Some tables at Boston Pizza in Whitehorse are outfitted with signs to be left empty so the restaurant can adhere to the six foot rule on June 1. The Yukon Party is questioning if restaurants will really be able to operate at 100 per cent capacity and adhere to physical distancing during phase two of the reopening plan. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon Party seeks clarification on restaurant capacity

The Yukon Party is questioning if restaurants will really be able to operate at 100 per cent capacity and adhere to physical distancing.

Party leader Currie Dixon spoke with News on June 23 about this concern.

Dixon felt the government has released some confusing information regarding the ability of Yukon restaurants to operate at full capacity at the start of phase two of the reopening plan.

He argued that, based on the June 17, COVID-19 update, restaurants could operate at full capacity during phase two.

The press release from the government on June 17 said, “Beginning July 1, Yukon restaurants can increase their operating capacity from 50 per cent to 100 per cent. Restaurants were closed to all but take out services on March 22 and reopened at 50 per cent on May 29. Restaurants will still be required to follow the reopening food premises guidelines.”

The Yukon Party says the government’s guidelines around physical distancing mean the return to 100 per cent capacity is not a reality in most circumstances.

“For many of them (restaurants) keeping the six-foot social distancing rules intact means they effectively cannot return to 100 per cent capacity,” Dixon said.

During that update, Premier Sandy Silver said restaurants could operate at its full capacity once the territory enters the second phase. There was no mention about physical distancing from Silver during his address, but the release from the government does provide a link to the guidelines for reopening food premises.

Dixon adds this confusion has led to some frustration from restaurant owners and operators in the territory, and said the party has heard from half a dozen restaurant owners with many different perspectives. He explained that some may be able to go back to full capacity, others indicated they may have to stay at 50 per cent while other may not be able to open back up at all.

“We’ve heard sort of a full spectrum of what people are understanding about this and ultimately what people are agreeing on is that they are frustrated and confused by the lack of communication from the government,” Dixon said.

He credits this alleged poor communication to a lack of accountability from the government.

“From our perspective this is just another unforced error by the Liberals in their reopening plan and it’s the result poor communication and lack of transparency in their decision making,” Dixon said.

He wants to see Silver call the legislature back into session so the opposition can debate the details of reopening plans in public, rather than the government acting on its own.

If the legislature is not to be reconvened, he would like to see the government consult with Yukon businesses regarding programs and announcements that affect them.

The Yukon government formed a COVID-19 Business Advisory Council in late March to consult with local businesses. That council consists of 21 members from 17 economic sectors, including restaurants/services, hotels and tourism.

“It would be very easy for the premier and his minister to reach out to businesses, to reach out to restaurant owners and ask them what they think of this proposed plan,” Dixon said.

He adds that the government would have received valuable input that could have helped develop affective plans to help restaurants and that the owners that reached out to the party have stated they wished someone would have consulted the industry.

Matthew Cameron, senior strategic communications advisor for the Yukon government, sent an email statement to the News, on June 23 addressing the issue.

Restaurants will be able to return to full capacity on July 1, Cameron said, provided they also meet the requirements laid out in the guidelines.

“Updated guidelines for restaurants will be released prior to July 1 to help restaurants understand how to increase capacity in a safe manner,” Cameron said. “The Yukon Liquor Corporation has been working with licencees to provide more flexibility around patio space and hours of operation to support local restaurants. The Government of Yukon is also working with the City of Whitehorse to support restaurants to expand into streets to allow for additional capacity.”

Cameron went on to say that the government will “continue to lift restrictions in a measured way and based on recommendations from the Chief Medical Officer of Health in order to minimize the risk of a spread of COVID-19 in Yukon.”

Contact Gord Fortin at gord.fortin@yukon-news.com

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