Quebec restaurant and bar owners mull reopening in defiance of health orders

Bar and restaurant owners say they are so fed up with the government's slowness to provide aid and last-minute announcements to close down that some are considering reopening Jan. 30 even if the Quebec does not permit it.

Many are tired of cycle of opening and closing and slowness of government aid

Bar and restaurant owners in Quebec are considering reopening on Jan. 30, even if the government does not allow it. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Hundreds of Quebec restaurant and bar owners are considering opening their doors at the end of January in defiance of government health orders, the head of a group representing bar owners said Friday.

A movement that began with a few restaurants sharing a message on social media appears to be growing, Renaud Poulin, head of the Corporation des Propriétaires de Bars, Brasseries et Tavernes du Québec, said in an interview.

In recent days, he said he's received calls and emails from hundreds of businesses who are inquiring about the consequences of reopening on Jan. 30, although he said it's not clear how many will follow through.

Poulin said his organization doesn't advise restaurant owners to defy health rules because of the sanctions they can face, but he said he understands their frustration.

"There are financial consequences, but they're so desperate about losing everything, it might be the only solution left to them,'' he said.

Financial aid offered by the government is insufficient and complicated to access, he said, adding that Quebec has not given any timeline on when businesses can reopen.

While the original social media message made reference to reopening without checking vaccine passports, Poulin said the "vast majority'' of owners want to take precautions and respect health measures, including verifying patrons' vaccination status.

Gyms, bars and entertainment venues have been closed since December, as have restaurant dining rooms.

A pedestrian walks by a closed bar. Quebec bars were among the first businesses to close down, and the last to reopen, during the pandemic. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

While Ontario has announced a plan to ease restrictions, Premier François Legault said Thursday the situation in Quebec is still too fragile to follow suit, even though hospitalizations appeared to be peaking.

"I understand that we are all tired, but lives are at stake,'' Legault said.

Pascal Galante, owner of Zoé Fondues Karaoké & Cocktails in Montreal, said the feeling among restaurant and bar owners is one of "complete despair.''

In a phone interview, he said owners feel "totally disrespected'' by the government, which he said often announces new restrictions last minute, giving owners only days to prepare. Government aid, on the other hand, takes months to come, he said.

He said the latest provincial aid program requires a "ton of paperwork'' that can take weeks to fill out, and said the money often comes several months later — far too late for owners who have endured nearly two years of on-and-off closures. He said the federal programs aren't better and he's still waiting for help from programs he applied to months ago.

This is after many owners, including himself, have jumped through hoops to ensure health measures are respected, including spending thousands on plexiglas, spacing out tables and increasing cleaning, he said.

He said his business revenue declined about 85 per cent last year, and said he believes most of his employees will never return because they feel they'll be laid off again.

Galante did not confirm whether he will open his dining room on Jan. 30 in defiance of the rules, saying only that it "gives something to think about.''

At this point, the government needs to "give us money to help us get through this, or let us work,'' he said.


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