British Columbia

Businesses welcome feds' help but say B.C. economy will still take a big hit

The vice-president of the Business Council of B.C. warns the province's economy could contract by seven per cent in 2020, a far greater hit than the 2008-2009 recession.

75% wage subsidy a big help, restaurateur says: 'It's going to give people ... breathing room'

The owner of Downlow Chicken in Vancouver said he's thankful for help from the federal government for small and medium-sized businesses. He said he's already had to lay off 30 per cent of his staff. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Doug Stephen, the owner of Downlow Chicken Shack on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, says his restaurant is still taking orders during the coronavirus emergency, but it hasn't been easy.

He estimates he's had to lay off about 30 per cent of his staff. The physical orientation of the restaurant has had to change to help keep diners and staff far enough apart to reduce the risks of spreading COVID-19. The number of customers placing takeout and delivery orders has dropped.

Because of those challenges, Stephen said Friday that he's welcoming increased wage subsidies announced by the federal government to help small and medium-sized employers keep their workers on the job.

"I really think this gives, not just restaurants, but a lot of small businesses a fighting chance," Stephen said. 

"It's going to give people the breathing room and the ability to make the changes necessary [to stay open]."

Takeaway and delivery orders are the only business that Downlow Chicken can accommodate during the coronavirus emergency. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

The announced measures include a 75 per cent wage subsidy for workers not laid off, guaranteed interest-free loans and deferred tax payments.

While the news is being welcomed, one business group says Canada is not doing as much as other countries to support business.

An employee at Downlow chicken takes a customer's order for takeaway. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Long-term impacts

Corinne Lea says supports for businesses still in operation are great, but there's no way hers can be one of them.

Lea is the owner of Vancouver's Rio Theatre. The independent theatre normally screens films and hosts live events but has been shuttered since March 16 to comply with provincial orders.

"I'm in the business of encouraging people to come out and get together and watch shows and movies and events," Lea said. "That is just not what we need right now."

The Rio Theatre has been closed since March 16. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Lea said she'll be keeping an eye on specifics of the federal business supports which are to be announced Monday. She's hopeful there will be something for her theatre which employed 24 people until recently.

"Business isn't going to come roaring back like the virus never happened," she said.

'Daunting'

Ken Peacock, vice-president of the Business Council of B.C., said the hit businesses in this province could take is likely to be significant and he questions why more isn't being done to help them.

His organization has analyzed the various sectors in the province — a challenge because there are still so many unknowns about what the coronavirus emergency might entail and how long it might last — and estimates B.C.'s economy could contract by about seven per cent in 2020.

A closed sign in Balcony Floral Design Studio door in Vancouver. The Busines Council of B.C. believes the damage to the provincial economy as a result of the coronavirus emergency could be historic. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC) (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

That would be far worse than the 2008-2009 recession and on par with the recession of 1981-1982, he said.

"Our biggest fear is the destruction of institutions and businesses," Peacock said. "It's a daunting number."

He said the 75 per cent wage subsidy is good news for businesses but questioned why measures to prop them up aren't coming faster.

"I don't think anyone is going to criticize the government for trying to do too much," he said.

With files from Jon Hernandez

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