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‘Post-pandemic hangover’ forcing many restaurants to file for bankruptcy, association says



Restaurants across Canada are “in crisis” and still fighting for survival, says the not-for-profit association that represents 30,000 of the businesses countrywide.

Restaurants Canada says its members are facing a “triple whammy” of challenges: inflationary costs, labour shortages and COVID-19 loan repayments.

“We’re in this post-pandemic hangover phase,” said Mark von Schellwitz, vice-president of the group’s Western Canada division. “It’s been really difficult to get back to normal.”

Bankruptcy filings in food services have spiked 116 per cent since 2022, according to Restaurants Canada. It says about half of restaurants are unprofitable right now, compared to only 12 per cent before the pandemic.

A man with short grey hair and blue eyes stands outside.
Mark von Schellwitz with Restaurants Canada says 25 per cent of members worry they won’t be able to survive another year. (CBC)

The organization says 25 per cent of members worry they won’t be able to survive another year. It’s lobbying the federal government to extend the repayment deadline for the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) to give struggling businesses some reprieve.

In B.C., the struggling restaurant sector has spent the last few weeks pressuring the provincial government for support. The group has been quietly meeting with the labour and jobs ministers, resulting in a list of 10 recommendations to the province.

CBC News has learned the government is currently working on additional supports — not only for the restaurant sector, but for small businesses as well.

“We do know that a number of small businesses are feeling the impact,” said B.C. Jobs Minister Brenda Bailey, referring to the inflation and labour shortages, along with COVID-related debt.

Bailey said the government will announce shortly measures to assist restaurants and small businesses.

Changing business model to survive

Before the pandemic, The Birds & The Beets cafe in downtown Vancouver was a lunch hot-spot relying on daytime office workers.

Co-owner Matthew Senecal-Junkeer says the business was able to pay all of its bills and fixed costs with the busy lunchtime business.

But that’s no longer the case. Many workers haven’t returned to the office, which has forced the cafe to also turn into a wine bar five nights a week.

“That’s really been essential for our survival,” Senecal-Junkeer said. “Restrictions are lifted, life is back to normal, but people’s patterns are just different post-pandemic.”

A bearded man wearing a teal shirt and backwards cap.
Matthew Senecal-Junkeer of The Birds & The Beets restaurant in Vancouver says he had to morph his daytime restaurant into a wine bar at night to adjust to a new post-pandemic reality. (Submitted by Matthew Senecal-Junkeer)

High food costs

According to Restaurants Canada, restaurants have also had to increase menu prices to keep up with inflationary costs, but not hike them too much to avoid pushing away customers who are also feeling the pinch.

Canada’s inflation rate reversed its cooling trend last month and moved higher, to a 4.4 per cent annual rate.

While overall costs have come down from recent record highs, food prices are still staying at eye-watering levels. Grocery prices have increased by 9.1 per cent in April.

A man and a woman stand at a wine bar.
The Birds & The Beets cafe turned into a wine bar when the pre-pandemic lunchtime crowd never rematerialized post-COVID. (Tanya Fletcher/CBC)

“The impact of higher interest rates and slower consumer spending is impacting restaurants the most and that’s why our members are predicting that next year is going to be an even worse profitability year than this year,” von Schellwitz said.

Calls to extend CEBA repayment deadline

Restaurants Canada is calling on the federal government to extend the CEBA repayment deadline. The program offered interest-free loans of up to $60,000 to small businesses and not-for-profits. The deadline to pay back loans is Dec. 31, 2023.

Repaying the loan before deadline will result in loan forgiveness of up to 33 per cent (up to $20,000).

Businesses that do not repay the loan by Dec. 31 will have to start paying interest and will lose the forgivable portion.

“I think that’s when we’ll see a lot of spaces turning over, a lot of bankruptcies and all the pain and suffering that come with that,” said Senecal-Junkeer, who owes $40,000 in loans.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland is pictured.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office points out the federal government has already extended the CEBA repayment deadline once. (Nick Iwanyshyn/Canadian Press)

Restaurants Canada estimates 20 per cent of its members won’t be able to pay back the loans by deadline.

It’s proposing a 36-month repayment schedule, where every six months, businesses lose five per cent of the forgivable portion.

The organization is asking the government to respond by the end of this month. The House of Commons rises for the summer on June 23.

In an emailed response to CBC News, Adrienne Vaupshas, press secretary to the Minister of Finance, noted the repayment deadline was already extended once.

“To further support small businesses, in Budget 2023 we announced that we have secured commitments from Visa and Mastercard to lower credit card transaction fees for small businesses, while also protecting reward points for Canadian consumers,” Vaupshas wrote in a statement.



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More Canadian companies adopt ‘stay interviews’ amid push to retain staff



When Tara Vanderloo’s employees are mulling leaving her enterprise software company, she wants to be one of the first people they tell – and to hear their unvarnished reasons why.

