An Ontario business leader is calling on the provincial government to provide immediate support to businesses hard hit by new pandemic restrictions.
Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, said the government needs to develop a plan to help businesses weather the changes in capacity limits that took effect on Sunday.
The province has imposed a 50 per cent capacity limit in several indoor public settings, including restaurants, bars, gyms, personal care services, retail stores and shopping malls.
"Business has been there from the very beginning to help with public health measures. We absolutely understand that a healthy economy is based on a healthy community. But if you're going to introduce new measures, new restrictions, you have to, at the very same time, introduce supports for the hardest hit," he said on Sunday.
HST holiday would provide relief, chamber CEO says
Rossi called for a December HST holiday, which means businesses would keep the money collected through the harmonized sales tax to help them stay in operation. Other support programs, with the help of the federal government, could take the form of rent and wage subsidies and loan forgiveness, he said.
A December HST holiday is the fastest way to help businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic's fifth wave, he added.
"Waiving the December HST payments, allowing these businesses to keep whatever it is that they collect in that, could go a long way to assisting them in an immediate way," Rossi said.
On Friday, the province said the new capacity limits, along other public health measures, would help to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.
The government imposed other rules as well: bars and restaurants that serve food and drink must close by 11 p.m.; the number of people permitted to sit at a table in a restaurant and bar is limited to 10; singing and dancing is barred at clubs; the sale of alcohol is restricted after 10 p.m.; and the consumption of alcohol in businesses or settings is restricted after 11 p.m.
Rossi said businesses such as restaurants and bars need immediate aid because the new restrictions come during the busiest time of year, he said.
"The end of the year, the Christmas season and New Year's, is in normal times, make or break for them. That is their highest revenue time and their capacities are being significantly limited. In fact, New Year's Eve parties are totally out the window because of the time restrictions, and these are massive dollars for those small businesses," he said.
Rossi said it is not enough for Ontario Premier Doug Ford to say he will join Quebec Premier François Legault in asking the federal government to renew support programs for businesses and workers.
"With all due respect, if you have the time to write new restrictions, you have the time to write new cheques to hard hit businesses. They need to send a clear signal to business today that they're going to do it, that they'll cut the cheques themselves and simply negotiate with the federal government for payment," Rossi said.
Premier acknowledges measures to affect businesses
On Friday, Ford told reporters that the province is looking at ways to support businesses but he provided few details. His office declined to provide further details when asked in an email on Sunday.
"I know these measures will have an impact on businesses during the important season," Ford said on Friday. "Over the coming days ahead, these measures coming into effect, we will be exploring every option to provide more supports."
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said the province will take action to help businesses.
"There's a lot of businesses, small businesses in particular, that have been hit hard through the last 21, 22 months, and we've provided a lot of supports," Bethlenfalvy said.
"We will be looking at providing supports, we're going to be targeted and look at necessary supports given the circumstances, which is the capacity limits differences that we've got here. And we'll have something to say in the very near future."
For Erin Gamelin, owner of Louis Cifer Brew Works, the new restrictions will not be easy. Cancellations have already been made. The pub will spend the next few days calling people who have made reservations to see if people can be accommodated under the new rules.
Gamelin said the pub anticipated the new restrictions.
"We're so used to them pivoting and backtracking and backpedaling and switching gears and changing the goal posts that it's like: 'What are we doing now?' Okay, fine," she said.
But help is needed, she added. "We need subsidies. If he wants to lock us down, then he needs to help support us."
Gamelin said, however, she is hopeful that programs will be in place this week.