That, given that the pandemic has had devastating consequences on Canadian workers and businesses, especially in the restaurant, hospitality and tourism sectors, the House call on the government to: (a) immediately pause the audits of small businesses that received the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy until at least June 2021; and (b) provide additional flexibility in the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, and other support program.
Mr. Speaker, it is a tremendous honour to lead today's debate on our opposition motion. It calls on the government to delay audits for small businesses until after next year's tax season. It also calls on the government to immediately introduce legislation to enact small business support and ensure these supports are flexible enough that they actually reach the small businesses they are supposed to help.
I will be sharing my time with the member for .
As each province and municipality enacted emergency health orders, businesses were required to close their doors. The restaurant, hospitality and tourism sectors were especially hard hit. The small businesses in these and other sectors are the lifeblood of our communities. They are the backbone of the Canadian economy, and the owners, workers and customers of these small businesses are our neighbours and our friends.
When governments issue orders that require businesses to close their doors and lose money, these businesses have a reasonable expectation of receiving support from their government, and that is why my Conservative colleagues have worked with the government to pass various support measures as quickly as possible. It is also why we have spent the last seven months pointing out problems with some of these support measures and offering alternative suggestions, hoping that this government would get it right and have the courage to admit when it has made mistakes, and that it would work with opposition parties, and its own backbenchers, to ensure it created the most effective and most efficient programs possible.
When we left this place in the second week of March and returned to our constituencies, we were all immediately inundated with calls for help from constituents concerned about their safety, their health, their jobs and their savings. We heard from thousands of small business owners who were concerned about the fate of their businesses.
In my riding, I met a travel agency operator. Since the pandemic hit, her revenue is down 96%, and that does not even include the fact that she has to refund most of the money she earned last year, as people are receiving refunds for trips booked previously. She is exhausting her business and personal savings, extending her credit and laying off loyal, hard-working employees. There is no end in sight.
I heard from Anna, a constituent who owns a pizza takeout kiosk in a downtown office tower. Her business was already threatened by thousands of pre-COVID energy layoffs in the very tower she is located. With the remaining nearby offices' workers mostly working from home now, she is down to a couple of dozen people a day walking past her stall. The impacts of COVID are absolutely devastating to these business operators.
I heard from a wedding officiant who is an independent contractor and does not have a business account. She could not access the CEBA program for months. She knew she was losing an entire wedding season, and she needed help in the spring.
I heard from a constituent who operates an online industry trade publication. He had recently made significant investments in his business, and even though his revenue was collapsing, he did not qualify for federal supports back in the spring.
I heard from Susan, a partner in a small oil and gas exploration company. She endured endless bureaucratic delays in trying to access the BCAP program, despite being on the threshold of receiving conventional funding on the eve of the pandemic and despite meeting all the criteria under that program.
Each of these small business owners supports a family. Most employ a whole team of dedicated employees, who are their loyal friends. The desperation and frustration in these calls, and many other calls, has been palpable. People who have worked for years to build up a business are seeing their life’s work vanish before their eyes.
The coronavirus is a threat to public health and safety. That cannot be ignored. We know that, and we agree that all levels of government have a responsibility to ensure the safety of Canadians, but that responsibility also includes the need for a plan for economic survival for the small business community. This is why my Conservative colleagues and I are asking the House to consider these three points today. Small businesses need breathing room. They also need immediate assurance that they will receive appropriate government support while public health advice is harming their businesses, and they need programs that will be flexible enough that they are actually accessible to businesses when they need them.
Tax compliance is hard enough on small businesses, and we have heard that the CRA is aggressively auditing some small businesses that are receiving the wage subsidy. They are immediately being told to produce large amounts of documentation with almost no notice. Small businesses do not have time to deal with onerous requests when they are in survival mode, which is why we are calling upon the government to delay compliance audits for the wage subsidy until after next year's tax season, until at least June 2021.
Prior to being elected, I was a small business owner, and many of my clients were also small business owners. I know what a letter from the CRA does to a small business owner. The mere fact of receiving a request for documents is enough to ruin a whole productive day for a small business owner. There is the initial anxiety of the request, followed by frantic calls to the accountant and lawyer, and the hollow-sounding assurances that these things are just routine and not a big deal.
There are then further scrambles to find what is being demanded, usually with only a few days notice. Some of the documents that are being requested in the wage subsidy audits are the same ones that small business owners would typically have to gather in the course of preparation for their 2020 return anyway, which is why next June would be a more appropriate time to commence wage subsidy audits on small businesses.
The second thing we called upon the government to do when we put this motion on notice was to immediately introduce legislation to enact promised extensions and amendments to support programs. The fact that the government has done so without waiting for a vote is welcome, but it was long overdue. The government knew that its failed rent subsidy program was coming to an end in September. It knew that its wage subsidy program was ending in the fall, and it knew that other programs, such as CEBA and BCAP, have problems that are well known.
However, instead of coming into this fall session with legislation ready to go in September, this government, mired in its own conflicts of interest and scandal, prorogued the House in August and seemingly did no advance work on necessary legislative changes. The Liberals came into September with a recycled throne speech and some vague hints about how they might address aid for small businesses. They then waited until after an opposition motion was on notice to introduce measures into the House. Desperate small business owners and workers have been waiting for details for months.
Finally, we are calling on the government to ensure that aid programs actually reach the small businesses that need them. The government's original rent subsidy program failed most small businesses, and it was panned by tenants and landlords alike. The government knows and has acknowledged that its initial approach to rent subsidy was a failed approach. Other programs, such as CEBA and BCAP, also had problems, and opposition members raised concerns about these programs months ago. While some issues were dealt with along the way, some were not.
This government now has an opportunity to get it right. It can do so by taking the time to listen to opposition MPs when we debate Bill , because the Conservative caucus always stands up for small businesses. We have their backs.
We were there standing up for small businesses when this government went to war with them in 2017 with draconian tax changes. We were there standing up for small businesses when the said they were just a way for wealthy people to avoid paying taxes. We were there when Bill Morneau said that wealthy Canadians use complex corporate structures to avoid taxes, while he himself continued to own shares in a company that he regulated through a complex web of private companies.
We were there standing up for small businesses when this government imposed taxes that were particularly hard on restaurants, tourism and the hospitality industry, such as the escalator tax on alcohol, higher payroll taxes and, of course, the carbon tax. We have been with them since March, and we have been there ensuring that aid measures for small business passed expeditiously. We have worked with the government, and we have not held up legislation, but we have also been there making constructive recommendations to improve programs. We continue to stand with small businesses now.
We are calling upon the government to deal with the growing crisis of small businesses. Prior to COVID, the government failed to respect small businesses. During COVID, it has enacted programs that, in some cases, were poorly designed and difficult to access.
The government now has an opportunity to make amends, and show the small business community that it shares our Conservative support for the hard-working men and women, small business owners, and it can do so today by standing with the opposition in support of this motion.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to support the motion moved by my hon. colleague from , who is the small business critic.
I had the opportunity to speak with him and my other colleagues on a regular basis throughout the summer, when we were just as present, even virtually, for small and medium-sized businesses in our respective ridings.
In my riding of Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, I organized round tables, together with my riding's chambers of commerce, which I want to thank, business people and municipalities affected by COVID-19. I wanted to pass along all available information to my constituents. I also wanted to support them as much as possible as they navigated the programs they were eligible for.
As a business owner, I would like to take this opportunity today to thank all the employees of our businesses, who, like us business owners, have been upended by the pandemic. I want to thank them on behalf of all business owners in Canada and Quebec.
Since I am still a business owner, I want to thank my employees and my business partner, who have managed to navigate these turbulent times. Most of our employees have returned to work, but not without making some concessions, particularly in terms of working hours, to help the company weather the storm of the 2020 pandemic. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
As a business owner myself, I can attest that it is hard to make plans during a pandemic. Back in March, we hoped that all the closures would have the desired effect, namely, to flatten the curve, that we would be in lockdown for only a few weeks and that, hopefully, the pandemic would end quickly, as Canada managed to achieve during the SARS crisis in 2003.
Unfortunately, the pandemic continues. Weeks have turned into months. Although I represent a semi-rural riding, far from any big cities, the second wave is now hitting even harder than the first, during which my riding was largely spared.
Unfortunately, we learned last weekend that Montmagny RCM and L'Islet RCM had become red zones, much like the entire Chaudière-Appalaches region, I might add. Many business owners in that region have felt or will feel discouraged—and I can relate—especially those in the restaurant, bar, tourism and event industries.
Believe it or not, there was a shortage of workers in my riding before the pandemic. I realize how important it is for employers and employees to retain a relationship, so that they can be ready to go as soon as the economic recovery starts. I want to point out that there are more than 500 jobs still available in my riding as we speak. It is a bit ironic that so many people are claiming EI while many business owners are looking for employees.
Like many of my fellow Conservatives, I supported the Canada emergency wage benefit to help businesses keep their trained employees and be ready to fully resume operations as soon as the recovery begins. I was also critical of some aspects of the CERB that discouraged people from returning to work. I saw a few of these cases over the summer, and a number of business owners brought this up with me.
I remind members that, initially, people had to prove they had zero income if they wanted to qualify for CERB. That was completely ridiculous, because if someone had applied for $2,000 but agreed to work for one day for $100, they would lose the entire $2,000 for the month.
The opposition parties, employers, the media, everyone was quick to say that this made no sense. The government then made a change to allow workers to earn up to $1,000 a month. However, if they earned $1,001 they would lose the $2,000.
This summer, the Conservative Party was the only party to propose an alternative plan based on the principle of working while on claim. We had similar changes made to employment insurance under the Harper government. We believe that the government should never discourage work and that each dollar earned from working could progressively reduce the benefit received without eliminating it completely, as is the case under the Liberal plan. It took six months, but with the return to the employment insurance system, the unemployed were at least able to benefit from the flexibility that was lost during the summer. In the context of a minority government, we, as an opposition party, managed to get the government to make policy changes.
I also pointed out the flaws in the Canada emergency business account, whose complicated rules excluded many small businesses that did not necessarily have the revenue or major corporate bank account required by the government and Canadian financial institutions.
We identified these issues and it is mostly thanks to our actions that the government finally offered more flexibility. We are calling for the same thing again now.
The many changes may also be causing more confusion. The laws passed by this Parliament often contained provisions that enabled the minister or the Governor in Council to change these criteria through regulations. SMEs that do not have an accountant or tax expert on staff and that do not always have the resources necessary to seek such services took advantage of various government assistance programs by interpreting the criteria as best they could.
What is more, these criteria changed almost every day. It is important to remember that at the daily press conferences in April, May and June, the interpretation of some criteria may have differed and the way they were applied may have changed. The fact that all of these criteria and conditions were changing on a regular basis made things more complicated.
In that regard, I recognize that the government has a completely legitimate role to play in terms of oversight, to ensure that the programs are delivered properly. In some cases, however, we were the first to speak out against the government for ordering its employees to give people the CERB when there might have been fraud involved.
