Plante wants predictable pandemic reopening schedule from Quebec

Plante wants predictable pandemic reopening schedule from Quebec

Cultural venues, festivals, hotels and restaurants “need a sign” if Montreal is to continue to be a destination of choice, mayor says.

Publishing date:

Feb 06, 2022  •  February 6, 2022  •  3 minute read  •  7 Comments

Fans were allocated to
Fans were allocated to “pods” at the Osheaga Get Together, a paired-down version of the music festival, at Parc Jean-Drapeau in Montreal on Oct. 1, 2021. Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante on Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022, said the city needs a reopening plan from Quebec after suffering through the COVID-19 pandemic’s fifth wave. Photo by Dave Sidaway /Montreal Gazette

Montreal needs a reopening plan if it’s to once again welcome tourists and visitors, if delegates are to travel to the city for conventions and meetings, and if festivals and other cultural events are to return, says Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.

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A clear signal is needed from Quebec on how the city can reopen in a safe way and what health measures will be in place, taking into account the continuing presence of the coronavirus pandemic, now in a fifth wave, she said at a news conference Sunday.

“We are asking the provincial government and public health authorities to share a plan, like other provinces have done, so we can tell congresses, visitors and tourists: ‘Here is a plan for how you can come to Montreal this spring and this summer,’” Plante said.

Ontario, for instance, has announced a plan for a partial reopening on Feb. 20 and a complete reopening in mid-March, she said.

Cultural venues, festival organizers, hotel and restaurants “need a sign” if the city is “to continue to be a destination of choice, as we have always been,” Plante said.

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“Montreal is a dynamic and vibrant city, but it is perceived now as closed — without plans for its reopening,” said Yves Lalumière, president and CEO of Tourisme Montréal, joining Plante via a video link.

Hotels, airlines, cultural festivals and the restaurant industry are all “exasperated” by the lack of predictability, he said.

Organizers of the 100 or so festivals planned for Montreal this spring and summer have also expressed concern: They have to hire staff and recruit artists — and artists have to decide whether they want to come to Montreal, Lalumière said.

Restaurant dining rooms reopened Jan. 28 at half capacity, and cinemas and many entertainment venues reopen Monday, also at half capacity, but bars, some of which are smaller entertainment venues, do not yet have a go-ahead to reopen.

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“The Quebec government has been helpful during the COVID waves, but we are asking them not to forget smaller venues, smaller events that fully contribute to the dynamism and economic growth of Montreal,” Plante said.

For spring and summer to be successful in Montreal, a reopening date is needed for conventions and meetings, Lalumière said. So far, 50 conventions and conferences planned for March and April have been cancelled: Spring and summer meetings are next, he said.

“The window is closing,” he said, and at stake are both Montreal’s economic health and its reputation.

“I think our reputation as an open city, a very international city with record-breaking numbers of visitors, is at risk as other cites have reopened and made clear statements.”

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Popular convention cities, including Boston, Chicago, Washington and Toronto are all reopening. “Montreal is the only city with no date for reopening for meetings,” Lalumière said.

“Our health regulations are stricter than those of other cities, even though we have higher vaccination rates,” he said.

Organizations planning meetings are making decisions now for events slated for 2023 and 2024, and “we are about to lose major conferences we have worked on for many years,” he said.

It takes years of work to recruit a conference to the city, said Glenn Castanheira, executive director of the Société de développement commercial Montréal Centre-Ville — and if it moves elsewhere, years and years again to get it to return.

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“We were the first to lock down and are the last to reopen,” he said, “a huge risk” to Montreal’s economic and cultural health.

“We do not question health regulations,” Castanheira said.

The business community has applied public health measures, he said. Cultural venues have followed health regulations and “restaurants sacrificed their economic health for public health.”

“We never want to put the economy ahead of public health,” he said. “We are asking for a clear signal about a reopening, knowing full well that, if there is a new wave or a new health risk, the industry will adapt.”

sschwartz@postmedia.com

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