Small business advocates are angry MLSE helped Ontario develop its vaccine passport app, but the company says it didn’t get special treatment

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The new Ontario COVID-19 Vaccine Passport app comes with assistance from the company that owns the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors, Premier Doug Ford announced Friday.

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The Verify Ontario app is part of a plan to help the province’s economy recover from COVID-19 restrictions. But Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment’s involvement in developing the app has sparked concern among critics, who were angered by the government’s move just a week ago to raise capacity limits for sporting venues, while restaurants, bars and gyms are still running. are also limited to 50 percent.

At a news conference, Ford vehemently denied that the province was controlled by MLSE — BCE and Rogers Communications — a favor in exchange for assistance in developing the app. MLSE also denied that it had intentions to help with the app.

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“I’ll tell you now, absolutely not. It’s 100 percent,” Ford said, adding that his “heart breaks” for beleaguered restaurant owners, but he doesn’t want to loosen COVID-19 restrictions too quickly.

“My heart breaks for them, but I’m going to do it right. There’s no way I’m going to rush it and suddenly in four weeks, we see the numbers go up and we have to go backwards.” ,” Ford said.

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“It’s very disappointing,” said an emotional Selina Blanchard, owner of Lambretta Pizzeria, about the partnership and the continuing lack of clarity about when she’ll be able to fill her restaurant.

“Unfortunately it raises questions. On optics, it’s just not good,” said Ryan Mallow, Ontario regional director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

James Rilett, Central Canada vice president at Restaurants Canada, worried that the partnership with MLSE shows the Ontario government is listening to large corporations, while smaller businesses are the best idea.

“It’s clear that big businesses don’t have the ears of major and small businesses. It’s getting harder and harder not to be cynical,” Rilett said. Well, that’s great, but the bottom line is that big business was given special preference.”

Ford argued that the move to open arenas and movie theaters to full capacity benefited more than just MLSE, which is owned by BCE and Rogers Communications.

“By the way, it’s not just about the MLSE. It’s about the CFL. It’s about small towns around Ontario where the OHL has smaller teams, whether you know, Salt Ste. Mary’s or London ,” Ford said.

In an emailed statement, NDP leader Andrea Horvath said the partnership was reminiscent of the government’s decision to allow large retailers such as Walmart and Canadian Tire to remain open during the pandemic, while smaller retailers were allowed more faced sanctions.

“Doug Ford has a track record of giving his friends what they want at the expense of small businesses. Ford didn’t deal a fair blow to mom and pop shops when he kept them closed while he gave big box stores some And once again he’s stacking the deck in favor of his friends while keeping the little guys at a disadvantage,” Horvath said.

Sports industry sources estimate that the Scotiabank Arena being filled with 20,000 fans could generate more than $3 million per Leaf game in revenue from tickets, concessions and merchandise sales.

MLSE’s chief technology and digital officer, Hamza Tehrani, said money — and filling the field for Leafs and Raptors games — was not a factor.

“Absolutely not. I understand where the question comes from, but I can assure you that when it comes to any of these things there were no talks,” Tehrani said.

The company, Tehrani said, was just a good corporate citizen when it agreed five weeks ago to help the province’s digital team refine the app, which was in an early beta stage at the time.

“This technology should help everyone get to a better place. And that’s what we intended from MLSE’s point of view: to help the province we’re clearly a part of, to get a good process, something That which was simple, was easy. And we gave our skills and experience to complete it in record time,” Tehrani said.

MLSE has worked with various levels of government during the pandemic, Tehrani said, including using the Scotiabank Arena to prepare 600,000 meals for front-line workers and homeless Torontonians and hosting a vaccine clinic, In which 27,000 people get injections in a single day.

Tehrani said the app means it will take business owners just 10 to 15 seconds to scan a QR code and determine whether a customer can walk through their door. By comparison, the current system of viewing a PDF or printout of one’s vaccine receipt takes anywhere from 45 seconds to a minute on average.

Mallow acknowledged, it was a huge improvement.

“Look, the app works great. I was impressed by how easy it is to use and how fast it would go. It is much better than the system we have in place,” Malo said.

The app also uses open source code, Tehrani emphasized, which means it can be used by other governments or companies to develop their own apps.

“If other provinces want to use it, they can use the code base to get the app in their province. They can do it anywhere in the world. This is a civic opportunity to pursue other municipalities and regions as well,” Tehrani said.

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