I wonder about that same government's choice to start by going after Canada emergency wage benefit applicants, who say they have already been contacted by the Canada Revenue Agency. These are businesses that have been bending over backward for eight months now. Many of these entrepreneurs have had to work in their employees' stead to keep the business alive. They have made considerable investments to reopen safely and comply with social distancing standards during the pandemic.
Now that we are in the second wave, these businesses are once again starting to worry about their future. What is the government doing to thank them? It is sending CRA officials to check their books. We are not out of the woods yet. I myself am a business person, and businesses clearly do not have time to deal with that right now in the middle of a pandemic. This is not the time to be asking businesses for accountability when they are struggling to stay afloat. There is a better time for that, and we want it postponed until at least next June. We have to let a year go by from when people began to receive or had access to various forms of government assistance.
Today, despite government measures, there are many sectors where things are very tough and where the fall and winter will be especially difficult. I am thinking of the tourism and events industries. There are many event management companies that are about to go bankrupt. They have lost 95% or 98% of their revenue and a business that has no revenue cannot make it.
The government must understand that it must give companies the space they need and far greater flexibility so they can at least survive the fall and winter.
In the past, countless businesses or professionals did not have access to the CERB or the Canada emergency business account for the simple reason that they were using a personal account rather than a business account for their banking. We worked on that the whole summer, and I remember that different committees had Zoom meetings to ensure that these people could become eligible. It took months and months for that to happen.
There are still problems today. I will ask a question about a company that was bought during or just before the pandemic and whose new owner is not eligible for assistance programs because the company is no longer associated with the former owner. That is just ridiculous.
Life continued on for businesses during the pandemic. Owners buy and sell assets and shares to survive. Business owners must be eligible for the government's programs.
I obviously support my colleague's motion calling on the government to immediately pause the audits of small businesses that received the Canada emergency wage subsidy until at least June 2021. I urge the opposition parties and my colleagues on both sides to continue to help businesses and SMEs, which are the backbone of the Canadian economy. I have been a business owner, and I am very proud of that. We must continue to support these businesses.
Madam Speaker, I am happy to speak to the motion.
We are living in extraordinarily difficulty times. COVID-19 obviously represents the greatest public health emergency we have seen in our lifetimes. However, it also represents the greatest economic shock we have seen in generations, perhaps only rivalled by the Great Depression regarding its magnitude in the history of our nation. How we respond to this pandemic will dictate what our country looks like a year from now, two years from now or 10 years from now. We must have the courage to take actions, as difficult or as challenging as they may be, to allow households and businesses to survive this pandemic so they are still there to contribute to the economy on the back end.
Over the past eight months or so, I have had too many phone calls with business owners and workers who have been concerned about their well-being, and the well-being of their employees and families. I do not like being on the phone with parents who do not know how they will feed their kids. I do not like being on the phone with neighbours who fear they are going to lose their home. I do not like being on the phone with business owners who are worried the business they have built up over their lifetime is at risk of disappearing forever.
As much as I do not like being on the other end of those phone calls, I am so privileged to have the opportunity to do something to help those in need. I do not know that in my life I have ever done work as meaningful as I have over these recent months to help keep people fed, housed and on the payroll wherever possible.
A big part of our response has been to advance benefits and supports to businesses in a manner and to a degree that Canadians have never seen. Some of those business supports are the subject of the opposition motion on the floor today.
Over the course of my remarks, I am going to discuss the nature of the economic crisis facing Canadians and explain why now is the time to make these kinds of investments. I plan to outline some of the responses we have put forward to help support businesses to date and demonstrate that they are showing signs they are starting to work, keeping people afloat during their time of need. Finally, I will deal with my objections to the motion, which largely deal with the fact that it is calling on the government to do something it has already done.
I kicked off my remarks by drawing attention to the severity of the public health and economic challenge before us. Let me say, before I get into a discussion of business supports, that the most important economic policy we can adopt is to protect the health and well-being of Canadians and our communities. We will not see an economic recovery if we do not address the public health threat before us.
The recession we are facing is not like other economic crises we have seen in the past. In 2008, for example, there was a fundamental problem with the financial system globally, primarily in the United States. That, of course, had a serious spillover effect into Canada. Now we are dealing with an exogenous shock to our economic system. It is temporary, but it is severe. The threat we are facing is caused by a threat to our public health in the form of a virus that we need to stomp out if we are going to see an economic recovery.
Effectively, we have a supply-and-demand side shock going on. Businesses have been shut down because of public health measures. Sometimes it has been mandatory and sometimes businesses have done it in a voluntary way to protect the health of their employees and customers.
Of course, on the other side of the equation we have customers who are not going out to businesses because they are afraid. They are afraid to travel. They are afraid to dine in enclosed spaces. They are afraid to go to entertainment venues. The consequences of the supply-and-demand side shocks that we are seeing are that businesses are producing fewer goods and services and customers are purchasing fewer goods and services. The Canadian economy is suffering as a result.
We made a decision that we were going to step in to ensure that the consequences of this economic slowdown would be mitigated and that the long-term prospects of the Canadian economy would remain positive. We can afford to make the kinds of investments necessary to float businesses and households through this emergency. In fact, I do not know that we can afford not to. If we do not choose to advance substantive supports for businesses and households at this point in our history, the costs will be borne out in the lives of our loved ones. We will see businesses shut their doors. We will see jobs leave and maybe never come back.
If we make the investments to keep households and businesses as close to whole as possible throughout this entire ordeal, we can limit long-term economic scarring. We can protect the long-term interests of the Canadian economy and, more importantly, the Canadians who take part in it.
The reason that now is the time to invest is, first, there is a need, which I think I have established by now. Second, we really can afford to do this at this point in our history.
We are dealing with a historic situation. We entered this pandemic with the strongest fiscal capacity of any developed economy in the G7, and we have used that fiscal capacity to deliver for households and businesses. We do not just have the fiscal capacity to respond. We are dealing with historically low interest rates globally and here in Canada as well. The fact is that we can finance the recovery effort at a rate that most would not have thought possible just a short time ago. We can lock in long-term low interest rates that will help ensure households and businesses can survive during this time of unprecedented uncertainty. In fact, the cost of servicing the much larger debt that we have today is lower by several billion dollars than it was about eight months ago, because our interest rate is at the effective lower bound.
Making these investments is not just something we can do; it is the smart thing to do. I direct members to the comments of the chief economist of the IMF, who is on leave from Harvard University's Department of Economics. She stated, “For the many countries that find themselves at the effective lower bound of interest rates”, which Canada is at, “fiscal stimulus is not just economically sound policy, but also the fiscally responsible thing to do.”
I would like to take some time to outline how some of our fiscal stimulus has been designed in a way to respond to specific needs that Canadian businesses are facing.
When we first realized the impact that this pandemic could have on the Canadian economy, we made a decision that households and small businesses were too big to fail. We wanted to protect their interests because they serve Canada's interests. The programs we have put forward are not based on some rigid economic ideology. They are designed to solve very specific problems that my constituents were calling me about. I know the constituents of every MP in the House were calling their offices as well.
I had the opportunity to speak with my parliamentary colleagues from different partisan backgrounds, from every region in Canada. The feedback I heard largely mirrored the feedback I was hearing at home. The same thing is true of the stakeholder engagements that the government undertook, including many of the calls that I personally took part in, with chambers of commerce, business associations and local small business owners.
At the outset we realized that a lot of people were at risk of losing their income who did not necessarily qualify for EI, including self-employed Canadians. We advanced the Canada emergency response benefit to make sure that people could afford the basics, even when their job was causing them to lose income or their business was shutting down temporarily or perhaps even permanently.
We launched the Canada emergency wage subsidy because businesses were telling us that if they did not have support to keep workers on the payroll, they would have to lay them off. The panic I heard in the voices of local business owners when they realized the impact of this pandemic was going to be felt by their employees is something that will stick with me forever.
We launched the Canada emergency business account to respond to the concerns about paying monthly bills, such as electricity, heat, Internet and phone bills at businesses. This helped them literally keep the lights on.
When we realized there was a crunch coming for rent for commercial properties, we initially launched the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program. Now, in response to feedback, we have moved forward with the Canada emergency rent subsidy, which will provide direct support to tenants who were suffering from an inability to cover their rent during this pandemic.
There is a series of other measures. We realized that we needed to get cash into the economy to ensure that businesses could meet their needs, whether it was dealing with equipment and materials they had on order or covering larger monthly expenses. We did this by advancing the business credit availability program. We did this by working with banks, including the Bank of Canada, to discuss lowering the domestic stability buffer. We did this by delaying remittances. We thought of every existing mechanism we had to keep cash in the hands of businesses rather than insisting they give cash to the government. This was a strategy that was important to adopt at the time.
I think back to the testimony that was given by Kevin Milligan: a professor of economics at the University of British Columbia who has since been brought in to advise the government. When he attended at the finance committee, he made the point that the pandemic has created significant costs. It was not a decision by the government of whether we should bear those costs, it was a decision by the government of who should bear those costs.
If the government decided not to advance the kinds of programs I have just described, those costs would have been passed on to households and businesses. They would have been demonstrated by households defaulting on their mortgages. They would have been demonstrated by parents not being able to buy groceries for their kids. They would have been demonstrated by businesses laying off workers, perhaps permanently. They would have been demonstrated by businesses potentially being shuttered forever.
We made the decision that the federal government should take advantage of its ability to borrow at historically low interest rates and use the fiscal firepower that it had, because it had been responsible in managing the nation's economic affairs to make sure that the government stepped in and supported Canadians during their time of need. The results of these investments are starting to show themselves, and they are positive.
If I look at the road to recovery, though we may have a long way to go and though we are certainly still living in the midst of a public health and economic emergency, there is no question in my mind that the businesses that have received these supports are better off and potentially still here today because of those supports.
If I compare us to the United States with a geographic proximity that is significant given the way the virus has spread, I can see that our response has been largely successful. To date, 76% of the jobs that went missing during this pandemic have come back. We still have a way to go to reach our 2019 levels of employment, but we are going to get there because we are going to continue to be there for Canadian households and businesses.
The 76% recovery in Canada compares with a 52% return of lost jobs in the United States. I direct everyone's attention to a recent report from TD Bank, which stated, “No matter how you slice the data, the Canadian labour market has been on a steadier road to recovery relative to the U.S.” The report concluded by suggesting that the old adage, “When the U.S. sneezes, Canada catches a cold,” ought to be changed to, “When the U.S. sneezes, Canada builds antibodies.”
The reality is that this approach is not based on ideology. It is in response to specific needs we are hearing directly from stakeholders, and it mirrors the advice we have received from leading economic experts: the IMF, the Bank of Canada, the World Bank, leading Canadians banks, business associations right here in Canada and, in fact, community members in my backyard who run businesses. Their advice has been that we need to be there in the short term to allow businesses to stay here in the long term.
Turning my attention to the motion before the House of Commons today, my objections to it exist on a number of bases. First and foremost, the motion calls on the government largely to do something that it accomplished yesterday: introduce flexibility in the wage subsidy and Canada emergency rent subsidy programs.
