Ontario businesses affected by recent public health measures can apply for rebates on property taxes and energy costs, the government announced Wednesday amid warnings some companies were on the brink of collapse due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
The federal government, meanwhile, said it was expanding eligibility for its $300-per-week worker benefit program. Instead of applying only to those who lost work due to lockdowns, it will now apply in regions where business capacity has been capped at 50 per cent to directly affected workers who've lost half or more of their income.
Ontario's new benefit will cover up to 50 per cent of the property taxes and energy costs of eligible businesses while they're affected by public health restrictions that capped capacity in restaurants, salons and other indoor settings at 50 per cent.
"We recognize that these necessary capacity limits to reduce the transmission of the virus will impact businesses, and that’s why we are introducing these new supports, which will put money directly into the hands of business and free up their cash flows during this critical time," Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said in a written statement.
The province said the new Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program will start accepting applications in mid-January, but the rebates will be retroactive to Dec. 19, when the latest round of restrictions came into effect.
It said businesses will be required to submit their property taxes and energy bills in order to get the rebates.
The government is also providing a six-month "interest- and penalty-free period" to make payments for most provincially administered taxes, starting Jan. 1, 2022 and running through July 1.
Ontario's latest round of restrictions, introduced in a bid to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, also include reduced hours for serving alcohol.
The announcement of new supports came the same day the Ontario Chamber of Commerce urged Premier Doug Ford to support businesses and their employees.
"Newly imposed restrictions intended to control the spread of the Omicron variant have left countless small businesses on the verge of collapse," Chamber CEO Rocco Rossi said in an open letter to the premier.
"Nearly two years into this pandemic, it is imperative that any further public health restrictions that inhibit business activity are accompanied by targeted relief and support programs, including loan forgiveness and extensions on payment terms for small businesses."
Rossi later said that while the measures announced by both the provincial and federal governments were good news, he worried they wouldn't be enough to prevent "a wave of business closures."
"For example, applications for the Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program will not open until mid-January," he said. "This delay – along with the limited eligibility of the rebate to energy and property taxes – may not be enough for many small businesses to keep their doors open."
The Opposition NDP, meanwhile, suggested Ford's plan was "insulting."
"Businesses asked for help. What they’re getting today from Doug Ford is a slap in the face," said finance critic Catherine Fife.
"Any small, local business that desperately needs support will be gone by the time their property tax bill comes due for 2022 — some may even be gone by the time applications open in mid-January."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2021.
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press