Ontario budget boosts COVID aid for small business, tourism industry


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It won’t make them rich, but small business owners struggling because of COVID say new financial aid from the Ontario government just might help them keep the lights on.

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This article was published 24/03/2021 (558 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It won’t make them rich, but small business owners struggling because of COVID say new financial aid from the Ontario government just might help them keep the lights on.

In his first budget on Wednesday as Ontario’s finance minister, Peter Bethlenfalvy announced that small businesses that had already received a $10,000 to $20,000 grant because of COVID would soon be receiving a second payment of the same size. He also announced a new grant program specifically for businesses in the hard-hit tourism sector.

For Bar Volo and Birreria Volo owner Ralph Morana, news of the second Ontario Small Business Support Grant payment came as a welcome surprise. Like all restaurants who’ve had to deal with a series of lockdowns, Morana’s two beer-focussed establishments have seen their revenues plummet, while bills and debt mount. Previous aid, including federal rent and wage subsidies, has been used up quickly.

Richard Lautens - Toronto Star file photo Bar Volo and Birreria Volo owner Ralph Morana was pleased at the new small business grants announced in Wednesday’s Ontario budget, but one big request from the restaurant industry — wholesale pricing for alcohol purchased from the LCBO — wasn’t granted.

“The same amount? Really? That’s great news. That will really help. The other money we’ve gotten is long gone,” said Morana.

One big request from the struggling restaurant industry — wholesale pricing for alcohol purchased from the LCBO — wasn’t granted.

Bethlenfalvy said small businesses desperately needed the help.

“I’ve had people tell me that the grant was the difference between keeping the lights on and closing forever,” Bethlenfalvy said in a press conference. “Small businesses are the economic engine of this province.”

Ryan Mallough, Ontario regional director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, praised the grant expansion, and the fact the second payment is automatic for anyone approved for the first.

“It’s great that they’ve decided to double the size of the grant, especially in such a common-sense kind of way. The fact that companies don’t need to reapply is a big help, because that takes time that they just don’t have in a lot of cases,” said Mallough.

But not everyone was happy. Some businesses which have been hit hard by lockdowns were still left out of the expanded grant.

While Bethlenfalvy said the grant was specifically geared toward businesses who were ordered to close to help slow the spread of COVID, dry cleaners were hit hard even though they were allowed to stay open.

“It’s disappointing,” said Linley McConnell, sales manager at family-owned Gibsons Dry Cleaners. “We clean the ROM’s uniforms. We clean uniforms for the Granite Club. Both of those have been shut down by government order. And people are wearing Lululemon when they work from home, not their suits.”

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca blasted the budget as insufficient.

“This was not a budget for the biggest economic crisis in a generation,” Del Duca said.

Roughly 120,000 businesses had already received funds during the first round of the grant, at a cost of $1.7 billion, according to the budget document. The second payment brings the total cost of the program to $3.4 billion.

According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, just 20 per cent of businesses in the province are pulling in their usual revenues right now.

A similar grant program to help tourism businesses was also unveiled as part of the budget. The Ontario Tourism and Hospitality Small Business Support Grant, which will also pay between $10,000 and $20,000, is designed to help businesses that weren’t eligible for the previous small business grant.

Small hotels, Airbnbs, travel agencies and overnight camps are among the businesses that didn’t previously qualify, because they hadn’t been closed during lockdowns. Still, many of them struggled to attract customers during COVID, in some cases because of the closure of the Canada-U.S. border.

The grant is open to tourism industry companies with fewer than 100 employees that have experienced at least a 20 per cent decline in revenue during the pandemic.

Tourism Industry Association of Ontario vice president Chris Bloore called it “a good day” for the industry.

“This isn’t going to solve all the problems our members have, but it will give them another few months to bridge the gap until the customers start really coming back,” said Bloore.

Hospitality entrepreneur Kathleen Shattock said the new tourism grant will give her company some breathing room as she waits to see how the summer season unfolds.

“The hardest part right now is the uncertainty. So anything that helps us get through that uncertainty is going to help. This will be helpful,” said Shattock, who runs Prince Edward County-based tourism and event management company Beacon Hospitality with co-owner Derek van der Vinne.

The government also extended the Digital Main Street program, setting aside another $10 million for the program that helps small businesses get online.

Josh Rubin is a Toronto-based business reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @starbeer

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