I note, in particular, the wage subsidy has now been extended through to next June. It is going to continue to allow employers to maintain a connection with their employees not only so they continue to have a source of income, but also so that the connection is there on the back end of this pandemic. It is going to benefit employees, who will maintain jobs, and it is going to benefit employers who will not have to look for new labour, will not have to deal with retraining and will have ready access to workers when it is safe to return to work and when orders have returned to full volume.
Some of the changes that have been made to this wage subsidy show the flexibility that we have been willing to implement, whether it was the initial shift from 10% to 75%, the expansion of certain eligibility criteria so more organizations would qualify, or the introduction of a sliding scale so all businesses that had suffered a revenue loss had something to gain from this program rather than experiencing a cliff that would have maintained an incentive for businesses not to recover to the fullest of their ability.
As well, the new Canada emergency rent subsidy is a significant program that responds directly to the feedback we have heard from Canadian businesses. This is going to provide a new, simple, easy-to-access support. It is going to allow tenants to apply directly to the program to get the support they need literally to keep the doors open. It is going to provide support of up to 65% of their monthly rent expenses. For businesses that have been mandated to shut down as a result of a public health order, it is going to provide further lockdown support of up to 25% of their rent to ensure that they can weather the storm of this pandemic.
The motion suffers from an additional defect in that it asks for the suspension of audits altogether. The reality is these are perhaps the most significant economic supports that have been directly provided by a federal government in a very long time: generations, in fact. The idea that the CRA, which operates at arm's length from the government, should be told not to conduct the audits that it determines are necessary to ensure the integrity of the program is not in accordance with best practices and does not protect the public interest in making sure that the benefits accrue to those who are eligible rather than extending them to those who do not qualify, which could in fact put business owners in quite a bind if they are given benefits and not told very shortly thereafter that they were not eligible in the first place.
The other problem I have with the motion is that there is a tacit implication that the government has not been flexible in its approach to date, when it comes to specific emergency programs or perhaps emergency programs more broadly. From my conversations at home, as much as people appreciated CERB in the early days of the pandemic, or businesses appreciated the wage subsidy, the emergency business account or the slew of other government programs we put forward to help Canadians during their time of need, perhaps the most cited positive feedback was the government's willingness to listen and to adapt its programs to the needs of those who did not fit in, in the first instance.
I mentioned initially the fact that the wage subsidy shifted from 10% to 75%, and that we expanded the eligibility criteria to different classes of organizations and different kinds of businesses because of the transactions they had in the year before so we could properly adjust their supports to mirror the financial situations they found themselves in.
When I look across all the other programs, I look at the Canada emergency business account and remember that we shifted the payroll threshold. I remember we expanded it to businesses that used credit unions as opposed to traditional banks. I remember we made changes around payroll processing by third parties. I remember that we made changes to allow access for businesses that used personal accounts. Now we are expanding the program to make a greater loan with an additional forgivable portion, and we even created a new fund through the regional relief and recovery fund in Atlantic Canada, administered by ACOA, to ensure that businesses that did not qualify for those existing supports would have another path to choose should they need additional financial support to get through this emergency. The reality is we have been as flexible as possible because we continue to have conversations with those who have been impacted most by this pandemic.
I know that I am going to continue to have those kinds of phone calls that are difficult to make throughout this pandemic. I know that I am going to be dealing with businesses whose customers have not come back. The motion cites the restaurant industry, the hospitality sector and tourism operators. I have talked to campground operators. I have talked to travel agencies. I have talked to restaurants. I have talked to airlines. They have a presence in my community and they keep people working. They are telling me that they continue to need support whether with their rent, keeping their staff on the payroll or keeping the doors open, but most importantly they say we need to continue to fight this pandemic so we can put an end to the public health emergency that is causing their customers to be afraid.
We are going to continue to do whatever it takes to ensure that we protect the health and well-being of Canadians, that we eradicate COVID-19 from our communities to the best of our ability and that we continue to extend the kind of emergency supports that will help keep Canadian households and businesses afloat throughout this pandemic until it is finally over.
I would be pleased to take whatever questions my colleagues may have.
Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from .
Starting a business is one of the hardest things a person can do. I speak from experience. Entrepreneurs work hard, often more than 40 hours a week. They often take no salary. At first, they do not get paid. They are constantly looking for financing. They are often forced to refinance their home. We are asking these people, the cornerstones of tomorrow's economy, to make a tremendous effort. Close to 80% of businesses do not celebrate their five-year anniversary. It is extremely hard for these individuals.
Then the pandemic hit. This was the fault of neither the government nor the businesses. The pandemic came as a crippling blow. Some businesses were on the verge of becoming profitable. At last, they could see the light at the end of the tunnel. The pandemic put paid to years of hard work. It is incredibly sad.
Some sectors will feel the strain more than others. We do not know how they will be able to cope in the short or medium term. I am talking about tourism, hospitality, aviation and travel agencies. Unfortunately, the workers in these sectors are not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We are therefore asking the government to make an effort to try to help them as much as it can.
Under these exceptional circumstances, exceptional measures were needed. Parliamentarians also needed to leave partisanship in the lobby. If we ask the , he will say that he had a major ally at the beginning of the pandemic. The Bloc Québécois was in co-operation mode. I know this because I am the House leader of the Bloc Québécois, and I worked with the leader of the government. He said that the government was building the plane in flight, and unfortunately that was true. That is why we worked together. Unfortunately, the co-operation has eroded, giving way to partisanship.
On April 11, the emergency wage subsidy was created. Among other things, the Bloc asked that 75% of the payroll be subsidized. It was a good move on the part of the government, and naturally, we welcomed it. We wanted to include assistance for fixed costs in the subsidy. The wage subsidy was admittedly good for employees and employment relationships. Unfortunately, it may not have been enough to help businesses overcome the pandemic.
We asked the government to introduce assistance for fixed costs, and it agreed. However, the government did little or nothing to follow up on this request. The rent relief did not do the job. Less than half of the money earmarked for rent relief was spent. Perhaps the major issue was that the money was given to the property owners.
When I spoke with the government leader, I told him it was hard for us to say what help with fixed costs would look like. I told him that we were trusting them, because fixed costs are difficult to identify. They include electricity, insurance, rent and other things. We left the door open. We asked them to propose something, saying we were available to help if they needed input. We were there for the government, for the public and for the SMEs, our leaders of tomorrow. Unfortunately, the proposed help, as small as it was, did not serve its purpose. The government broke its promise, that is for sure.
The government broke another promise. We negotiated to adjust the CERB so that after the first wave, businesses could hire people who would benefit from returning to work. Business owners were telling us that they were unable to hire people, that it was too hard. That is when we got the idea to adjust the CERB. We needed to move faster to prepare for what was coming after the first wave.
The rose in the House and promised to respect the Bloc Québécois' idea of adjusting the CERB. That was another victory for the Bloc Québécois. Did the Deputy Prime Minister keep her promise? Unfortunately, she did not.
That is the recent history of the assistance offered by the government. Agreements came out of good-faith discussions between the Bloc Québécois and the current government. We had hope, but that hope is gone.
The help with fixed costs that was offered to businesses was too prescriptive and restricted to get the job done. We are now in the second wave of the pandemic, which in many ways is worse than the first, and, once again, we have nothing for businesses. That is the reality.
On October 1, in response to the second wave, the Quebec government added a fixed costs component to its concerted temporary action program for businesses and asked the federal government to follow suit. As I said earlier, it is hard to identify all fixed costs. That is why the Quebec government gave us the flexibility to determine which fixed costs the assistance should go to. All the federal government had to do was follow its lead, which it could have done quickly.
However, October 1 came and went, and nothing was announced. One month into the second wave of the pandemic, still nothing. At last, on November 2, the government came out with something to finally address the trauma faced by business people, who deserve our utmost respect.
We agree that the Conservative motion is interesting. It talks about helping businesses, and we cannot object to that. It talks about being flexible and giving businesses a break from the CRA until June 2021. Any time the CRA comes knocking, it is stressful for businesses. Giving businesses a break until 2021 is a welcome measure. Targeting sectors that have suffered more than others from the pandemic is important. I talked about that earlier. The Conservative motion opens the door to a possibility that we raised quite some time ago.
With respect to seasonal workers, the government has admittedly taken steps in the right direction, but it has not gone far enough. We are talking about tourism, hospitality and restaurants. How are restaurant owners supposed to survive? Many people in my riding are calling out in despair. We are trying to help them using the tools provided by the government. However, everyone here agrees that the help is woefully inadequate.
What about the aerospace industry and its 40,000 quality jobs? It is Quebec's main export. Montreal is one of only three places in the world that can build an airplane from nose to tail. However, the government has offered no assistance, a big fat zero. What a disappointment.
I know that I always seem to be in a good mood, but not right now. Why? Because the well-meaning Conservatives just told us today that despite raising $13 million in funding in the first three quarters of 2020, they will not be paying back the Canada emergency wage subsidy. This is shameful. They raised $13 million.
The Liberal Party is no better, since it claimed $800,000 in public money, Quebec and Canadian taxpayers' money, despite raising $8.6 million in political contributions in the three quarters. The Liberal Party said it would stop collecting federal assistance because it had taken enough. This is shameful.
The two richest and wealthiest political parties in Canada are a disgrace to Quebec and to Canada.
Some are looking at me as I speak, and I have no qualms about saying that the new leader of the Conservative Party, who stated during his campaign that he would pay back the amounts that the party received under the Canada emergency wage subsidy, is not going to pay back anything at all. As for the Liberal Party, it is led by a Prime Minister who keeps lecturing everyone and who prefers to give to his party, to give $237 million to former Liberal MP Frank Baylis and to give $900 million to WE Charity. Shame on him.
We in the Bloc Québécois are here for the right reasons. We are here to stand up for ordinary folks, and we will continue to do so.
Madam Speaker, it is always hard to rise to speak after my colleague from because he is very eloquent. I will try to use fewer English words in my speech and I should be fine.
Without a doubt, Quebec businesses, Canadian businesses, and especially SMEs, were devastated by the pandemic. To be honest, I must say that I am very pleased that this motion is being debated in the House today. All of last week, the Liberals celebrated Small Business Week, almost as if it would magically solve the problems facing entrepreneurs who simply can no longer make ends meet.
The Liberals obviously love to hear themselves talk about the economy and entrepreneurship, congratulating themselves along the way. Their most recent display of boastful arrogance was on September 23, 2020, when the government announced that it intended to offer a wide variety of new measures to support businesses in need.
The government announced additional direct financial assistance to businesses that had to shut down due to a public health order; the extension of the Canada emergency wage subsidy until summer 2021; an enhancement to the business credit availability program; and support for industries hardest hit by the pandemic, such as travel, tourism and culture. Over one month has gone by since the government promised to support businesses, but they are still waiting.
