Alberta NDP demands more support for small businesses affected by COVID-19 health rules

Small businesses are soon going to feel the financial hardship of a third pandemic-related closure and Alberta's opposition leader wants the government to do more to help them stay afloat.

On Tuesday, Jason Kenney announced Alberta would be rolling back its relaunch strategy to Step 1, along with all the restrictions under it.

That means restaurants, bars, gyms and other businesses are being forced change their business practices and close their doors to many of their customers once more.

"These measures are designed to buy us time to get enough Albertans vaccinated so we can finally get through this thing," Kenney said Tuesday. "We can only do this together to prevent a prolonged situation, a huge wave that causes massive cancellations of surgeries in our hospitals and hundreds of preventable deaths."

However, many are concerned about what the new restrictions, which are scheduled to fully be in place by noon on Friday, will mean to the survival of Alberta small businesses.

The Kenney government did announced a $120-million benefit program to aid those affected, but some, like Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley, say the money isn't enough to help everyone.

Speaking from a Calgary business Thursday, she said while restrictions are the only way to stop the spread of COVID-19 at this point, they must be paired with real supports for the businesses they affect.

"The Small and Medium Business Relaunch Grant that has been open since last year, actually closed on March 31. It's been replaced with the so-called Enhanced COVID-19 Business Benefit and the applications don't actually open until mid-April."

Notley says when the applications do open; they will be for a much smaller amount of money and be held to much stricter conditions.

Those conditions concern many business owners, like Jessica McCarrel, owner of KaffeeKlatsch.

"Even if we could apply, the new program has overly stringent requirements and is no where near enough funding to get us through these restrictions," she said.

As a result, Notley proposes the Alberta government provide displaced workers with $500 per week for the next two weeks.

Additionally, she wants to see the UCP government drop the eligibility for the new program to a 30 per cent loss of revenue, down from 60 per cent.

"Now is not the time to hold back support," Notley said. "Albertans have been through so much over this past year. Many are hanging by a thread and we can't let them fall through the cracks."

According to the latest data from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, eight per cent of businesses in Alberta's hospitality industry are enjoying regular sales while 97 per cent are calling for more support from the provincial government.

The premier's office says it is working on an additional package of benefits to help affected business owners and details are expected in the coming days.