TORONTO -- Restaurants Canada is calling on the federal government to provide a sector-specific support package in order to recover more than 400,000 food service jobs lost throughout the pandemic.

According to the April Labour Force Survey from Statistics Canada, more than two-thirds (70.9 per cent) of the 503,000 jobs still missing from the Canadian economy are from the foodservice industry and, as restrictions and closures are maintained in many provinces, Restaurants​ Canada predicts further food service jobs lost in May 2021.

“We were hit first, we were hit hardest, and we will continue to be hit, long after others are,“ James Rilett, Restaurants Canada Vice President, Central Canada, told CTV News Toronto on Thursday.

The federal government has extended the federal wage and rent subsidies until at least September​. They have signalled that it could be extended until November if needed.

“Restaurants are key to feeding Ontario’s recovery and bringing back jobs, but first they need to survive,” Rilett said. “If subsidies are scaled back too soon, they won’t have the working capital they need to transition from survival to revival.”

According to the latest survey data from Restaurants Canada, 80 per cent of food service businesses have been operating at a loss or barely scraping by throughout the entire pandemic, with 45 per cent consistently losing money for more than a year.

“If restaurants are forced to contend with less and less from the critical wage and rent subsidies before they’re able to operate without them, many will have to give up and close their businesses down for good. They just won’t have the working capital they need to make the transition from survival to revival,” Rilett said.

In order to return to profitability, Restaurants Canada is calling on the federal government to:

  • Provide exemptions from the scheduled scale-back of rent and wage subsidies for the food service sector and grant an extension of these vital programs for restaurants until at least April 2022
  • Provide the option for any restaurants eligible for the wage subsidy to also apply for added funding through the Canada Recovery Hiring Program
  • Grant partial forgiveness for all government-backed loans and an extension of application deadlines for existing programs
  • Provide tax credits to defray costs of COVID-19 health and safety expenditures

Small businesses are currently able to apply for up to $40,000 in funding from the provincial government through the Ontario Small Business Support Grant, although many businesses have reported waiting weeks to hear back after beginning their applications.

“It's a lot of people, a lot of jobs, a lot of families that don't have [income]. We want to get those people back to work as soon as possible, but unfortunately, our industry is mired in debt right now,” Rilett said.