The economies of Quebec and Canada are being devastated by the second wave of COVID-19. It is as urgent now to deliver this needed support as it was during the first wave. However, it took the government until yesterday to wake up and finally introduce a bill to extend the Canada emergency wage subsidy and create a new commercial rent subsidy program. That is the minimum.
The Liberals got the Governor General to deliver a throne speech chock full of lip service and empty promises, they got a certain opposition party that cares more about its survival than its values to do their bidding, and they threatened the country with a snap election, blaming parliamentarians who wanted to shed light on WE Charity for it. Now the Liberals are finally paying attention to businesses.
The people who elected us do not want lip service; they want action. Quebeckers and Canadians should know that their businesses and their employers are way down the list of priorities for this government and the opposition party that props it up. People can be sure that if my colleagues from other parties have to choose between working on getting elected and working to help businesses survive, they will focus on the former.
Today, we are debating a Conservative motion that will spur the government to action. I certainly agree with that.
Before voting on any motion or bill, I always ask myself the following: Who do I work for? My answer is always the same: I work for my constituents, for the business owners in Lac-Saint-Jean and for the workers they employ. I do not work to advance my own interests. When you look at it that way, it is pretty easy to make the right decisions. If you ask me, voting to support this motion is a no-brainer.
I would now like to make a few comments on the context of the motion.
First of all, I still do not understand why it took the Liberals over a month to come up with an alternative after the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program ended. On top of that, I also do not understand why, six months after it came into effect and after countless testimonials of its failure, the government still has yet to respond to the criticism of the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program, or CECRA. Do not get me wrong, I am glad the government has come to its senses on this.
However, since the start of the pandemic, SMEs have been constrained not just by the virus, but also by their landlords. Landlords wield a great deal of power over commercial tenants, because they have to absorb a certain loss. Like many from the business sector, the Bloc Québécois has always condemned this situation and repeatedly said that it would be easier to deal with the tenant involved rather than a third party. The program was also far too complex and would not exactly win any awards for ease of access. Ironically, less than half of the $3 billion initially allocated by the government was disbursed. I have been an MP for only one year, but I am told that it is rare for a government to spend less than expected. It is a first.
We see quite rightly that the government made its own bed. The bill is clearly an admission of failure accompanied by a “better late than never”. The government will have to convince us and do it quickly. The only thing worse than further delays would be to ram through a botched program under the pretext of urgency.
Let me be clear. The government can no longer claim that the situation is urgent. The government no longer has the right to cut corners. From now on, it must take responsibility for how quickly it takes action and, most of all, for the integrity and seriousness of the parliamentary process through which these measures are introduced and then approved.
In principle, I am in favour of extending the Canada emergency wage subsidy until 2021, which is what Bill proposes to do. That is something we have called for a number of times. It is also consistent with today's debate, which seeks to light a fire under this government.
I want to come back to what I was asking earlier. Who are we working for?
We work for people who clearly expressed their desire to continue to receive the subsidy. They want the government to keep the subsidy rate the same, maintain the basic subsidy rate until December, adapt the top-up subsidy as conditions change, be more flexible when determining basic income for employees who are returning from leave and include rent in the eligible expenses. They also want those businesses and individuals who are taking advantage of the pandemic to grease their own palms to pay back the subsidy, whether they are CERB fraudsters or political parties.
I know that I am repeating myself, but I find this important: Will the Liberals pay back the wage subsidy, since we know they made $850,000 out of it?
I believe they said that they would not pay it back. Also, we realized this morning that the Conservatives still have not paid it back either, despite their leader's campaign promise to do so. Who are we working for?
The government is quick to recognize its privileges, while finally admitting that being in power is a privilege and brings with it a higher standard of probity. The government and its cronies have had their hands in the cookie jar for over six months, but Halloween is over. It is time for the Liberals to take off their masks.
Quebeckers and Canadians are ready to see their hard-earned money used for the righteous cause of saving the economy. However, let us be humble enough to recognize that it is their money, and let us do things the right way. Doing things right also means acknowledging that to deal with businesses is to deal with human beings.
A few seconds ago I was saying that our constituents want those entities and individuals that are taking advantage of the pandemic to pay back their benefits. That is why the Canada Revenue Agency is auditing the accounts of small business that received the wage subsidy. However, I think the situation calls for more flexibility from the CRA.
In the beginning, the situation was urgent for everyone, for politicians and business leaders alike. I am sure mistakes were made when the subsidies were awarded, but I think they were honest mistakes. It is for this reason, more than any other, that I agree with the motion.
It seems clear to me that in the middle of a partial closure of the economy, starting audits now is a bad idea. We all know, personally or through our role as MPs, that businesses are struggling to make it and survive. That is their priority right now, especially since the measures to help workers, although largely beneficial, intensified the pressure to retain staff. This is an undisputed fact.
Make no mistake, in spite of everything we have done, the pandemic has severely hurt our economy, and in particular the tourism and restaurant industries, which are closely linked. Tourist season in Quebec did not benefit everyone equally. The second wave is dealing a fresh blow to a sector that has already been pummelled.
For example, back home, we usually get a huge number of international visitors during the fall. This year, a decade-long campaign to extend the tourist season came to nought. Spending by international tourists is down by 95% in Montreal. Although businesses across Quebec and Canada are trying to be positive, they continue to operate at reduced capacity. I and many others fear that many establishments, including hotels and restaurants, will shut down for good. I will wrap up with this: Once we have secured more generous programs for businesses, we are going to have to quickly develop an assistance program specifically for the tourism industry.
The Prime Minister has twice said that he is looking at a tailored solution for the tourism industry. I hope that is true. I hope that he will also fulfill his constitutional responsibilities by giving the money to Quebec and the provinces. I also hope that the Conservatives and New Democrats agree with me on this.
Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to rise today and talk about small businesses: the economic generators in our small communities, job creators and cultural innovators.
I am happy to be sharing my time with my colleague, our finance critic, the member for .
Today, we are talking about those small business owners that I outlined and the sacrifices that they have made. Many have closed their doors to protect public health, and they have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many have created products to help people in our communities, including distilleries for our hygiene coordination and whatnot. It has been a tremendous effort, and we saw small businesses rise up, which they always do. In our communities, we know that they are the first ones to donate to our charitable organizations or volunteer to support those communities. Many owners are the coaches of our sports teams or teachers in the classes we take in our community. We owe them a ton of gratitude.
When I think back on when I was a small business owner and a chamber of commerce executive director, I think back to 2008 when the last recession hit us. The Conservatives were in power, and I watched the government of the day bail out its friends: the big corporations and big banks. With horror, I saw the sales in my own business drop 75% overnight, and there was no relief or help.
I was delighted when the leader of the NDP called to ask me what needed to be the priority for small business, and I identified that we could never let history repeat itself. We could never let another 2008 happen where small business owners and their workers took the brunt of the economic crisis. Instead, we needed to make sure that we helped everybody we could, especially small business owners, to get through difficult times.
I am glad to see this motion come forward today, especially the part about auditing small businesses, because there is nothing worse than being in a financial crisis and CRA is knocking on the door asking a small business owner to report to it with documents, which is not always an easy task when one is scrambling or pivoting to adjust to stay afloat, especially in times like this. It could wipe somebody out with the enormous time and energy that could be required.
I want to talk about the importance of parliamentarians working together and, for the most part, we have been doing that in this crisis. I think about the unprecedented actions, including the leader of the federal NDP and myself signing a letter with Dan Kelly, the head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, and organized labour asking the government to increase its original rollout of the Canada emergency wage subsidy from 10% to 75%. The government has continued to roll out programs to support workers, but has always come out well below the bar of what is necessary. It has designed programs that are flawed, that do not get people the help they need right away.
This unprecedented effort of working together, organized labour, small business owners and New Democrats working with their colleagues across the floor kicking and screaming to get the government to fix these programs, has made an enormous difference to help many Canadians, such as getting sick days, which has helped support small business. The New Democrats have been there every step of the way, supporting indigenous-led businesses in the tourism sector or eligibility around the wage subsidy and bringing forward the Canada food procurement program idea.
One program that I worked very hard on with my colleague for in early April was the idea of a Canada emergency rent assistance program. Of course, we expected that the program would be directed at the small business owners who needed help. What baffled me, and everybody across our country, especially those in need the most, was that this program was designed specifically for landlords who had mortgages, which no one can really explain to this day, and many small businesses were left out. In fact, at the end of the program, even in its extended version, only 128,000 businesses were able to access the program. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business cited that there were 400,000 businesses that wanted to apply, but only one-third of them were eligible.
By not fixing the program, the government left $1 billion unspent. That brings us to today. Many of those small business owners, including many in my riding, are steeped in debt or are facing bankruptcy and are under enormous pressure, because they could not access a program like the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program, the same program that their neighbours or their competition got.
In all fairness, the government has admitted its failure with that program by tabling the legislation it is going to table tomorrow, the details of which are public knowledge. We are glad to see those changes happening. However, we are really disappointed that the government is not going to go back to April 1 and allow the small business owners who were left out to have access to those funds. Those are taxpayer funds that they should have equal access to.
We are seeing a massive deficit that could be $400 billion to support small businesses and workers, gig workers and people across this country in this pandemic. At the end of the day, it is going to be those people or their children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren who will end up paying the debt on that, when it actually should be the big corporations and those who profited, as we have heard about from the New Democrats.
At the end of the day, that money is going to be paid back by everybody. It is absolutely unfair to those folks who have not been able to access those program. The government has a duty and an obligation to go back and fix that program, and to ensure that those people get access to it.
I am urgently urging the minister and the Liberal government to fix this program, and urging my colleagues to get on board. I did not hear the Conservatives answer my question today, whether or not they agree the government should backdate that program so that people get access to it.
We heard that businesses in Port Alberni, for example, that rent from a local government agency could not access the program. They were disqualified, just for renting from a local government that, under its own legislation, could not provide relief to them.
The government continued to watch small businesses either fail or rack up debt, and many of them could not access the loans because of the qualifying measures of the loan programs the government was rolling out, especially for the BCAP. These programs have been very restrictive. The small businesses need help; they do not need more debt. They are in fear right now. I know what it is like to be in fear of losing a business that they built over many years.
We urge the government to support this motion today, to back off on audits but also to come back and fix this program. I see my time is running short. We are glad to see these things roll out, things that have been asked for, including the extension of the emergency wage subsidy.
One thing we have not talked a lot about is that we do not see any strings attached to protect workers. For example, in the tourism and hospitality industry, laid-off workers have no guarantees from their former employer that they would be recalled to work, so that when the jobs are restored they get put back on the seniority list or taken care of.
Indigenous-led businesses and organizations, many of which were disqualified until we went to bat for them on the wage subsidy, or the indigenous tourism organizations have not had full participation to have an indigenous lens on the important programs that the government is rolling out.
We need the government to roll out the programs. A lot of these supports come a little too late. We need the government to come back with a recovery plan to support small business, but also to invest in social infrastructure. As we are seeing, child care is absolutely essential to support small business. Pharmacare, dental care and reformed EI are needed, so that those workers who are now on the new CERB can get the training they need to meet the labour market needs. Many of them do not qualify, because initially they did not contribute to EI.
