CRB, wage and rent subsidies come to an end, but Calgary restaurants and hotels still confident in new COVID-19 relief

Businesses in Calgary’s tourism and hospitality industry are breathing a small sigh of relief after the federal government unveiled new targeted subsidies to help them and other operations struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

The Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program commences Sunday and will be available until May 7, 2022 as it provides support to hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and tour operators at a subsidy rate of up to 75 per cent.

Eligible applicants are required to show an average monthly revenue loss of at least 40 per cent for the first 13 qualifying periods of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and a revenue loss of the same amount in the current month.

Leslie Echino, who owns Annabelle’s Kitchen in Calgary says the relief comes at a much-needed time. She says her sales are down roughly 80 per cent since the new stay-at-home work suggestion was delivered at the beginning of September.

“That's basically almost unheard of, and very shocking, very scary as a business owner that's been downtown for 14 years. I lived downtown, I worked downtown, just this location has about 14 employees and we used to have 28 before the pandemic,” Echino said.

“I was scared for the first time in 14 years that I might actually not make it, so for me personally as a downtown restaurant owner, I am beyond thankful.”

Executive director with the Calgary Hotel Association, Sol Zia, also applauds Ottawa for helping businesses given that travel has been limited due to the pandemic.

“We're a category that was sacrificed during the pandemic and we insisted on some sort of guarantee of future programs, so we're very happy the federal government has come through with a continuance of wage subsidy and rent subsidy for the hardest hit,” he said.

Zia adds however that summer 2021 was a much-needed boost for the industry with the Calgary Stampede going ahead, which makes him worry some hotels may lose eligibility for the program.

“Hotels were open, running events and festivals, but unfortunately closing down much of their operations very early in September again,” said Zia.

“So the details will be important. It could be an impediment, we don't really know, but we're still in negotiation with the federal government.”

Another program starting Sunday – the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program – will provide wage and rent subsidies of up to 50 per cent to businesses that don’t fit under the tourism and hospitality industry, but can still show ‘deep and enduring losses,’ according to deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) also ended Saturday and will now be replaced by the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit for those whose work is directly impacted by temporary government-imposed lock downs.

The program is available until May 7, 2022, retroactive to Oct. 24 and will provide $300 per week to eligible workers.

Federal Employment Minister Carla Qualthrough told CTV’s Question Period that the new benefit will only apply to people who can’t work due to lockdowns in their region and it won’t apply where there are only capacity restrictions for businesses.

“The premise is, that workers unable to work due to a local lockdown anytime between Oct. 24 and May 7, will be eligible to get this $300 per week payment,” she said.

“It will be driven by how a province or a region characterizes the lockdown, if they declare a complete lockdown.”

Qualthrough adds that people who are out of work or losing income because of a refusal to adhere to a vaccine mandate would also not qualify for support.

As of Oct. 10, the federal government had paid out $27 billion to more than two million unique CRB applicants.

GOVERNMENT SET THE BAR TOO HIGH: CFIB

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is pleased with the extension of benefits, but there are further concerns that the government has set the bar too high to obtain support.

“We’re quite concerned that arts recreation and those kinds of event-based industries may not be eligible for that tourism, hospitality funding stream when they've also been severely impacted,” said Alberta CFIB director Annie Dormuth.

“It's important to recognize that according to our own calculations in Alberta, arts, recreation and fitness businesses were only completely close to in person services 50 less days than restaurants.”

Dormuth adds that the CFIB is calling on the federal government to broaden the definitions of ‘hard-hit’ businesses and lower the revenue loss threshold to 30 per access for the new relief programs.

She also notes that new businesses that have opened up during the pandemic should also still be eligible for support.

“New businesses have been unable to access any of the federal support programs throughout the entire pandemic and unfortunately that appears to be the same case here again. That's one of our strong recommendations to the federal government, as well as even looking at making some changes to the Canadian emergency business account loan because small businesses have accumulated a lot of COVID-19 related debt.”

CEO and president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce Deborah Yeldin agrees that the support comes at an important time for local businesses, although owners have limited time to adjust.

She says it was unfair for Ottawa to announce changes on a Thursday that come into effect on a Sunday will lead to businesses scrambling to ensure they meet the new qualifications and can properly apply.

“Businesses need advance notice and a more gradual phase out of support programs to plan and prepare for significant changes to government supports,” Yedlin said.

“At the same time, the Calgary Chamber of Commerce is pleased to see targeted supports for businesses that continue to need assistance and a clear plan to phasing out pandemic relief measures altogether in spring 2022.”