Manitoba extends grants for businesses, disputes suggestions new public health orders came too late

Another round of bridge grants is being made available to businesses and organizations impacted by COVID-19 and the latest restrictions that have shut down or severely curtailed many operations.

This is the fourth round of payments worth up to $5,000 to help small and medium-sized businesses, not-for-profits, charities and home-based businesses, as the third wave of the pandemic sweeps through the province.

“We rely on our small businesses and they rely on us,” said Premier Brian Pallister while announcing the funding on Monday.

The total financial support available in the fourth round is $71 million. That brings the total of the four rounds so far to $286 million.

Eligible businesses that received prior bridge grant payments will automatically receive a fourth payment of up to $5,000 beginning as early as Friday and will be notified of the deposit via email, the province said in a news release.

Pallister also announced a $2,000 top-up for restaurants in addition to the $5,000 bridge grant to help cover the costs of food waste, employee wages, maintenance and insurance.

Approximately 1,800 restaurants will qualify for the top-up, which the province expects to total about $3.6 million.

“We recognize that the announcement we made in terms of additional restrictions, in particular the announcement late last week, was done out of a sense of urgency without a lot of advance notice being able to be given to some businesses,” Pallister said.

“I’m not going to apologize. We had to act. We chose to act. We believe we did the right thing.”

That said, he acknowledged the restaurant industry was caught particularly off guard, especially as it prepared to host Mother’s Day diners.

“That additional $2,000 is our way of saying thank you to the restaurants for the important services they offer,” Pallister said.

An additional $2 million is also being provided to the dine-in restaurant relief program to help restaurants shift their operations toward a delivery model.

A rebate will help offset costs related to delivery services, whether a restaurant provides its own delivery service or uses a third-party delivery company.

The program, administered by the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce in partnership with the Manitoba Restaurant & Foodservices Association, was first launched in January 2021.

Shops shut, schools closed

It comes as more than a dozen new public health restrictions take effect in response to staggeringly high COVID-19 cases that have reached a level not seen since the peak of the second wave.

As of Sunday, gyms, museums and fitness centres are among those forced to shut down, while restaurants, bars and patios close to in-person dining.

Visits to private residences — whether indoors or outdoors — remain prohibited.

As well, all kindergarten to Grade 12 schools in Winnipeg and Brandon will switch to remote learning for three weeks, starting Wednesday. Other schools will adopt remote learning if they have more than one COVID-19 case, unless they involve people from the same household.

Asked Monday what type of supports will be extended to parents who cannot go to their jobs because their kids are home from school, Pallister said there’s a wide array of programs that can cover that.

He is not aware of any program — in any province or federally — designed specifically for parents in that scenario.

Disputing call for earlier lockdown

Asked multiple times if he regrets not implementing tougher restrictions weeks ago, when many people could see the current situation coming as COVID-19 numbers were steadily rising, Pallister repeated that Manitoba “maintained some of the toughest restrictions in Canada.”

“To suggest that we should shut down our economy when we have 100 [new daily] cases is to suggest the only way to avoid a lockdown, is to have a lockdown,” he said. “And that isn’t right. I don’t buy that logic.

“What about the 100,000 people you put out of work when you do that. What about the mental health and well-being of families and individuals across the province?”

Premier Brian Pallister said the pandemic’s third wave can be shortened by more Manitobans getting vaccinated. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

But opposition critics slammed the premier for acting too slowly.

Modelling data leaked to CBC News last week suggest the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units — already on pace to exceed the height of the pandemic’s second wave — could double before the summer. The province has yet to release that information itself.

“It’s very clear that the government refused to act,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

“The unfortunate reality of the situation is because they delayed action, now many more Manitobans are going to get sick, and unfortunately, some of those folks are going to end up in the hospital.”

At the news conference Monday, Pallister was also asked what the odds are that the latest restrictions could actually be relaxed by the start of June — if people should be prepared for kids to not return to school again this year, and if businesses will stay closed for much longer.

WATCH | Get vaccinated, follow health rules, Pallister tells Manitobans:

Saying ‘the future’s in our hands,’ Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister encouraged people to get vaccinated and follow public health rules in order to end the third wave of COVID-19 as quickly as possible. 1:53

It took nearly three months for the orders to begin to subside during the second wave. That was a different time, and we’re different people now, Pallister said.

“The future’s in our hands. We’re not powerless in this,” he said.

“Follow the health orders, get vaccinated. We can shorten this third wave.”

Dougald Lamont, provincial Liberal leader, accused Pallister of trying to communicate that everything is fine when it isn’t. He called for more financial aid.

“We need support for individuals and for organizations that exceeds what they’ve promised. They can’t keep doing this, because this government keeps trying to get away with the bare minimum.”