‘It’s weak sauce’: Some small business owners in Ontario disappointed in latest government pandemic supports

From restaurants to retailers, gyms to salons, recently imposed provincial capacity limits are putting another squeeze on small business owners.

After days of calling for help from all levels of government, today both the provincial and federal government unveiled measures, aimed at helping small businesses — but the announcement left many wanting more.

“It’s weak sauce,” Arron Barberian told CTV News Toronto on Wednesday. The owner of Barbarian’s Steak House says he was hoping for more. “We were expecting some real money, grant money. Some real dollars to help out restaurants.”

The federal government lowered the threshold of recently announced relief measures, now allowing any business that is forced to operate at fifty per cent capacity or more to apply. Among the supports being offered, both wage and rent subsidies, but those supports will require business owners to apply in January, and payments may not come until months in to the new year.

“Good luck to any business who’s expecting money soon,” Barberian argued. “You’re not going to see any money until maybe February and you know we’re in—our boat has sunk, we’re in the life raft, we need help now.”

Meanwhile, the province announced today it will offer rebate payments of half of the property and energy tax a business incurs during reduced capacity restrictions. It will also defer payments on a number of provincial taxes.

“Fifty per cent rebate on electricity and property tax is going to be helpful for some businesses,” said Ryan Mallough of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). “But I don’t think it’s going to be what tilts the decision one way or another between staying open or closing. I think we were hopeful for grant support and are still looking for that.”

Neither announcement offered any immediate financial support, something many businesses and organizations had called for.

“We’re at the point where we need every penny that we can get,” said James Rilett of Restaurants Canada. “Restaurants are scraping by, they’re being forced to close, they’ve lost the busiest part of their year, so they need everything they can get.”

Some worry that future rebates and payment deferrals will simply extend the debt load that many small businesses are currently carrying. The CFIB says in Ontario, the average small business debt from COVID-19 alone is $190,000.

Mallough says there is frustration that governments have not planned for another COVID-19-related business interruption — especially one that comes at what would normally by one of the busiest times of the year for both retailers and restaurants.

“All the way back to August and September, we were telling governments across the country, ‘look, should we find ourselves in this situation again, there needs to be a stay-open plan. If things get bad enough, where we do need to restrict, where we do need to close down businesses, then supports have to be available immediately.’”

Along with a plan for the future, many are calling on the governments to allow businesses to keep the HST they’ve collected over the holiday season in the form of an emergency grant. Some fearing that without an immediate influx of financial aid, some businesses that have struggled to make it through 2021, may not make it in to 2022.