures. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath has said tenants deserve security that’s “backed by law, not hopes.”

  • The Ontario Real Estate Association is angling to keep real estate an essential service and for “post COVID-19 stimulus measures impacting housing and real estate.” 

  • Airbnb Canada registered to discuss “regulatory reform and tax relief” for its hosts, who have been walloped by the pandemic. 

  • The hard-hit restaurant industry is looking for ways to relieve the pressure they’re up against. TDL Group (a subsidiary of Restaurant Brands International that runs Tim Hortons) is lobbying via Loyalist, and Toronto’s Antler Kitchen and Bar has hired Upstream Strategy’s Michael Diamond

  • Former PC staffer Alanna Newman of Earnscliffe Strategy is lobbying on behalf of Landscape Ontario for ways the government can “assist the industry during the COVID-19 crisis.” 

    • Landscapers can stay open for business if they’re doing health and safety related work, but the province’s vague rules have created confusion