The Big Read

Businesses were desperate for a rent-relief program. Governments rushed to deliver them one. What went wrong?

In March, the day he closed all four of his Toronto restaurants and temporarily laid off 97 employees, John Sinopoli began writing his first-ever letter to the government. He addressed “every lawmaker and government official currently considering how to help those most affected by COVID-19.” The executive chef and co-owner of Ascari Hospitality Group feared that the pandemic-induced lockdowns put in place in mid-March would mean “immediate bankruptcy”: no money to pay his landlord or his suppliers or the bank, and no idea when that would change. “When cash flow goes to zero, it gets really scary really fast,” Sinopoli says. “I couldn’t just stand there and do nothing while it crumbled. I had to do something.”

The letter he wrote was a list of the interventions he thought small business owners across the country needed, he says, “to survive this ordeal, to get by.” There were eight things on the list. Near the top: rent relief.

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