Ontario COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant
Effective January 5, 2022, select indoor settings were required to close as part of the province’s measures to blunt the spread of the Omicron variant. As operators across tourism and hospitality sectors were preparing to close their indoor spaces, TIAO advocated behind the scenes for urgent financial support to support the thousands of businesses that had already seen drastic revenue losses, booking decreases, and rising cancellations as a result of Omicron. On January 6, TIAO sent a letter to Ontario’s Minister of Finance urging for a grant payment for affected businesses (along with a comprehensive list of tourism and hospitality businesses that should be eligible) in addition to other measures to provide much-needed financial relief.
The province incorporated our feedback when they announced on January 7th the new Ontario COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant, which included eligibility for a number of tourism and hospitality sectors hard-hit by the latest public health restrictions. These include restaurants and bars, live entertainment, attractions, meeting and event spaces, conference and convention centres, and tour and guide services.
Vaccine Certificate Exemption for International Visitors and First Nations Communities
Effective January 5, 2022, Ontario’s proof of vaccination requirement for prescribed settings was amended to require presenting a vaccine certificate with QR code along with ID. This requirement posed a problem for many international visitors whose COVID-19 vaccination document would not have a QR code or one compatible with the Verify Ontario app. Based on stakeholder feedback, it would also pose a problem for many First Nations communities experiencing barriers accessing the vaccine certificate, including systemic barriers and other factors (e.g., not all First Nations communities are connected to COVaxON, the province’s online repository of COVID-19 vaccination information).
TIAO worked with Indigenous Tourism Ontario and the provincial government to address the issues and is pleased that a solution has been reached: International visitors would be able to use their international vaccine receipts along with their passport/NEXUS card, and members of 9 First Nations communities would be able to continue using their vaccine receipt signed by an Indigenous healthcare provider.
Ontario Staycation Tax Credit
In December 2021, the Government of Ontario rolled out the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit, an incentive to encourage Ontarians to explore the province while helping tourism and hospitality sectors recover from the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ontario residents can claim 20% of eligible 2022 accommodation expenses when filing their personal Income Tax and Benefit Return for 2022. Ontarians can claim eligible expenses of up to $1,000 as an individual or $2,000 as a family, to get back up to $200 as an individual or up to $400 as a family.
The $270M Ontario Staycation Tax Credit program draws on recommendations from TIAO’s own pre-budget submission for such a program, supporting spending at local tourism and hospitality businesses by incentivizing stays at eligible accommodations.
For more information about the Ontario Staycation Tax Credit, please visit here.
Proof of Vaccination Opt-in
On October 22, 2021, the provincial government released A Plan to Safely Reopen Ontario and Manage COVID-19 for the Long-Term. The plan included an option to allow businesses and facilities to opt into requiring patron proof of vaccination, which would enable the business/facility to waive distancing requirements and effectively reopen at full capacity. TIAO’s advocacy was important in this policy shift. In the days preceding the announcement, TIAO had directly advocated for a proof of vaccination opt-in to ensure that all tourism businesses could be given a fair shot at reopening.
Unpaid IDEL to be Extended to July 30, 2022 to Protect Jobs and Businesses
The Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development (MLTSD) has confirmed that they will extend unpaid infectious disease emergency leave (IDEL) until July 30, 2022. Unpaid IDEL temporarily freezes layoffs to protect employees, allowing them to be reinstated, be free from penalty, and earn credits for length of employment and seniority; and protects businesses from the obligation to issue costly termination payouts once temporary layoff periods exceed the permitted length.
TIAO welcomes the announcement, which is in direct response to advocacy by TIAO and ORHMA on unpaid IDEL. On November 24, 2021, TIAO and ORHMA submitted a joint letter calling on MLTSD to extend unpaid IDEL for hard-hit tourism and hospitality sectors, as the current pace of business is not yet sufficient in all sectors to begin recalling laid off staff at the current timeline.
This announcement will help protect tourism and hospitality jobs and the financial solvency of our operators across Ontario.
TIAO and ORHMA had previously achieved an extension of unpaid IDEL until January 1, 2022.
For more information about unpaid IDEL, please consult government guidance.
Temporary ESA Regulation on Termination and Severance Payouts
TIAO worked with the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association (ORHMA) and the Greater Toronto Hotel Association (GTHA) to successfully extend a special industry regulation in the Employment Standards Act (ESA) protecting certain employers in the tourism and hospitality industry from the costly obligation to set aside termination and severance pay into a trust while laid-off employees wait to be recalled. Extended until July 30, 2022, this temporary measure protects the immediate cash flow of operators in the meeting and events sector, particularly those in hard-hit meeting and event hubs like Toronto and Ottawa.
