Montreal

Quebec business owners struggle under weight of newest public health restrictions

While bars and restaurant owners take another hit, business organizations are calling on the government to speed up the financial aid process while sports organizations breathe a sigh of relief that people can, in some capacity, remain active.

Sports organization heads relieved that people can still practise under certain conditions

Philippe Desrosiers says closing his Quebec City brewery for a fourth time is hard on his employees, as he may have to lay off half his staff. (Radio-Canada)

Philippe Desrosiers says closing his Quebec City brewery for a fourth time since the start of the pandemic isn't a shock, but nor is it painless.

"This one hurts even more for our employees. It is the holiday season," he said.

Since INOX serves food as well, it's allowed to stay open until 10 p.m. under the province's new public health restrictions announced Monday, but Desrosiers said he expects he will have to lay off half his staff.

"On Dec. 31, closing at 10 p.m. does not make sense. You might as well be closed," he said.

Sergio Da Silva, co-owner of Turbo Haüs on Montreal's St-Denis Street, said he's sick of repeating tactics.

"What I'm upset about is that, after two years of doing the same thing and not figuring it out, we're in this position again," he said.

"At a certain point, it becomes unacceptable. It's like abusive behaviour at this point."

Business organizations call for government aid

François Vincent, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business's Quebec chapter, said  the government's announcement hurts entrepreneurs who have taken heavy financial losses by complying with health measures since the start of the pandemic.

"It's bad news a few days before Christmas," he said. 

His organization is asking the Quebec government to "significantly modify its assistance program, to reduce red tape, and focus on direct assistance for businesses."

As it stands, one in four small business owners in Quebec think they will not survive through 2022, he said. The new measures may "be the final blow for a lot of businesses."

Quebec retail and grocery stores are operating under reduced capacity, while bars are closed. Restaurants' capacity is reduced, and opening hours are limited to 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. (The Canadian Press)

The president of the Nouvelle Association des Bars du Québec, Pierre Thibault, said in a statement Monday that the province's bars are being held hostage by the health crisis once again and he is asking the government to act quickly to prevent closures.

The Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec (FCCQ) said the same, insisting assistance programs must provide relief quickly to businesses closed or affected by the provincial government's decision.

In a statement, the federation says restaurant and bar owners had stocked up in preparation for the holidays and these new measures will be costly. Theatres and cinemas are also taking a hit, the statement says.

WATCH | Situation in Quebec 'critical,' says health minister: 

Situation in Quebec 'critical,' says health minister

9 months ago
Duration 2:20
Quebec is closing businesses and schools to protect residents and the health system amid an alarming jump in cases of the Omicron variant.

The FCCQ is asking the various levels of government to speed up the financial aid packages and distribution of booster shots to help get the economy back on track.

On Monday evening, the Quebec government announced its business assistance program (AERAM) was relaunching with a particular focus on bars, cinemas, theaters, gyms and other recreational venues.

Businesses affected by a closure order will be able to resubmit their requests for financial assistance of up to $15,000 per month to cover eligible fixed costs. 

Some sports activities still allowed

Heads of Quebec sports organizations say they are relieved not to relive a complete closure of sports activities, despite the government's decision to shut down private and public gyms.

Practising sports remains permitted insofar as it brings together a maximum of 25 participants on the playing surface. Changing rooms in swimming pools or arenas can only accommodate people at 50 per cent of their usual capacity.

Outdoor sporting events are still permitted, as are venues serving as Olympic, Paralympic or World Championship qualifiers. Professional and amateur sporting events cannot have spectators.

The general manager of Sports Quebec, Isabelle Ducharme, said it's important to keep active as long as people don't let their guard down and they continue to follow public health measures.

"It is good news to see that we can keep people active while taking into account the risk of outbreaks. The situation is critical, but it is important to preserve both physical and mental health," she said.

Judo Québec president Patrick Kearney said he's happy that athletes can continue to practise.

"The limit of 25 participants is something quite easily manageable in the world of combat sports," he said.

with files from Jay Turnbull and Radio-Canada

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