Businesses sound alarm as second wave of COVID-19 pulls Montreal into 'red alert'

Groups advocating for restaurants, bars, venues and other businesses affected by Quebec's new regional COVID-19 'red alert' measures are calling for more assistance from the provincial government.

 The Quebec Restaurant Association (ARQ) said its members can't stomach another lockdown, and wants to see: a ban on evicting commercial tenants who can't pay rent; a reprieve from GST and QST payments; cancellation or refund of property taxes; and a perishable product loss compensation program.

On Monday, Premier François Legault announced that the Montreal and Quebec City areas as well as Chaudiere-Appalaches will transition into 'red alert' as of Thursday as the second wave of coronavirus sweeps through the province.

The new COVID-19 alert status will be accompanied by a 28-day closure of bars, theatres, movie theatres and other reception halls and well as on dining in at restaurants.

Some restaurateurs say they don't understand the government's announcement targeting their dining rooms when last week, Legault himself recognized that the problem "is not in bars, restaurants, or outdoor gatherings," instead casting the blame on private gatherings in homes.

The ARQ said couples or families should be able to eat a meal in a restaurant when the environment is "safe, controlled and supervised."

According to the association, the restaurant industry lost 30 per cent of its sales during the first seven months of 2020. The losses are estimated at $4 billion on an annual basis.

Meantime, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) wants Quebec to make provincial administrative fees, such as permits, credited pro rata to closed days, and simplify access to loan programs. The CFIB also suggested a portion of government loans be turned into a grant. Small and medium businesses have accumulated an average debt of $135,000 because of the pandemic, the CFIB said in a statement.

"It is demoralizing and distressing for many entrepreneurs affected by these new constraints," said François Vincent, Quebec vice-president for the CFIB. Vincent said residents in the red alert zone could help keep local businesses afloat buy favouring purchases from them and ordering take-out from local restaurants.

The Montreal Chamber of Commerce said while it recognizes the need to put the strict measures in place, they will have "very serious consequences" on local businesses. The new guidelines "must absolutely" be accompanied by an additional financial assistance system for all affected businesses, it said.

"We ask the Minister of the Economy and Innovation, Pierre Fitzgibbon, to consider eliminating all their public fixed costs, to grant them a refundable tax credit for their property taxes and to ensure that they have immediate access to the rental assistance program, without requiring support from landlords," said president Michel Leblanc.

The group is also calling on the government to release more data on this second wave, including where contaminations take place and how safe workplaces are.  

- With files from The Canadian Press

SIGN UP NOW

Stay up-to-date and in-the-know by subscribing to one of our newsletters