Tourism Red Deer Executive Director Rene Rondeau says local businesses need more financial support from the provincial government. Rondeau was on a town hall telephone call with government officials Wednesday evening, which included business owners and stakeholders. (Advocate file photo)

Tourism Red Deer Executive Director Rene Rondeau says local businesses need more financial support from the provincial government. Rondeau was on a town hall telephone call with government officials Wednesday evening, which included business owners and stakeholders. (Advocate file photo)

Gov’t needs to do more to support central Alberta businesses

Businesses need more financial support from the provincial government.

As some restrictions are set to be eased early next week, government officials, including Premier Jason Kenney, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health and Doug Schweitzer, minister of jobs, economy and innovation, heard from business owners and stakeholders Wednesday in a telephone town hall.

Tourism Red Deer executive director Rene Rondeau said in listening to the many local businesses on the call, it’s clear they can’t hang on much longer under the current climate. With restrictions not likely to be fully eased anytime soon, he said financial assistance needs to be explored and something that business owners he’s talked to are clamouring for.

“It’s good to have open communication, but there needs to be a financial plan. It’s great that we’re trying to open doors and do that kind of stuff. Medically, we have to abide (by the rules) and get out of this hole and do what we can to control the spread,” he said.

“Financially– a lot of our local businesses and tourism… are at their final straw.”

In January, the government announced expansions to The Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant. The program was originally launched in June of 2020.

It offers financial assistance to Alberta businesses, cooperatives and non-profit organizations with fewer than 500 employees that have faced restrictions or closures due to COVID-related public health orders, and have experienced revenue losses of at least 30 per cent.

The program offers up to $20,000 in funding for organizations established before Feb. 29, 2020, including unregistered sole proprietors.

There is up to $15,000 in funding for new organizations that began operations between March 1 and Oct. 31, 2020, including unregistered sole proprietors.

According to a press release, as of Feb. 1, Alberta’s government has provided more than $327 million to more than 47,000 businesses across the province.

Still, those funds have been hard to access for some and Rondeau said there has to be a better way to help out businesses like hotels and tourism.

“There’s some businesses that will tell you that, they’ve tried and they’ve gotten nowhere,” he said.

He said much of the town hall call was focused on fitness facilities and restaurants and the reopening strategy over the next several months and less on the hospitality industry, which has also struggled during the more recent restrictions.

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said they heard from businesses about how difficult the past year has been for them.

“What we said to small business owners and sectors that were on the line is two things. First of all, the best chance we have of being able to slowly increase the amount of activity that can happen in different settings is to show with each small step forward we can continue to keep our trend downward with our new cases,” she said.

“If we’re able to do so, in each of these sectors, slowly step, by step, we’ll be able to allow additional activities. The other thing we wanted to make clear, is we are being very thoughtful about how we balance the needs of Albertans and the minimizing of risk of COVID harm and minimizing of risks of the harms of the restrictions.”

Rondeau hopes in the near future he can set up a town hall with those same officials or even local MLAs, so they can listen to the struggles of businesses in Red Deer and beyond.

“People, their livelihood is strapped with money into their business. They can’t open the doors and they can’t run it without some financial assistance. We won’t have any businesses to go back to,” he said.

The province is planning to move forward with Step 1 of its Path Forward plan on Monday. At that time, fitness facilities can open with strict guidelines, including only one-on-one training with a personal trainer. Restaurants can open for in-person dining with a maximum of six people at a table and only one household.

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