Storefronts in Ottawa’s Glebe neighbourhood are reflected in a sign indicating the temporary closure of a business to prevent the spread of COVID-19, on March 24, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Ontario’s Finance Minister is urging insurers to stop discriminatory pricing in commercial business policies as almost half of Canadian small businesses report their insurance costs are creating financial pressures during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our government has been keeping a close watch during this pandemic to ensure insurance companies are meeting the needs of small businesses during this unprecedented time,” Finance Minister Rod Phillips told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail.

“My message to insurance companies has been clear: I expect you to treat your customers fairly.”

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Since the onset of COVID-19, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) – an association with 110,000 small-business members – has seen a growing number of small-business owners contacting the association’s hotline with concerns about the rising cost of insurance.

About 48 per cent of small-business owners say their insurance costs are creating financial pressures on their overall business, according to a recent CFIB survey.

Most businesses require commercial business policies, covering policyholders for fire, theft, liability and, in some cases, business interruption. Some Ontario bars and restaurants have seen premium increases of as much as 300 per cent this year when they went to renew policies, while others have been refused insurance entirely.

The hospitality sector is only one group that has experienced premium rate hikes among small businesses. CFIB chief executive officer Dan Kelly says manufacturers, professional services firms, and transportation companies – such as taxis and the trucking industry – have all reported insurance concerns when it comes to renewing existing policies.

“Some of this was happening prepandemic,” said Mr. Kelly in an interview. “We