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Local and Canadian options key to a recovery

Restaurants have been at the forefront of the economic woes related to fighting the novel coronavirus, as stories in this week’s edition show. Forced to close or to make do with takeout service, most restaurants are suffering from the lockdown, a position they share with other businesses.Restaurants Canada estimates that 800,000 foodservice jobs have already been lost nationwide due to COVID-19. Nearly one in 10 restaurants have already closed permanently, with the trade organization predicting many more might close by the end of the month if conditions don’t improve. That’s certainly the case with At The Crossroads Family Restaurant, a casualty of the battle to slow the spread of the virus.

Food service sales are expected to be down nearly $20 billion for the second quarter of 2020, reflecting the lockdown that went into effect last month. Slumping sales were the impetus for the #TakeoutDay campaign that aims to have Canadians order dinner from their favourite restaurants to help them weather the storm – if we want them to be there when things return to normal, a bit of financial help is needed today.

Similar efforts are underway to bring attention to other small businesses, some of which are struggling to offer curbside pickup and even online shopping, jumping into what is a very competitive market dominated by huge players such as Amazon.

But our communities will be well served if we all attempt to shop from small, local businesses where possible. Again, there’s a very real risk the landscape will look much different – and not for the better – when the crisis passes and life returns to something like the normal of just a couple of months ago.

Ideally, steps to buy local today evolve into a permanent change to do just that, an extension of a movement that has very much blossomed where food is concerned.

In the short-term, buy local and buy Canadian efforts will help some businesses stay afloat and give a small boost to an economy that is contracting dramatically just now. Once the economy reopens, there’ll be a long lag time before the recovery sets in, though the time will be shortened if we put an emphasis on local goods and services.

In the longer term, we’ll have to rethink globalization and the scattered supply chain, especially where China is concerned. Buy Canadian measures will help counter corporate attempts to resume the status quo.

Yes, Canada is a net exporter – and will continue to be so given our resource base – but our manufacturing base could certainly use the business. This is especially true given the influx of overseas goods and the insidious trend of outsourcing to offshore locales, which are more pressing concerns than trade with our U.S. neighbours, which whom we have much more in common on every front.

Buying locally, especially from small producers and retailers, is the perfect tonic for the globalization that has destabilized the financial system, weakened the domestic economy and lowered the standards and safety of the goods we consume.

We don’t have to go back to far in our collective memory to recall when stores were not filled with the amount of imported goods we see today. There was a strong domestic manufacturing base, and outsourcing was not prevalent. We bought locally made products, often from small retail outlets – the big-box retail explosion had not yet occurred.

Consumers looking for Canadian options, and manufacturers looking to get the word out would lead to something of a reverse globalization. The key to a more prosperous local manufacturing base is to seek out Canadian goods and to begin demanding more local products from retailers. That would have a tremendous impact on the economy, which is clearly going through a rough stretch.

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