‘Back to square one’: Quebec’s vulnerable businesses worried about future

Quebec’s new COVID-19 restrictions are once again leaving businesses highly vulnerable, at a time when many thought the worst was over.

On Monday, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced strict new measures, shutting bars, taverns, gyms, theatres and restricting restaurants, as COVID-19 cases, fuelled by the new variant Omicron, soared to heights not yet seen since the start of the pandemic.

For many small- and medium-sized businesses these latest restrictions have them worried about their future once again.

“We’re back to square one, but with debts on their shoulders that had been taken because of the pandemic,” said Francois Vincent of the Canadian Federation of Indepedent Business.

To respond to the new restrictions, the federal government said it will extend several measures it launched at the beginning of the pandemic, including cheques to eligible workers who are forced to stay home because of the new measures.

The tourism industry will continue to receive financial assistance up to 75 per cent of its needs, while bars and restaurants will also receive aid, capped at 50 per cent of the costs.

“Our members went into debt during the last two years, and counted on these upcoming holidays to get their head above water,” said Renaud Poulin of the Quebec Bar and Tavern Corporation.

Ottawa had already set aside $4.5 billion in additional aid because of the Omicron variant, but it might not be enough to save all businesses, said Vincent.

“In industries where the profit margins are so thin, the businesses would not be able to receive support needed by the federal government,” he said.

Quebec also has a number of support programs complementing Ottawa’s, but it might be too late for some business owners, who thought the worst was behind them.

“We already operated below capacity,” said Poulin. “It couldn’t have happened at a worst time of year.”