Edmonton businesses say new provincial COVID-19 supports fall flat

Newly announced supports for businesses that have opted into the province’s vaccine passport system fall short, say some Edmonton business owners. 

Costs of enforcing vaccine passport adding up, owners say

Square 1 Coffee co-owners Brandy and Jonathon Bronzy chose not to participate in the province's restriction exemption program, opting to keep their two locations takeout only. (Katie Samycia)

Newly announced supports for businesses that have opted into the province's vaccine passport system fall short, say some Edmonton business owners. 

"I thought it was slightly underwhelming, to be honest," said Cathal O'Byrne, owner of O'Byrne's Irish Pub, which adopted the restrictions exemption program when it launched in September. 

The program allows businesses to require patrons or clients to show proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. O'Byrne said enforcing it has been challenging. 

"Normally, we're a seat yourself venue but we've had to hire at least three or four extra staff and security now for during the week, because the later the day goes on, the more people we get that start to cause a little bit of a ruckus," he said. 

On Thursday, Premier Jason Kenney and senior officials announced one-time, $2,000 grants to small and medium businesses to help offset the cost of adopting the restriction exemption program.

The province has also created a $1-million fund to support safety training for employees tasked with implementing vaccine passports, and doubled fines from $2,000 to $4,000 for individuals who mistreat workers trying to enforce the program.

Kenney also announced legislation that will protect businesses from legal challenges for requiring workers to be vaccinated or over the restrictions exemption program.

O'Byrne's Irish Pub owner Cathal O'Byrne said he was a bit underwhelmed by the province's annoucement of support for businesses. (O'Byrne's Archives)

O'Byrne says $2,000 doesn't go very far to help with extra staffing costs. He said he doesn't want to sound like he's asking for a handout, but if they're going to offer subsidies, he wishes the province would look at the percentage each business is spending on staffing now versus what it was back in 2019, and offer to help bridge that gap. 

He also said the offer to fund training is "naive."

"We've been dealing with people who are drunk and disorderly and have been barred from the business for 23 years. Throwing some extra dollars at training us is like beating a dead horse," he said.

Not the answer

OTTO Food and Drink owner Ed Donszelmann also believes the province's offers of support fell short.

Donszelmann says by making it optional, the province's vaccine passport program puts businesses in a difficult position of shouldering the responsibility of enforcing it, and taking heat from angry customers.

But not participating wasn't a viable option for OTTO, he said. 
OTTO Food and Drink owner Ed Donszelmann wishes the province would adopt a universal vaccine passport system to take the onus off individual businesses. (Ed Donszelmann)

"If I don't enact their failure of a restriction of exemption program, I would have to lay off all my staff, and within a few months I would have to declare bankruptcy," he said. 

'Not even a little bit'

Square 1 Coffee owner Brandy Brozny decided against bringing in the restrictions exemption program. 

"We didn't want to have to deal with the hassle of fighting people about having their vaccine passport and doing all of that," she said. "If the situation is as bad as it is, people don't need to sit down."

She said she's had to clarify with a couple of customers that she fully supports immunization, but said it made a lot more sense to move to takeout only at her cafe's two locations.

Bronzy said the supports offered by the province on Thursday will do little to help their business. 

She said they crunched the numbers and calculated it would cost over $100,000 a year to pay someone minimum wage to stand at the door at both locations for the 14.5 hours a day that they are open. Like O'Byrne, she says $2,000 wouldn't go far. 

"It's not even a drop in the bucket to cover that cost," she said.


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