Protégé : Mayor Tory’s Summit on the Recovery Challenges Facing the Entertainment and Hospitality Sectors

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In Toronto, hotels, restaurants, live music and theatre venues have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. These industries generally comprise of small and medium-sized businesses who are unable to open at full capacity. They are devastated by the lack of pedestrian life and require immediate interventions and other supports to survive the upcoming weeks and months as the recovery efforts get underway. The tourism and cultural industries were among the hardest hit and will be among the last to recover.

Summit Format

In consultation with the Entertainment and Downtown-Yonge Business Improvement Areas, the Mayor convened a listening session for representatives from these four sectors (Live Theatre, Dance and Opera; Live Music; Restaurants; and Hotels) to lay out the challenges they were facing, and their recommendations for actions by government. In addition to the Mayor, the meeting was also attended by Councillor Brad Bradford, and by elected officials from the federal government: The Honourable Mona Fortier (Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance), Adam Vaughan (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development (Housing), and Julie Dabrusin (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage); and the provincial government: Sheref Sabawy (Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries).

The meeting was convened by the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) and facilitated by its CEO Mary W. Rowe. Although the focus of this session was Toronto, many of the challenges expressed during the session represent common areas of concern for Canadian cities. CUI is working across the country with partners to raise the issues facing local economies: and

Key Challenges

A committed, detailed, and viable path to reopen

Toronto’s creative spirit is in crisis as artists are leaving the city and taking their talents elsewhere. A clear plan must be laid out to reopen hotels, entertainment, and hospitality sectors. Reopening will bring immense economic benefits to these sectors and have a trickle-down effect on Toronto’s tourism sector. Beyond economic benefits of reopening, the culture industries made up of creative agents that can help engage the public in a process of public healing. Using the arts to spread positivity and social connectedness after more than a year of isolation and hopelessness is of great importance. A clear timeframe must be established for reopening. The cultural industries have no clear indication on what a reopening path looks like. Art making and projects require months to prepare so having no timeframe is a major roadblock for many. Cultural industries are seeking clear information pertaining to what is possible in venues and theatres in terms of audience capacity. Additionally, they want to know what the public health protocols will be during the reopening process, e.g., social distancing measures, workplace safety measures.

Governments must actively consult with the cultural industries in Toronto

Hotels, restaurants and live theatre and music industries want to be in the room where decisions are been made. They want to be properly consulted on matters that directly impact them. Cultural industries believe they were omitted from tourism recovery roundtables. The various representatives from the arts sectors believe that there is a serious lack of consultation when discussing matters related to reopening Ontario. Cultural industries in Toronto want a seat at the table and be consulted on a regular basis as reopening significantly impacts their livelihood. For example, entertainment and hospitality sectors advocate for more friendly immigration policies and rapid testing plan as borders reopen.

Additional and continued financial support for a sustainable and just recovery

The hotels, entertainment, and hospitality sectors were the first to close and will most likely be the last to reopen. Government support is essential during the recovery period. The government support programs, e.g., wage subsidy and rent relief programs have helped many small and medium sized businesses in Toronto. Many businesses are drained from 18 months of minimal to no cash flow so extending CEWS and CERS to December 2021 for the hardest hit businesses and individuals must remain a priority. These programs should remain and not expire come September. Ontario Arts Council supports over 1100 organizations and 2000 individual artists so increasing the Council’s budget will help many who require various forms of support. Additionally, increasing and maintaining funding to both Ontario Music Investment Fund (OMIF) and Reconnect will help stimulate economic growth and job creation in the entertainment sector during recovery period. Many small and medium sized businesses along with other organizations have accrued punishing debt, ongoing debt forgiveness is needed moving forward.

Access to affordable insurance coverage

The representatives from the live music and restaurant industries express that many in their community have been met with ‘skyrocketing’ commercial insurance rates. Insurance has become a big hurdle. Many in the community either have no insurance coverage or coverage that is so expensive that it is unaffordable. The representatives hope that the public sector works with them to address the issue pertaining to the lack of access to affordable insurance.

Proposed Actions for Consideration

Federal Government

  • Extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) to December 2021 so it can help keep employees on payroll, facilitate the return to normalcy, and help with rent, mortgage, and other expenses.
  • Bolster Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) and Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP) to provide low interest loans for small businesses heavily impacted by COVID-19.
  • Continued financial investments in arts, culture, heritage and sport industries, e.g., Ontario Music Investment Fund and Reconnect to stimulate recovery and growth.
  • Access to rapid testing and other technology that can help mitigate the spread of the virus.
  • Addressing debt forgiveness to alleviate the financial burden businesses have accrued.
  • Help revive main streets in partnership with the cultural community.
  • Continued campaigns to secure consumer confidence to show that gathering is safe again.

Provincial Government

  • Provide detailed information about the public health protocols in place during the reopening process, e.g., social distancing measures and workplace safety measures.
  • Greater regulation of the insurance industry to combat the skyrocketing insurance rates and provide accessible, affordable insurance coverage.
  • Support the number of programs targeting the tourism businesses. E.g., Ontario Tourism and Travel Small Business Support Grant – one-time payments of $10,000 to $20,000 to eligible small businesses.
  • Continued relief through the Community Building Fund to help communities, non-profit tourism, culture and sports and creation organizations recover from pandemic.
  • Work with regional tourism organizations including Destination Toronto in efforts to support pandemic recovery in Toronto, Brampton and Mississauga.
  • 20% reduction in beverage alcohol pricing.
  • Continue to initiate advisory committees with representation from the hotels, entertainment, and hospitality sectors in order to gain valuable insights concerning the recovery plan moving forward.

Municipal Government

  • Continue to advocate for working collectively as governments on recovery efforts for the hotels, entertainment, and hospitality sectors
  • Work quickly to provide a set roadmap moving forward where there is clarity concerning applicable regulations, guidelines, and rules with respect to venues, capacity, bookings is shared.
  • Allow CaféTO to stay during the recovery.
  • Adopt friendly immigration policies to support the hospitality sector.
  • Support initiatives that attract tourists to Toronto, including those from within the province.
  • Securing thousands of jobs within the entertainment, tourism and hospitality sectors is significant as these sectors are a big part of creating the ‘feel of the city’.
  • Appoint a representative inside the city to focus on the Live Theatre, Dance, and Opera industry.
  • The City of Toronto to work closely with Destination Toronto on a ‘big program’ (awaiting launch) to liven up the main streets and draw people to vibrant spaces around the city.
  • Turn to the culture industries and creative agents to help engage the public through a process of healing and spread positivity.

Next Steps

The Mayor committed to work with CUI and initiate a joint conversation with provincial and federal governments immediately to address the challenges raised here.