Quebec restaurants struggle amid pandemic aftermath; ARQ calls for extended relief measures
In a recent revelation by the Association Restauration Québec (ARQ), the province's restaurant industry faces a grim reality with nearly 20 percent of establishments shuttering their doors since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of restaurants has dwindled from 21,000 to 17,000, marking a significant impact on the sector.
Throughout the pandemic, Quebec's restaurants were left with limited options, often having to remain closed or pivot to takeout and curbside services to survive. The ongoing challenges have led the ARQ to issue a warning about potential further closures unless there is an extension to the current deadline for repaying the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loans.
These loans have been a financial lifeline for many, with approximately 80 percent of Quebec restaurants availing of the $60,000 CEBA loan during the pandemic. However, the repayment has become a steep challenge. The ARQ highlighted that 66 percent of the recipient restaurants have not repaid any portion of the loan, putting them at risk of losing the subsidy part, which amounts to $20,000 of the $60,000 loan, if they fail to meet the January 18 deadline. Only a mere 10 percent have managed to repay the loan in full.
In a recent statement, the ARQ expressed its dissatisfaction with the federal government's response, stating, "For the ARQ, this is clearly insufficient. The Association is demanding more and better from the Trudeau government." The association emphasized the need for an extension beyond the current deadline, citing that the three-week extension to January 18, 2024, is inadequate to address the ongoing financial struggles of the industry.
The ARQ further informed its members of the new repayment conditions: "Jan. 18 is the new date to repay the CEBA and obtain a forgiveness of $10,000 for a loan of $40,000 and $20,000 for a loan of $60,000. This is also the date until which you can submit a refinancing request... to benefit from an extension until March 28, 2024." Beyond January 19, 2024, all outstanding CEBA loans will transition into three-year loans with a 5 percent annual interest rate, extending the repayment deadline to December 31, 2026.
This precarious situation has prompted discussions with federal Quebec lieutenant Pablo Rodriguez, Bloc Québécois MP Nathalie Sinclair-Desgagné, and the Economic Development Agency for the Regions (DEC). The ARQ is adamant about maintaining "constant pressure on this issue" to secure changes that could revitalize the struggling industry.
As the industry confronts these financial challenges, the ARQ's efforts reflect a broader call for support and understanding from the federal government, highlighting the need for tailored solutions to aid the recovery of Quebec's restaurant sector in the pandemic's aftermath.
Photo caption: Finalists in the Best of Aylmer Readers’ Choice awards normally include the Old Aylmer restaurant, L’Aubergiste. It is one of several local restaurants slated for closure or sale this season amid an economic crisis in local economies.
Photo credit: Patricia Cassidy