B.C. restaurant sector calls for more federal support

Many hard-hit restaurants have fallen through Bill C-2 support cracks

Birds and Beets owners - rk
Matt Senecal-Junkeer and Sean Cunningham, co-owners of The Birds & The Beets. “We’re down about 35% year over year,” Senecal-Junkeer said  | Rob Kruyt

Late last month, Canadian Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland touted her government’s legislation aimed at helping businesses hit hard by COVID-19. 

Bill C-2 includes money for different programs and could provide a lifeline if the Omicron variant prompts government restrictions or adds to public fears about going to restaurants.

For example, the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program aims to help those sectors with subsidies of up to 75% for wages and rent, as long as recipient businesses have suffered a revenue plunge of at least 40% year-over-year.

Hoteliers like the bill because many of their ventures have suffered severe sales declines. Many restaurant owners, in contrast, have fared better, and say the legislation should have a lower revenue-loss threshold. 

“We’re down about 35% year over year,” said The Birds & The Beets owner Matt Senecal-Junkeer, who operates two Vancouver locations.

“Our losses are well beyond our ability to absorb. There’s got to be some give – either our landlord has got to cut us a break on rent, which seems unlikely, or the reality is that we probably will have to look at walking away from a pretty huge investment that we put in the space. We expected to be here for about 10 years to get some payback.”

Senecal-Junkeer said his unprofitable restaurants could close by February or March if government support does not arrive.

Senecal-Junkeer said he might have been in a better situation to get aid if his five-year-old restaurant business had done worse last year. However, he said, he pulled out all the stops to try to generate as much revenue as possible. 

“I certainly can’t imagine playing to lose in business, but the current formula would reward something like that,” he told BIV. “I also think of the many marginally profitable pivots we undertook last year – groceries, delivery – which were spurred in large part to find work for remaining staff.”

Bill C-2 also extends the Canada Recovery Hiring Program until May 7 and makes subsidies under that program available to businesses that have had losses greater than 10%. 

Restaurants Canada vice-president for Western Canada Mark Von Schellwitz told BIV that few restaurants use the Canada Recovery Hiring Program because it covers only new hires.

“What we’re asking for is that the eligibility threshold for the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program should start at a 10% revenue decline, instead of 40%,” he said. 

Hoteliers, meanwhile, cannot wait for Bill C-2 to get royal assent. 

BC Hotel Association CEO Ingrid Jarrett told BIV that the bill will be a lifeline to hotel operators, and that she hopes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s minority government can pass the bill quickly. 

Bill C-2 also provides money to businesses as part of the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program, which provides up to 50% subsidies for wage and rent to businesses that have suffered a revenue decline of at least 50%.•