If having fully vaccinated people eat indoors at restaurants is so dangerous, how on earth is it safe (or appropriate) for us to be having an election?

To say the hospitality sector in Canada has been decimated by the pandemic would be a huge understatement. Across the country, and especially in major cities like Toronto, restaurants were forced to close for in-person dining for more than a year and to operate with significant capacity limitations when they were allowed to be open. How bad has it been for restaurant owners in Canada? A nightmare, according to the numbers.

Restaurant Canada’s latest survey of members shows that 80 per cent of all food-service operators in Canada have taken on debt over the course of the pandemic. For businesses in the hospitality sector who have taken on debt, which includes the food service industry, the average amount incurred is a whopping $333,174.

Over half of restaurants are currently operating at a loss, while more than a quarter of those that have taken on debt say their business will fail if current conditions don’t change. That level of business failure isn’t just a worry for the folks who may lose their businesses. It’s a worry for the large numbers of Canadians who rely on employment in the food sector to make ends meet.

The food-service sector is by far the most common first job for Canadians entering the workforce. Prior to COVID 1.2 million Canadians worked in the sector. To lose a significant chunk of those businesses, the services they offer and the jobs they provide, including that vital stepping-stone for new workers, would be a big blow to our country’s economic recovery.

What can be done to give the sector the boost it needs? Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole proposes a “Dine and Discover” program that would offer Canadians a 50 per cent rebate on food and non-alcoholic beverages purchased Monday thru Wednesday, for a period of one month once it is safe to do so. The policy may seem a little quirky, but it is borrowed directly from the U.K. Conservative party’s playbook.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson implemented a similar rebate scheme, called “Eat Out To Help Out,” that also offered a 50 per cent rebate, Monday thru Wednesday, capped at 10 pounds. The result was impressive, with 100 million cashed-in rebates injecting 522 million pounds into the hospitality industry. Compared to 2019, consumers ate out twice as often when the rebate was in effect.

Given the importance of the hospitality sector, you can see why O’Toole would want to try to get things moving again. And while his proposal can certainly be criticized from a fiscally conservative perspective, the response from Liberal partisans has been puzzling. For example, Justin Trudeau’s former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, tweeted that O’Toole was “virtue signalling the middle class” and that the program was bound to become a super-spreader event.

The mental gymnastics here are interesting, first because O’Toole’s plan clearly states that the program would only be implemented “when it is safe to do so.” The U.K. plan was rightly criticized for causing an increase in the spread of COVID19, but it was implemented before we had any vaccines at all. At the moment, 78 per cent of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated, and that figure will likely rise with the introduction of vaccine passports in almost every province.

If having fully vaccinated people eat indoors at restaurants is so dangerous, how on earth is it safe (or appropriate) for us to be having an election? In opposing what is a fairly centrist policy of targeted support for a sector impacted by the pandemic, the Liberals have shown the folly this snap election is. But turn their logic around. If it is safe to have an election with indoor gatherings in violation of provincial health orders, it must also be safe to incentivize vaccinated Canadians to head back to restaurants. You can’t have your cake, and eat it, too, not even if that cake is 50 per cent off Monday to Wednesday.

Originally published here



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