Blog - Cambridge Chamber of Commerce

Chamber network urges government to address pain points and lay the groundwork for a strong rebound as province grapples with economic fallout of the crisis

 

The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has released its 2021 Ontario pre-Budget submission, which focuses on recovery, growth, and modernization.

 

The submission calls for policies that minimize the impacts of business closures, uplift the sectors and demographics hit hardest by the pandemic, invest in the infrastructure and workforce of the future, and modernize government services to improve outcomes for businesses and residents.

 

 

“With Ontario’s economy expected to enter a period of recovery this year as vaccines are distributed and businesses begin to reopen, resources need to be focused on where they will have the greatest impact,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “In the upcoming budget, we would like to see a focus on reskilling, broadband, and access to capital, which will be necessary for the revival of small business and entrepreneurship as well as an inclusive   economic recovery.”

 

In 2021, Ontario will continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout. The Cambridge Chamber and OCC’s submission notes the crisis has created new problems and exacerbated pre-existing ones. The impact on people and business has been catastrophic overall, and disproportionate for certain regions, sectors, and demographics.

 

“Resources should be targeted towards the sectors and communities that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, including industries requiring face-to-face contact, small businesses, municipal governments, as well as women, lower-income, racialized, elderly, new immigrant, and younger Ontarians,” added Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

 

The recommendations outlined in the submission were developed together with businesses, post-secondary institutions, chambers of commerce, and boards of trade. The submission focuses on mitigating the immediate impacts of the crisis, while laying the groundwork for a robust and sustainable economic recovery.

 

Read our provincial pre-budget submission here: bit.ly/3qYxUqg

 

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(February 5, 2021) – The Chamber Network is looking forward to create a co-ordinated approach to reopening the province’s economy in the wake of the pandemic and calling on the Provincial government to ensure this happens in a balanced fashion.

 

“In the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic, it is difficult to think beyond confronting the immediate demands of COVID-19,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher.   “However, even as we continue supporting each other today, we must also begin looking over the horizon to ensure businesses are prepared for the province’s reopening and recovery. It is never too early to start planning how our province and economy can emerge stronger while doing everything necessary to avoid further lockdowns.”

 

Each region’s experience differs significantly across the province when it comes to transmission rates, tracking and tracing capacity, and other variables.  The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce have written to the Premier so that when the time comes businesses of all sizes have a predictable and coordinated effort to ensure society reopens in a harmonized fashion that prioritizes individual safety as well as economic stability asking for the following:

 

  • A readiness plan with a focus on sectors and regions hardest hit. It is critical that Ontario’s employers are aware of how reopening will take place step-by-step so they can properly prepare.
  • Advanced notice. Businesses and their employees need sufficient time to prepare to get back to work. 
  • Clear guidelines. Businesses need to clearly understand the rules and how they will be enforced. Inconsistent and unclear public health guidelines cause confusion among businesses, employees, and consumers alike, and make it difficult for individuals to take appropriate action to protect themselves and their communities.
  • Fulsome communication. Educational training via virtual workshops in advance of reopening would equip employers with practical information to help them keep staff and customers safe.
  • Workforce management systems. Employers in Ontario should adopt a scalable digital software tool for routine self-screening and assessment by employees, as part of a comprehensive workforce management system.
  • Rapid testing. Sufficient and timely testing and tracing gets employees back to work quickly, ensuring continued productivity and reduced strain on families.
  • Evidence-based decision making. A strong testing and tracing apparatus ensures the province can accurately assess where and how the virus is spreading, so that efforts to target restrictions can be confidently based on solid data.
  • Continued supports for those who need it most. Finally, continued timely and accessible supports for business will prevent further layoffs, closures, and bankruptcies.
  • Leveraging private sector to support vaccine distribution and deployment. Businesses will be critical in supporting public awareness, logistical capabilities, and best practices.