We need the government to take more action and to have a more robust rollout. Instead of threatening Canadians about going to the polls over opposition day motions, the government needs to get this program across the finish line so that small businesses are not worried that they are going to have to wait months for the support they need.
Madam Speaker, I would like to give a shout-out to my colleague, the hon. member for . He has been the strongest advocate for small business in this Parliament. He does extraordinary work and I would like to underscore his amazing defence of small businesses.
I would also like to give a shout-out to the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce, of which I am a long-time member, and the Burnaby Board of Trade of which I am also a member. Coming out of the small and medium-sized business sector, which I will talk more about in a moment, it is fair to say that we are at a crucial period in this pandemic when we need to pay attention to small businesses.
I will flag the issues around small businesses and the government's slow response. However, with respect to the pandemic response, the NDP has been very proud to force the government to do a whole range of things that it was not willing to do initially. Two areas where the government has failed the most is certainly people with disabilities, who have had to wait seven months and are only now getting a one-time emergency payment that does not, by any means, reach all people with disabilities, and also the small business sector.
The small business sector, as my colleague from pointed out, saw a program put into place that was simply inadequate. I will come back to that in a moment. It is important to note that the government was very quick to respond when the big banks asked for a handout. Within a span of a few days, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, $750 billion, three-quarters of $1 trillion, was available through various federal government institutions in liquidity support.
That contrasts vividly with how slow the government has been in responding to the challenges faced by small businesses. Nothing is sadder than to see people in the small business sector, who have given their lives to their small businesses, which build communities and create jobs in their communities, turn the key in the door for the very last time and slip it through the mail slot because they simply cannot continue the hemorrhaging of their personal financial resources for their businesses.
The government's initial response was, to say the least, inadequate. We will recall that the government initially put forward a 10% wage subsidy. The member for , the national leader of the NDP, said that was absolutely insufficient, given the size and scope of the pandemic. Those in the NDP caucus worked together and forced the government to put in place a 75% wage subsidy. That has managed to save a whole range of small businesses.
As the member for outlined so eloquently, we also said that, like many other countries that have put in place commercial rent assistance, we needed to have a robust response from Canada. Instead of a robust response on commercial rent relief, we saw a program that was set up for commercial lenders. The , member for , who is normally a very measured person, reacted very badly when we asked the questions that were on the minds of so many owners of small business across the country.
The facts are the following.
Fact one is that the commercial rent assistance program that was initially put in place was a failure. There is no doubt that two-thirds of the businesses that desperately needed that support were not able to access it because it went through landlords.
Fact two is that this was an untendered contract that was basically handed over to a company that employed as its vice-president the spouse of the chief of staff to the . There are very obvious questions, when a program is a failure, as to why that happened. The government still has not answered those questions in any sort of fulsome way.
Fact three is that program was set up by a commercial lender to benefit landlords that had commercial mortgages. There is a clear contradiction in that. Not only did the program not work but a commercial lender was also able to set something up that, in a very real sense, was perplexing. A commercial lender was saying that those who had commercial mortgages could access this program.
These are legitimate questions. That is why we have been saying from the beginning that the program the government is announcing to replace it needs to be retroactive for all small businesses that were unable to access any sort of commercial rent relief from April right through until the end of September.
The NDP will continue to be determined on this fact and the member for , the member for and the entire NDP caucus believe strongly that those supports, which were denied to so many small businesses over the course of the last few months, have to be available retroactively for those businesses that need it the most.
I mentioned earlier that I was going to talk a little about my situation and my experience as the head of an SME. It was a social enterprise with about 50 employees. I am proud to say that it won two Consumer Choice Awards, in 2003 and 2004.
I understand why people might be concerned. Founders and owners of SMEs want their employees to be able to keep their jobs and their businesses to continue to operate.
Having said that, the current situation, which was created by the Conservatives and continues under the leadership of the Liberals, puts SMEs at a huge disadvantage. Web giants do not have to pay taxes in Canada and do not have the same obligations as SME owners. This needs to be corrected to make it fair for everyone.
In addition, the largest Canadian companies that use tax havens often take their money offshore and are not subject to tax laws. This needs to change. The NDP is pushing for these changes to be made during the pandemic, but also after the pandemic.
I want to briefly outline why the NDP feels so strongly, unlike the previous Conservative regimes and the current Liberal government, that we need to put in place a level playing field for small and medium-sized businesses in the country.
That starts with a fair tax system. We can no longer afford the $25 billion that go to overseas tax havens. We support the motion today because the audits the CRA does so frequently on small businesses are not applied to corporations that are named in the Panama papers, Bahamas papers or Paradise papers. CRA has admitted that it simply has not been able to do any of the audits, follow-ups or bringing to account any of these big businesses involved with overseas tax havens. We also believe web giants need to pay their income tax and we need to have a level playing field.
The NDP is proposing other things to be put in place for small businesses. We want to put in place a fair tax system. We also believe that the small business tax rate should go down by 1%. This helps to stimulate jobs in the local economy.
We believe in a significant investment in housing. The newly re-elected John Horgan in British Columbia, the B.C. NDP government, has invested more in housing in the past three years than the federal government and all other provincial governments put together. It has physically built more housing units than all other governments. The Liberals promise, throw out vast figures and eventually they will fund it, but they are far behind the B.C. NDP government in having turnkey housing units that people can access.
We also believe in putting in place pharmacare and ensuring our health care system is enhanced. The medicare system is a $3,000 per employee, cost competitive advantage for Canadian businesses. Pharmacare would be a $600 advantage on top of that. Not only does it mean that employees are treated fairly, but it takes the burden off small businesses and allows employees to have a full range of social benefits.
These are the kinds of things we propose for small businesses to help them get through this pandemic and in the period afterward, to prosper and contribute to Canada's prosperity and jobs across the country.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be coming to you today from Lévis and to say hello to everyone watching, my parliamentary colleagues and the Canadian people.
First let me say that I will be sharing my time with an entrepreneur, the member for , who is a remarkable business woman. She is also a mother and a grandmother several times over, not that anyone could tell by looking at her. She built a business with over 200 employees. I am very proud to serve alongside her.
I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate my colleague, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby, who just expressed himself in impeccable French. I congratulate him on speaking and answering in French, one of our two national languages.
Today is a great day for the House of Commons and for our country because our leader, the leader of the Conservative Party, has decided to focus Parliament's attention on what drives our economic activity, keeps our regions alive and sustains Lévis' economy: our businesses, specifically our small businesses. These include restaurants and businesses in the transportation sector. There are many businesses in the manufacturing sector here, as well as in the tourism sector.
We know these businesses have been struggling for over six months. Of course, health regulations are putting enormous pressure on them, but our role as parliamentarians is to ensure that government measures do not become an added burden. These businesses have enough to deal with, given the impact of the pandemic and health requirements. They do not need measures that cause them even greater harm.
Sadly, based on what we have seen over the past few weeks and months, we know that when we as parliamentarians ask the Liberals questions, we get no answers. I sent several letters to the former finance minister, Mr. Morneau, asking him to take immediate action to support our businesses and to rectify inconsistencies over time. I received no response to those letters.
Unfortunately, we have seen that the Liberals are always very quick to help their friends. I am thinking of WE Charity and the purchase of medical equipment from a former Liberal MP at twice the going rate. That is not what our businesses want to hear. People have experienced immense hardship here in my riding. Our businesses have had trouble recruiting workers over the past six months because labour is scarce due to the disincentives put in place by the federal government.
What our leader is proposing today will provide businesses with more flexibility. For those just joining us, the motion moved by the Conservatives is meant to make the commercial rent assistance program more flexible.
The measure brought in by the Liberals was basically ineffective. Ninety per cent of businesses either had to close or saw a drop in traffic, but they still had to pay their rent in full or make arrangements with their landlords, who may or may not be willing to accommodate them.
Many businesses have been penalized by commercial rent, which is why we are asking for some flexibility regarding audits, so that we can provide support in the area of taxation, for example. As we are in the midst of the second wave, we must not add any further burden that will affect the financial health or morale of our struggling businesses.
One example of this is the wage subsidy, which the Liberals unfortunately brought in after implementing the CERB. Our businesses are the backbone of our economy. They are what I call the real economy. They are what will get us through the crisis now, and they are what will remain when the crisis is over.
The Liberals are plunging our country further and further into debt. There are no fiscal anchors. We eventually need to be able to pay back all the money spent during the crisis. Of course we want to support our businesses, our families and our workers, but we must do it wisely with targeted measures. Unfortunately, the measures brought in by the Liberals have hurt our businesses.
I will give two concrete examples.
The first is a pharmacist in my riding who called to tell me that he was having a hard time finding employees. Young people did not want to work because they were receiving the Canada emergency response benefit, the Canada emergency student benefit and the infamous Canada student service grant. This pharmacist, who was playing a vital role in fighting the pandemic, was facing an additional challenge because of the government. As I said, fighting the pandemic is already hard enough without the government making it harder. That is the first problem.
The second example, and second problem, concerns the overlapping measures that have not delivered the intended results. This is what happened to a restaurant owner whose employees told him that they were better off claiming government benefits than working part time. He was already in a tough spot, with food delivery for example, and now he was having a hard time retaining staff.
What we are telling the minister and the government is to ensure that the measures are effective and to make adjustments. That is the role of Parliament. The letters I have sent have been ignored. The government prorogued the session and we have learned that the Liberals were prepared to give money to their party cronies who had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Prime Minister's family members. They were also prepared to award contracts for twice the price to firms that provide equipment that they can obtain elsewhere for half the price.
Our vision is different, and that is why, as Conservatives, we stand up for our businesses. That is also why I hope the Liberals will support the motion we are putting forward, which calls for flexibility, for red tape reduction for bureaucrats and businesses and, at the same time, for ensuring that commercial rent is in fact paid directly to businesses rather than through a third party whose interest is not at stake.
That is what today's motion is really about. Earlier, I heard some speeches. What matters for our businesses is how to maintain the employee-employer relationships. Yesterday I spoke to a tourism company that has buses. The hardest part for this company is that the wage subsidy is not helping much. It is going through a difficult period because its revenue has been dropping for more than six months. Given the second wave, this remains a very difficult period.
It is therefore important that our measures be well targeted. Unfortunately, the government does not have fiscal anchors, which creates a burden. We want to support our businesses, but, sooner or later, we will have to be able to reimburse those sums, which have been poorly invested and have also harmed our wealth creators.
We must not kill the goose that lays the golden egg. The Liberals do not seem to be concerned about that right now, but, as our leader says, supporting people and businesses, especially those in the tourism and restaurant industries, is our primary concern. The purpose of today's motion is to give them a bit of breathing room so that they can get through this period and so that when this pandemic is over, when we have the vaccine and we have overcome these difficulties, we will still have these businesses, which will have managed to survive and create the wealth we need. It is not the government that creates wealth, it is our businesses.
