Stage 3 for Toronto restaurants not a gamechanger yet: Oliver & Bonacini CEO
The head of one of Canada’s top restaurant groups is blasting Ottawa’s COVID-19 rent relief program, saying the federal government is not planning enough for the long term.
“The rent program has been a huge failure for the most part,” Andrew Oliver, president and CEO of Oliver & Bonacini, told BNN Bloomberg in an interview, calling for a revamp to the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) benefit, which was introduced to help small businesses cope with the pandemic.
The federal government extended CECRA on Friday to cover the month of August. The move marked the second extension for the benefit originally intended to only run from April to June. Under the program, different levels of government cover 50 per cent of rent and landlords cover 25 per cent, effectively reducing rent for small businesses by 75 per cent. To qualify for the program, businesses have to show a 70 per cent revenue decline for April, May and June of 2020, compared either to the same period from the previous year or an average of the first two months of this year. It’s up to landlords to apply for CECRA.
Oliver says Ottawa shouldn’t be looking at “month by month” extensions to the program, but should instead develop a longer-term plan like it did with the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).
“The hope here is that for the next discussion for the rent relief program, they come up with a new one that will at least last until the end of the year and effectively have it be sales-based," he said.
It’s not the first time CECRA has come under fire. The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses also called for reforms last week, citing low participation rates in the program. Oliver himself has previously warned that half of Canada’s restaurants will not make it to 2021 if the feds don’t make changes to commercial rent relief programs.
Oliver says it’s now up to the government whether it wants to see his industry collapse.
“At this point, you're now having it where [the companies that are] failing are good companies that are just not getting the support they need,” Oliver said.
Oliver also says the "vast majority" of his customers are following Stage 3 safety restrictions currently imposed in Toronto, the company’s largest market.
“A lot of it is just education: Letting them know that yes, just walking to the washroom in Toronto you have to wear a mask,” he said. “But 99 per cent of our guests have been fantastic and hugely supportive.
“They’re the ones saving the industry right now.”