Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns confronted Small Business Minister Mary Ng in a parliamentary committee April 23 about the urgency of getting immediate relief to business owners in his riding of before they go out of business.
Speaking in the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, Johns told Ng that federal help is taking too long and too many businesses are struggling to qualify under the government’s criteria. The meeting was conducted through video conferencing with members of parliament participating from their ridings.
“The B.C. Chamber of Commerce and Restaurants Canada are both saying that half of establishments that have closed don’t expect to re-open,” Johns told the minister. “We are on the cliff right now, with half the businesses unable to pay their rent.”
With May’s rent approaching, Johns asked when federal help will be provided.
“Are you going to have a deal done by the end of the week? They are not looking for loans, they can’t afford more debt or they are going to walk away,” he told the minister about businesses that are struggling to pay commercial rent.
NDP Small Business Critic Johns and Finance Critic Peter Julian led an opposition campaign to help small and medium businesses meet their commercial rent obligations, leading to the government’s announcement of a Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance Program on April 16. The prime minister stipulated, at the time, that he would negotiate details of the program with the provinces. A deal has still not been announced.
The NDP continues to press government to make the Canada Emergency Response Benefit universal for all Canadians.
Johns told the minister that the BC Chamber of Commerce reports that 49 per cent of businesses with five or fewer employees can’t find emergency relief programs that meet their needs.
“I know you have made changes to the Canadian Emergency Business Account and have lowered the threshold on payroll, the problem is a lot of proprietors are falling through the cracks, not able to access loans,” he said.
Johns told Ng about a fitness and yoga business in Parksville that had its doors padlocked until she could pay the utilities for April, about $1,700. He also identified other viable businesses in his riding unable to qualify for assistance, including a small mom and pop restaurant and a personal care shop in Parksville, a pet grooming business in Port Alberni and businesses in the Nuu-chah-nulth community of Huu-ay-aht First Nation.
“One owner can’t access the program because she has a payroll of only $18,000 which doesn’t meet the criteria”, he said. . Johns asked Ng to consider gross revenue as a more equitable qualifier for support, arguing that it is better to help these businesses now rather than losing federal taxes if they go out of business.
He also called on the minister to ask more of Canada’s banks as they continue to change interest on credit cards that is 10 per cent above the Bank of Canada’s prime rate.
Ng thanked Johns for his work on behalf of local businesses and assured him that she is prepared to listen to small businesses.
“As I said right from the get-go, our work isn’t done. We continue to hear from businesses and will continue to take input from businesses.”