Edmundston, N.B., hotel owner fighting to pay staff amid lockdown

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Edmundston, N.B. hotel owner fighting to pay staff amid lockdown
WATCH: It's the first week of a full lockdown in the Edmundston region meant to stop the spread of COVID-19 in that part of the province. But, the lockdown adds more challenges for businesses already faced with difficult times. As Travis Fortnum reports, it's even tougher for new businesses – Jan 28, 2021

It’s a given that 2020 was not an ideal year to open a hotel but, unfortunately for Martin La Chapelle, the timing was out of his control.

“We didn’t choose to open in a pandemic,” he says. “When you build a hotel, it takes two years to build.”

La Chapelle is co-owner of the Quality Hotel, which opened in the Edmundston area in June.

He says it needs federal wage subsidies for its 20 staff members, but doesn’t qualify.

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The problem is that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy is offered to employers who have seen a 30 per cent drop in revenue since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and, technically, the Quality Hotel hasn’t because it had no pre-pandemic revenue at all.

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But it still has employees to pay – more of them than there are guests.

“This wage subsidy is going to determine if we keep 20 employees or we go down to three, simple as that,” he says.

La Chapelle says they’ve spoken to local Member of Parliament René Arseneault but, despite sympathizing, he can’t offer much help.

Global News reached out to Arseneault Thursday but didn’t hear back.

“At the end of the day, everybody’s got good intentions but nothing is happening,” says La Chapelle.

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Lack of substitutes during the pandemic puts ‘burden’ on teachers, says teaching association

He says the hotel can afford to keep its staff level for another 60 days before it has to scale back.

“Our comfort creates discomfort with our employees,” says La Chapelle, “but obviously they can tell what’s going on.”

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To make a bad situation worse, Sunday saw the Edmundston region transition from New Brunswick’s strict red level of COVID-19 recovery to an even stricter full lockdown.

La Chapelle says at most “three or four” of the hotel’s 85 rooms have been booked.

“You know you can’t run a business and keep a full float of employees this way,” he says.

And the hotel isn’t the only business in the region suffering amid the lockdown.

Across town at the Café Lotus Bleu, owner Louise Fyfe made the difficult decision to close her doors until restrictions are loosened.

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She says she did it in solidarity with the people of the region.

“I don’t think it makes any sense that the government would ask us to do takeout but tell people to stay home,” says Fyfe.

She says she isn’t sure how many people would be ordering anyway, as there are not many people leaving their homes.

“It’s kind of weird,” Deputy Mayor Eric Marquis says of the empty streets.

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“There was absolutely no cars, it was a bit of an eerie feeling but at the end, it’s a good feeling because we know that people are following the rules and staying at home.”

The lockdown was put in place for at least 14 days. So long as public health doesn’t see fit to extend it, the region should return to red on Feb. 7.

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