In closing, I want to recognize businesses in Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis such as Bubble T, Rotobec, Exceldor and even the likes of Desjardins, which we rely on during this time. We need to be there for them. Let us adopt this motion. I urge the Liberals to support today's motion so that we can get through the pandemic with our businesses intact, once this crisis is nothing more than a bad memory.
Mr. Speaker, during this pandemic a great divide has been perpetrated on the nation by the Liberal government, a schism of enormous proportions. Over the last seven months, we have seen certain kinds of good, hard-working Canadians be dealt blow after blow, while other kinds of Canadians were handed cheques and assistance at every turn. No injustice was too much for one bunch and no perk was too generous for the other.
As the government began to impose lockdowns and restrictions across the country, it treated Canadians like two different classes of people: the good and the bad, the honest and the cheat, the employee and the employer.
This distinction is no new thing for the government. For years the has been going after small businesses calling them tax cheats, suggesting they are all hiding their ill-gotten gains by taking advantage of loopholes in the system, buying equipment as a tax writeoff or hoarding money and calling it a rainy day fund. I will tax that, said Mr. Morneau. If people have a family business and want to sell the farm to their son, the government plans to make them pay over 80% of the sale price in taxes if they want to pass it on to the next generation, because everyone knows that, for the current Liberal government, passing a farm from father to son is clearly a tax dodge if ever there was one.
What happens in a pandemic when a government sees small business as the enemy of the proletariat and itself as the saviour? We see financial support programs that discourage going back to work while punishing the big bad barber, brew pub or banquet hall around the corner. Let us take the restaurant and hospitality industry as an example.
In my riding there are hundreds of unique and exciting establishments gathered in every neighbourhood. Shiraz Grill on a one-way street in Langley serves up Persian and Italian food. It is delicious. Right across the street is Viva Mexico where one can have a truly authentic Mexican experience. A little closer to the Willowbrook mall, people can experience the taste of Thailand at the Naka Bistro. Further down the Fraser Highway is the ever-popular Dublin Crossing, where people can eat their fill of bangers and mash while tapping their toes to a live band of Irish rovers.
Every one of those restaurants I just mentioned is owned and operated by a hard-working entrepreneur, the majority of whom are new Canadians who have brought the colour of their culture to our communities, along with jobs and economic prosperity for us all. They took on great risks and responsibilities in their quest to create a new and better life for themselves in Canada. Little did they know that their new country now has a government that punishes risk-takers and job creators like themselves.
When their doors were closed in early March, they just buckled down and pivoted to takeout. Owners and their families worked long hours to get food to our homes in a safe way. While their wait and kitchen staff stayed home on CERB, they called their nieces and nephews, their aunts and uncles to please help with the cooking and cleaning or owners would lose their dream.
Seven months in, the entire sector teeters on the brink of extinction. After the restaurant industry invested $750 million of its own money to train staff, enforce social distancing, implement health checks and adapt for contactless delivery and curbside pickup, they continue to live under the constant threat of lockdowns and further restrictions. The government has offered them almost no help besides a wage subsidy that disproportionately helps some businesses while being useless to others, or rent subsidies that were impossible to access until our current motion forced the government to improve it.
Now the Liberals have instructed CRA to start aggressively auditing any business that applied for the wage subsidy. If people made a mistake in their calculations, they will be charged a penalty of 275% of the amount they claimed. If the had been charged a 275% penalty for his illegal quarter-million dollar trip to the Aga Khan's island, he would owe almost three-quarters of a million dollars. What did he actually pay in fines and penalties? He paid a measly $500.
The Liberal government has declared war on our small businesses, the backbone of our economy. Mom and Pop shops across this country are the target of sustained attacks that do not appear to be ending any time soon. The government has exhausted all credible excuses to explain away its continued failure to answer the call of Canada's small business owners. For months my opposition colleagues and business leaders across Canada have identified serious problems with the COVID-19 relief programs, which have allowed too many small businesses to fall through the cracks.
The government keeps claiming that it creates jobs in this country. The government does not create jobs. Canadian entrepreneurs do. If this Liberal government does not begin to understand that concept, our economy is going to be decimated. One can only rob Peter to pay Paul for so long. For every small business forced into receivership, we lose the jobs and revenues those businesses create.
Canadians were told that a prorogued Parliament would give time for a quality restart plan to be corrected, and they believed that. However, what did the Liberals come back with after six weeks of a shuttered Parliament? Nothing, nada, bubkes. The government promised to come back to this session with a plan. Where is the plan? How do I tell the businesses in my riding that the support they need is going to lapse without new legislation? Where is the plan to improve the programs that have not worked for so many businesses? Where is the sector-specific support for airlines, travel and tourism, agriculture, energy, any of it?
We constantly hear how hard this government has been working for Canadians, but from where I am sitting, Canadian businessmen are getting a lump of coal in their stockings for Christmas.
Honestly, we need to get to actual work here. The finance committee should be conducting pre-budget consultations right now. We should be hearing from Canada's business leaders about what they need during this economic crisis. Instead, the sends his MPs to filibuster the committee, talking out the clock to avoid releasing WE scandal documents. Machiavelli, Aristotle, Plato, all the philosophers are dragged by their hair into our meeting to justify the Liberal cover-up.
There is a very serious crisis happening in our country. Many small business owners are not sleeping at night. They are absolutely desperate, and no one is listening. They are begging and pleading for this government to make a plan, an actual plan, not just a band-aid solution. I have met with them face to face. I have seen the anxiety and agony in the eyes of men and women who have poured their whole heart and soul into a dance studio, coffee shop, travel agency, hair salon, chiropractic clinic, pharmacy, restaurant or clothing boutique. The list is endless. They are under extreme stress, and it comes out in the form of migraine headaches, rashes all over their bodies and even heart attacks. Their stress comes from a government that does not have a plan, so they cannot make a plan either. Entrepreneurs will find solutions. They just need to know where they stand. Give them clarity and they will figure out the rest.
The scorecard shows that our country has spent the most of all G7 countries, yet has the worst economic performance. There is no one else to blame for this disaster except the Liberals. They keep throwing money at programs that are nothing more than band-aid solutions. We need to get our economy moving again, but since the government seems incapable of stopping the bleeding, let us at least make sure that whatever band-aid solutions we apply actually work. The government is working hard to turn Canada into a benefit-based economy with no end in sight, while making it more and more impossible for businesses to find workers.
We need to show leadership here and give businesses clarity and equitable treatment. Right now, every level of government is knocking on the federal government's door demanding compliance to rules that have not even been written. With workers' compensation, Health Canada, bylaw officers and police, there is a never-ending stream of busybody bureaucrats that are making things up as they go. Health officials are even encouraging Canadians to report on their neighbours for perceived infractions.
Have we lost our minds? Do we really want a police state? I recognize that these bureaucracies are not the federal jurisdiction, but it is this government's lack of leadership and transparency that is causing so much confusion.
At first, we were told masks do not work. Now we are told something completely different: Wear one. In the beginning, the virus did not spread from person to person, and now we cannot even have our own children over for coffee. The message has been godawful. Half of Canadians are scared to death and do not believe a word the government is saying. Why are rapid at-home tests not in the hands of Canadians? Why is this government not doing that and making it a top priority?
Let us strategically target our efforts on protecting the vulnerable while allowing the healthy to safely get back to business. Why, after seven months, is our tracking and tracing failing so miserably? We need to focus on getting things back up and running, and not on scaring our country to death.
Mr. Speaker, it is wonderful to be here today and great to see so many of my colleagues virtually while I am in the wonderful riding of . I will be splitting my time this morning with the member for .
Before I get to the heart of the matter, I wish to say that where I am located is surrounded by small businesses. There is a local bakery shop, a convenience store, a cleaner and a restaurant. We know businesses across Canada, just like the ones here in Vaughan—Woodbridge, need our assistance. We have been providing that assistance, whether through the Canada emergency business account, the new rental program or the existing rental program, which will be finishing up. However, we also knew we needed to work with the provinces when we introduced the first rental program.
I wish to acknowledge that these small businesses did not do anything. Rather, this was an exogenous shock to the economy, as we say in economics. These small businesses were working hard. They were investing in their businesses. They were growing. They were hiring Canadians and creating great middle-class jobs from coast to coast to coast. Unfortunately, with COVID-19, we have seen, not just in Canada but throughout the world, that small businesses need our assistance, and our government has responded.
We have listened to the CFIB, business councils and small business owners. What we see in the legislation, in Bill , is a flexibility that we are providing to businesses so we can continue to reinforce that bridge. We need to get to the other side. We know winter and spring are coming, and we need to ensure businesses have the confidence and certainty that the government has their backs, and that is what we are doing.
I am thankful for this opportunity to speak on today's motion. In my remarks, I would like to focus on the aspects of the motion that relate to the important Canada emergency wage subsidy and provide some insight on what the government has done to ensure this important measure is available to all those vital businesses across Canada that qualify for it. This government recognizes that, although the economy is slowly reopening, many people are still impacted by COVID-19 in devastating ways, and they continue to face very challenging economic circumstances as a result.
The government introduced the Canada emergency wage subsidy, or CEWS, in April to provide financial support to employers of all sizes that had been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Since its launch, more than 1.4 million CEWS applications have been approved.
I need to give a shout-out to the phenomenal team of civil servants and bureaucrats at the Canada Revenue Agency. They have worked tirelessly night and day to deliver programs to millions of Canadians who have been, and continue to be, impacted by COVID-19. Whether it is in respect to the Canada emergency response benefit, the Canada emergency wage subsidy, or even the new rental benefit, the folks at the CRA have just been top-notch. We need to applaud them for their efforts in helping all Canadians, whether they are business owners or workers.
Additionally, millions of Canadian employees have had their jobs supported through the CEWS program, and that number continues to grow. The CEWS program, which is administered by the Canada Revenue Agency, has provided more than $45 billion dollars in support for Canadian businesses as of October 25, 2020. The CEWS program is an essential part of the government's COVID-19 economic response plan, which strives to support Canadian businesses by helping them avoid layoffs and rehire employees.
Throughout the past few months the government has made changes to expand the reach of the CEWS in order to meet the needs of Canadian businesses. The program, originally launched for a 12-week period, has been extended multiple times, and just yesterday the government introduced legislation that would extend the program until June 2021. This would continue to protect jobs by helping employers keep employees on the payroll and rehire their workers.
Keeping the attachment of the employer-employee relationship is so important. We have seen the rebound in the Canadian labour market, and how it is outperforming many of our global peers. We are seeing employees returning to their work, but while we continue to experience the impacts of COVID-19, it is important we maintain the attachment between the employer and employee.
The wage subsidy would remain at the current rate of up to 65% of eligible wages until December 19, 2020. The eligibility requirements for CEWS have also been expanded to include a greater number of employers by including those who experienced a revenue decline of less than 30%.
