Reduced electricity rates, small business grants announced as Ontario battles Omicron variant

Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

The Ontario government is providing targeted relief for businesses and people impacted by the current public health measures aimed at blunting the spread of the Omicron variant.

As part of this plan the province is providing electricity-rate relief to support small businesses, as well as workers and families spending more time at home while the province is in Modified Step Two, as well as grants for small businesses subject to closure during this time. 

Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith, also Ontario’s Minister of Energy, announced Friday for 21 days starting Jan. 18, electricity prices would be set at the current off-peak rate of 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour – less than half the cost of the current on-peak rate – at all times. 

The off-peak rate will apply automatically to households, small businesses, and farms who pay regulated rates set by the Ontario Energy Board. The change will benefit customers on both time-of-use and tiered rate plans.

“We know that spending more time at home means using more electricity during the day when prices are higher, that’s why we are moving to off-peak electricity rates 24 hours per day, seven days a week,” said Smith. “The off-peak rate will provide significant savings for families, small businesses and farms as all Ontarians work together to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.”

The government is also announcing an Ontario COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant for small businesses that are subject to closure under the modified Step Two of Roadmap to Reopen. It will provide eligible small businesses with a one-time grant payment of $10,000. 

Eligible small businesses include:

  • •Restaurants and bars;
  • •Facilities for indoor sports and recreational fitness activities (including fitness centres and gyms);
  • •Performing arts and cinemas; 
  • •Museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos, science centres, landmarks, historic sites, botanical gardens and similar attractions;
  • •Meeting or event spaces;
  • •Tour and guide services; 
  • •Conference centres and convention centres;
  • •Driving instruction for individuals; and
  • •Before- and after- school programs.

Eligible businesses that qualified for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant and that are subject to closure under modified Step Two of Roadmap to Reopen will be pre-screened to verify eligibility and will not need to apply to the new program. Newly established and newly eligible small businesses will need to apply once the application portal opens in the coming weeks. Small businesses that qualify can expect to receive their payment in February.

Further, online applications for the previously announced Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program will open on January 18. This program will provide eligible businesses that are required to close or reduce capacity with rebate payments for up to 100 per cent of the property tax and energy costs they incur while subject to public health measures in response to the Omicron variant. 

Eligible businesses required to close for indoor activities, such as restaurants and gyms, will receive a rebate payment equivalent to 100 per cent of their costs. Those required to reduce capacity to 50 per cent, such as smaller retail stores, will receive a rebate payment equivalent to 50 per cent of their costs. A complete list of eligible businesses will be provided prior to the launch of the application portal.

Ontario is also improving cash flow for the province’s businesses by providing up to $7.5 billion through a six-month interest- and penalty-free period starting Jan. 1, 2022 for businesses making payments for most provincially administered taxes. This supports businesses now and provides flexibility for long-term planning.  

“These programs will ensure impacted Bay of Quinte businesses have the support they need to get through this period and continue to provide the services our communities depend upon as we are able to emerge from these public health measures,” said Smith.

“Small businesses are at the heart of every community across our province and make a tremendous contribution to Ontario’s economy,” added Nina Tangri, Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction. “Our government knows how important it is to support small business owners during such a difficult time. That’s why throughout the pandemic, our government has supported small businesses and continues to do so through the new Ontario COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant.”

These measures will build on Ontario’s support for businesses and workers, which includes:

  • •The extension of the Worker Income Protection Benefit to July 31, 2022 to keep workers safe and ensure they do not lose pay for missing work for reasons related to COVID-19
  • •Measures to support restaurants, bars, and other businesses with approximately $60 million in support annually through a reduction in wholesale alcohol prices; increased flexibility to create and extend patios; and permanently allowing licenced establishments to include alcohol with food as part of a takeout or delivery order.
  • •The enabling of an estimated $10.1 billion in cost savings and support for business in 2021 with more than 60 per cent, or $6.3 billion, going to small businesses.

“Our government understands that public health measures needed to blunt the spread of the Omicron variant are impacting the lives and livelihoods of small businesses, workers and families across Ontario,” said Peter Bethlenfalvy, Minister of Finance. “Since the first day of the pandemic, we have provided unprecedented levels of support to protect people, jobs and our economy. We will continue to deliver on that commitment.”