“I know people get called by recruiters, so I’ve asked the question: ‘who are you talking to or what type of organizations?”’ said the chief experience officer at Sensei Labs in Toronto.

“Have you had any thoughts or are you questioning why you want to be here?”


Vanderloo poses the questions in one-on-one meetings she and other staff periodically have with the company’s workforce of roughly 70.

The discussions, which some companies call “stay interviews,” are designed to collect feedback from employees and are aimed at learning what the company can do to retain valued team members and keep them happy.

Some companies have been hosting such meetings for years, but many more adopted the practice over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic as the health crisis caused workers to rethink their careers or seek more flexibility, advancement or support from their employers.

Sensei Labs adopted engagement interviews in late 2021, when companies saw millions of people worldwide leave their jobs in what economists and businesses branded “The Great Resignation.”

“It was substantial, and it was concerning for us because it’s hard to hire great people and we don’t want to lose them, so the first thing we did is we addressed it head on,” recalled Vanderloo.

A companywide meeting was called to discuss the labour market changes afoot, and team leads _ Sensei Labs doesn’t use the term managers _ followed up one-on-one to learn about employee happiness in more detail.

Despite a softening job market and suggestions that negotiating power has tipped back in favour of employers, Sensei Labs has kept up with the practice and a quarterly happiness survey.

The survey asks workers whether the company lives up to its values and “would you recommend Sensei as a place of employment to others?”

Sensei Labs has a near perfect score for people who would recommend it, but staff still have wants, particularly around flexibility.

That’s part of why Sensei Labs has eschewed formal return-to-office requirements. The company has space staff can use but no rules on how often staff must use it for work.

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It also piloted a four-day work week that has been expanded because the happiness survey and chats with staff have shown it’s a hit.

“Their language was like, ‘this has changed my life,”’ said Vanderloo. “If you have kids, it just makes things easier to get all your chores done or doctors’ appointments or focus on your hobbies or whatever you want to do.”

Sensei won’t green light every ask, Vanderloo cautioned.

“It’s not like the sky is the limit,” she said.

“If it’s not something we can implement, we’re very open about it.”

Chief people and culture officer Michelle Brooks has done “engagement interviews” twice with the 200 staff at Toronto cybersecurity firm Security Compass.

They started the interviews a few years ago because they wanted to build on data they were already collecting by measuring engagement, which they thought would help indicate whether people intend to stick around.

The goal isn’t to prevent everyone from leaving but to ensure the company couldn’t have done something simple to prevent the departure of high performers.

“Some level of turnover is healthy,” said Brooks. “We only want them to stay as long as they want to be here and they’ve having their needs met just like in a relationship… We don’t want to lock people in.”

The interviews Brooks has done so far have yielded valuable insights. For example, she learned that some workers aren’t necessarily seeking a promotion. They just want more responsibilities, opportunities to learn and even the ability to go to a conference.

Jenna Hammond, an Ontario woman working for a Norwegian biotech company, used a stay interview, which her company calls a “touchpoint,” to ask for a better employment arrangement.

Hammond was hired as a sole proprietor on a six-month contract with no benefits. She took the job because it was a way back to working after 15 years raising kids.

“I really needed financial stability and financial independence and being on contract just wasn’t ideal,” she said.

When the chief executive of the company asked her what it would take to get her to stay in a touchpoint, she told him and ended up being made a full-time employee with benefits.

Her company repeats these meetings every quarter and does a more fulsome one each January that can last up to 3.5 hours.

In her last meeting, Hammond asked the company to cover cleaning services for her home, which she said would help with work-life balance. They declined but offered her Fridays off this summer to help her juggle responsibilities.

“The worst thing that they were going to say to me was no, but I found that if I didn’t ask, I wouldn’t receive,” she said.

Jennifer Hargreaves, who runs Tellent, an organization that helps women find flexible work opportunities, believes every company should be having open conversations to hear about employee needs on a regular basis, but warned the process can also be a “double-edged sword” for staff.

“The huge benefit to doing it is obviously you can get what you want” she said.

“But there’s this fear that if I ask them and they say no, they’re going to know I’m unhappy, so then I might get punished for it right down the road.”

She encourages employees asked to complete such interviews to step back and think about they want and what is most important to them before coming up with an ask that is focused, specific and realistic.

But even more important to the process, she said, is employers willing to be transparent with staff and make changes based on what they hear.

“Candidates and employees are getting really tired of a lot of talk with no action,” she said.

“People need to see things backed up. If not, they know how much opportunity is out there.”



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Latvians got a surprise day off today. Here’s why



Latvians woke up to go to work on Monday morning, only to find they didn’t have to.

Their parliament had met at midnight to declare a holiday after the national ice hockey team chalked up its best-ever result at the world championship.

Latvia, where hockey is the national sport, was co-hosting the men’s championship with Finland, and the Latvians’ extra-time victory over the U.S. for third place was greeted with wild jubilation. Canada won gold in the tournament and Germany silver.

