Thank you, Madam Chair.
I also want to thank the committee members for having me here today so that I can talk about our industry.
The Association Restauration Québec is the oldest restaurant association in Canada and the largest in Quebec. Founded in 1938, it brings together over 5,600 managers of all types of restaurant services.
In Quebec, the industry generated annual sales of $14 billion and consisted of over 21,000 companies that employed approximately 230,000 people. I should specify that this was before the current crisis. We played a key role in the economic, bio-food and tourism development of all regions of Quebec. We hope to continue to do so.
First, we must note that restaurants are being hit very hard by the storm that we're all experiencing. Restaurants will likely continue to be heavily affected for many months to come.
In the first few weeks of the lockdown, 80% of our members had to suspend their activities completely, which means that they had to fully shut down. Our colleagues at Restaurants Canada also made an assessment. In Quebec alone, approximately 175,000 workers in the restaurant industry were laid off at the end of March.
In April, restaurant sales in Quebec, for all categories combined, plummeted by 70%. For restaurants with table service, the drop was obviously sharper, with a decrease in sales of over 83%. Of course, the situation improved in June, as a result of the gradual reopening of dining rooms in Quebec. However, it's utopian to think that we'll return to normal and recover 100% of our usual sales.
The reason is very simple. The dining rooms can't be filled to their maximum capacity because of physical distancing standards, and many customers have disappeared as well. Think about tourists from abroad who can't come to Canada, workers who are staying home and who aren't in the city centres, and people who normally attend all the major sporting and cultural events such as the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Montreal or the Festival d'été de Québec in Quebec City.
When we surveyed 580 food service managers in early July, 61% of respondents expressed concern about their ability to survive. They said that, if nothing changes, they won't be able to survive for more than six months. This means that we must fear the worst for thousands of food service businesses, but also for thousands of families with members who depend on an income or employment in a food service business.
Of course, we welcome the assistance measures implemented by the Government of Canada. We're very pleased to see that the Government of Canada stepped up to the plate with a number of different measures, such as the Canada emergency business account, the Canada emergency wage subsidy and the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance.
Some of these measures continue to serve as critical lifelines for all restaurant owners across the country.
The Canada emergency response benefit or its student equivalent was needed for people who ended up with no income overnight, including many restaurant owners.
However, let's face it. Along the way, the benefits have become a real headache for thousands of employers, who are unable to recruit and employ the workers that they so desperately need to serve customers.
While a great deal has been accomplished to date to assist Canadian businesses, more must be done to help the food service industry get through this crisis.
We made 28 recommendations to various levels of government to help get our businesses back on track.
First, we believe that it's perfectly legitimate to ask for a financial assistance program—we're not talking about a loan, but about financial assistance—specifically for the food service industry to offset operating losses or, at least, to cover the many major costs arising from the new health regulations.
Second, in the coming months, the suspension of the GST and QST collection in Quebec should be considered. This could be a good way to encourage consumers, who have also had economic difficulties, to support restaurants in their community.
We obviously also support better oversight of the fees charged to merchants by payment card network operators. These fees are commonly known as interchange fees.
Lastly, because the impact of the pandemic on the profitability of restaurants will last longer than in many other sectors, the federal programs already in place must be maintained for as long as necessary. The Canada emergency wage subsidy remains critical and must be maintained. However, the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance must be changed, since many tenants can't benefit from it and because the 70% drop in income criterion is too stringent. This must change.
As a result of your assistance and concern, restaurant owners will be able to get back on their feet and continue to welcome you to their establishments across Canada.
Thank you for listening.