TORONTO — The Ontario government released its 2021 Budget last week. Ontario’s Action Plan: Protecting People’s Health and Our Economy represents the next phase in the province’s COVID-19 response.
“For the past year, we have been focused on protecting people from COVID-19. Many challenges lie ahead. But with vaccines being distributed in every corner of the province, hope is on the horizon. We are ready to finish the job we started one year ago,” says Peter Bethlenfalvy, Minister of Finance and president of the Treasury Board. “Our government is going to be there every step of the way to make good on our commitment to protect people’s health and jobs. When this chapter is finally closed, I’m confident that the people of Ontario are going to unleash the economic growth that is necessary for job creation, prosperity and a stronger province.”
The 2021 Budget brings the total of Ontario’s COVID-19 support measures to $51 billion. Among the supports announced for businesses are an expansion of the Ontario Small-Business Support Grant program and new initiatives to support tourism, hospitality and culture industries.
The province will provide a second round of Ontario Small-Business Support Grant payments to eligible recipients. This will see approximately 120,000 small businesses who had already participated in the program automatically receive second grant installments ranging from $10,000 to $20,000.
The Digital Main Street program, will also be enhanced with an additional investment of $10 million. The program will continue to provide small businesses with digital-transformation grants, an online learning platform, training programs and Digital Service Squads offering technical support.
The provincial budget also includes support for workers, including the proposal of a new Ontario Jobs Training Tax Credit for 2021. This would provide up to $2,000 per recipient for 50 per cent of eligible expenses.
And, to support tourism, hospitality and culture industries, an additional investment of $400 million over the next three years was announced. This builds on previously announced investments of $225 million.
“TIAO is delighted that at this critical time, the government has identified the tourism industry as a key component of the Ontario economy and has recognized the unique and unprecedented damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Christopher Bloore, vice-president of Policy and Government, Tourism Industry Association of Ontario (TIAO). “We’re pleased that the government has taken on many of our key recommendations and put forward a series of programs that will help the tourism industry survive and thrive when the pandemic is over.”
These new programs include the Ontario Tourism and Hospitality Small-Business Support Grant, which will offer one-time grants of $10,000 to $20,000 and is designed to support businesses not previously eligible for the existing small-business grant, including hotels, motels and camps. The program is open to tourism businesses with fewer than 100 employees that have experienced revenue declines of at least 20-per-cent during the pandemic. However, businesses that received the Ontario Small Business Support Grant will not be eligible for the new program.
Additional tourism support includes the Ontario Tourism Recovery Program, which will provide support for historically successful businesses that have helped to drive employment and visitation in their regions. The $100-million initiative is designed to assist tourism operators, anchor businesses and attractions with the costs associated with re-structuring, re-opening, marketing and partnership development.
The province has also committed to exploring ways to provide Ontario residents with a tax credit of up to 20 per cent for eligible Ontario tourism expenses to encourage staycations and travel within the province during 2021. It will also support the recovery of regional tourism through increased funding for the province’s 13 Regional Tourism Organizations.
“There remain significant challenges to the tourism and hospitality industry moving forward and TIAO will continue to speak up for our industry on re-opening and further direct financial support. But, today has been an important step in safeguarding a vital part of our economy and towards exiting this crisis,” adds Bloore.
In a statement released by Restaurants Canada, James Rilett, vice-president, Central Canada, notes that the organization appreciates the support the 2021 budget will provide for tourism and hospitality, it will continue advocating for further sector-specific support for foodservice, including a wholesale liquor pricing model for licensed bars and restaurants.
The Ontario Restaurant, Hotel & Motel Association (ORHMA) also released a statement expressing the need for further support in which the organization expressed its disappointment that two key industry recommendations were not addressed in the budget. These include a retroactive assessment of all properties to capture the depressed business revenues of 2020 and adjust taxation accordingly; and the reduction of beverage-alcohol pricing for licenced establishments.
The statement notes: “We at ORHMA understand and appreciate the critical government decisions being made to help Ontarians now and for the future, however, our hospitality industry is in crisis, with many not seeing a light at the end. Expenses for these businesses must be reduced. Emergency support is not a long-term solution. This support will run-out and industry will suffer the consequences.”