Listen to this post

On March 23, 2020, both Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Quebec Premier François Legault announced a major development in the management of the COVID-19 crisis in each of their provinces: the immediate shut down of all non-essential services , effective Tuesday March 24, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. EST. The Ontario shutdown is for at least two weeks, while Quebec’s shutdown is for at least three weeks.

Both Ontario’s Regulation and Quebec’s Order in Council formalizing the announced orders were published today. Ontario’s is available here and Quebec’s here.

Quebec’s Order in Council brings several changes to the original list of priority services and activities published online the afternoon of March 23, 2020. The Order in Council authorizes Quebec’s Minister of Health and Social Services “to add or delete priority services or to make clarifications” and, because of the fluidity of the situation, we would anticipate further changes and clarifications be made in due course.


These orders target physical “places of business” in Ontario or “work environments” in Quebec and intend to enforce social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, both provinces have encouraged businesses to engage in teleworking and e-commerce and, for those essential businesses that continue operations, to do so bearing in mind directives issued by public health authorities.

There is obviously overlap between the Ontario and Quebec lists. By way of example, in both provinces, the following will remain open:

Food: Grocery and convenience stores are open, as are restaurants (takeout and delivery only) and businesses involved in food production or delivery. That includes pet food stores.

Liquor: The LCBO and SAQ will continue to operate.

Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices: including pharmacies, manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and retailers of pharmaceutical products and medical supplies/devices.

Priority Manufacturing and Transportation: inputs necessary for priority sectors, food chemicals, etc.; public transportation, airports, ports, etc.

Utilities: Energy, water, telecom and garbage-collection utilities will continue to run. Check your municipal government to learn more about whether billing for those utilities has been waived or postponed near you.

But Ontario’s list of “essential businesses and descriptions appear much broader than Quebec’s list of “priority services” and descriptions. For example:

  • Ontario has listed “Professional services including lawyers and para-legals, engineers, accountants, translators” whereas Quebec has “Professional orders – public protection component”.
  • Ontario describes “manufacturing and production” essential workplaces more generally than does Quebec, which is more specific in its listing of “priority manufacturing activities”.

While we wait for any further guidance from either government, what seems clear is that the Quebec order, for now, presents a more restrictive interpretation than Ontario, thus potentially targeting certain services or activities within a business.

However, the penalty for breaching the order is much steeper in Ontario, where a corporation found in breach is liable for up to $10 million dollars and each day in violation is a separate offence. In Quebec, any person in breach of the order is liable for a fine between $1000 and $6000, which amounts are doubled in the case of a second or subsequent offence.

We would also expect both the Ontario and Quebec governments to provide clarification as the situation evolves and businesses respond.

Please reach out to our team if you have questions about your business and either order.