By Medicine Hat News Opinion on April 29, 2020.
Over 96 per cent of businesses in our region are small businesses and through provincial survey data, over 50 per cent of businesses had to lay off employees, with the same number having used up most of their cash reserves. There are concerns about mid- to long-term impact, particularly with an extended shut down and slow recovery. For 70 per cent of businesses, their revenues have declined by 25 per cent or more, with 35 per cent seeing declines of 75 per cent up to 100%.
There are 87 per cent who have indicated they are somewhat likely or very likely to continue operating after the outbreak is over and we want to try to increase that percentage for our region as much as possible. Businesses have stated they want Government to focus on forgivable or interest free loans, in addition to making operating grants available and reducing taxes, in addition to other measures.
We know businesses need a whole range of tools and support to manage the impacts and complexity of COVID-19. Our Chamber network, at a local, provincial and federal level are all working to assist wherever we are able through our connections and support programs to providing information, along with influencing and advising on Government decisions related to various programs and supports.
We are encouraging businesses to access programs to support their business where they can, while also recognizing there are still businesses that are falling through the cracks because their situation falls outside of the eligibility criteria for the programs being offered. Rest assured, we hear you and are voicing your concerns.
In order to address the complexities of COVID-19 for our businesses, the chamber network has been actively engaged in advocating to all levels of government and have been able to see implementation of supports and adjustments to programs in response to many of our recommendations including, but not limited to:
Tax deferrals and flexibility on remittance payments
Access to credit and capital
Rental and lease supports
Additional income support options versus just deferrals and loans
Expansion of lay-off rules
Defining essential businesses, including agriculture, along with guidelines for essential businesses and non-essential businesses
Provision for corporations to quality for the wage subsidies
Expansion of the Canada Emergency Bank Account
Work options/opportunities and supports for students
We continue to advocate for:
Assistance in financing remote work options
Postponing government regulations and consultations not relevant to COVID-19
Utilizing the carbon levy program to provide a benefit back to businesses
Defining reasonable and realistic pay back options for those who use deferrals
Inclusion of dividends (T5 income) as an eligible payroll calculation
Consideration for the payment to contractors as potential eligible payroll expense
Expansion of the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program to provide greater support to tenants, particularly those where the property owner does not have a mortgage on the property
We know our recovery will be slow and while we are still advocating to government to address some of the gaps we still see, we are also working on recovery options and recommendations to Government. We are in constant contact with government, making sure that we filter issues that come to us from the business community to the attention of government. If you are a business that is unable to access current programs, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to let us know about your situation.
Here are some additional resources to help you during COVID-19:
COVID-19 Information and Resources: https://www.medicinehatchamber.com/covid-19-information/
5 Steps for Business: https://www.medicinehatchamber.com/2020/04/15/5-steps-for-business-during-covid-19/
Step-By-Step Guide: Apply For the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy: https://www.canadianbusinessresiliencenetwork.ca/news-and-insights/2020/04/23/step-by-step-guide-get-ready-to-apply-for-the-canada-emergency-wage-subsidy-cews/
Roadmap to Recovery: https://www.canadianbusinessresiliencenetwork.ca/resources/recovery/
Lisa Kowalchuk is the Executive Director of the Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce.