Ontario businesses face new temporary COVID restrictions, costs rebate program expanded

Premier Doug Ford unveiled new COVID-related restrictions in response to surging Omicron cases. However, business operators and advocacy groups say they need better supports in response. Nick Westoll reports.

As the Ontario government imposes a temporary move back to a modified Step 2 in the provincial government’s COVID-19 reopening plan on various business sectors, officials say a costs rebate program will be expanded and there will be a pause on the collection of certain taxes.

“Omicron case counts are rising exponentially across the province. We face a tsunami of new cases in the days and weeks ahead,” Premier Doug Ford said during a news conference Monday morning, adding the measures are aimed to “slow” the spread since it “can’t be stopped.”

“The hardship of these restrictions aren’t shared equally.

“We will not spare a penny to ensure we can get through this surge of cases.”

RELATED: Indoor dining banned, gyms to close Wednesday as Ontario announces new COVID-19 restrictions

Here are the highlights of what the restrictions will look like for businesses and the general public, which come into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 5 and will be in place until Jan. 26 at least:

– Owners and operators must “ensure” employees who can work from home will do so
– Indoor dining in restaurants, gyms, mall food courts, concert venues, theatres, meeting spaces, saunas, steam rooms, oxygen bars, museums were all ordered closed
– Indoor retail settings, shopping malls, personal care services reduced to 50 per cent capacity

Officials said the Ontario Business Costs Rebate program will be expanded to receive a rebate for a “portion” of property taxes and energy costs. For indoor businesses forced to fully close, those operators will be able to apply for a “payment equivalent to 100 per cent of their costs.” For those reduced to 50 per cent capacity, 50 per cent of the eligible costs will be rebated.

It was also announced that retroactive to Jan. 1, up to $7.5 billion will be made available for a six-month, interest- and penalty-free period for Ontario businesses on payments covering “most provincially administered taxes” in an effort to “improve” cash flows.

They added the Ontario government is “exploring” additional targeted relief, including grants, but the specifics weren’t clear as of Monday morning.

Ryan Mallough, senior director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, told CityNews the supports outlined don’t go far enough to support small business owners who have incurred debt over the past two years as a result of various restrictions.

“While the government says 21 days, not once in this entire pandemic have we actually stuck to a timeline. In fact, we’ve gone months late, so I think there is a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety, coupled with a lot of anger and a lot of frustration coming from the small business community today,” he said.

“There needs to be more. We understand no one wants to see hospitals overwhelmed, we understand the pressure that the health care sector is under, but if you’re going to close businesses there needs to be support that is in full and it needs to be immediate.”

RELATED: Ontario hospitals facing staffing challenges as COVID-19 cases surge

Mallough called on the Ontario government to provide another round of provincial small business grant funding to help with expenses beyond just taxes and utilities as a continuation of a commercial eviction ban. With respect to the federal government, he called for easing of wage and rent subsidies.

“It’s extremely precarious for small business owners in Ontario right now,” he said.

James Rilett, vice-president of Restaurant Canada, said while he appreciates the provincial government’s moves on taxes and energy costs, there needs to be additional help. He said the hospitality sector has been particularly hard hit throughout the course of the pandemic.

“It’s even worse than last year. We lost the holiday season last year as well, but at least we weren’t as far in debt. Now we have massive debts built up,” Rilett told CityNews.

“We had mass cancellations. Once the (provincial) government cut back to 50 per cent, we had a lot of holiday parties and family gatherings cancelled as well. It was a very hard blow and this is just one more blow to our industry.”

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today