OTTAWA ─ Six months after COVID-19 first surfaced in North America, the hospitality industry continues to feel the effects of the lingering pandemic. And with government support set to soon end, on several fronts, a Coalition of Hardest Hit Industries was launched last week to put additional pressure on the government to extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) programs to help stave additional layoffs and closures.

The coalition includes a group of more than 40 businesses including the Hotel Association of Canada (HAC), the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC), the Indigenous Tourism Association and Festivals and Major Events Canada.

The four groups launched the coalition last Thursday by holding a joint press conference at the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottawa, and pleaded with government to expand and extend the program or risk seeing the closure of many businesses.

Charlotte Bell, president of TIAC kicked off the press conference, stating, “Collectively we represent about two million workers; among the businesses impacted by COVID-19, we are the hardest hit. We were the first to be shut down and we’re going to be the last to recover. Like many others,” said Bell, “the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was a shock to our systems. The government moved quickly to implement necessary safety measures such as the closure of international borders and bans on mass gatherings; they also supported workers and businesses with the Canadian Emergency Wage subsidy. This program saved jobs and many of our companies,” said Bell, adding that while the government extended the program in the summer, it’s now set to come to a close.

Though Bell is confident the sectors “will bounce back when COVID-19 is behind us,” she’s worried that this fall, “we’ll face bankruptcy and unemployment.” Given this grim reality, Bell said the coalition is launching its campaign asking government “to extend the CEWS program subsidy to save jobs and save businesses. Our two million workers need support until spring 2021 at the full 75 per cent rate for businesses, said Bell.

“The CEWS program was a lifeline for our sectors but in less than 10 days, this support will wind down. …simply put the hardest hit businesses will not be able to keep their employees on payroll. Today, we’re calling on Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister [Chrystia] Freeland to support vulnerable workers in our hardest-hit sectors.”

According to Keith Henry, president and CEO of Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, which represents 1,800 indigenous-owned tourism businesses which employ 40,000 workers, “Prior to COVID-19 impacts, Indigenous business was growing at the fastest rate in tourism. It was a record-breaking year with total economic value of almost $2 billion ─ up from $1.7 billion in 2018. “Today, ITAC is proud to be part of the coalition calling on the Federal government to extend the CEWS program. “This loss in sales revenues translates into employee reductions… The fact is Canadians and international visitors will come back, and in the future they’ll expect authentic Indigenous experiences, but the reality is that though each day we’re losing our Indigenous staff… They cannot simply be replaced, and the losses to our workforce pose an incredible risk to the future. One of the most important solutions is for the federal government to extend the CEWS today. Indigenous Tourism needs this program support to ensure we can rebuild as soon as possible.”

Martin Roy, president of Festivals and Major Events Canada, concurred, saying “In a post-COVID reality, Canadians still want to know that the events they hold dear ─ whether it’s the Calgary Stampede, the Toronto International Film Festival, a jazz festival in Montreal Festival, the Quebec Carnival, and the Blues Festival in Ottawa” will still be there. “Festivals and events are part of our identity and we need employees to organize them now and in the coming events.”

Susie Grynol, president of the Hotel Association of Canada, culminated the presentation by saying “Our sectors are different. We cannot offer curbside pick-up, e-commerce or pivot to manufacture new products. We are fundamentally people-facing businesses, which limits our ability to function during a global pandemic. We understand that ongoing restrictions are necessary and we support them but COVID-19 continues to create depression-era economic conditions in our sector.” In a survey of 1,700 members undertaken by the group recently, 75 per cent indicated they would not be able to remain in business without access to government-supported financing. Sixty per cent said they are on life support and will run out of cash to pay their staff and other fixed costs in the coming months and nine per cent have identified the extension of the wage subsidy as critical to their survival.

While Grynol and the other association presidents are grateful for the government’s help in stepping up at the onset of the pandemic, she said, “winding down the support for all businesses at the same time does not make sense. It must be acknowledged that while some are allowed to recover, others are not. This support program should reflect this reality.”

According to Grynol, “business will not resume in a meaningful way until the summer of 2021 and when that day comes, we will come back strong. In the meantime, we need help. Without help many of the hardest hit businesses will not survive and the jobs will be gone forever. We cannot allow our employees to be left behind,” stressed the HAC president, adding that the hotel industry employs one of the most diverse workforces in the country, a group that includes a large number of women, millennials, and visible minorities ─ “these are the very groups that the Federal government and the Bank of Canada have identified as being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and that need additional protection and support. The best and most empowering way to support these workers is to allow them to keep their jobs. Keeping the subsidy at the full 75 per cent rate is going to be critical in the months to come. We are pleading with the government to extend and expand this program to a 75 per cent subsidy rate for the balance of 2020 and through the spring of 2021, for those business that have lost half of their revenue or more.”

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