“As the government explores options to safely re-open the economy, it is worth noting that businesses already adhere to a number of existing health and safety protocols and will do their part to support a safe re-opening. The business community will continue to prove their commitment to safety protocols to protect their worker and customers to keep their doors open,” added Durocher

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This year, the conversations around proper mental health resources and funding are more important than ever.  A recent poll shows that 40 percent of Canadians have reported their mental health declining over the past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the continued enormous pressure and strain families, employees and employers have been dealing with. There is no question this pandemic has taken a toll and as we continue to navigate a second wave and ongoing lockdowns, now more than ever it is important we take a moment to remember our own needs and support each other to get through these challenging times. While we are physically apart, no one is alone when it comes to dealing with mental health issues.

 

We have put together a list of resources that business owners, employers and employees can use to help navigate and manage mental health when it comes to our daily lives, the workplace and longer term tips and tricks. You can take a look at our full list of health resources here and even more resources from Bell, here.

 

Wellness Together Canada

Wellness Together Canada provides mental health resources and direct access to peer support workers, social workers, psychologists and other professionals for confidential chat sessions or phone calls.

 

Mental Health Commission of Canada
The Mental Health Commission of Canada has developed a hub of credible information and resources about maintaining mental health during this time of crisis and supporting people managing a mental illness in this new context.

Workplace Strategies for Mental Health by Canada Life

Canada Life’s Workplace Strategies for Mental Health website is a leading source of free, practical tools and resources designed to help Canadian employers with the prevention, intervention and management of workplace mental health issues.

 

Lumino Health Stress and Anxiety Guide from Sun Life

Sun Life’s Lumino Health platform, which is free to use and available to all Canadians, features a wide variety of mental health information and tools, including a Stress and Anxiety Guide that helps Canadians easily navigate to resources that fit their needs.

 

Workplace Mental Health Solutions from Sun Life

Sun Life’s Workplace Mental Health Solutions website provides organizations and their plan members with relevant resources that support all stages and needs, including free mental health e-training and industry-leading thought leadership.

 

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The release of the province’s Budget 2020 Ontario’s Action Plan: Protect, Support, Recover has gained the support of the Chamber of Commerce network and business community.

 

The recent budget lays out $187 billion in expenditures this year to help the province recover from the impact of COVID-19, earmarking cash for healthcare and subsidizing electricity rates for businesses.

 

 

“These are extremely difficult times for businesses, and we understand that there is only so far a provincial government can go,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “I was particularly please with the reduction in electricity, education tax and the increase in the exemption to the employer’s health tax.”

 

Many of these items were called for in a pre-budget submission released last week by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which Cambridge Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Darren Drouillard says the board supported.

 

“Focusing intently on reducing overhead for SMEs through lower utility costs and tax reductions to business and improving IT infrastructure throughout the province, it is evident that the OCC is in touch with the needs of business and has a well thought-out set of recommendations to guide us through the next stage of the pandemic and economic recovery,” he said.

 

The OCC and Cambridge Chamber have long advocated for greater investment in broadband and cellular infrastructure, reforming taxes to enhance business competitiveness, developing new skills training opportunities, and lowering the cost of electricity for industry, all of which are priorities in Budget 2020.

 

“I certainly welcome a reduction for small businesses in the property tax, however, we will need to see how that comes off the page,” said Greg. “Municipalities cannot hold the burden of these reductions when they are unable to run deficits or borrow money for operational losses.”

 

The province is looking at spending $45 billion over the next three years on the crisis, taking into account the $30 billion already announced earlier this year, plus $15 million in new funding over the next two years. The plan also shows a record deficit of $38.5 billion for this year, which is in line with the government’s projections in the summer. A plan to balance the budget is expected in next year’s budget.

 

 “Now is the time to explore innovative partnerships – such as pubic/private partnerships to build our needed rail infrastructure, commissioning, alternative financing, and community and social impact bonds – to share risk and make the most of every dollar spent,” said Greg, noting small businesses are the heart of the community.

 

Darren agrees.

 

“We, as a business community and network of Chambers and Boards of Trade, will continue to overcome through collaboration, innovation and resilience,” he said.

