When governments responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with mask mandates and other restrictions, auto dealers across Canada had no choice but to comply. But now that mandates are easing, dealers are left to navigate how they will disengage from rules that have been controversial at best and divisive at worst.
Ontario on Wednesday said it is removing mask mandates on March 21 in most settings, including schools, and is ending all remaining public health measures, directives and orders on April 27. Government officials say individual organizations will have the authority to keep their own requirements in place, and most hospitals have said they will continue their strict vaccine mandates.
Dealers interviewed by Automotive News Canada prior to the announce said they will take various approaches, but the common theme is flexibility with customers.
“Most people will be happy to not have to wear masks any longer,” said Reg Nimeck, president of Etobicoke, Ont.-based Raceway Automotive Group, which owns three dealerships in the Toronto area. “The general population will be happy to go back to the new normal.”
Francesco Policaro, CEO of the Policaro Group, said prior to the government announcement that his four dealerships — Acura, BMW, Lexus and Porsche — in the Toronto area will follow government guidelines but will also be flexible.
“If a customer prefers to wear a mask and wants a staff person to wear a mask, then we’ll wear a mask when dealing with that customer.”
IT’S UP TO CUSTOMERS
Quebec will continue with masking in public spaces, although it plans to lift proof-of-vaccination requirements by March 12 and phase out the use of masks in public spaces by mid-April.
Dealers will respect the wishes of customers, said Robert Poëti, CEO of la Corporation des concessionnaires automobiles du Québec, which represents 900 franchised retailers.
In late January, the province’s dealers were hit a requirement that any business of 1,500 square metres or more — including the service area — could not admit customers who did not have a QR vaccination code.
“Customers were mad when they weren’t allowed to go in,” Poëti said. Although the requirement lasted only a few weeks before the government dropped it, he said, “It was a nightmare.”
British Columbia is also continuing for the time begin with mask mandates. Blair Qualey, president of the 400-plus-member New Car Dealers Association of British Columbia, said he expects most retailers in the province will “continue to be careful” once restrictions are lifted.
“Dealers have a responsibility to protect their employees and customers.”
On March 1, the province said it will ease restrictions when it is safe to do so and hinted that could be as soon as spring school break, which begins March 14.
A BUMPY ROAD TO NORMAL?
In the remainder of the country, Alberta and Saskatchewan lifted mask mandates March 1; Manitoba will lift its mandate March 15; New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador on March 14; Prince Edward Island on April 7; and Nova Scotia on March 21.
In Amherst, N.S., Ryan Madonald, dealer principal at Cumberland Honda, said that when the mandate is lifted, the store will not continue enforcing masking for staff or customers — it is up to retailers if they want to continue — but “we will still offer masks to staff and customers who wish to wear one for the foreseeable future.”
In western Canada, Vaughn Wyant, president of the Wyant Automotive Group, said protective equipment such as transparent plastic barriers will remain in place at the company’s 29 dealerships, although he sees them eventually coming down.
Staff has been instructed that if a customer enters the dealership wearing a mask, then the staff person who deals with that customer is required to wear a mask as well. Otherwise, masks are not required.
Although Alberta has lifted the mask mandate, the provincial capital of Edmonton imposed its own. Mike Norris, owner of Volvo of Edmonton, said the dealership will comply with the city’s rules unless the provincial government intervenes.
“We’re in limbo here because the mayor is fighting with the province.”
What Norris calls the “gong show” in Alberta stands in stark contrast to Florida, where he attended a meeting of Volvo dealers in late February. Florida is wide open, with no restrictions, he said.