A coalition of business groups wants action from government to save the food service industry, in a July 20, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Groups call for urgent action to help restaurant industry amid COVID-19

Action needed by all levels of government

A coalition of business groups is calling for “urgent action” from all levels of government to save the food service industry amid the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Many businesses are now working to reopen and recover,” wrote the group — which includes Molson Coors Beverage Co., Restaurants Canada, and more than a dozen regional chambers of commerce and boards of trade — in an open letter dated Monday to the prime minister, Council of the Federation and Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

“However for the food service industry, the picture is different.”

The industry will be among the last to resume normal operations, the group wrote, estimating a span of at least the next 12 to 18 months.

Restaurants operate on thin margins in regular circumstances, it said, thanks to high fixed costs, perishable inventory and other factors. Safety precautions due to the pandemic further limit revenue and increase costs.

“Continued operation for the majority of our restaurants is, at best, uncertain,” the letter reads.

“Government programs as they are presently designed are not equipped for the timescale of this ongoing reality for this industry.”

The group asked the federal government to implement proposed improvements to the emergency wage subsidy and continue to create incentives for people to return to return to work. It asks them to eliminate the automatic annual federal excise tax increase on beer, wine and spirits, and start encouraging people to resume pre-COVID activities with safety measures.

The group asks the federal, provincial and territorial governments to extend the rent relief program, remove a revenue eligibility cap for parent companies, and look for a way to substantially increase participation in the program.

It wants provincial and territorial governments to put a moratorium on commercial evictions and expand liquor licensing or make licensing changes related to COVID-19 permanent in an effort to allow more restaurants to sell alcohol for dine in and takeaway.

Municipal governments should reduce or defer a number of taxes and fees, including property tax, as well as ease regulatory burdens, it said.

“The urgency of action cannot be overstated,” the letter reads as without it businesses will close and jobs will be lost.

“Delays will risk the situation rapidly becoming permanently untenable.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2020.

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