Ontario announces new COVID-19 supports to help businesses struggling with restrictions

The Ontario government is introducing new COVID-19 supports to help businesses struggling through another round of COVID-19 restrictions.

The Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program, announced Wednesday in a news release, will allow eligible businesses to receive payments equalling about 50 per cent of property tax and energy costs they incur while capacity restrictions are in place.

“This will provide support to businesses that are expected to be most impacted financially by the requirement to reduce capacity to 50 per cent,” officials said in the release.

The program will open in mid-January of 2022, however the government says the payments will be retroactive to Dec. 19.

A full list of eligible businesses will be made available in January, the government says.

The government is also providing a six-month interest and penalty-free period to make payments for provincially administered taxes beginning Jan. 1 and lasting until July 1. Officials say this program will help “improve cash flows” for Ontario businesses.

The following taxes may be delayed by six months under the new program:

Employer Health Tax

Beer, Wine & Spirits Taxes

Tobacco Tax

Insurance Premium Tax

Fuel Tax

International Fuel Tax Agreement

Gas Tax

Retail Sales Tax on Insurance Contracts & Benefit Plans

Mining Tax

Race Tracks Tax

Late last week, Ontario slashed capacity limits for most indoor settings to 50 per cent, including restaurants and bars, personal care services, retailers, and shopping malls. Restaurants and bars have also been ordered to close at 11 p.m., with the exception of take out and delivery service.

Last call for alcohol is now at 10 p.m.

The restrictions were announced amid new modelling that showed the Omicron variant rapidly spreading across the province.

FULL LIST: What are the new COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario?

Unlike in previous waves of the pandemic, no relief programs were announced at that time to help businesses that may be impacted.

The announcement comes as the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), Restaurants Canada and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce all called for additional supports for businesses.

“Nearly two years into this pandemic, it is imperative that any further public health restrictions that inhibit business activity are accompanied by targeted relief and support programs, including loan forgiveness and extensions on payment terms for small businesses,” Rocco Rossi, President of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, wrote in an open letter to Premier Doug Ford and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday.

“Provincially, many targeted supports ended months ago, and federally, they have been greatly reduced, leaving businesses to fully absorb rising operating expenses, including rent and electricity.”

Many businesses are struggling amid “unprecedented cash flow constraints and uncertainty,” Rossi said, adding that no sector should be left behind as the country grapples with the spread of COVID-19.

Meanwhile the CFIB along with Restaurants Canada argued Tuesday that nearly two thirds of small businesses across Canada have not seen sales return to normal levels.

“And of this group, nearly a quarter report their business may fail within the next six months,” they said.

“As Omicron panic has now set in and consumers are cancelling travel, events, reservations and shifting purchases once again to large online retailers, more than anything, we urge you to ensure proper support funding is in place to help small businesses survive.”

Last week the federal government passed a bill meant to help workers and businesses impacted by COVID-19, but at the time the CFIB said it was “limited in scope.”

As part of the bill, the government launched the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, which gives $300 a week to those unable to work due to a lockdown. However, according to the government, it was “only available when a COVID-19 lockdown order is designated.”

On Wednesday, the government changed that definition, expanding eligibility to include those impacted by capacity limits.