 

Some key measures in Budget 2020 supported by the Ontario business community include:

 

  • Reducing commercial and industrial electricity rates will make Ontario businesses more competitive and enable them to invest in recovery and growth. For years, Ontario businesses have paid more for electricity than most other jurisdictions in North America, and the pandemic has only increased electricity system costs.
  • Business Education Tax rates vary throughout Ontario; as a result, businesses in London, Waterloo, Hamilton, Toronto, Windsor/Middlesex, and Kingston are paying higher taxes than those in other regions. The government has announced it will both reduce the BET rate and address regional variance within that rate, both of which the OCC and its Chamber network have advocated for in the past.
  • The decision to make the higher Employer Health Tax threshold permanent is a welcome one that will free thousands of businesses from having to pay this tax.
  • The move to allow municipalities to target property tax relief specifically to small business is a creative and important tool to grant communities, given that small business has been hardest hit by the pandemic.
  • Broadband is a basic infrastructure requirement in today’s economy, but the ongoing pandemic has made it even more essential to public health and economic resilience. The Chamber network is very pleased to see the government take this seriously with an additional investment of $680 million (for a total of nearly $1 billion) over six years.

 

For a look at the budget, visit: occ.ca/rapidpolicy/2020-provincial-budget

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Small business keeps the Canadian economy healthy, but the continued effects of COVID-19 have left many SMEs on life support at a time when we need them the most.

 

“Never has there been a time that is more important to shop locally and spend locally, and support your friends, family and your community by buying from a local small business,” says Cambridge Chamber President and CEO Greg Durocher.

 

Despite a strong local economy thanks to a number of larger industrial businesses and manufacturers, he says at least 70% of our local workforce is employed by SMEs.

 

“They employee most of the people who live in the community,” says Durocher. “So, it’s vital for us to make sure we do whatever we can to help small business.”

 

He is hopeful the federal government’s revamped COVID-19 relief programs which aim to steer $2.2 billion into the pockets of commercial tenants and the extension of the wage subsidy that should cover 65% of eligible costs for business owners through December, will provide some assistance.

 

“The problem is that the big gears in government turn very slowly,” he says, adding processes that normally could take months or even years are being put in place in a matter of days. “That bucks against the system and it makes it difficult for government to do that because they like to analyze everything before they send it out the door.”

 

Durocher says the original and much criticized CECRA (Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program) is as an example of an initiative that needed serious fine tuning.

 

“They rushed stuff out putting in legislation, which to some degree protected the government, and then found no one qualifies for it because of those protections,” he says. According to a CBC report, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CIFB) estimates that 47% of small business tenants who needed help with rent couldn’t access the $3 billion budget set back in April, and that as of early October approximately $1.8 billion of that budget had been spent.

 

“We’re (Chamber network) cautiously optimistic at this point the new commercial rent assistance program is going to be better and appeal to more small businesses, or include more small businesses in the equation,” says Durocher, adding the Chamber network has been encouraging Canada’s Minister of Small Business Mary Ng and the finance ministry to roll it out soon so they can review the regulations.

“They’re (federal government) trying to make key changes necessary to make the program more responsive to small business owners, so I think they’re trying to move it along fairly quickly.”

 

He expects the new program will appeal to more small business owners because it will take the onus off the landlords, many of whom were also facing heavy financial burdens under CECRA, and will feature a ‘sliding scale’ that will give businesses who’ve seen a 70% drop in revenues up to 65% of rent coverage.

 

Besides rent relief, Durocher says the extension of a revamped wage subsidy program until June 2021 is also a positive move since our economy is facing some ‘sluggish’ months ahead.

 

“The wage subsidy is going to be very important moving forward, however, the criteria around the new program is that it’s variable so depending on what your revenue has dropped by will determine the amount of subsidy you’ll receive,” he says. “The new program really takes into account those businesses that have reopened and are getting more of their revenue back.”

 

As well, Durocher says the revamped CEBA (Canadian Emergency Business Account) program, which will now provide interest-free loans of up to $20,000, on top of the original $40,000, can also provide much-needed relief for small business owners.

