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Patrons are separated by plexiglass sheets as they return to restaurants on the first day after novel coronavirus restrictions were lifted to visit restaurants in Montreal, Que. on June 22, 2020

CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/Reuters

Canada’s restaurant industry is bracing for the impact of patio closures as cold weather arrives, with experts saying the loss of open-air seating could be devastating.

Food service experts say without targeted government aid, the combination of reduced seating capacity and a potential second wave of COVID-19 could cripple the industry.

David Lefebvre, vice-president of Restaurants Canada, is calling on Ottawa to directly support the industry through meal subsidies.

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He says while the throne speech extended the federal wage subsidy and a business aid program, subsidizing customer meals would directly help struggling restaurants survive.

Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, says restaurants are being creative with heaters and blankets to keep patios open longer.

While he agrees more targeted aid is needed, he calls meal subsidies “food stamps for the rich” and says New Brunswick’s rebate program on food and drink is a better alternative.

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