Ontario and other provincial small business grant programs not enough as lockdowns continue

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With a growing number of regions now in lockdown, provincial small business grant programs are not keeping up with the economic damage business owners are facing across Canada, says the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). CFIB evaluated each of the main provincial grant programs across Canada and found massive gaps and a lack of support to address the third wave of COVID-19 restrictions.

“After more than a year of lockdowns and restrictions, small businesses in Ontario have amassed an average COVID-related debt of about $208,000, while a select few were eligible for only up to $40,000 through the Ontario Small Business Support Grant,” said Ryan Mallough, CFIB director of provincial affairs for Ontario. “Ontario’s grant ended on April 7, without helping the thousands of hard-hit small businesses that were excluded, such as construction companies and contractors, dry cleaners, caterers, the entire restaurant supply chain, many breweries, regulated and unregulated health professionals, print shops, and businesses that have the same owner, just to name a few.”

To measure the effectiveness of the provincial programs, CFIB conducted four case studies of how a dine-in restaurant, small retailer, dry cleaner and new gym would fare in each province. In many cases, the grant programs helped cover off less than one-tenth of the new debt small firms have inherited due to COVID-19.

CLOSED PROGRAMS:

Small businesses in four provinces (Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador) no longer have access to a widely available unconditional grant program, as several have closed their main program despite a growing number of COVID-19 cases and third-wave restrictions.

LITTLE SUPPORT:

Several provinces provided very little grant money ($10,000 or less) to small firms hit by pandemic restrictions.

NEW BUSINESSES EXCLUDED:

Many of the new businesses that began operations in 2020 have been unable to access any of the federal programs. Based on the case study analysis conducted by CFIB, three Atlantic provinces (Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick) would exclude a gym started in June 2020.

ESSENTIAL BUSINESSES EXCLUDED:

While some provinces have provided support to most businesses facing a major decline in revenues, several jurisdictions have excluded those that were allowed to stay open but faced a significant decline in sales due to government stay-at-home orders/advice (e.g., dry cleaners). Such businesses have been unable to get support anywhere except in British Columbia, Alberta, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

CFIB is calling on provinces to ensure that all businesses affected by lockdowns and restrictions have access to enough financial support to get them through to reopening, to make the applications process simple, and to approve applications and release funds as quickly as possible.

“The Ontario government committed to doing whatever it takes to help small businesses – especially significantly impacted ones – weather the economic effects of government lockdown decisions,” said Julie Kwiecinski, CFIB director of provincial affairs for Ontario. “They should turn their words into further actions by resurrecting the Ontario Small Business Support Grant with a third round of funding, expanding eligibility, and fixing the many post-application issues that have been preventing small businesses from actually receiving the much-needed support.”

Small business owners can help by signing CFIB’s petitions calling on provinces to provide more financial support.