“I think it’s a really important part of the puzzle,” he says. “It’s not that a small business needs, wants, or should accumulate debt, but these are extraordinary circumstances. The important thing will be how do you find a path to ensure ‘my business’ comes out of this pandemic.”

 

Unlike larger businesses, Durocher says SMEs do not have the luxury of being controlled by the global status of the economy.

 

“They can only survive, or fail, based on the local economy,” he says. “What we all know is that we’re sick and tired of the pandemic, but the virus isn’t tired of making us sick.”

 

Impact of COVID-19 on SMEs – (StatsCan and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce)

  • 68% saw revenue decrease by 10% or more
  • 22% unable to stay fully or partially open during the pandemic
  • 25% can’t stay open more than three months
  • 1.2 million SMEs in Canada (426,490 in Ontario) as of December 2017
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The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and Ontario Chamber of Commerce have released The She-Covery Project: Confronting the Gendered Economic Impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario.

 

This policy brief lays out a path to Ontario’s economic recovery offering practical recommendations to confront both immediate and longer-term challenges faced by women.

 

“With women’s labour force participation at a record low, decades of progress towards gender equality are at stake,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO, Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “This is not only a watershed moment for women but for Ontario’s economy and society more broadly, as women’s participation in the labour market is a precondition to its fulsome economic recovery and future prosperity.”

 

“The economic impacts of the pandemic were direct and immediate for women in Ontario,” said Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “Temporary business shutdowns during the state of emergency most severely affected sectors that predominantly employ women. Restrictions on schools and paid child-care facilities have shifted additional hours of unpaid family care onto parents, and this work has largely been taken up by mothers.”

 

Major takeaways from the report include:

  • Leadership and accountability begin with a commitment from stakeholders to set collective targets, reward diversity, include women in decision-making bodies, and apply a gender and diversity lens to their strategies, policies, and programs for recovery.
  • Child care requires a short-term strategy to weather the pandemic and longer-term, system-wide reforms to improve accessibility and affordability.
  • Workforce development initiatives should focus on defining critical skills, accelerating women’s reskilling, and ensuring their skills are utilized – with a focus on increasing their participation in skilled trade, technology, and engineering roles in fast-growing sectors.
  • Entrepreneurship should be understood as a pathway to economic growth, and an inclusive ecosystem is critical to supporting women entrepreneurs.
  • Flexible work arrangements are one way to level the playing field for women and improve organizational outcomes.

 

For more, see the report at:  https://occ.ca/wp-content/uploads/OCC-shecovery-final.pdf

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A new idea has surfaced for a Cambridge bottled water provider to help it combat the effects of COVID-19.

 

Mineva – Water Refined, which has provided water treatment systems in Cambridge since 2011 centred on the process of electrolysis to remove bacteria and viruses, has received its DIN (Drug Identification Number) from Health Canada to manufacture a powerful disinfectant.

 

This new product, which the company is calling ‘Power Play’, is ideal for businesses, schools, and clubs.

 

“We started doing testing and making products back in March,” says Water Refined President Bryan Box, noting the idea first surfaced shortly after the lockdown. At that time, in accordance with safety protocols, his technicians were restricted from entering homes and businesses, which includes dairy farms, to install or service the firm’s patented water technology. 

 

However, he says some employees were kept busy thanks to the company’s work as operators for the wastewater plant of a local manufacturing facility.

 

“That kept some revenue coming in,” says Bryan.

 

But things changed a couple of weeks into the COVID-19 crisis when he began fielding phone calls and requests from clients asking if their water systems could be ‘tweaked’ to create disinfectant.

 

“I had two home users and a dentist all within 10 hours call and ask if they could take their electrolysis system and add salt to it and make disinfectant,” says Bryan, explaining this formula leads to the creation of hypochlorous acid, a very safe substance that white blood cells manufacture to fight infections.

 

“It’s a very powerful disinfectant but very safe,” he says.

