You might say the province and City of Toronto’s draconian lockdown rules are driving Jeff Graham crazy.
The 20-year Toronto instructor with Canada’s best-known driving school figures he’s been off the job more than 225 of 365 days in the past year, not permitted to work due to various COVID lockdowns.
After four months of collecting CERB last year, he is now getting $460 weekly from Employment Insurance — about $500 less than he regularly brings in per week.
He told me recently that he normally earns $960 in a bad week, giving lessons as often as six days out of seven.
“We’ve been targeted as a group that must be super spreaders,” Graham said.
He said it doesn’t make sense that Uber drivers are considered essential and someone can sit in their car for 20 minutes but evidently those same rules don’t apply to a driving school car.
When the city went into the red zone last summer, he was permitted to work.
Graham said he took all the proper precautions — masking, keeping the windows down and sanitizing his car after each lesson. He also insisted those being instructed cleaned their hands with hand sanitizer at the start and end of every lesson.
Not a single case came out of the driving instruction industry, he added.
Graham said his industry, hair and nail salon staff and tattoo artists have “individually sacrificed” the most financially during the recurring lockdowns and unlike small retail or restaurants have no opportunity to generate “any income” with online or curbside pickup through lockdown after lockdown.
The province’s new modified “grey level variance” announced Friday did not include his industry, so Graham will be sidelined at least another two weeks with no income and no help paying bills.
To add insult to injury, he said, City of Toronto officials are so “out of touch” with non-essential employees that they still insisted on charging him a $325 license renewal fee plus a $110 auto safety check — both necessary if the car is regularly on the road used for training. But he’s been parked on standby for seven months.
Graham said city officials haven’t even offered a pro-rated fee for this year taking into account the time lost.
City spokesman Lyne Kyle said Municipal Licensing and Standards officials are currently considering providing support in instances like this.
She said during the 2021 budget process council directed the city’s CFO Heather Taylor to report to the April 26 general government committee on a possible application-based business license deferral program for businesses with deferral applications “assessed on COVID-19-related financial hardship and an inability to pay.”
Kyle said it would be modeled on the property tax deferral program, which allows residents to defer their taxes for up to six months without having to pay interest on the outstanding balance.
Just one point here: By the time the committee discusses the changes and it gets to council, one would hope services like Graham’s driving instruction and nail salons would be up and running. In other words, the time to do this was six months ago.
Kyle added that city licensees are given 90 days past their renewal date before their license is cancelled — during which time the city is not charging late fees.