Additionally, other enhancements to the CEWS program are being proposed to ensure that CEWS continues to not only support employers, but also to respond and really enhance the flexibility of the CEWS program to the evolving Canadian health and economic situation. These adjustments to the program help ensure that CEWS addresses Canadians' needs, while also positioning them for success as we move through the economic recovery.
The government has striven to make the application process simple in order to get the money out the door quickly and into the hands of those who need it. In most cases, eligible employers receive their CEWS monies via direct deposit within 10 days of their application. In fact, eligible employers can apply for the CEWS through the CRA's My Business Account portal, and authorized representatives can apply on behalf of their clients through the CRA's Represent a Client portal. Additionally, both groups can apply through the CEWS web forms.
In order to make the process simpler, the government also developed an online CEWS calculator, which allows employers to estimate the amount of the subsidy they will receive for each claim period. The CRA's approach to CEWS compliance starts with providing early certainty through outreach and engagement with businesses and stakeholder groups, FAQs addressing common questions and auditors helping staff the CEWS inquiries line. This is all done to help businesses get it right from the start.
When more detailed review is needed with a CEWS claim, the CRA's focus remains on doing so as quickly as is practical. In fact, significant focus was placed on tools and information to help taxpayers get it right from the start. From calculators to outreach sessions, to updated questions on the website, helping businesses and their representatives has been our focus.
Along with the support of client focus, the approach to post-payment verifications of wage subsidy claims was designed by officials to reflect the current reality. Significant tax dollars are in scope. More than $45 billion in wage subsidies have been paid, and the program will continue to provide billions more to Canadian businesses and, obviously, their employees.
Within a few short weeks from launch to implementation, and less than five months since inception, it would be normal to see many more mistakes and grey areas than we find with more mature programs. We have to remember that the Government of Canada has rolled out a number of programs to help Canadian business and employees in a few short weeks, which would normally take years to do. We have been there for Canadian businesses and workers and we will continue to do so.
Many businesses are struggling financially and, with the pandemic, the CRA should match the scope of its compliance efforts to the size and scope of the issue. The CRA should apply targeted, minimally intrusive and commensurate interventions that reflect the nature and degree of any issue. Given this, the CRA has designed a multi-step approach to lead off with an initial phase of less than 600 verifications of claimants of all sizes who had some risk indicators.
Strategically, the overall analysis of these internal initial audits will provide the information needed to understand the nature and prevalence of issues, allow the CRA to consult with the Department of Finance on questions of interpretation and inform the options for addressing those issues needing further attention. CRA auditors were directed to be flexible on the timeliness for this work and to focus slowly on the calculations for the wage subsidy.
The government acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for all Canadians and that attempting to navigate the subsidy may be challenging, especially for those with questions about their eligibility or their own application. Up-to-date information on the CEWS and other recovery benefits is available at canada.ca/coronavirus.
If honest Canadians discover that they have made a mistake in their CEWS applications, they can easily make adjustments to their applications through the CRA's My Business Account. However, the government takes fraud very seriously, and the CRA is able to impose penalties against employers who have submitted fraudulent claims. The CEWS program is meant to prevent further job losses, encourage employers to rehire employees they had laid off due to COVID-19 and help Canadian businesses of all sizes, as well as other eligible employers, position themselves to better resume their normal activities after the crisis.
As part of the COVID-19 economic response plan, the government identifies its key areas of focus as support for individuals, support for businesses, support for sectors, support for organizations helping Canadians, and support for provinces and territories. The CEWS certainly provides support for businesses, but by helping keep millions of Canadians in their jobs, it also helps support individual Canadians and helps ensure the economic viability of hard-hit sectors.
As the Canadian economy continues to safely reopen, a robust workforce is essential. The CEWS has supported Canadian organizations, both large and small, in such diverse industries as agriculture, manufacturing, food services, health care, social services, arts and entertainment, and hospitality.
I will finish there. I look forward to questions and comments.
Mr. Speaker, as you and I both know, since the spring, we have been facing an unprecedented challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic remains very difficult to deal with, and we do not know what the fall and winter will bring. One thing is certain: Our government will be there for Canadians to provide them with the support they need to get through this difficult time. Since the beginning of this pandemic, our government has supported Canadian businesses hurt by COVID-19 and its economic fallout. We took immediate action to support those businesses, particularly by helping them keep employees on the job, increasing cash flow and providing rent assistance.
As the pandemic continues to evolve, so too does our approach. In September's Speech from the Throne, our government committed to take further steps to help vulnerable businesses pull through. Consistent with that commitment, a few weeks ago, we announced our intention to implement new, targeted support measures to help hard-hit businesses and other organizations experiencing a drop in revenue. We committed to help those businesses safely get through the second wave of the virus and help them cover their costs so that they can continue to serve their communities and be positioned for a strong, dynamic recovery.
A number of programs were announced with the goal of fulfilling that commitment. For example, if passed, the new Canada emergency rent subsidy will provide qualifying organizations affected by COVID-19 with support of up to 65% of eligible expenses for rents and mortgages until December 2020. We also announced our intention to provide additional targeted support for organizations that have to shut down once again because of new restrictions imposed by public health authorities. They may claim a top-up of 25% of eligible expenses in the event of a temporary closing, in addition to the 65%, for a total of up to 90%. This rent subsidy will be available until June 2021.
We have also improved the Canada emergency wage subsidy. Since it was introduced, the subsidy has become a key part of Canada's COVID-19 economic response plan. Through the Canada emergency wage subsidy, we have supported more than 3.8 million jobs and spent more than $45 billion to help businesses keep their workers. The Canada emergency wage subsidy has mainly helped the country's retail businesses, as well as construction, restaurants and hotels. It has helped them to keep their employees on the payroll and encouraged them to rehire their workers.
Let me provide some statistics to illustrate the effects of this measure. In Newfoundland and Labrador, more than $400 million has been spent since March. In Prince Edward Island, more than $140 million has been spent since the subsidy was launched. In Nova Scotia, the figure is $800 million and in New Brunswick, $650 million. In Quebec, the assistance comes to more than $10 billion. Ontario has received $18.5 billion. In Manitoba, the total amount spent is more than $1.4 billion and, in Saskatchewan, it is more than $730 million. In Alberta, $6.8 million has been spent. British Columbia has received more than $5.3 billion. The Yukon has received $500 million, the Northwest Territories have received $32 million, and Nunavut has received around $10 million.
These sums that have been invested through the emergency wage subsidy have protected millions of the country's jobs. The Canada Revenue Agency, which, we must recall, is independent, is conducting checks to ensure conformity and to make sure that the funds are being properly used, meaning to help our workers.
In my riding, Sherbrooke, these programs have had a noticeable impact, as I have gathered from tours, calls and the economic recovery forum I launched. Local businesses have told us that our action plan means they will not have to close their doors and will be able to keep playing an active role in Sherbrooke society.
One of these is American Biltrite, the pride of Sherbrooke, which had to shut down its operations completely in April. With government support, the company innovated and retooled part of its facility to make equipment for hospitals, including face shields. American Biltrite was able to rehire employees and reopen the business. The company says that the Canada emergency wage subsidy must be extended because revenues are still low and that the government must do more to promote local purchasing in its tendering.
This kind of feedback and information from businesses led us to announce that we are extending the Canada emergency wage benefit until June 2021, so that it can keep helping businesses protect jobs by keeping their workers on the payroll and rehiring those who were laid off. We are also freezing the maximum subsidy at 65% until December 2020.
We are adapting and we are here for businesses because they are the backbone of our economy. Canadians also have a role to play to support businesses in Canada. Obviously, we all want every local café, shop and restaurant to stay open, even if the pandemic is eating away at their profit margins.
Therefore, while all of us are doing what we can to slow the spread of the virus, why not encourage our local small businesses by ordering a meal or buying a gift card from our favourite places? Personally, I buy my bread and pastries from Les Vraies Richesses, a local downtown bakery; my fresh pasta from Pizzicato, a restaurant; and my teas from Les Zerbes Folles, a shop on Alexandre Street. These are examples of small actions we can take to help our SMEs overcome the crisis and expand by giving back to the community.
It is important to remember that this pandemic is the most serious public health crisis Canada has ever faced. Canadians of all ages all across the country have been hit hard. COVID-19 has killed over 10,000 Canadians. Millions of Canadians are either unemployed, working fewer hours or making less money as a result. These job losses are perhaps the most obvious consequence of the global economic shock we have all had to face.
However, as the Prime Minister said, we can and will do everything in our power to limit job losses and business closings, and minimize the decline in economic activity. Our government is ready, and we will get through this crisis together. When it comes to an end, we will be better positioned to recover together and continue building a safer and fairer future for all.
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to split my time with my wonderful, and I will add punctual, colleague from .
It is also an absolute privilege to rise today in this House and talk about some of the hardest-working people in one of the hardest-working countries: small business owners.
This motion is a great step forward for small business owners. The Conservatives seek to do two things with this motion, and I hope all members will join me in supporting small business owners. The first thing we seek to do is put a pause on troublesome and burdensome audits of the CEWS program that are causing business owners challenges. The second thing is to make programs more flexible to make sure no Canadians are being left behind, which is something that is absolutely critical.
I would like to talk a bit about small businesses and why they are so important to our communities. They are the lifeblood of our communities. They are the ones that are sponsoring our soccer and hockey teams. They are in the communities providing the services we need. They are the ones making sure front-line workers are fed and that we take care of the entire community. There are over one million small business owners in Canada, who employ over 70% of private sector workers in Canada and they also contribute one-third to our GDP.
After listening to the interventions today, I want to congratulate members of all parties. It is not every day we see the member for celebrating a Conservative motion. It is terrific and a great way to show that everyone can be constructive in helping small business owners go forward.
To provide context on where we are with small business owners, it has been a challenging time for them. Even pre-pandemic, they were going through difficult times. Going into the pandemic, Canadians were struggling, with 50% of Canadians within $200 of insolvency. Canadians were facing a GDP that was reduced to nearly 0% by the end of 2019.
The struggles continued for small business owners as they, from 2015 to 2020, dramatically reduced their investments in infrastructure, a sign that they perhaps saw challenges on the horizon. At the heart of some of these issues is the productivity gap going on in Canada. Productivity is a big fancy 10-cent word, but in reality all it means is how Canadians are able to manufacture products and deliver services. The harsh reality is that Canadians were struggling.
In the U.S., the average worker contributes $60 per hour to GDP. In Switzerland, that number is more like $84. Unfortunately, here in Canada that number is $50. That is important because it affects people. It affects real wages. Going into the pandemic, the average wage in Canada was $19, compared with $23 for the United States and $33 for Switzerland. We had challenges going into the pandemic.
During the pandemic, the economy has become much worse. Many of the constituents I spoke with told me about horrible, difficult situations. They have told me about losing their jobs, their homes, and in some cases, they have lost all hope. This is all despite record spending. The government has actually spent more than any other country in the G20. We have the highest deficit, yet we have the worst unemployment numbers in the G7.
