REGINA — The Saskatchewan NDP and Regina restaurant owner Josh McLean are calling on the provincial government to extend temporary offsale licences granted to restaurants during pandemic closures, after pulling them on short notice last week.
Economy and Jobs critic Aleana Young joined McLean on site at his restaurant, Homestead Bar a Vin, to deliver the message on July 12.
“We’re calling on the government to reverse this decision,” said Young. “This is an easy way to basically not kick restaurants when they’re down and allow them to have something approaching an economic recovery.”
McLean was one of several dine-in restaurants in the province that received a temporary offsale license to help offset the loss of revenue caused by public health orders.
He said the provincial government provided just four days warning before suspending these licenses, in the lead-up to health restrictions lifting on Sunday.
McLean said he received email notice on Tuesday, with no prior warning or consultation from government officials.
“It almost seemed like the email was an afterthought, like ‘oh yeah, we have to take those offsale licences,’” said McLean.
Restaurants typically order their stock sometimes a month in advance, said McLean, and so the change has left him with an overstock of products and concerns about revenues moving forward.
“If I would’ve had maybe a month or two notice, I wouldn't have purchased so much alcohol, had such a huge inventory,” said McLean. “We have five times the inventory [we’d normally stock] and for a small business like myself, that’s a lot of money to be filtered into just one part of our business.”
He said when he contacted the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority for an expansion on his licence, the advice he received was to return the extra inventory to his supplier. But McLean was uncomfortable with the position that put him in, as he purchases his alcohol from another small business in the city.
“I wasn’t willing to do [that]. That’s another small business that I didn’t feel was fair to kind of unload my problem onto them,” said McLean.
Young criticized the provincial government’s timeline, stating that more notice should have been given to restaurant owners before such a drastic change.
“[Four days] is a ridiculous amount of time, considering we’ve all known that July 11 was coming,” said Young. “It really seems like they’re out of touch with the reality of small businesses.”
Temporary offsale licenses helped small businesses stay afloat, said Young, and more consultation should have taken place prior to the decision which she sees as negatively affecting the economic recovery of the restaurant industry moving forward.
“They know, even if they’re not engaging with small businesses in the restaurant sector, that this recovery won’t happen overnight,” said Young. “[It] will take time for folks to get back to normalcy and bail themselves out from the tens of thousands of dollars of debt they’ve incurred over the past two years.”
A review is currently underway with the SLGA, and the NDP is calling on officials to extend current offsale privileges granted to restaurants until it is complete.
McLean said he would like to see at least one more month of offsale privileges, to help him recoup the investment he’s made and clear out some of his extra inventory.
“On July 11, it’s not like our bank accounts magically filled back up. We lost a significant amount of money during the pandemic and to take away an avenue for us to create some revenue, to rebuild what we’ve lost, with just four days’ notice is unacceptable,” said McLean.