Governments talk as Ottawa businesses plead for urgent help amid protest

Local business groups are calling on all three levels of government to provide immediate financial assistance to shops and restaurants affected by the protest in Ottawa that is now in its 14th day.

Business associations say impact of protest and pandemic is a one-two gut punch

Ottawa's Rideau Centre mall is losing an estimated $3 million per day in revenue after management closed the mall on the advice of police, according to the Retail Council of Canada. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Local business groups are calling on all three levels of government to provide immediate financial assistance to shops and restaurants affected by the protest in Ottawa that is now in its 14th day.

The protest against pandemic rules across Canada has led to an estimated loss in sales of $3 million per day at the city's busiest mall, the Rideau Centre, according to the Retail Council of Canada.

The mall closed on Jan. 29 over health and safety concerns after it was swarmed by maskless protesters. Its owners don't yet know when it will reopen.

This happened just before Ontario began to lift some public health restrictions, which would have allowed previously shuttered shops to open their doors.

Many other downtown businesses also chose to remain closed because of the ongoing protest and they have felt the one-two gut punch of pandemic and protests, says Sueling Ching, president & CEO of the Ottawa Board of Trade.

There are no programs in place to support them and this is through no fault of their own.- Sueling Ching, Ottawa Board of Trade

"They are being further burdened because of these demonstrations, many of them having to completely close," said Ching. 

"There are no programs in place to support them and this is through no fault of their own."

The protest and ensuing closures couldn't come at a worst time, according to Michelle Groulx, executive director of the Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas (BIAs). 

"Every single day that revenue is lost is a missed opportunity to pay back mounting debts incurred since the pandemic began," said Groulx. 

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Governments talking, but no financial commitment

Groulx and Ching want to see municipal, provincial and federal governments provide urgent financial assistance to the affected businesses. As of Thursday morning, governments have only said the topic is being discussed. 

In a written response, the City of Ottawa says it is advocating for financial assistance for local businesses and employees affected by the demonstration in discussions with other levels of government. 

While Ontario Premier Doug Ford says it's time for protesters to go home and let businesses safely open, his government has not offered money to help those businesses.

A statement issued on behalf of Ottawa-Vanier MP Mona Fortier and Ottawa Centre MP Yasir Naqvi said the federal government is listening closely to the concerns of businesses and remains in contact with the city to explore options.

There is no concrete offer of financial help, though.

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Insurance claims are unlikely 

Insurance claims could seem like an appealing option to recuperate lost revenue, but Ottawa business professor Ian Lee says insurance companies likely won't approve such requests. 

Lee says business interruption insurance is not the same as something like car or home insurance because it's "not a finite loss."

"It's an open-ended commitment that just keeps going [for a potentially long duration]. So typically they [insurance companies] put very tight restrictions, so you can only claim it in very limited, circumscribed situations," he said.

While downtown establishments plead for help, prominent local chef and restaurant owner Joe Thottungal has helped launch a GoFundMe page in support of affected restaurants. 

Chef Joe Thottungal of Thali restaurant in downtown Ottawa has helped launch a fundraiser in support of downtown restaurants. (Supplied)

Thottungal, who owns Thali restaurant at the corner of Laurier Avenue West and O'Connor Street, says the fundraising effort is to provide immediate cash to help downtown eateries stay afloat. 

"Help in a timely manner is important," said Thottungal. "We need to distribute a little bit of money at least before Valentine's Day, so that people can support themselves because they are going through hardship."

As of Wednesday afternoon, the fundraiser had raised close to $72,000. 

With files from Krystalle Ramlakhan