PM Trudeau unveils new business rent assistance, loosened loan qualifications
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a new rent assistance program for businesses, and plans to loosen the criteria needed for small- and medium-sized companies to qualify for a loan, the latest indications that it will be a long time before the country is back to business as usual.
Speaking to the challenges faced by businesses and commercial property owners due to COVID-19, Trudeau said the new Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program will help small businesses cover their rents for April, May, and June. The assistance is being rolled out in collaboration with the provinces and territories as rent policy is largely provinces and municipalities’ responsibility.
The program will provide loans, including some forgivable loans, to commercial property owners who are then to either lower or forgo the rent for small businesses during these months, with a promise of more details to come.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau said that the government is aware many small businesses are worried about paying rent, their suppliers, and their employees. He commended the landlords that are already offering their renters some grace during this difficult time. Though, some landlords have already issued eviction notices for businesses that didn't pay rent at the start of the month.
The federal government is also opening up the eligibility criteria the Canada Emergency Business Account. The program, targeted at small- and medium-sized businesses, offers government-guaranteed loans of up to $40,000 to cover the costs of keeping their enterprise afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.
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If the company can repay the balance of the loan by the end of 2022, up to $10,000 will be forgiven.
The current eligibility requires applicants to prove that they paid between $50,000 and $1 million in payroll in 2019, leaving out some businesses on either side of these figures.
Now, companies who paid between $20,000 and $1.5 million in total payroll in 2019 will be eligible to receive a loan.
“This is money entrepreneurs and employers can use to cover operational costs and help with other immediate needs,” Trudeau said.
To date, more than 195,000 loans have been approved through this program, the prime minister said, pegging the credit doled out so far at more than $7.5 billion.
Small Business Minister Mary Ng said they will continue to address needs as they arise, until the country is on the other side of this pandemic.
“It means that your favorite restaurant can keep the lights on while they switch over to delivery service. It means that small furniture store that usually relies on foot traffic to stay afloat, can continue to pay the costs about keeping their warehouse space… It means that the local bed and breakfast can maintain their property while we've had to temporarily close their doors,” Ng said.
Reacting to the latest financial aid expansions, outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the constant evolution is further proof why in-person parliamentary sessions are required to get the policies right the first time.
The NDP had been calling for more help for small businesses’ rent and had offered some ideas about how to do so, citing examples in other countries including France, Denmark and Australia, that have all offered some sort of relief or subsidy.
SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS STILL FEAR EVICTION
Despite these welcome changes, small business owners are feeling the pinch and worry they could soon be evicted.
Feron Bateman owns a pair of clothing stores in Victoria, B.C. She’s already been forced to close one of them, even though her lease doesn’t expire until the end of October.
At about $7,500 per month, Bateman now worries she could be on the hook for the balance.
"It’s frightening to think,” she said. “Are they going to make you sell your house? Or are you going to lose your other store? What is going to happen if you couldn't fulfill lease due to COVID closure?"
Bateman is not alone. A grassroots group called “Save Small Business” says more than two thirds of its members say they can’t afford to pay the upcoming month’s rent.
"Sadly we've been hearing stories -- three, five a day -- of small businesses that are publicly announcing that they are going to close forever as a result of this," said Michael Smith, the group’s co-founder.
The organization is calling for the federal government to waive three months of commercial rent, up to $10,000 a month. It also wants added leniency with deferred debt payments.
Other small businesses are asking their landlords cut them some slack during these trying times.
Maureen Khallad owns The Think Sun Preschool in Calgary and is hoping her landlord will cut her $6,000-monthly rent payment at least in half while she’s been forced to close the preschool.
“We’ve got to work together,” she said. “If a landlord digs his heels in and locks the door, well then I guess that's the answer, but who's going to replace that empty space?"
'MUST STAY THE COURSE'
On Thursday, Trudeau said that while many are getting used to the new normal, as time goes on, staying at home and not seeing friends is going to get harder.
“We’re going to miss our colleagues, our friends, our neighbours, and our parents even more than we do now. But we have to be disciplined. We must stay the course. We cannot let the progress we’ve made go to waste,” he said.
Asked what kind of metrics will eventually inform the decision to start releasing restrictions or easing up on public health measures, Trudeau said criteria will include consideration of where Canada is on the pandemic’s curve and the number of cases across the country.
Softening measures too soon would be “absolutely disastrous” if Canadians find themselves having to quarantine again, after already spending more than a month in self-isolation. At the earliest, he said, it’ll be “many weeks” from now.
As of Thursday evening, there were 30,106 confirmedcases of COVID-19 in Canada.
A week ago federal modelling projected that by this time there would be between 500 and 700 deaths from COVID-19, but the number has already risen to nearly double that, with 1,196 deaths to date.
Trudeau said these projections were just that and they continue to evolve, but there have already been too many deaths in Canada.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said during the daily ministerial update that Canadians only have to look to the devastating scenes in hospitals in other countries to see why it is essential people continue to heed physical distancing advice and self-isolate.
INTERNATIONAL AID, BORDER TALKS
Ahead of his national address, the prime minister joined a call with his fellow G7 leaders. Speaking about what was discussed, Trudeau focused on emphasizing the collective need for a global response and said these nations also have a responsibility to assist more vulnerable countries.
This call came fresh off of U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration late Wednesday that he was looking to ease travel restrictions along the Canada-U.S. border, and his decision to pull funding to the World Health Organization, Trudeau focused on emphasizing the collective need for a global response and said these nations also have a responsibility to assist more vulnerable countries.
Asked to speak to how other world leaders responded to the U.S. defunding of the WHO, Trudeau said only that the international health agency is “an important part” of the global fight against the novel coronavirus.
Canada has defended the WHO, which the federal government has relied on for guidance and information amid the pandemic, and just earlier this week signalled that now isn’t the time to reopen the border beyond allowing essential goods and workers to cross between.
The prime minister doubled down on this position on Thursday, citing the closeness and “special thought” that will be given to the Canada-U.S. travel restrictions, but there is “a significant amount of time still” to pass before they are lifted.
With files from CTV News Correspondent John Vennavally-Rao and CTVNews.ca Writer Ben Cousins