Coronavirus: Lethbridge restaurants respond to urgent letter demanding subsidy reinstatement

Click to play video '‘Urgent’ letter to government asks for more Lethbridge restaurant subsidies' ‘Urgent’ letter to government asks for more Lethbridge restaurant subsidies
A letter from chambers of commerce across the country as well as Restaurants Canada is calling on all levels of government to quickly reinstate subsidies and supports for restaurants. A Lethbridge restaurant owner says the government’s response will make or break many local hot spots. Emily Olsen reports. – Jul 21, 2020

Ram Khanal, the owner of the Watertower Grill and Telegraph Taphouse in Lethbridge, made the difficult decision to temporarily close both restaurants after a staff member’s close call with a COVID-19 positive individual last week. 

He said the pandemic has already been crippling for a new business without having to shut down again — but he had to make the responsible choice.

“All expenses are the exact same or more but income is not as much,” Khanal said Tuesday. “So when the government came forward with wage subsidies, that was a huge relief for us.”

After those government wage and rent subsidies ended in April, Khanal said he’s not sure what the future holds for any locally owned restaurants.

Read more: A side of uncertainty: calls to help the restaurant industry survive the pandemic

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“We’ve hardly been able to do 40 per cent of the business we used to do back in January and February,” Khanal admitted.

A recent letter from several chambers of commerce across the country and the group Restaurants Canada urged all levels of government to consider moving quickly in reinstating those subsidies as well as several other recommendations.

The recommendations include:

  • reducing or deferring property taxes and relevant fees
  • eliminating automatic annual federal excise tax increase on beer, wine and spirits
  • encouraging Canadians to return to pre-COVID activities while observing safety measures
  • extending the CECRA program
  • implementing a commercial eviction moratorium
  • expanding liquor licensing or making COVID-related licensing changes permanent
  • easing regulatory burdens

The letter added that it could take as many as 18 months before the service industry bounces back.

Khanal wants to make sure the students he usually employs stay with him for the time being but said he and other Lethbridge restaurant owners can’t maintain that without help.

“Not having enough business but having to have the same amount of employees — it’s already a tough challenge,” Khanal said.

Read more: Coronavirus: Some Alberta restaurants struggling despite being allowed to reopen

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“If there is no government support I guarantee that almost half of the businesses aren’t going to make it because I won’t make it. And I know how hard it is to stay in the flow. 

“When there is no revenue coming in, without government support, there is no way you’re going to make it.”

The City of Lethbridge proactively granted one of the letter’s recommendations by deferring property tax penalties for up to three months and cancelling a scheduled 1.8 per cent increase for 2020.