Canada's Largest Province Grapples with Food Rules During COVID-19

Ontario has added new protections for agricultural workers and relaxed restaurant regulations.


Late Tuesday night, dozens of customers lined up outside a popular bar in Toronto. At midnight, the bar opened its doors, welcoming drinkers into its open-air patio for the first time in months after mandatory closures meant to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given America's close cultural, economic, and geographic links to Canada, and the fact that country has—like nearly every country to date—done a better job containing COVID-19 than has the United States, it's worth taking a look at how Canada is reopening its food economy even as some U.S. states that reopened in part are being forced to pump the brakes due to rising numbers of COVID-19 diagnoses and hospital admissions.

Toronto, Canada's most-populated city, is situated in the province of Ontario. It is Canada's most populous province by a wide margin. Nearly four in ten Canadians reside in Ontario. The province also boasts more residents than its closest challengers—Quebec and British Columbia—combined.

Canada is facing many of the same challenges with its food system that Americans have been dealing with during the pandemic. Just like here in the United States, for example, while many smaller meat producers are thriving, larger meat processors have been hit by COVID-19 outbreaks among employees. Just like here in the United States, that's hurt foreign workers particularly hard, given the fact tens of thousands of guest workers from Latin America and other countries plant, harvest, and process much of the food grown in Canada.

"Without them, Canadian farmers can't feed us," the Toronto Star editorial board wrote earlier this month. "There's nothing more essential than that."

After several Mexican agricultural workers died from COVID-19, in cases linked to outbreaks at more than a dozen Canadian farms—including a particularly severe outbreak in southwestern Ontario—Mexico announced it would halt plans to send vital workers to Canada unless the country agreed to implement steps to reduce the risk of infection among guest workers. After Ontario's Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association recommended this week that all agricultural workers be tested for COVID-19, the province announced it would implement that step and others. Mexico and Canada reopened the worker pipeline this week.

Just as some state and local governments here in the U.S. have done, Ontario lawmakers and regulators have acted to reduce the burden of some food regulations. The province's agriculture minister, Ernie Hardeman, has spoken before about the need to cut red tape in the food sector. To that end, Ontario lifted a ban this spring on retail-to-consumer cannabis deliveries. Last month, Ontario regulators lowered the minimum price bars and restaurants can sell on takeaway liquor from approximately $2.00 CAD per one-ounce serving to $1.34 CAD per serving.

Of course, no government body should mandate prices for buyers and sellers. But this may be what counts as progress in Ontario. After all, as I wrote in a column last year on the glacial pace of alcohol reforms in the province, decades of inadequate half-measures have been offered up as real reforms. As I noted at the time—well before the pandemic arrived in North America—the province had proposed several startlingly modest booze reforms, such as letting convenience stores sell beer and wine, legalizing happy hour advertisements and tailgating, allowing breweries, wineries, and distilleries serve all but mere samples, and letting local governments allow people to consume alcohol in public parks.

Since the pandemic took hold, Ontario has announced a host of additional measures intended to help reopening food businesses. Those steps include allowing proprietors to open new patios and expand existing ones. That process is needlessly complex.

"Normally what you'd have to do is apply up to four times a year and this would go on for 14 days at a time," provincial attorney general Doug Downey said. "[T]here would be increased rules around barriers, that kind of stuff. This simplifies it." Toronto has its own plan in place to facilitate that process, dubbed CaféTO.

But why all that red tape in the first place? Earlier this month, Canada's National Post suggested alcohol Prohibition in the first half of the 1900s is still engrained the nation's psyche.

"Canadian cities [are] still dealing with a prohibition hangover from a century ago," the paper wrote. But the Post also suggested that the pandemic may cause lasting, positive changes in the ways Canada regulates food and drink.

"Decades from now, is it possible we'll look back on COVID-19 as a turning point in Canada's alcohol laws, just as we look at prohibition as a turning point in the other direction?" the Post asked. We can only hope that's the case.

NEXT: The Media’s Role in Concealing Stalin’s Evils Exposed in Mr. Jones

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  2. dozens of customers lined up outside a popular bar in Toronto

    They queued up. Dozens of customers queued up. This is Canada, after all. 😉

    some U.S. states that reopened in part are being forced to pump the brakes due to rising numbers of COVID-19 diagnoses

    They’re not being forced to do shit. They’re choosing to do it.

    1. To be fair, they are being forced by their constituencies, not yours. The hell with liberty and common sense and science. They have teh feelz on their side.

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  3. All the doctors: “It’s okay to protest, go out there and do it, COVID doesn’t infect protesters!”

    2 weeks later: “OMG the the US keeps hitting record highs of daily infections, US citizens are so irresponsible! We clearly need to shut down the businesses again.”

