A chef cooks on a rainy fall day as a restaurant is open for curbside pickup during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Business groups appeal for support amid surging COVID-19 cases and new restrictions

Business groups appeal for support amid surging COVID-19 cases and new restrictions

Two of Canada’s largest business groups are calling on provincial governments to provide financial support for restaurants, retailers and small businesses grappling with renewed public health restrictions.

In an open letter to premiers, Restaurants Canada and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said Tuesday that many provinces have introduced a fresh round of restrictions on top of existing measures, putting their businesses at risk.

They say those new rules, coupled with widespread fears of the spiking Omicron variant of COVID-19, have prompted many Canadians to cancel holidays plans and shop online.

But many businesses still don’t qualify for federal government support as their operations aren’t fully locked down.

“Put frankly, tens of thousands of small firms across Canada will receive no support from governments while government restrictions dramatically reduce their ability to serve customers and public health warnings frighten many consumers into staying home,” the organizations wrote.

They asked the premiers to announce a new round of provincial small business grants and to pressure the federal government into bringing back wage and rent subsidies with the same eligibility requirements those relief programs had in spring.

The groups also want the Canada Emergency Business Account program reopened with a larger loan, a larger forgivable portion and delayed repayment requirements.

The groups want the government to make any new relief programs more accessible, so new firms can benefit and companies don’t have to meet the onerous terms once required.

Past terms kept businesses like Anita Agrawal’s from getting support.

The chief executive of Toronto jewelry manufacturer Jewels4Ever applied for rent relief, but didn’t qualify because her company saw a 66 per cent drop in business, just shy of the 70 per cent the government required.

Despite the lack of support, she kept her business running, but admits Omicron now has her staff afraid to come to work and has already hampered her reservations.

“On a regular day, we maybe have eight to 10 appointments, but because of COVID, we’ll have like two or three,” Agrawal said. “And now with Omicron, it’s even less, so it is a bit of a struggle.”

While Agrawal sees the need for small business owners to receive more support, she called on the provincial and federal governments to think about long-term solutions too.

High on her wish list is making commercial rent affordable because it is a massive portion of the business expenses companies have.

“We don’t have any caps in this province on how much your rent can increase,” she said, referencing Ontario.

She fears companies will have to consider cuts or closures once more if there is no sustainable rent relief and many won’t have anything left in their coffers to survive after previous waves of restrictions.

“I’m very worried about the next three months and what that means,” she said. “Stores are going to be closed again, possibly, or will have less traffic as a result of the Omicron variant and… that’s going to have an impact on all of us, because most people’s big priority won’t be to go out and spend money.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2021.

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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