The decision to retighten restrictions in Ontario in hopes of curbing the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant and a rapid increase in hospitalizations has once again left businesses scrambling to make ends meet.
But with these latest restrictions, which includes cancelling in-door dining in restaurants and implementing capacity limits in the retail sector until Jan. 27, the lack of solid financial supports to assist businesses get through this latest wave is creating a great deal of frustration.
“If the government wants businesses to be compliant and agreeable with restrictions and be part of the solution to end this pandemic, then they are going to have compensate business,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Greg Durocher. “The Province has done a very poor job of doing that from the onset of the pandemic.”
A similar sentiment is shared by his counterpart at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.
“We are all doing our part. Now, the government needs to do their part,” said Ontario Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Rocco Rossi in a Jan. 3 media release. “What additional steps does the government plan to take over the next 21 days and beyond?”
Greg says he welcomes the introduction of an Ontario COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant announced Jan. 7 that will see eligible small businesses receive $10,000 throughout these current closures as well as electricity-rate relief but believes more supports are needed.
“It may be enough for three weeks they are proposing, no question about it,” he says. “But if the closures are going to be in place longer than three weeks, which I hate to even say, they’re going to have to up the ante substantially. Businesses are at their most vulnerable time right now and business owners are at their wit’s end and at the end of their bank accounts.”
An application portal for this program is expected to open in the coming weeks and eligible businesses include:
Also, those eligible businesses that qualified for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant and are subject to closure under modified Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen will be pre-screened to verify eligibility and will not need to apply to the new program.
“The government can’t hesitate and must ramp up supports as quickly as possible, and as robust as they possibly can,” says Greg.
Greg says the new Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program unveiled before Christmas, which aims to provide eligible businesses with rebate payments equivalent to 50% of the property tax and energy costs they incur due to current capacity limits, doesn’t work for many businesses.
“Right now, many businesses that don’t have a separate tax or hydro bill because it’s included in the rent they pay will be ineligible to get that recovery,” he says, adding the mid-January timeline announced by the Province before it activates the portal for businesses to even apply just adds to their growing financial burdens. “The portal was already available after the government initiated a property tax and hydro rebate program a year ago. They should have opened this up right away.”
In response to these restrictions, the Ontario Chamber Network sent a letter Jan. 6 to Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy calling for the following:
While the urgency for immediate assistance is needed, Greg says he fears these supports won’t be released quick enough to assist businesses, noting many of whom were starting to realize significant growth in the latter part of the summer and early fall.
As well, he says businesses that have been around for a decade or two and were in ‘growth mode’ prior to the pandemic are also facing tough times ahead.
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