A South Surrey restaurant is calling on the federal government to support newly-opened businesses that have been excluded from wage subsidy and other federal COVID-19-related relief programs.
Delight Indian Bistro general manager Aayush Arora said construction began in 2019 for the restaurant located at 2215 160 St. About $1 million was invested to get the 150-seat restaurant up and running before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the nation in early 2020.
With the investment on the line, Delight Indian Bistro opened its doors to the public in June 2020.
Since the business didn’t have a payroll in 2019, they were excluded from receiving the federal government wage subsidy program, rental support, and government loans, Arora said.
“It excludes people like us who opened their business right in the middle of the pandemic who probably need, if not the same amount, even more than what an existing business needs. You’re still trying to make a name out there” Arora said.
“With the government not supporting us at all, we’re in a really stressed, tense situation right now.”
Arora said there was no opportunity to hold off, or to not open the restaurant during the pandemic because they needed to make up the $1 million investment.
He said he contacted Peace Arch News after failing to get the attention of federal politicians. He said he’s hopeful exposure will spur people in power to take action.
Of the members of parliament he’s contacted, the only person who responded was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, who told Arora that his request had been forwarded to Minister of Small Business Mary Ng.
“But it is such a shame on the government that Mary Ng has never replied to any of our emails that we have sent and in response, all we get is an automated response. This behaviour from the government makes us feel like we are not living in Canada, but a third-world country and our voices are not being heard,” Arora wrote in an email to PAN.
Contacted this week, press secretary for Ng, Youmy Han, told PAN that the ministry is going to follow up with Delight Indian Bistro’s concerns.
“We know that small businesses continue to have difficulty making ends meet because of the pandemic. The federal government continues to actively assess its support measures to ensure workers and businesses – including new businesses – have the support they need, and we welcome feedback from Canadians and businesses on how we can best be there for them, as we have done since the start of the pandemic,” Han stated in an email.
Han noted that the government created a $2-billion regional relief and recovery program, offered through Canada’s Regional Development Agencies, which gives financial support to small businesses in rural communities and regional-specific sectors, “especially those that may not qualify for other emergency businesses support programs.”
South Surrey-White Rock MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay has been raising the issue of new businesses being excluded from relief programs during debates in Parliament since at least February.
The Delight Indian Bistro isn’t the only new, local business that’s been challenged by the lack of support, she said, noting other fledgling businesses on the Semiahmoo Peninsula that have raised similar concerns as Arora are Eggcetra Breakfast Cafe (2940 King George Blvd.) and The Yoga Bar (1326 Johnston Rd.)
Findlay said she’s “very frustrated” that no action has been taken on the issue, despite her having repeatedly brought the concern to the federal government’s attention. The government could include new businesses in its existing relief programs by adding markers that can verify a company’s need and legitimacy, she added.
“There’s markers that you can look to that would be able to allow these people to show that they are legitimate enterprises, they put a lot of private and personal investment in, and they’re not wanting to go anywhere. All they want to do is be allowed to move forward, and they don’t want to close their doors,” Findlay said.
The issues are amplified further by provincial health “circuit breaker” restrictions that have eliminated indoor fitness and indoor dining until April 19. It’s unclear, at the moment, whether the restrictions will be extended, as B.C. COVID-19 cases continue to trend upwards.
“The provinces have jurisdiction and a job to do. But part of what’s happening is we’ve had a slow roll-out of the vaccine federally that is hampering the provincial authorities’ ability to move toward recovery faster,” Findlay said. “That is squarely on the federal government’s management.”
And while there’s only so much Findlay can do to address the challenges faced by new businesses, she said the public can get involved to help amplify the message.
“People should be writing to the government, to the minister of health, to the minister of finance,” she said. “I’m amplifying their voices, but they also need to amplify mine and others’ saying look at this, because this is going to ruin people. Absolutely, it is ruining people.”
Meanwhile, some financial help is on the horizon from the province.
Thursday (April 8) afternoon, B.C. Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon announced a $50 million grant program to help businesses hurt by B.C.’s recent COVID-19 measures.
The $50 million circuit breaker business relief grant will provide up to $10,000 in a one-time payment that can help pay for fixed costs like rent, insurance, employee wages, maintenance and utilities. Kahlon said the program is expected to help up to 14,000 restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries, gyms and fitness centres.
A business must have been open since at least Feb. 1, 2021, to qualify and the amount of money received will depend on the number of employees that the business had. The $50 million will come from the $345-million small and medium sized business recovery grant program.