Restaurants may not survive without extension of COVID-19 benefits, group warns
TORONTO -- Restaurants Canada is calling on the federal government to increase and extend the COVID-19 wage and rent subsidies into 2022 to ensure food service businesses can make it through the ongoing pandemic.
Todd Barclay, president and CEO of Restaurants Canada, told CTV's Your Morning on Wednesday that the food service industry is currently at a "crossroads."
According to surveys conducted by Restaurants Canada, eight out of 10 restaurants are either losing money or just barely breaking even, and seven out of 10 restaurants are currently taking advantage of government subsidy programs.
"So for [those programs] to go away right now at such a critical time, it could be the final nail in the coffin for many of these businesses right across the country," Barclay said.
Many of the federal government's key pandemic supports are set to expire in a few weeks, prompting some business leaders to advocate for an extension.
Programs like the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) and the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) are scheduled to terminate on Oct. 23, after being extended several times since their launch in 2020.
As of Sept. 26, the government has paid out $93.97 billion to nearly 4.4 million CEWS applicants, and $6.6 billion to more than 1.6 million CERS applicants.
When asked last week whether the government is planning to prolong them once again, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland was noncommittal, saying that the pandemic continues to pose a challenge to businesses. She added that the government will have "more to say about the specifics soon."
Barclay said many restaurants are already losing money, and having these benefits end will "definitely" create a situation where many of them may shut down indefinitely.
"What I'm hearing from most restaurants across the country is that if these subsidies go away, there's a very good chance that they will not continue to operate," he said.
According to Restaurants Canada, at least 10,000 restaurants have closed in Caanda since the first lockdown.
While Barclay says subsidies are key in helping the restaurant industry continue to get through the COVID-19 pandemic, he said the government also needs to be aware that restaurants cannot take on any more debt.
"We don't need loans, we need grants, and also the loans that have been provided, we need for there to be greater forgiveness of those loans," he said.
Amid ongoing labour shortages in the industry, Restaurants Canada is also pushing the federal government to resume and ramp up immigration and temporary foreign worker programs.
Barclay said restaurants continue to need help because they are still dealing with pandemic restrictions that are hampering business.
"Governments are still forcing restaurants to not operate at full capacity. Businesses that can't operate at full capacity, don't make money," he explained.
Barclay said restaurants need more aid to get through the winter months and into the spring when hopefully infection rates have decreased further and more restrictions are lifted.
"If we can get there, we know that we can continue to be such a vibrant important part of the economy and a vibrant important part of communities right across the country," Barclay said.
With a file from CTVNews.ca's Sarah Turnbull