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Montreal Restaurant and Bar Owners Protest Extended Lockdown and Delayed Financial Aid

Some are taking to the streets, others to social media

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Around this time every year, Montreal’s restaurants and bars prepare for a bustling holiday season of office parties, family get-togethers, and end-of-year hooplas. But now, the cookware is being used for something other than food: protest.

Approximately 50 people gathered at Place Jacques-Cartier in Montreal’s Old Port yesterday morning to protest the once-more-prolonged shutdown of bars and restaurants in the province and the aid promised to owners to offset that decision. Banging pots and pans, the protestors eventually made their way to city hall before dispersing.

The protest was organized by the Union des tenanciers de Bar du Québec, but was also attended by the Corporation des propriétaires de bars, brasseries et tavernes du Québec, whose president Renaud Poulin told the Montreal Gazette that the groups are demanding the Quebec government ease eligibility requirements for aid, which at the moment, he said, preclude establishments operating slot machines and featuring nude dancing.

The emergency financial aid initially announced at the beginning of October has been extended until January 11, when confinement measures are planned to be lifted, Quebec premier François Legault has said. (Under the program, restaurants and bars in red zones are entitled to having 80 percent of their fixed expenses reimbursed, to a maximum of $15,000.) However, business owners across the province have been vocal about not yet receiving the relief.

Speaking at a press conference held soon after the protest ended, Premier Legault addressed the lag, saying that he and Pierre Fitzgibbon, the province’s minister of economy and innovations, are aware of the issue and are “pushing” to solve it. “But, I also know that some restaurants, for all kinds of reasons, don’t want to present invoices and proof of the rent they pay. We manage the money of Quebecers, so we cannot pay without having any proof.”

Meanwhile, another faction of the community, the Nouvelle association des bars du Québec (NABQ), issued a statement yesterday sharing a list of measures called the “3030 Action Plan,” which they believe will help safeguard businesses as they contend with a drawn-out shutdown. Among them is a request that the provincial government extend financial aid until 30 days after bars are allowed to resume operations.

“We want to make the Quebec Government aware of the mistakes that were made last spring. We cannot re-open a business within 48 hours. It is impossible to believe that an entrepreneur will be able to order his merchandise, reactivate his accounts payable, redesign his menus, rehire his employees and/or find new employees, and put in place all the physical distancing measures requested by Public Health in such a short period of time,” Pierre Thibault, the president of the bar association, said in the 3030 Action Plan document.

Still, another organization, this time the Fédération des chambres de commerce du Québec (FCCQ), is requesting that restaurants and bars be permitted to open with limited capacity during the same four days (December 24 to 27) that Quebecers have been told they can gather in groups of up to 10 with family and friends.

In a press release delineating their position, the FCCQ said, “We understand that the current number of COVID-19 cases does not allow for full return to normalcy, but companies in the restaurant industry have invested significant sums in outfitting their spaces to the best sanitary standards. A limited number of gatherings in these establishments could have been done without compromising public health.”

Social media has become another popular forum for business owners to decry the provincial government’s handling of this second round of closures, with some of Montreal’s biggest names, such as David McMillan of the Joe Beef group and Vianney Godbout-Lescouzères of Maisonnette, doing so. They’ve tagged the Quebec premier in posts featuring a burning candle and the middle finger, signifying their sense of abandonment during these difficult times.

For his iteration, Antonin Mousseau-Rivard, chef and owner of Le Mousso and Le Petit Mousso, poses in a photo posted to Instagram with his middle finger alight, writing in an accompanying caption, “Time is running out… It is no longer a question of help, but of resuscitation... Loans will never heal the scars... Where are the grants... The candle is burning...” The post was commended by celebrity chef Dany Bolduc, Bika Farm chef-owner Fisun Ercan, and others in the comments section.

As bars and restaurants across the city continue to face existential challenges, it is unlikely that acts of protests — on social media and the streets — will abate any time soon. And despite the dangers posed by gathering in large groups amid a global pandemic, some plan to do so again this weekend.