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The end of the grace period, she added, will lead to more Canadians being laid off, effectively moving them from one government program to another.
“Restaurants and other businesses that have been really hard hit are now saying, ‘I can’t afford to pay $4,000 out of pocket when I’m down 80 per cent in revenues and I don’t see a path in the next six months where that’s going to change,’” Drigola said. “This is something that was definitely not communicated well.”
Katherine Cuplinskas, a spokesperson for Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, on Monday directed the Financial Post to a July 17 briefing document on the ministry’s website that notes the safe harbour provision would be in effect “through August 29.”
In a statement, Cuplinskas said “government’s top priority is supporting Canadians and businesses as we weather the COVID-19 pandemic.”
She also pointed to a slate of new supports announced earlier this month for hard-hit businesses, which included extending the CEWS program.
A senior official in the Ontario government, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the province has reached out to Ottawa for clarity on the safe harbour issue.
Andrew Oliver, chief executive of Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality Inc. — the restaurant network that includes Canoe in Toronto and Alchemy in Edmonton — said the safe harbour matter “defies common sense.”
Oliver said he recognized that the government signalled in July that the safe harbour provision would expire on Aug. 29, but he also noted the outlook for restaurants and other struggling sectors has dramatically changed since the summer, with parts of the country reverting to earlier restrictions on dining to tamp down a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
“In what world does it make sense that the support and programs have been made more complicated and that our support has been effectively cut in half at a time when it’s four degrees and patios are closed for the most part?” said Oliver, who also co-founded the Save Hospitality advocacy group at the beginning of the pandemic.
Oliver said he was hopeful the government would blink and extend the safe harbour provision, but warned that with each passing day, the industry will see more and more layoffs.
“The longer they wait, the worse it’s going to be,” he said.