QUEBEC CITY & TORONTO - Acting to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), the governments of Quebec and Ontario separately issued orders placing temporary restrictions on "non essential" businesses effective today.

The two directives, however, go in opposite directions for secondary wood products manufacturers. Quebec deems woodworking operations as non-essential, effectively shutting down its woodworking industry through at least April 13. Ontario, on the other hand, views woodworking as an essential business and is allowing wood product manufacturers to keep operating as long as they adhere to public social distancing and other government health mandates. Ontario's lock-down of non-essential business is to run through at least April 7. 

Sandra Wood, executive director of the Canadian Kitchen Cabinet Association, said she has been fielding a lot of inquiries from members seeking clarification about the orders. "One thing that is clear is that there is confusion," Wood said. She added that the "fundamental differences" of the resepcctive directives issued in Ontario and Quebec have fueled that confusion.

Mike Baker, executive director of the Blue Water Wood Alliance (BWA), a wood manufacturing cluster serving southwestern Ontario, said he has also been seeking answers to help members understand how the Ontario order impacts them. He pointed to the province's list of "essential businesses" that includes "(b)usinesses that extract, manufacture, process and distribute goods, products, equipment, and materials, including businesses that manufacture inputs to other manufacturers" and  "(c)onstruction work and services, including demolition services, in the industrial, commercial, institutional and residential sectors."

Baker said he spoke to a member of the Ontario Parliment who confirmed that Ontario wood product manufacturers can continue operations so long as they "maintain (2 meter) social distancing and sanitizing practices to maintain a safe workplace for their employees." He added that each company has to decide for itself whether or not it can meet those guidelines. "While some companies are choosing to remain operational, BWA is encouraging members to make the safest decision in the interest of their employees and follow government recommendations to help prevent spread of the virus." Baker said.

Both Wood and Baker each said they are continuing to closely monitor the situation because further restrictions are possible.

Luke Elias, president of Muskoka Cabinet Company of Ottawa, Ontario, said his company's manufacturing operation remains open but on a reduced scale. "We've applied for a work sharing program. We're going to reduce our capacity so that we can reduce the number of people in the building. Everyone in sales and that kind of thing are working remotely anyway. On the production side, and most especially the assembly area, we're going to voluntarily reduce our output to where an employee might work two days this week and three days next week. This will allow us to reduce the distance between employees on the shop floor."

Elias added that some of Muskoka's suppliers were "on the fence" about whether to stay open or not as they scramble to understand how Ontario's order affected their ability to remain open.

Durham Furniture of Durham, Ontario, is among wood products companies that are temporarily shutting down manufacturing operations. In a letter posted on the company's website, Luke Simpson, president and CEO, said, "Durham Furniture will be complying with this order that protects our employees and our communities from the spread of COVID-19 for as long as required. Even though our production and office will be closed, we want our Dealers to know that we will be available via email at [email protected] to answer any questions you may have. For our Dealers who have placed orders that haven’t shipped, we will be able to provide an updated available to ship date after we return to full production. If you send completed orders to the customer service email address they will be entered in order of receipt and scheduled when we return from the mandated shut down."

Taurus Craco, a distributor of woodworking machinery based in Brampton, Ontario, and a supplier member of the BWWA, announced that is was temporarily closing its office. In a letter emailed to customers, Wes Love, president of Taurus Craco, wrote, "As the world reacts to the growing threat posed by the spread of COVID-19, we would like to inform you that Taurus Craco Machinery Inc. has accepted the civic responsibility in doing our part to suppress the curve of COVID-19.  We have an obligation to protect our communities from this rapid growing virus and hope our contribution will save lives and ultimately minimize the impact to society."

In Quebec, CNC Automation of St. Zotique, closed its office until April 13 to comply with the province's COVID-19 directive. "This action is to conform to the request made by the government to stop all business activities considered non-essential," states Andrew Legault, president of CNC Automation, in a letter posted on the woodworking machinery distributor's website. "CNC Automation believes that it is essential to follow the rules of containment to protect our employees, their families and all business partners. We totally support the efforts to contain the virus “sooner than later” so that we can all return to our regular lives as quickly as possible."

For the interim, Legault said CNC Automation personnel will continue to support customers throughout Canada via the Internet and phone communications and is looking into ways to best facilitate parts service.

The Quebec Furniture Manufacturer's website notes that the government's order will have a huge impact on most of its members. "Not surprisingly, furniture manufacturing is not considered essential by the government. The AFMQ urges you to follow government directives." AFMQ's website further notes that members who make furniture for hospitals, laboratories and the like might be "designated essential."

This afternoon, the Ontario goverment reported 100 new cases of COVID-19 bringing theprovincial total to 688. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Quebec jumped by 385 bringing the provincial total to 1,013.

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