Barry Van Dusen has run the Whistle Stop Pub in Courtenay for about 18 years. It’s this last one that’s getting to him though.
Frustrated by regulations that almost seem like a game of Simon Says, he is sending a message in the form of an open letter to Premier John Horgan.
Over the past 14 months, bars and restaurants have been shut down off and on for a total of four months, while having to take increasing measures to stem the spread of COVID-19 when open. Now, they are being limited to serving customers on patios. As of late March, they have been closed to indoor serving because of the ease with which variants spread.
“We’re following all these protocols, and some of us are doing even more than what’s required,” Van Dusen said. “We take all the precautions in the world, and yet we’re the ones that get shut down.”
For his business during the past year, this has meant measures such as contact tracing, enhanced sanitizing, one-time-use menus, constant cleaning of salt-and-pepper shakers, even taking people’s temperature at the entrance. At some businesses, the regulations mean people are eating in parking lots or on sidewalks.
What Van Dusen would like is some form of consistency, not only for bars and restaurants alone but for other businesses. While he has many issues with what he sees as the reactionary responses from the provincial and federal governments, his main question surrounds the relative freedom with which certain businesses can operate.
“What protocols do the big box stores follow? They do not enforce sanitizing at the entrance. They do not take temperatures at the entrance. They do not take names for contact tracing. They do not go around after patrons and wipe down items that have been touched and put back. They allow patrons to walk around wherever they want and most times without adequate spacing,” he states in the letter.
For Van Dusen, there is also a negative form of consistency. He points to the majority of cases in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions and wonders why other parts of the province, which have had lower numbers, are being handled the same way as the Lower Mainland. At the same time, he adds, the province could have considered establishing bubbles for areas with fewer cases. (The province did bring in travel restrictions later the same day as he spoke to the Record.)
Overseeing the industry, the Alliance of Beverage Licensees (ABLE BC) is surveying restaurants and bars about the effects the changing regulations have had on businesses.
“ABLE BC and our industry partners will be meeting with government in the coming days to discuss the impacts of these restrictions and request additional urgent financial support for our industry,” the organization said on its website on April 21.
Van Dusen has provided his opinions through the survey, but he wants to get his message to the provincial government now, on his own.
“They’re reactive…. they’re not proactive,” he said.
The Record has contacted the Ministry of Health for clarification on regulatory differences for businesses.