TIAO had previously advocated alongside ORHMA and the GTHA for the introduction of this temporary measure into the ESA in light of the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on staff layoffs and meeting and event space revenues.
Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and Regional Relief and Recovery (RRRF) Programs
The Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and Regional Relief and Recovery (RRRF) programs offered partially forgivable interest-free loans of up to $60,000 to small businesses and non-profits, with the RRRF earmarking 25% of funds for the tourism industry.
According to TIAO’s own survey data, about 6 in 10 Ontario tourism businesses have relied on CEBA loans and one-quarter of Ontario tourism operators have taken on RRRF loans to cover non-deferrable expenses such as wages, commercial rent or lease payments, utilities, property taxes, and insurance-related costs.
In the early days of the programs, TIAO advocated for expanding eligibility to businesses that do not operate from a business bank account, enabling more small tourism operators to access critical supports to maintain their financial solvency. Since September 2021, TIAO has advocated for additional CEBA and RRRF loan forgiveness and an extension of the interest-free repayment period.
In January 2022, the Government of Canada extended the interest-free repayment period and the deadline to qualify for partial loan forgiveness to December 31, 2023. TIAO thanks the Government of Canada for this extension. However, as TIAO’s January 2022 survey data shows, 7 in 10 Ontario tourism businesses reported that it will take at least 2 years to resolve their debts; moreover, almost half of the province’s tourism businesses reported a pessimistic outlook for the future of their business and that of the tourism industry. As such, while this extension will provide some relief, it will not be enough.
In a campaign that has been adopted by many of our partners, TIAO is currently advocating for the increase of both CEBA’s and the RRRF’s maximum loan forgiveness amount by up to $10,000 if the balance of the loan is repaid by the end of the 0% interest-free grace period; and extending the interest-free repayment period for CEBA loans and RRRF loans to December 31, 2024.
Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program
To support businesses affected by the province-wide public health restrictions, the provincial government introduced the Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program. Eligible businesses that were required to close or reduce capacity during the provincial public health restrictions were able to receive rebate payments for up to 100% of their property tax and energy costs they incurred while subject to these measures.
Eligible businesses required to close for indoor activities, such as restaurants and gyms, received a rebate payment equivalent to 100% of their costs and similarly, those required to reduce capacity to 50%, such as smaller retail stores, received a rebate payment equivalent to 50% of their costs.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, TIAO has continually called on the provincial government for supports which provide immediate financial relief for tourism businesses affected by closures and capacity restrictions.
Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) / Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program (THRP)
At TIAO, one of the first emergency COVID-19 asks of government was for a wage subsidy for our industry. In April 2020, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) was created. This program is a key part of the recovery process for the tourism industry and at one time was accessed by 64% of our members. This program has been extended numerous times and acts as a lifeline for sustaining hospitality operations.
This subsidy is one of the most utilized government support programs during the COVID-19 pandemic. TIAO, TIAC, and the Coalition of the Hardest Hit Businesses have campaigned the federal government to sustain this program into 2022, as the need for the continuation of support programs is vital to the recovery and future of our industry.
In December 2021, the Government of Canada announced the continuation of wage subsidies for the tourism industry and hardest-hit businesses through the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program.
Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) / Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program (THRP)
From the beginning of the COVID-19 response, TIAO has advocated for commercial rent relief for businesses across the province. TIAO was imperative in working with both federal and provincial governments to extend the Canada Emergency Commerical Rent Assistance (CECRA) program, as well as to then replace this program with the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy program. This program lowered rent for small businesses that were affected by COVID-19 by 75 percent. The impacted small business tenants are businesses who have temporarily ceased operations or have experienced at least a 70 percent drop in pre- COVID-19 revenues. This support program is also available to non-profit and charitable organizations. This program is vital as it covers commercial rent or property expenses, ensuring businesses are able to sustain their operations.
In the Federal Budget in April, the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, announced the planned phase-out of the CERS program by the fall of 2021. Alongside TIAC and the Coalition of the Hardest Hit Businesses, TIAO advocated for the continuation of this program into 2022, as removing financial supports for the tourism industry at this stage is dangerous to the survival and future success of businesses.
In December 2021, the Government of Canada announced the continuation of rent subsidies for the tourism industry and hardest-hit businesses through the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program.
