Ottawa BIA coalition calls for HST holiday for hard-hit restaurant industry

Harriet Clunie
Das Lokal executive chef Harriet Clunie, shown with Coconut Lagoon owner Joe Thottungal, says Ottawa's restaurants are "hanging on by a thread" during the pandemic. File photo

A prominent local business organization is pushing for governments to extend tax relief to the province’s hard-hit restaurant industry as it grapples with the effects of the pandemic.

The Ottawa Coalition of Business Improvement Areas​ ​– which represents 19 local BIAs and says about 1,000 of its 6,200-plus member businesses are restaurants ​– is joining forces with the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association to urge governments to exempt eateries from collecting and remitting HST until the industry rebounds.

In a statement on its website on Monday, OCOBIA said already-thin profit margins in the restaurant industry have been stretched to the breaking point during the pandemic as owners were forced to invest in personal protective equipment and incur third-party delivery fees in order to stay afloat.

The proposal on website RestoHST.ca is calling for pandemic-battered eateries to receive tax credits or get a break from paying HST until business picks up.

“This industry is vital to our main streets, not to mention it supports so many other sectors from agriculture and advertising, to trades and design,” Nathalie Carrier, executive director of the Vanier BIA, said in a statement. 

'Razor-thin margins now non-existent'

“Restaurants are an integral part of our tourism sector and they are also vital employers of youth and newcomers.”

According to the RestoHST site, overall sales at Canadian restaurants are down 80 per cent since before COVID. 

“Their razor-thin margins are now non-existent, but they were forced to continue to invest significantly in PPE, plexiglass retrofits, online sales and third-party delivery charges just to mitigate their tremendous loss and survive through to the end of the pandemic,” the site says.

Beleaguered local restaurateurs say they need all the help they can get to make it through the crisis.

“Though we put on a brave face, most of us are masking mountains of debts and hanging on by a thread,” Harriet Clunie, executive chef of Das Lokal in Ottawa’s ByWard Market, said in a statement. “We’re running out of steam, we’re running out of ideas and we’re running out of money.”