BEATTY: Throne Speech must include a lifeline for restaurants

Restaurant strip along King St. W. is seen in downtown Toronto on Thursday September 3, 2020.

Ernest Doroszuk / Postmedia

By Perrin Beatty

Winter is coming and without help from Ottawa it will be particularly bleak for restaurants across Canada.

Simply put, the situation is dire, with a majority of restaurants risking having to close permanently this fall.

Right now, there is a trifecta of bad news: patios are closing, there is no prospect of office or holiday parties coming in, and government programs are not designed for the unique, long-term situation facing restaurants.

Wednesday’s Speech from the Throne is an opportunity for the federal government to help prevent the failure of this industry. Underscoring the seriousness of the situation, this week more than 1,200 restaurants – which employ more than 100,000 Canadians – came together to highlight three specific measures the federal government needs to undertake to help prevent the failure of an entire industry.

First, we need a commitment that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy will be continued for this sector into 2021 and its scope will reflect a long-term recovery.

Second, we are seeking a commitment that an improved and long-term commercial rent relief program will be introduced to address the well documented difficulties and sector specific needs.

Third, our leaders must follow the example of other governments and start encouraging Canadians to safely visit our restaurants.

Food services were among the first into recession and will be among the last to recover. Government policies must reflect this reality. Each of these proposed actions addresses some of the challenges facing the industry, which operates on razor thin margins even when tables are full.

No matter how hard these entrepreneurs work, the math behind margins – typically in the low single digits – simply does not work when restaurants are only allowed to operate at a maximum of half capacity.

According to an analysis by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce of data collected by Statistics Canada, 60% of restaurants could be forced to close by November. Moreover, Restaurants Canada data show that in March 10% of all Canadian restaurants were already permanently shuttered, with thousands more reported to be out of business since then. Those findings suggest a further 50% expect to operate at unsustainable losses for at least a year.

The food service industry in Canada typically employs 1.2 million Canadians, generates approximately $93 billion in gross revenue and pays about $30 billion in wages and benefits to Canadians. According to Labour Force Survey data from Statistics Canada, the industry remains 260,000 employees below normal for full service restaurants alone, which is far worse than other sectors of the Canadian economy.

Despite this ongoing crisis, the innovation I’ve witnessed from this industry is remarkable. Restaurants are cornerstones in Canadian communities – both economically and culturally. These are small businesses that are dedicated to keeping their customers and teams safe and healthy at all times. They are building new structures, creating electronic menus and ordering, and using PPE.

All Canadians should be grateful and celebrate the efforts restaurateurs are making to continue to serve our communities. But the hospitality industry is in crisis and needs immediate, concrete support from all levels of government.

The Our Restaurants campaign asks Canadians to show their support for restaurants simply by going out for a meal. We ask our political leaders to implement policies that reflect the reality these businesses are facing, and will continue to face over the next 12-18 months.

Restauranteurs are proud to stand together in this situation and we hope all Canadians will stand with them. Keeping the industry afloat is crucial for Canadians everywhere.

If each of us does a little right now, it can make a big difference. And let’s watch Ottawa closely on Wednesday to see if our federal government will do their part.

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Hon. Perrin Beatty, PC, OC, is President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce

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