Permanent Alcohol Wholesale Discount at LCBO
In TIAO’s 2020 and 2021 pre-budget submissions, we supported our colleagues at ORHMA and other stakeholders to call for a 20% reduction in wholesale alcohol pricing to support the province’s food and beverage operators. As noted by ORHMA at the time, “licensees 2019 LCBO Purchases represented $577,465,000 which is 9% of LCBO’s total revenues beverage alcohol purchased by licensed establishments, such as bars and restaurants, make up the second-largest LCBO sales channel following consumer direct purchases.”
In a win for ORHMA, TIAO, and colleagues that have campaigned for cuts to wholesale pricing, the Ontario government has answered that call today with a permanent additional 5% wholesale discount on LCBO sales to licensees, bringing the total discount rate to 10% and eliminating the 6% markup on LCBO wine and spirit charges. When combined with HST recovery and container deposit fees, these licensees will effectively pay 20% less than retail prices for alcohol purchased wholesale from the LCBO
Over three quarters of Ontario’s hospitality operators will benefit from this support which will aid in their tough recovery.
At this crucial time, it is imperative that the hospitality industry can maximize profits. In addition to supporting cash flow with the increased uncertainty caused by the Omicron variant, beverage alcohol price reductions will directly flow to a hospitality business’ bottom line, giving the business an opportunity to re-hire staff and expand operations.
Please see here for more information.
Ontario Taking Steps to Protect Vulnerable Workers
Under the Working for Workers Act, 2021, Ontario passed legislation that requires licences for temporary help agencies and recruiters. TIAO has continually advocated for the protection of tourism workers and we are proud that the province is taking steps to ensure that all workers are safeguarded against exploitation. TIAO welcomes this move and will continue to advocate for regulations which support the tourism industry.
The changes will enable officers to levy penalties against an unlicensed THA or recruiter or a business who is using an unlicensed operator. Those who use deceitful recruiters could be required to repay workers for illegal fees charged. Ontario is also proposing to hire a dedicated team of officers to take stern measures on THAs and recruiters who are exploiting and trafficking domestic and foreign workers.
President and CEO, Christopher Bloore said, "Workers are the heart of the tourism industry, they are the reason our hotels, restaurants, and attractions in Ontario are some of the most sought-after destinations in the world. Many are international workers who come to Ontario to work, and we are proud to see Minister McNaughton taking the lead to ensure that every worker in our province is protected against unscrupulous recruitment practices, and labour trafficking."
For more information, please visit here Ontario Taking Steps to Protect Vulnerable Workers | Ontario Newsroom
Improving Rural Access to High-speed Internet
Many Canadians have lacked access to high-speed internet, impacting their ability to work, learn and keep in touch with family and friends. The Government of Ontario and the Government of Canada have partnered to support projects that will provide high-speed internet access to the entire province of Ontario by 2025. Both governments will contribute equal investments, totalling more than $1.2 billion in order to provide internet to nearly 280,000 rural Ontario households.
This investment will move Ontario almost 40% of the way in its plan to achieve 100% connectivity for all regions in the province by 2025. Reliable high-speed internet is crucial to business and therefore important to the capacity of Northern tourism businesses to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and remain competitive against domestic and global tourism destinations.
Temporary changes to ESA legislation
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been historic layoffs with almost 200,000 job losses. TIAO advocated for temporary changes to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and on March 19, 2020 changes were made to the ESA. These changes include Bill 186: Employment Standards Amendment Act (Infectious Disease Emergencies), 2000, which entitles all employees to unpaid, job-protected leave in the case of infectious disease emergencies. This ensures employees are protected when required to take leave from work because they are in isolation, quarantine, or need to provide care for children or other relatives due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Ontario Travel and Tourism Small Business Support Grant
The grant provides one-time payments of $10,000 to $20,000 to eligible small businesses in the tourism and travel sector to support them during their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a part of Ontario’s 2021 Budget that is investing more than $400 million over the next three years to continue to support the province’s tourism industry.
Ontario Tourism Recovery Program
The tourism industry is one of the hardest-hit sectors in Ontario due to COVID-19; over 200,000 jobs and more than $18 billion dollars in revenue have been lost. After relentless advocacy efforts by TIAO, TIAC, and sectoral partners, the #hardesthit businesses, such as those in tourism, are a priority to the government strategy moving forward.
The Ontario government announced $100 million dollars in the Spring 2021 budget for a one-time Ontario Tourism Recovery Program. It will support established and proven tourism businesses that have been hardest hit by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and the overall tourism industry’s recovery from COVID-19. The program will “provide support for historically successful businesses that have helped to drive employment and visitation in their regions by assisting with costs related to restructuring, safe reopening, recalibrated marketing activities, and partnership development.” This new initiative touches on some of TIAO’s pre-budget recommendations, like the importance of anchor tourism businesses and the need for support for reopening and marketing.
