Winnipeg small businesses need provincial support during closures: Opposition leader, mayor

Political leaders in Winnipeg are calling on the Manitoba government to financially support small businesses that will be affected by strict new measures starting Monday.

As the capital region moves to the critical red level on the province’s pandemic response system, those rules will include retail stores having to cut capacity and restaurants shifting to takeout and delivery service only. The new measures will also shut down venues like movie theatres, galleries and bars.

Opposition Leader Wab Kinew said he wants the province to make $100 million available to small businesses impacted by the incoming measures to help keep them afloat during shutdowns mandated by the government.

“At this point in the pandemic, we’re past the point where a business can take on more debt. We’re past the point where they can defer bills. The payments are coming due now,” Kinew said at a news conference on Sunday.

He also called on the province to commit to an increase in healthcare staffing and take control of privately run personal care homes.

Chris Graves, who owns the King’s Head Pub in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, also spoke at the news conference on Sunday. He said many small businesses are struggling to survive right now, and many may not make it through the next round of shutdowns.

“Maybe we don’t close today, but maybe we close in two weeks, in three weeks. Others are closing now, others have already closed,” Graves said. “We have taken gut punch after gut punch after gut punch, and small businesses need our provincial government to step up.”

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman made a similar plea for the province to support small businesses on Sunday.

“Our hope was that when new measures were introduced by the provincial government, that there would be corresponding, targeted financial relief for those businesses most affected,” Bowman said on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live on Sunday.

“We’re hopeful that the provincial government will announce new measures to help those businesses that have been affected by the recent restrictions that have effectively, in many cases, shut them down.”

A spokesperson for Premier Brian Pallister said the province will continue working with small businesses to address their needs, but the government’s immediate focus is on communicating the new public health orders that come into effect Monday.

“Our government recognizes the significant challenges that businesses are facing, which is why we have developed some of the most generous support programs in the country,” the spokesperson said. 

“But right now, the most important thing we can do to help our small businesses is to reduce our COVID-19 cases.”

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