 

These requests, including one from a competitor asking if they could use the company’s water bottling line in St. Catharines, prompted Bryan and his team to begin looking into Health Canada regulations to see  how they could pivot their operation to start manufacturing disinfectant.

 

“We joked that we started going down the rabbit hole,” he says.

 

As they investigated this possibility, his company also began sourcing another disinfectant called ‘Neutralyze’ from a B.C. company that does similar work to get the ball rolling locally.

 

Bryan says they enlisted the help of a consultant to help navigate the Health Canada system, which can be daunting, to obtain a DIN.

 

“You don’t know if it’s going to take two months, four months or even eight months,” he says.

 

The proper approvals were obtained, and Bryan says his new product has already been used at the Cambridge Sports Park, The Zone Training in Waterloo and Guelph, Cambridge Kips Gymnastics Club, several dance studios and dental offices.

 

As a father with children who are active in the local sports community, he says having a locally produced product will make it less costly for many organizations.

 

“The prices out there are just astronomical,” says Bryan, referring to the cost of other products available on the market.

 

He says his company has also been in contact with local school boards letting them know about these products as schools prepare to welcome students back.

 

“There might be a mad dash when schools realize there’s not a lot of supply around and everybody’s scrambling,” says Bryan, adding his company is also toying with the idea of providing the necessary prepackaged ingredients to let customers use their own water systems to create the disinfectant. It’s a plan that would also require Health Canada approval.

 

“But that could be another 12 to 18 months do this,” he says, adding he has learned a great deal over the past few months.

 

“It certainly has been an interesting process,” says Bryan.

 

For information about these new products, please visit www.mineva.com

 

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Recovery Activation Program expands to Cambridge

 

COVID-19 has changed everything, requiring telecommuting, on-demand delivery and services, supply chain resiliency and virtual collaborations.

 

Even as the province begins to reopen, the pandemic has heightened the urgency for businesses to digitize to survive.

 

To address this change, Toronto Region Board of Trade and World Trade Centre Toronto created the Recovery Activation Program, or RAP. RAP offers businesses the know-how, blueprint and partners to address the conditions that COVID-19 has created by implementing digital solutions to their front, middle and back-offices. It will not only equip them to come through COVID-19 intact, but to thrive.

 

With the support of a $7.7 million investment from the Government of Canada and Government of Ontario, RAP is now expanding to businesses of all sizes throughout the province, including Waterloo Region. The Cambridge Chamber of Commerce has been selected as an important partner to help ensure local businesses benefit from the customized services and mentorship that RAP offers.

 

“We’re recruiting for RAP because we believe this program will provide our Members with a great opportunity to move their businesses forward,” says Cambridge Chamber President & CEO Greg Durocher. 

 

By enabling this partnership between the Cambridge Chamber and the Toronto Region Board of Trade, the governments’ investment in RAP will also help make sure at least half of RAP’s participants are based outside of Toronto.

 

“The Recovery Activation Program is a direct response to what we’re hearing from our members and the business community at large: digital tools and services are crucial to success, but challenging to implement,” said Jan De Silva, President and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade. “Cambridge’s involvement in this program will result in the digital transformation of businesses outside of Toronto who will now be in a position to shore up their current business offerings, create new businesses opportunities and explore new markets.”

 

Recruitment is now open and interested businesses can apply here.

 

For more information, please contact Cambridge Chamber President & CEO Greg Durocher at 519.622.2221, Ext. 2223, or by email at greg@cambridgechamber.com.

 

 

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The Cambridge Chamber has joined Canada United, a national movement to support local businesses in communities across the country.

 

As part of the movement, RBC has brought together more than 50 of Canada’s leading brands, Business Associations and the national Chamber network to rally Canadians to “show local some love” by buying, dining and shopping local.

 

“The Cambridge Chamber is pleased to support the Canada United movement and help bolster businesses in and around our community. Small businesses are the backbones of our local economies and key to thriving communities,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for businesses in our region and across the province. We need to continue to support SMEs who create jobs, drive innovation, and generate wealth for communities across Ontario – they will play an integral role in helping the province bounce back.”