Industry Level Trailer Plate Solution
At the request of TIAO member Boating Ontario, TIAO alerted key political and bureaucratic policy advisors to the issue of
dealers having to buy a new trailer plate for each boat, snowmobile, or ATV that they moved. On behalf of its members, TIAO coordinated and participated in several meetings with the Ministry of Transportation, and attended a stakeholder consultation at the MTO office alongside industry stakeholders, and representatives from the Roadside Enforcement Division of the Ontario Provincial Police. This discussion went over the proposed service plate solution and worked out the details regarding weight restrictions, towing capacities, and all other areas that could lead to unintended consequences for the safety of Ontario highways.
After this stakeholder consultation, TIAO met directly with the Minister of Transportation and staff at the 2019 ROMA Conference. As a direct result of TIAO’s meetings with the Ministry of Transportation, an announcement was made in March 2019 at the Spring Cottage Life Show. The Ministry announced their decision to cut red tape for the tourism industry by extending the service plate program to include recreational and off-road vehicles.
This win reflects the full potential of government and industry collaborating to save the tourism industry thousands of dollars a year and is a huge step forward in cutting red-tape so that tourism businesses can continue to create jobs and drive the economy.
Tourism Oriented Directional Signage
Many tourism businesses across the province were adversely affected by the TODS program announcing a significant price increase. Together with
Attractions Ontario and the Ontario Museum Association, TIAO reacted quickly to this issue and met with staff from both the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport to explain the impact of the price increase.
At this meeting TIAO requested that TODS pricing be held at the 2018 rate through to 2019, that both ministries agree to reviewing any future price increases, and to implement a reasonable time frame for business owners to anticipate and prepare for cost increases. After the meeting, TIAO reached out to its members to collect copies of official bills and receipts from the TODS company to provide proof that some businesses were subject to a 300% price increase.
Late in December 2018, the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport contacted TIAO directly to share their decision to announce a price freeze to maintain the 2018 TODS pricing through to 2019, and that the Ministry would also review the process and timeline for any future increases.
Repealing Bill 148 – Employment Legislative Changes Applicable to the Tourism Sector
A huge area of concern for the tourism industry was Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, that received Royal Assent in 2017. Bill 148 not only raised the minimum wage from $11.60 to $14 per hour, but put into motion a range of changes to the Employment Standards, Labour Relations, and Occupational
Health and Safety Acts.
In its third year of working on the Bill 148 file (in 2018), TIAO sent a survey to TIAO members and used a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) and thematic coding to organize and analyze data on how TIAO members/businesses were impacted by the legislative amendments of Bill 148. Some of the key findings from this
analysis included the high cost of administering changes to overtime calculations, the speed at which the wage increase was made, and the impact of the increase of Personal Emergency Leave Days on small and seasonal businesses.
Using data collected from the members survey, and policy research, TIAO met with the Minister of Labour, shared the key findings on the impact of Bill 148 on Ontario businesses, and provided six policy amendments.
In November of 2018, Bill 47 received Royal Assent, repealing much of Bill 148. The Minister of Labour’s Chief of Staff referenced the AMO meeting with TIAO as being highly influential in their repeal of Bill 148 and the design of Bill 47.
Of note - one of TIAO’s direct policy asks to repeal the January 1, 2019 planned minimum wage increase to $15 an hour was implemented. This represented a cost savings of over $7 billion for Ontario businesses.
Being the Voice of Tourism – Waivers in Ontario’s Recreational Sporting Industry
TIAO member Ontario Federation Of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC), approached TIAO to go through all materials ahead of a Supreme Court of Canada case and intervene on the appeal case on behalf of the greater industry. TIAO’s feedback on the case played a role in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to affirm that waivers under the Occupiers’ Liability Act are not defeated by the Consumer Protection Act.
This decision put new force into waiver arguments, not just in Ontario but it will help cases in British Columbia and other provinces. This is just one example of the many ways that TIAO acts as the voice of tourism.
New Tourism Strategy for Ontario
In early conversations with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport, under the new Ford government, TIAO requested that Ontario create a new
tourism strategy to maximize the economic impact of Ontario’s $34 billion tourism industry.
On October 23rd, 2018, the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport announced the development of a new Ontario tourism strategy at the 2018 Ontario Tourism Summit, emphasizing the government’s commitment to tourism as an economic driver.