Restaurants, business groups call on feds and provinces to aid pandemic-ravaged small businesses

Ontario has imposed a 50 per cent capacity limit at most indoor settings

A call for help from Restaurants Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) to aid businesses saddled with new capacity restrictions just days ahead of the lucrative holiday season.

Ontario has imposed a 50 per cent capacity limit in several indoor public settings, including bars, restaurants, personal care services, gyms, shopping malls and retail stores. The measures began Sunday in a bid to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

MOST BUSINESSES DON’T QUALIFY FOR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

In an open letter to all premiers, CFIB President and CEO Dan Kelly and Todd Barclay, the head of Restaurants Canada, said under the current rules, businesses across the country do not qualify for support from the federal government.

“With many public health officials ringing Omicron alarm bells across Canada, many small businesses are, once again, deeply affected. Most provinces have now announced a fresh round of restrictions, on top of the ongoing restrictions like vaccine passport requirements that exist across the country,” the letter read.

“Even before Omicron fears, nearly two-thirds of small firms across Canada have not seen sales return to normal levels. And of this group, nearly a quarter report their business may fail within the next six months.”

They warned that tens of thousands of small businesses will not receive any support from the government even though restrictions will “dramatically reduce their ability to serve customers and public health warnings frighten many into staying home.”

“You may have been led to believe that with the passage of Bill C-2, the federal government has renewed the wage and rent subsidy system that has helped tens of thousands of businesses survive the pandemic so far. This is incorrect,” the letter read.

Under the current eligibility criteria, to qualify for the Hospitality and Tourism Recovery program, businesses must see a 40 per cent loss in revenue in both the current month and over the past 12.

For the Hardest Hit Recovery Program, businesses must see a 50 per cent drop in the current month as well as a 50 per cent drop over the past 12 months.

“The new federal support programs are incredibly limited in scope. CFIB’s pre-Omicron data showed that 80 per cent of small businesses in need of help will no longer qualify,” the letter said.

The two groups are calling for the provinces to “lift restrictions at the earliest opportunity.”

CHAMBER CALLS FOR DECEMBER HST HOLIDAY

Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, has called on the Ford government to provide immediate support to businesses hit hard by the pandemic.

Rossi would like to see a December HST holiday, in which the harmonized sales tax collected by businesses is used to help them stay afloat. He has also suggested Ontario, with help from the federal government, could offer loan forgiveness and rent and wage subsidies.

His comments are echoed by Paul Markle, executive director of the Barrie Chamber of Commerce.

Markle says this is the second winter small businesses are looking at these kinds of restrictions. While a lockdown would be worse, it’s still not ideal.

“It’s about the mildest you can get, but at the same time, devastating to businesses,” he points out.

“Government’s need to step up. It’s one thing to make this really rapid sort of changes to keep people safe, but there’s a hit these businesses are taking, and they need support.”

Markle says what they are hearing now is a lot of lip service.

“They need to have something that’s solid. The federal government needs to get off their butts and work cooperatively with the provinces to get support for these businesses, or we are going to lose them.”

Markle says he isn’t even sure if it’s the financial aspect anymore.

“It’s the mental anguish that goes along with the unknowing or not knowing what’s going to happen or how you are going to pay your next bill, and that’s devastating,” he says.

“I don’t see this as a hand-out. This isn’t something that the businesses have done on their own. They don’t want the support, they want to be open, but failing that, they have to keep the lights on.”

Markle says the impact on the system if these businesses close is going to be far worse than the subsidies that need to be put in place to support them.

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