 

Canadians are invited to join the Canada United movement by buying and dining local, including celebrating and supporting local businesses during the Canada United Weekend from August 28 to 30.

 

Canadians are also encouraged to watch the Canada United videos online at GoCanadaUnited.ca, like posts from @GoCanadaUnited on social media and use #CanadaUnited to demonstrate their support. For each of these actions until August 31, 2020, RBC will contribute 5 cents up to a maximum contribution amount of $2 million to the new Canada United Small Business Relief Fund, while working with government and corporate partners to source additional contributions to the fund during the course of the campaign. This fund will provide small businesses with grants of up to $5,000 to cover expenses related to personal protective equipment (PPE) renovations to accommodate re-opening guidelines and developing or improving e-commerce capabilities.

 

Small Canadian businesses across the country will be able to apply for up to $5,000 in grant funding. The program intends to support small Canadian businesses of all kinds from across the country. The Canada United Small Business Relief Fund will be administered by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce on behalf of the national Chamber network. Small business owners who are interested in the program can visit GoCanadaUnited.ca to learn more about grant application details, including eligibility criteria, and to apply.

 

“We are excited to welcome the Cambridge Chamber to Canada United to help local businesses and Canada’s economy come back strong,” said Neil McLaughlin, Group Head, Personal & Commercial Banking, Royal Bank of Canada. “Canada United was created to kick-start an economic rebound by rallying consumers to give local businesses the support they need to re-open during these uncertain times. By bringing together government, business associations and corporate Canada, we are looking to start a movement to get Canadians to buy local and support businesses across the country. We are genuinely excited by the energy all of our partners are bringing to this effort.”

 

“If there has been one silver lining in all the tragedy and sacrifices of the current crisis, it has been the spirit of collaboration and unity of purpose that has been evident between levels of government, across provinces and across sectors,” said Rocco Rossi, President and CEO, Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

 

“We are calling on that same unity of purpose with Canada United. Small, local businesses are the heart of our communities, our Main Streets and our economy. Together, it is time to show local some love.”

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Life must find a way to continue, even during a pandemic.

 

For those hoping to get married, or sadly for those faced with the loss of a loved one, having to navigate these important life-changing events in this COVID-19 world may appear exceptionally more difficult.

 

“I really feel like the rug has been pulled out from under all our couple’s feet because they’ve been planning this beautiful day for so long,” says Vanessa Davis, Executive Special Events Consultant for Pearle Hospitality, referring to those faced with altering wedding plans at the company’s many well-known properties which includes the Cambridge Mill and Whistle Bear Golf Club. “The part that I’ve been hearing that is the hardest for people has been the not knowing.”

 

She estimates COVID-19 has affected at least 500 weddings planned at Pearle Hospitality properties.

 

“In March and April, we were under mandated closures so there really were no options,” says Vanessa, adding that changed a few weeks ago.  

 

As of June 13, indoor wedding and funeral venues were allowed to operate at a maximum of 30% capacity, with outdoor ceremonies limited to 50 attendees. Receptions remain limited to the 10-person restriction. 

 

And for both indoor and outdoor ceremonies, those attending must follow proper health and safety advice, including practising physical distancing from people who are not from the same household or their established 10-person social circle. 

 

These changes mean couples looking to marry are now faced with making new decisions and left asking many questions.

 

“What will it be like? That’s a really challenging thing people for people to deal with right now,” says Vanessa. “It’s very emotional for them. They’re weighing a lot of positives and negatives because it’s not what they originally wanted.”

 

She says some have decided to postpone until they can stick with their original plans, while others for personal and even cultural reasons, are choosing to go ahead and hold a smaller gathering.

 

“They may decide to have a virtual ceremony they can share with guests near and far on the planned wedding day and have a reception at a later time,” says Vanessa. “I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer. It’s whatever they’re going to feel the most comfortable and happy with.”

