The federal government says it will expand some of the business supports it introduced amid the COVID-19 pandemic and introduce new ones for industries hit hardest by the pandemic, including the travel and tourism sector.
The government unveiled the broad details of its legislative agenda in the Speech from the Throne presented by Canada’s Governor General Julie Payette on Wednesday.
The speech highlighted the urgent need to support small businesses – “the lifeblood of communities and the backbone of the economy” – that have been devastated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, the government pledged to extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy through to next summer, expand the Canada Emergency Business Account to assist businesses with fixed costs, and improve the Business Credit Availability Program.
It also said it “will work to target additional financial support directly to businesses which have to temporarily shut down as a result of a local public health decision.”
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said in a statement that the extension and expansion of CEWS and CEBA, respectively, were “both very positive measures.”
However, the CFIB was also looking for specific supports to address rent relief, one of the most significant fixed costs that small businesses have dealt with in the midst of the pandemic.
The government’s Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program, which has been extended through September, has been widely criticized for having strict program requirements. According to a CFIB survey, just 15 per cent of small businesses used the CECRA program, and only 20 per cent of those found it either very or somewhat helpful.
Corinne Pohlmann, CFIB’s vice president of national affairs, said in an interview that the organization hopes the government’s CEBA expansion will help address the issue of rent relief.
“We’re hoping that the Canada Emergency Business Account extension will be another way of getting at the rent relief issue since it is meant to cover fixed costs,” she said.
Pohlmann also said the direct financial support for businesses that have to shut down temporarily – a new initiative unveiled by the government – will be important for small businesses, particularly in the event of a second wave of COVID-19.
“Only about 30 per cent of businesses right now are back at normal revenues. If you’re still struggling, and you’re hit with the second shutdown, that could be the death of your business,” she said.
“It’s important that there’s some certainty for business that may face that prospect... so they can at least get back on their feet.”
The government also said it will introduce financial support for industries that have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, including the travel, tourism, hospitality and cultural industries.