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Yukon opposition parties say bars and restaurants need support to ‘survive until spring’

Both the Yukon Party and NDP are calling for new support policies
Yukon Party interim leader Stacey Hassard speaks to media after legislative assembly in Whitehorse on March 19. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Opposition parties are calling on the Yukon government to do more for restaurants and bars as COVID-19 lockdown measures continue to impact their livelihood.

“Some have indicated that they are at a breaking point. It is clear to us that if a change in approach is not made immediately, we could risk inflicting permanent damage to our hospitality sector which will hurt our economy in the near term but will also hamper our ongoing recovery from the pandemic,” said Yukon Party MLA Stacey Hassard in an open letter this week.

The Yukon Party is calling for an immediate end to the current 10 p.m. restriction for bars and restaurants. That particular restriction is set to end in March, but Hassard said that isn’t soon enough.

He also called on the government to end the mandatory spacing between tables, removal of barstools and limitations that restrict tables to six people from two households.

Hassard also questioned the use of vaccine passports, and said despite that some feel more comfortable knowing they are dining alongside vaccinated individuals, the passports “drive down sales and add costs to businesses.”

Earlier this week the premier of Saskatchewan said vaccine requirements had run their course, while Alberta Premier Jason Kenney ended the mandatory enforcement of the province’s passport system on Feb. 9.

While they did not go as far as criticizing restrictions from the Chief Medical Officer of Health, the NDP also called on the government to enhance support for struggling business owners.

“Bars and restaurants are so important to Yukoners and tourists alike. They make our community a more vibrant place to live. The government needs to do everything they can to help them survive. Right now, they’re not getting the help they need,” said downtown MLA Emily Tredger in a statement released Feb. 8.

Tredger and leader Kate White hosted a virtual roundtable discussion with restaurant and bar owners across the territory last week.

Based on that meeting, the NDP are calling for restaurants to be allowed alcohol delivery with takeout orders. They are also suggesting waiving fees, like liquor licence fees, and increasing the existing discount at the Yukon Liquor Corporation.

They also want to see the current system of funding support further simplified, to “make the application doable for people without specialized financial skills.”

The NDP also suggested that the government liaison more directly with businesses prior to new COVID-19 orders and implement a new info line, outside of the general public number, for businesses to access information.

The Paid Sick Leave Rebate Program covers wages for up to 10 days if an employee must isolate, is off sick or caring for loved ones due to COVID-19. The program does not cover workers who are eligible to receive sick leave benefits through their employer or Outside workers.

Under the Yukon Emergency Relief Program businesses and non-governmental organizations can receive relief funding if they are affected by restrictions under the Civil Emergency Measures Act.

Cabinet communications analyst Renée Francoeur provided a statement from the government, indicating new support for local businesses will be announced in the coming days.

“The Yukon government has been a national leader in supporting local businesses throughout the pandemic and will continue to provide supports as we move forward on the path to recovery,” she said in an email.

Contact Haley Ritchie at