    1. Those businesses being open was essential to looters during the rioting epidemic but now the Wuhan epidemic is back and they are no longer needed.

  4. “All the doctors”? Hardly. Most of us — at least the ones I’ve talked to — are embarrassed by that letter and ridicule it every chance we get. Hell, most of the signatories to that letter weren’t doctors anyway. While there were quite a few MPHs, there was also a smattering of medical students (lulz), attorneys, and randos with weird credentials like “a black American.”

    “Public health experts,” my ass.

  5. Of course, no government body should mandate prices for buyers and sellers.

    This weird stylistic tic is endemic at Reason. It is a bald assertion devoid of argument. It reads like preaching to the choir — it’s not going to persuade anyone who doesn’t already lean libertarian. It’s sad that the menu we’re served here is either overtly leftist or childishly trivial. There’s nothing intellectually stimulating or philosophically engaging about the content. To me it’s not enough to know that you agree with me. I want to know why you agree with me. I want to be challenged and strengthened. In the words of the old proverb: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

  6. What’s happening at Facebook is interesting. They’re taking down all sorts of things they consider racist and intolerant. It’s a reaction to the growing list of companies who say they refuse to advertise on Facebook over the coming months. Unilever, the consumer products giant, joined the list of companies that won’t advertise on Facebook yesterday.

    “The new policies were announced Friday shortly after The Wall Street Journal reported that consumer-goods giant Unilever PLC is halting U.S. advertising on Facebook and Twitter Inc. for at least the remainder of the year, citing hate speech and divisive content on the platforms.”

    Progressives consider opposition to affirmative action and reparations to be racist. Progressives consider opposition to gay marriage to be homophobic. Progressives consider opposition to abortion to be misogynistic. Progressives consider support for President Trump’s border wall to be xenophobic. If you hold any of those positions, your content will eventually be taken down on the basis that it is racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or xenophobic.

    Even if you hold none of those positions, understand that government efforts to regulate social media will never result in a social media environment that respects free speech and freedom of expression. It will necessarily result in a social media environment that has been sanitized of even these standards views, at least one of which is probably held by every registered Republican in the country.

    From the major consumer products companies that buy the advertising that makes social media happen to the social media companies themselves and the politicians in Congress who would regulate them, there is no one that will stand up for your right to say things that other people find intolerant. And I don’t care whether you’re talking about Democrats or Republicans in Congress or whether you’re talking about Obama or Trump appointees to the courts–none of them will stand up for your right to say offensive and controversial things on privately owned social media.

    The idea that the government will make social media safe for conservatives is a delusion. I think conservatives still believe that the government can still be honest and will work for their interests. Their delusion is coming from a good place, but it’s still a delusion. Section 230 is like the dutch boy with his finger in the dike (no pun intended). When lawsuits deluge the courts and the courts make their rulings, the politicians will get involved with their own remedies because the rulings won’t sit well with one side or the other. And what the politicians do to solve our problems is sure to be worse than what we have now.

    1. Deleting my Facebook account was one of the few good decisions I’ve made in life.

    2. Why do progressives sound ever more like a 3-year old girl running a princess tea party? She defines a never ending number of delusional and conflicting rules, especially about her own status and that of the others. And she positively will not consider any other opinions, and will throw a tantrum if contradicted.

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    In this case [PDF], via Gabriel Malor, it’s a pair of unicorns. Not only does the Sixth Circuit Appeals Court strip the qualified immunity the lower court awarded to a couple of Ohio cops, but it also strips the immunity from the city of Euclid, Ohio.

  8. What?
    Socialist Canada doesn’t have ration stores like their brethren in the communist utopia Cuba?
    This is an outrage!
    How do the Canuks expect to be a true proletariat paradise if they don’t starve the masses into subjection?
    Stalin is spinning in his grave.
    I hope you Canuks are happy now.

  9. So corporate cucks at supercuts and great clips wont cut your hair unless you mask up.

    I see Black American barbers are shaking off the tyrannical demands for masks and cutting hair sans masks. I look forward to market decisions bringing back Barber Shops run by local entrepreneurs who tell the government to fuck off.

    The Democrat Party is so screwed.

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  11. So Canada has tweaked some minor laws to become even more perfect and better than the US? And they are so much more accommodating and caring for their “guest workers”? Exactly how open is Canada to illegal, ahem, undocumented immigration?

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  13. What?
    Socialist Canada doesn’t have ration stores like their brethren in the communist utopia Cuba?
    This is an outrage!
    How do the Canuks expect to be a true proletariat paradise if they don’t starve the masses into subjection?
    Stalin is spinning in his grave.
    I hope you Canuks are happy now.

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