An airBaltic plane bringing the team home from Finland made a low-altitude fly-past over central Riga on Monday to greet thousands of fans gathered to welcome the squad.


At quarter to midnight on Sunday, sporting red and white national team jerseys, members of parliament convened for a 10-minute session to unanimously declare the holiday.

It was “to strengthen the fact of significant success of Latvian athletes in the social memory of the society,” according to the bill’s sponsors.

The bill was introduced by a smiling member of parliament with her face painted in the colours of the national flag. Another giggled merrily while trying to read out the names of absent parliamentarians, to laughter from many in the hall.

There was an ovation from everyone present after the final vote.

But as dawn broke after the midnight sitting, there was confusion about who was working and who was not.

Court hearings were cancelled and schools and universities were closed, but national exams for high school students went ahead, with staff paid at holiday rates.

Businesses found themselves in some disarray, the president of the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Aigars Rostovskis, told public broadcaster LSM: “It will be chaos for many.”

Several hospitals chose to stay open to honour doctor’s appointments.



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String of motorcycle deaths in B.C. spurs calls for improved road repairs, safety standards –



Alexis Wiltse’s brother never worried about his sister when she was out on one of her Harley-Davidson motorcycles — he worried about the roads.

Luciano Carnovale says his vibrant, loving sister was a cautious and capable motorcycle driver who took her safety seriously.

“The road conditions, that was my biggest concern always with her,” said Carnovale, a nurse in Kamloops. “Even for me, driving around in my pickup truck gets very bumpy and sketchy as it is.”


Wiltse’s family and motorcyclists are urging caution and calling for better road maintenance after the 38-year-old social worker and two other British Columbia motorcyclists died within three weeks of one another earlier this spring.

On May 6, Wiltse was riding on Shuswap Road near Miner Road on the Tk’emlups reserve, according to RCMP, when her bike hit a “beast of” a pothole. She died of her injuries, while another motorcyclist was hospitalized.

Carnovale says poor conditions on Shuswap Road were well-known by government before Wiltse died. The pothole has been filled since the accident, but road conditions on either side are still poor, he added.

“It’s been a constant nightmare throughout the years and just unmaintained,” said Carnovale. “But it shouldn’t be like that in this day and age.”

A large pothole in a sunny road with moutains and grass nearby.
The pothole on Shuswap Road that Alexis Wiltse’s family says caused her death has been filled since her crash on May 6, 2023. But her family says road conditions remain poor. (Facebook)

The unusually hot weather already this spring has brought an early start to the motorcycle season and its hazards, say ICBC and RCMP.

At least eight motorcyclists have died so far this year, compared to six this time in 2021.

On April 24 of this year, a 27-year-old motorcyclist died after colliding with a tractor trailer in Burnaby, and another in Surrey was killed in a crash with a minivan on May 8.

Surrey has seen six motorcycle fatalities in the last six weeks alone, according to ICBC.

“It’s May, the sun is out, we’ve got a lot more riders on the road, and we really want drivers to be looking twice for motorcycles,” said Karen Klein, ICBC road safety coordinator for Surrey.

“You cannot see motorcycles unless you’re actually looking for them.”

Recent collisions prompted Surrey RCMP and ICBC to team up to offer a free skills course and refresher for motorcyclists on Sunday.

Motorcycles account for about four per cent of ICBC-insured vehicles, but make up about 14 per cent of crash claims, Klein said.

Each year, there are about 2,200 crashes resulting in around 1,500 injuries and 40 deaths, she added.

Klein advised riders to always wear proper protective gear and practice the basics, urging drivers to lookout for motorcycles at every turn.

A woman walking across a gold course smiling.
Wiltse was hard-working and loved her family more than anything, her brother Luciano Carnovale told CBC News. (Facebook)

Death was preventable: brother

Alex Johnson has been a motorcyclist near Kamloops for three years. She says when news of Wiltse’s death broke, her friend called to make sure it hadn’t been her on the bike.

“It’s sad because she was so young and she had a beautiful bike and it’s just sad to see lives lost so young,” said Johnson, 55.

She said the conditions on smaller roads like Shuswap can be brutal, particularly earlier in the season. It’s why she avoids them until later in the season.

“The gravel from the snow spread has not been cleared throughout the winter. Potholes have been created,” said Johnson, who lives in Tappen, about 95 kilometres east of Kamloops. 

“You just have to be very aware of that. People aren’t really out fixing roads, you’re taking your life in your own hands.”

Johnson urged other riders to take their time easing back into the season to warm up even the basic skills they probably haven’t used since last year.

She’s also calling for better road maintenance and higher safety standards for motorcyclists before they get their licenses.

Carnovale says sister’s “senseless” death hurts much more because it could have been prevented.

It shouldn’t “be a life or death scenario depending on which road you turn on,” said Carnovale.

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