 

Virtual ceremonies have become a popular alternative for not only weddings, but also funerals as industry experts do what they can to ensure their clients’ needs are met.

“One of the jobs of a funeral director is not just helping people co-ordinate a funeral that’s unique and personalized, but to provide them with all the information so they can make an informed decision,” says Jon Rolleman, Managing Funeral Director of Coutts Funeral Home in south-end Cambridge.

 

When it comes to planning a funeral during COVID-19, he and others in his industry have also quickly learned to pivot in wake of strict health restrictions.

 

Through the course of the pandemic, Jon says many clients chose direct cremation or immediate burial for their loved ones due to the uncertainty of the situation, while others chose to have a limited number of immediate family members take part in a visitation.

 

“They still got to have the closure they wanted, and I think some people weren’t even expecting to have that opportunity,” he says.

 

Like those in the wedding industry, Jon says his business practices have also been modified to provide more virtual options including a webcast of the burial service.

“It’s nice to be able to provide that to the people who otherwise couldn’t come,” he says, noting Coutts Funeral Home also ensures through its online condolences system the bereaved know who attended the virtual service. “That way they can still reach out individually and still have the support they need.”

 

For additional support, Jon says his clients also can utilize a compassion ‘helpline’ on the Coutts Funeral Home website that provides 24-hour access to a variety of services, including certified grief professionals and psychologists. The service is offered through its parent company Dignity Memorial. 

 

“We have some really amazing benefits from being part of a such a large network of funeral homes,” he says, adding they have seen an increase in usage of the helpline during this time. “It’s nice to know it’s there and we get to offer that to our clients.”

As well, clients of Coutts Funeral Home can also make arrangements online, however, Jon says many still prefer the more ‘personal’ touch of a face-to-face meeting.

 

“We leave it up to them,” he says. “We prefer in person because there is so much more of an individual connection and that’s a big part of what we do.”

 

Despite creating new options and working within the ongoing restrictions, Jon says his key role and that of his team has remained the same throughout the pandemic.

“Obviously, our job is more empathy and compassion than anything else and making someone’s difficult time easier and the way we approach a family has never changed,” he says.

 

And with new safety protocols in place, which includes very specific physical distancing rules at visitations and following a series of guidelines, such as collecting information for potential contact tracing purposes, Jon and has team have learned to adapt very quickly.

 

“Personally, I’m very adaptive so it didn’t stress me out,” he says. “A big part of my role has been making sure I get all this information to my staff and help them manage the changes quickly and make sure their comfortable with the new systems.”

 

They keep the capacity of mourners at 50 invited guests if a service is requested to take place at a church, or in a cemetery, which Jon says is quite manageable. 

 

“We want to do our part for the community,” he says, referring to keeping people safe. “It’s a real balance to be able to give families what they need.”

 

Jon says the need for a funeral is imperative in the grieving process and feels sorry for those who decide to forgo that option. 

 

“People are justifying things in different ways for what they’re doing, but they’re really depriving themselves of what a funeral is and what it stands for and how it helps,” says Jon. 

“They’re depriving themselves of that opportunity, so I’m concerned about people’s mental health going forward.”

 

To rectify this issue, he hopes to be able to offer an ‘open’ memorial service, perhaps several, for those clients who have lost someone during the COVID-19 crisis and chose not to have a funeral.

 

“At least people who didn’t do anything can have a more formalized service,” says Jon, adding funerals are a celebration of life and are no longer ‘traditional’ as they once were. “Funerals are much more personalized and unique. Our job now is to give clients all the options so they can make informed decisions that are right for them.”

 

The same sentiment holds true when it comes to planning a wedding, especially during a crisis like COVID-19.

 

“My biggest piece of advice is that whatever they decide to do it’s going be great,” says Vanessa. “If the couple decides they want an intimate ceremony with 10 of their closest people, their other friends and family will understand. And if they decide to wait another year and do the party as planned, that’s a beautiful idea too.”

 

For more, visit pearlehospitality.ca or  dignitymemorial.com

 

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