The number of restaurants closing in the country has reached a record high of more than 2,200 as the province continues to grapple with the worst of the wildfires.
As of Friday, the number of food service businesses in the province was at 1,878.
The number in the industry is down by more than 100 in the past two months.
It’s also down by about half since March, when the province launched a program to help food-service businesses get through the winter.
But the numbers have been rising.
On Saturday, the province announced that more than 1,100 restaurants were closing.
“We have a number of businesses that are shutting down in the food service sector,” said Brad Fagan, executive director of the Ontario Restaurant Association, which represents about 5,000 food service and hospitality businesses.
“I would say about 200 to 300 restaurants are being closed.
I would think that the number is in the region of 1,000 to 1,500.
I think that’s a significant number.”
Fagan said some restaurants are closing because they don’t have the cash to pay staff for their work.
He added that many restaurants are getting a cut from the provincial government’s general fund.
The Ontario Government is in a tight spot, with a projected $6.5-billion budget deficit and a projected increase in the provincial minimum wage of 2.5 per cent this year.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to meet the minimum wage requirements,” said Fagan.
“When it comes to food service, we have a really hard time meeting the minimum wages.”
Fagans concerns have been echoed by the government, which says the minimum-wage increases have not gone far enough.
The Ministry of Labour said Friday it was “reviewing” its plans for food service.
“Our goal is to have food service at all levels in the economy, and it’s something that is clearly within our province’s power,” said ministry spokesperson Stephanie McEachern.
“If you have a restaurant that is closing, or if you have an employee who is not working in the restaurant and it would be reasonable to assume that they would be able to continue to work, then that’s something we’re looking at.”
The Ontario Restaurant Industry Association says the province has taken a “lucky” step and is “working to make sure our employees are not impacted by this.”
The union has also called for an independent review of the minimum pay increase, saying it’s not working to ensure it is working for the majority of employees.
With files from The Canadian Press