Some Ottawa businesses welcome, some criticize new government support

·3 min read
New federal and provincial support programs aim to help businesses affected by 50 per cent capacity limits in Ontario. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
New federal and provincial support programs aim to help businesses affected by 50 per cent capacity limits in Ontario. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Many small businesses are welcoming the new federal and provincial support programs announced Wednesday, but others say the programs aren't inclusive enough, fail to provide adequate support or are unfairly enforced.

CBC Ottawa spoke with a number of local businesses affected by 50 per cent capacity restrictions that came into effect Sunday. A range of businesses, including restaurants, gyms and malls, were affected.

"Obviously, it's not the ideal situation in general, but of course it will help our business," said Claudia Hernández, whose family owns the traditional Mexican restaurant Casa Mexico in Ottawa. "It's a give and take situation at this moment."

The federal government announced in a news conference Wednesday it is expanding access to pandemic financial supports that will apply retroactively from Dec. 19 until Feb. 12, 2022.

The government revised what it considers a "lockdown" to include areas where indoor capacity has been restricted by 50 per cent or more.

Submitted by Claudia Hernandez
Submitted by Claudia Hernandez

In those regions, employees who have lost more than half their income will be eligible for the $300-per-week Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, and employers who have faced revenue declines of at least 25 per cent can apply for wage subsidies from the Local Lockdown Program.

The Ontario government also announced supports for businesses Wednesday, covering up to 50 per cent of the property taxes and energy costs of eligible businesses.

Tough time of year

Hernández said the restrictions — and now financial supports — came at a crucial time of year for her restaurant.

"The holidays are really important," she said. "We were expecting — throughout the whole pandemic — December to be a good month. With the new restrictions, we have to adjust everything."

Michael Wood, an Ottawa-based business advocate, said restaurants he spoke with are dealing with a 10 to one rate of cancellations to new reservations.

"Many restaurant owners will tell you the third week of December is one of the busiest and most profitable of the year," Wood said.

He added the following three months of the year are "trying" times for retail and hospitality, meaning capacity restrictions are hitting retail and hospitality businesses during a lucrative period.

"These capacity restrictions comings in at this time, make it very, very difficult for small businesses," he said.

Changes to program eligibility, loans called for

Ontario NDP finance critic Katherine Fife called for a moratorium on evictions as well as direct grants for small businesses in a press release Wednesday.

Wood said he would like to see the supports cover businesses started during the pandemic, who currently do not qualify for government programs.

He added some businesses he spoke with hoped the federal government would either extend the deadline for repaying the Canada Emergency Business Account loan program or turn it into a grant that does not require repayment.

Not all business owners agreed.

Everett Sloan, owner of Crossfit Bytown, said the only government support he took through the pandemic was the federal rent subsidy during early lockdowns.

He said he doesn't support the government turning loans into grants, because it would be unfair to businesses like his that chose not to take the money in the first place.

"It's going to be very different for each business," Sloan said. "If you're borrowing money — out of honour, you've got to pay it back."

Wood said every "little bit" of support helps businesses struggling to make those payments.

"We're always grateful," he said. "However, more could also be needed for some small businesses to survive."

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