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P.E.I. tourism operator would opt to close without federal support extension

Matthew Jelley, owner of Maritime Fun Group, is shown outside his Sandspit amusement park, which opened on June 26. Jelley anticipates it will take years to recover from the pandemic’s financial hit.
Matthew Jelley, owner of Maritime Fun Group, is shown outside his Sandspit amusement park in 2020. Jelley says without an extension of federal supports, he would have to close up shop for the summer.

Tourism operator Matthew Jelley says he will have to shutter the doors of his businesses without an extension of federal supports.

The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy are set to end June 5, and the industry hopes for an extension to be announced in the upcoming federal budget on April 19.

Facing another season like last year without those subsidies gives Jelly pause.

“Because of the reduced capacity, we just can’t maintain our proper staffing, so we would have to make the decision, unfortunately, that we would have to close.”

Tourism operator Matthew Jelley says without an extension of federal supports, he would have to close up shop for the summer. - Contributed
Tourism operator Matthew Jelley says without an extension of federal supports, he would have to close up shop for the summer. - Contributed

Subsidies needed

Jelley has worked in the tourism industry for 30 years and is the owner of Sandspit, Shining Waters Family Fun Park and Mariner’s Cove boardwalk.

The two subsidies were what kept him open in 2020, he said.

“It allowed us last year to continue employing 200 people that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise and the sooner we know, the better we can prepare and plan for the upcoming season.”


What are the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy?

  • Initially available for a period of 12 weeks (three four-week periods) from March 15, 2020 to June 6, 2020, the wage subsidy provides up to 75 per cent of eligible wages, paid by an eligible employer to each eligible employee up to a maximum of $847 per week.
  • Eligibility is based on calculating lost revenue compared to the same period in 2019. Currently, there is no minimum threshold.
  • The rent subsidy has a base subsidy rate applied to a maximum of $75,000 in eligible expenses per location and an overall maximum of $300,000 in expenses per claim period.

An extension is one way the federal government could offer some certainty.

“The budget and the federal government can’t tell us when vaccinations are going to be complete. They can’t tell us how variants are going to impact things,” said Jelley. “They can’t tell us when provincial borders are going to open up, but they can tell us that they’re there to support us with at least the two programs that are in place.”

It would also help address unease within the industry, said Corryn Clemence, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I.

“I think it’s important to note that if business starts to resume, that will make operators ineligible for that program, so what it really is doing is safeguarding and allowing those operators to plan for opening this summer.”

Corryn Clemence, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I., says continuing the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program will be critical to retain employees and ensure a stronger 2022 season next year. - Contributed
Corryn Clemence, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I., says continuing the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program will be critical to retain employees and ensure a stronger 2022 season next year. - Contributed

Looking ahead

Keeping people employed in the industry will be crucial looking ahead, said Liam Dolan, owner of Peakes Quay Restaurant and Bar.

“At the same time, we’re providing a service and (ensuring) that we’ll be all here when 2022 comes and we’ll hopefully be back in strong force again.”

With many operators thinking along the same lines as Jelley, retaining those employees is an ongoing conversation and of crucial importance, said Clemence.

“We see a lot of long-term employed individuals that we really need to keep because they are the cornerstone of our businesses.”

Liam Dolan is the owner of Peake's Quay Restaurant and Bar on the Charlottetown waterfront. - SaltWire file
Liam Dolan is the owner of Peake's Quay Restaurant and Bar on the Charlottetown waterfront. - SaltWire file

Still, with the ongoing support from both federal and provincial governments since the start of the pandemic, Dolan is hopeful.

“We just hope they don’t fall asleep at the wheel now. Just get us over the finish line.”

Treading water

Even with an extension, the wage and rent subsidies are only about making it through the season, said Jelley.

“I think right now, we’re not even, I’m not even thinking about recovery. I’m thinking about survival and so the first phase of that is the wage subsidy and the rent subsidy for survival.”

The other main federal program to offer support is the Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP), which offers business loans.


New provincial supports as part of the Tourism Action Plan:

  • $3 million to create a Tourism Activation Grant Program to provide tourism operators with a non-repayable grant to assist with eligible costs associated with opening for the 2021 season. More details are available online.
  • $1 million to create an Air Access Recovery Program with YYG Charlottetown Airport to retain and restore air carriers to P.E.I.
  • Funding to the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. to hire a tourism operator advisor to help the industry navigate available supports and programs.

But many smaller operators, despite being eligible, aren’t in a position to use it, said Clemence.

“I think we’re hearing that a lot and I’ve certainly voiced that at the national level with my counterparts that a lot of our small operators are really uncomfortable taking on more debt with the uncertainty of when those restrictions will lift and we can get back to meaningful operations.”

Even for Jelley, increasing his debt doesn’t make business sense with so much uncertainty, he said.

“I’m better off making other decisions for my business — to remain dark, to sit a year out and avoid going deeper in debt.”

Michael Robar is The Guardian's national affairs reporter.

Twitter.com/MichaelRobar

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