Business owners and advocates are calling for changes to how the province provides business aid.
The government has largely been silent on expanding its Sector Support Program, which it put in place to help businesses affected by fourth wave restrictions ending Jan. 11. The restrictions have since been extended to Feb. 8.
On Friday, Health Minister Audrey Gordon said a program update would be announced this week.
"My wish is for the restrictions to lift," Ray Louie, general manager of The Gates on Roblin, said. "Let me continue my business, and I can pay my own bills."
He questions the Sector Support Program’s funding criteria. As it stands, organizations receive from $3,000 to $12,000 depending on the number of staff they employ.
"It’s kind of strange because… everyone is short-staffed," Louie said. "You have a small mom and pop that hires 20 staff, and then you have me with seven and a half acres that hires 20 staff. I think the number of employees is… not accurate."
He currently employs 22 people — down from the 75 normally on the event centre’s payroll.
In the past month, The Gates has faced nine cancelled events. It has potential cancellations in the upcoming weeks.
"Effectively, they’ve shut us down," Louie said. "It takes a heck of a lot of takeout and delivery to make up for one small party."
"I don’t necessarily want the aid, but if I’m going to continue to be handcuffed in what I can do, then yeah, I think the government should pay. My taxes haven’t gone away."
Cash remittances, or looking back to pre-pandemic payrolls, might be better forms of determining funding, Louie said.
Businesses have been shuttering because they can’t afford to stay open, said Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce.
"There does need to be compensation," Davidson said. "$3,000 for having your business operate at 50 per cent capacity for more than six weeks (is) not enough."
Companies shouldn’t have to wait for funding announcements, according to Loren Remillard, president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.
"They need certainty that the programs that have already been announced… are being flexible and adaptable, and that payment can be expected (when further restrictions are announced)," he said.
Even the week separation between Gordon’s talk of an announcement, and the actual announcement itself, is damaging, he said.
"So many (businesses) are tapping into not only institutional lending, but their personal finances, leveraging everything they own to keep that business afloat," he said.
Entrepreneurs need to know whether they’re getting more government support when they hear news of further restrictions, Remillard said. It could prevent them from taking on more loans or deciding to close.
Many businesses who’ve stayed open have had their operations affected by sick staff and are finding rapid tests out of reach.
"We just can’t afford to test everyone," said Gillian Reid-McLean, operations manager of United Boxing Club.
The same goes for Marion Street Eatery, according to manager Hayley Carruthers. The restaurant closed in-person dining for January to prevent the virus spread.
A heads up on when funding would come — if at all — would be appreciated, Carruthers said.
The province’s rapid testing program, facilitated through the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, will restart this week for essential vaccinated staff in the private sector, according to a provincial spokesperson.
"The program has been reconstituted with the help of the Chamber to ensure the businesses get appropriate testing supplies," the spokesperson said in a written statement.
Rapid tests are already widely available to companies with vaccine mandates testing unvaccinated workers, the spokesperson said. Rapid tests are also available at provincial testing sites for symptomatic staff.
Some businesses have accessed free rapid tests through the federal government’s program.
Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.