Ottawa

Too little, too late for some businesses awaiting promised pandemic relief

Businesses struggling through the modified Stage 2 restrictions in Ottawa say delays in accessing relief funding from the federal and provincial governments is making any decision about their future — including whether to stay open — more difficult.

Many relying on federal, provincial aid programs to make it through winter

Pressed on Gladstone Avenue closed its doors for the final time on Friday. A timely rent subsidy could have kept them open, says owner Karie Ford. (Submitted by Pascale Arpin)

Businesses struggling through the modified Stage 2 restrictions in Ottawa say delays in accessing relief funding from the federal and provincial governments is making any decision about their future — including whether to stay open — more difficult.

For some, it's already too late. 

"I think I could have gone longer," said Karie Ford, owner of Pressed Ottawa, a coffeehouse and live music venue on Gladstone Avenue. Pressed closed its doors for the last time Friday night.

Ford said paying the rent was a constant stress, especially if the previous federal rent subsidy arrived late, as it often did. She said that program's proposed replacement could have made a big difference, but she just couldn't wait any longer.

"I just couldn't keep trying," Ford said.

Federal program delayed in Parliament

Bill C-9 was announced in early October, but was only tabled in the House of Commons on Monday. It will take at least two weeks to pass through Parliament, likely longer.

The bill includes targeted aid for business owners, allowing them to apply directly for rent relief through the Canada Revenue Agency until June 2021.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said for some of its members, the subsidy could mean the difference between surviving the winter and closing for good.

A "top-up" emergency rent subsidy of 25 per cent, in addition to the 65 per cent subsidy, would be available to organizations temporarily shut down by a mandatory public health order, such as Ontario's decision to shut down restaurants, bars and gyms in COVID-19 hot spots like Ottawa for 28 days.

Bill C-9 also extends the wage subsidy through to next summer. 

Ontario program also stalled

On the same day as the federal government announcement, the Ontario government also promised $300 million in relief on natural gas and hydro bills, as well as property taxes, for small businesses.

"I know what this will do to businesses who are already struggling," Premier Doug Ford said when the province announced last month it was tightening restrictions. "I'll do everything in my power to support you, and we'll never forget the sacrifices you're making."

 

But to date, businesses have yet to see the money.

"More details will be announced in the coming days," wrote Emily Hogeveen, a spokesperson for Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips. Hogeveen said the hope is to have the compensation ready by the time utility bills for the current period come due.

Some businesses can't wait 

"It would be nice to see some help soon," said Sarah Chown, managing partner of the Metropolitain Brasserie Restaurant on Sussex Drive. "Especially since it was a promise, and it's been crickets ever since the announcement."

Chown, who's also Ottawa chair of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association, said the federal rent and wage subsidies in particular are the kind of relief that could mean all the difference for hard-hit businesses, but business owners need details now.

"When you don't know what you're actually going to be getting, it's hard to make those choices," said Chown. "I don't think people will survive much longer."

Sarah Chown is managing partner of the Metropolitain Brasserie Restaurant on Sussex Drive, and Ottawa chair of the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

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