Many small business owners are heading out of business. The CFIB told us that, as of September 30, a full third of businesses will either close down or partially close. These are difficult times, but the numbers never tell the full story. I want to tell the House the story of John and Lent Travel.
John owns the Lent Travel agency in the beautiful town of Port Hope. By the way, if members have not been to Port Hope, please go once the lockdown is over. It is beautiful. He owns one of three travel agencies in town; one has shut down and one is operating at one-third its capacity. John told me that from the beginning of the pandemic to March 2021 he expects no revenue.
Just to go through the numbers, he was down 151% in April, then down 97%, 95%, 95%, 100%, 100% of revenue, equating to zero revenue over a year. He is in a challenging situation. He would have loved to have access to some of the programs, such as the rent subsidies, but unfortunately he owns instead of rents so he is out of luck there. John is like millions of Canadians who are feeling left behind in these difficult times.
The pandemic was a challenge to all of us. It required us all to sacrifice. There is no doubt about that. Government support programs were a necessary bridge, hopefully. Unfortunately, too many of those programs got confused, were delayed and held Canadians back. Instead of being that bridge to a brighter day, they became a trap. They were too complex and too confusing, and they even penalized work. No Canadian should ever be financially behind for adding an extra day's work. That should never happen. That is how John felt.
As we move forward into the safe reopening of the country, we are all looking forward. I know we all want that day when we can give hugs and shake hands again, when we can do all those wonderful things that we miss because of the pandemic. We need to move forward and give our businesses, not a shot of morphine but a shot of adrenaline, so we can carry forward. We need to have a safe recovery plan that includes rapid testing, so students could go back to school, so workers could go back to their factories and offices, and so that we could all once again start contributing fully to the economy, as I know every Canadian wants to.
We need policies that encourage work and promote opportunities. The government has had the opportunity to invest, however, it has too often squandered those opportunities of investing in the private sector. For example, while veterans are waiting, while new mothers are waiting, while people with disabilities are waiting, while that was all going on, the CRA proudly announced on social media that it was open for business, that it could audit and charge penalties and interest. Even for the Liberal government, that is peak hypocrisy.
If the government is saying it does not have resources to get money out to people with disabilities, new mothers and veterans, it cannot, at the same time, be saying that it has plenty of resources to audit and make life more difficult for hard-working, honest Canadian taxpayers.
The substance of this motion is with respect to the CEWS audit. Almost immediately upon the announcement of this, almost to the day, we started receiving complaints in our office about the burdensome, pages and pages, requirements by the CRA on an audit, a fishing expedition. These are not just simple documents, these are documents that have to be prepared by tax lawyers, by accountants, costing thousands of dollars. In fact, some folks have actually paid more in fees than they received in benefits. Imagine that. This is shameful, and all in the midst of a pandemic.
This is not the time in Ontario, Quebec and across the country in different regions. We are facing a second wave of the pandemic. Small business owners need to be helped. They need a hand up to get themselves back on track. They do not need a burdensome audit that puts them behind the eight ball and costs them thousands of dollars.
We are approaching the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. That is a terrible landmark to meet. The truth is, it is a year. These are not early days of the pandemic. The excuses are growing long, that there were not resources, we have shown that is not the case, or that we do not have time, we do have time. We need to work collaboratively so John does not feel left behind in Port Hope, and to help entrepreneurs who started a new business, some who started a new business in March of 2020 and do not have year-over-year numbers, who do not qualify, who are not eligible for these programs.
There are sectors of the economy that are being hit harder than others. This pandemic has not hit us all equally. Sectors like tourism, travel, aviation and energy have been hit harder than others. We need tailor-made solutions, not the one-size-fits-all that does not cut it.
Ultimately, we need solutions that do not come from government programs, but from the private sector. We have the most creative innovators, the hardest-working small business owners and the best workers in the entire world, and we have the opportunity to give them the ability to bring us out of this terrible economic crisis through their hard work. We just need to get out of their way.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join this debate. It was an excellent motion put forward by my colleague from . It certainly shows that he understands the huge challenges our businesses are going through right now. There are two components included in this: One is pausing audits until 2021 and the other is flexibility within the rent subsidy and wage subsidy programs.
The government has stood up already and proudly proclaimed how much it has done. However, I want to note that with the six-week prorogation, and the fact we have been back here going on seven weeks, for three months we have had no answer to some programs that had some significant challenges. How many businesses were lost during those three months? We had the six weeks of prorogation and some additional time before we saw some action.
Interestingly, back in January or February, businesses told me they heard that COVID-19 was low risk and they were not really worried. They were not doing any anticipatory planning, but then all of a sudden it was like a volcano. They had not had proper warning this was coming. The government was very concerned. All of a sudden the was saying people should stock up, and there was a run on toilet paper and other products.
For businesses, the reality did not hit until they saw some of our national sports organizations closing down. I believe that when some of those organizations said they were closing down for the season, then all of a sudden it was serious for business owners. Something was going to happen and something was going on. Across the country, many businesses had to immediately shut their doors.
Throughout this, some people have managed to do pretty well. I have talked to businesses throughout my riding. The folks who sell bicycles and boats, and the businesses that do landscaping, have been so busy they cannot keep up with demand. For those few that have this robust volume, there are so many others suffering, mostly in the hospitality, tourism and personal care industries. There are some people who have kept their heads above water, and thank goodness we have those businesses doing okay.
Let us imagine someone closing their business down in March. The Blue Grotto had to close down. The owner knew he was going to be allowed to reopen his nightclub, so he spent thousands of dollars to prepare for the reopening in terms of safety and barriers between places where people sat. He was open for one night, and then received an order to close down. This particular business owner has been very vocal in public, so I do not mind sharing his story here. He has shared his story of how difficult it was to spend so much money to prepare to reopen and then all of a sudden get closed down.
Adding insult to injury was the issue of his rent. His landlord was not in a position, or was unwilling, to look at the rent subsidy. This owner put his heart and soul into his business, like so many others. He was not even receiving the advantage of some of the existing programs. He had no money coming in from the rent subsidy or the wage subsidy, and is still closed down. He is trying to keep his head above water.
What if he happens to get a notice from the Canada Revenue Agency? For small business owners, receiving a notice that they are going to have an audit is very stressful at the best of times.
Imagine, in the worst of times, not just trying to survive but getting a notice from the Canada Revenue Agency asking for piles of documents that it wants within 10 days. I think everyone in the House believes that there should be some good process to make sure that the programs we have developed have been used appropriately, and there should be some audit process, but the least we can do is delay that process, as the motion states, until June. I think that is a very reasonable motion because we cannot afford to put that stress on our small business owners right now.
Like most members in the House, one of the challenges we had when the pandemic first started was helping businesses to navigate the programs and services available. I would like to share some anecdotes provided by the Kamloops Chamber, and also by other chambers in the riding. One person said they were tapped, stretched and scared of losing everything they worked decades for. This was a commercial landlord who did not apply for the benefit because they did not like the way the program was being delivered. It was a personal service company. Another said, “I never thought I would be managing an inherently dangerous organization to society.” That was a local arts organization. Imagine someone thinking they were providing a good service for the community that was then deemed to be dangerous. “Every decision we make feels like we are screwing ourselves over,” said someone in the restaurant business. “I desperately wanted to be able to keep my employees on, but I can't afford it in this uncertainty.” That was someone who had been business since 1995.
I went into a shop downtown and a person there told me that people would come in and say they were so glad that she had survived. She said she tells them she has not survived, she has just reopened. She does not know if she is going to survive.
There are stories from the hotels in 100 Mile House to north Thompson, where someone who just bought a business did not qualify for assistance. Again, they put their life savings into a business. I hear that story over and over. People do not realize, if they are lucky enough to have a job that pays well, gives a pension and health care benefits, that many of our entrepreneurs are taking huge risks. Their life savings, and their hearts and souls, have gone into these businesses. They do not have pension plans and they do not have benefit programs, but they have something that they care about and believe in.
That person in north Thompson who just bought a small resort found out that they did not qualify for programs because they were a new owner, and as a new owner could not show their revenue losses. In the riding I represent, a larger business, the Rocky Mountaineer, lost its entire season. The Rocky Mountaineer is not just the company itself, but the spillover to the hotels, restaurants and so many others.
It was heartbreaking. I remember having many painful conversations about what they had tried. It would mean something to small businesses if everyone in the House would say we were going to delay the Canada Revenue Agency audits and do the best we can to change programs and make sure they meet people's needs in a flexible, fluid and responsive way. This is an incredibly important motion and I hope that all sides of the House can agree.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for .
I am happy to participate in the debate on the Conservative motion from the member for Calgary Rocky Ridge. I am heartened to hear the calls for collaborative effort and working together. That is absolutely key.
I am going to talk a little about what our different regional development agencies will be doing to support small and medium-sized enterprises from coast to coast to coast, which is just one of the layers of support out there for small businesses.
In six different specific regions of the country, agencies work closely with businesses and innovators to fuel economic growth that creates those well-paying, middle-class jobs for Canadians. They apply a place-based, location-based lens to the overall direction of the government, as outlined in the innovation and skills plan, to advance and diversify regional economies and help communities thrive.
Let me talk a bit about each RDA, or each regional development agency, and why their mandates are specific to the needs of the regions they serve and why this is so important when it comes to confronting the challenges brought about this pandemic.
ACOA, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, will help businesses become more competitive, innovative and productive.
In Quebec we have Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions, or CED. It guides Quebec businesses and the province’s regions toward the economy of tomorrow.
In the north, the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, or CanNor, helps to develop a diversified, sustainable and dynamic economy across Canada's three territories.
Ontario is covered by two separate RDAs. The Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, or FedDev, provides programs and services to support innovation and economic growth in southern Ontario, while the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, or FedNor, supports businesses and community partners to build a stronger northern Ontario.
Then there is the regional development agency that serves the west. Western Economic Diversification Canada promotes the development and diversification of western Canada's economy and advances the interests of the west in national economic policy, programs and projects.
We do understand that the path to economic prosperity varies from region to region. Strong regional economies are essential for Canada’s success and its sustainability.
Strong regional economies are essential for Canada’s success and its sustainability.
That is why our regional development agencies are there to help businesses and innovators grow, succeed and create good jobs for Canadians.
RDA programs provide funds to companies, not-for-profits and communities. The idea is to foster the right environment to enable businesses to grow and entrepreneurs and innovators to start businesses and then have them succeed. This creates an ideal condition for the development of strong, dynamic and inclusive regional economies throughout the country. That is exactly what we need.
We support regional innovation ecosystems and help businesses scale-up. Even during these times, some businesses are scaling up. Some businesses were in a position to take advantage of the challenges out there and have overcome it. We want to help them.
The rest of the world is looking at the kinds of solutions that we in Canada can actually create, and we are helping those companies do just that. We provide financial assistance. We bring together key players. We have talked about collaborative efforts and how we connect all the people who need to be on the same page to help people move forward together.
We are going to have the kind of growth strategies that eliminate the regional gaps. We want everyone in Canada to be able to thrive, to make it through these challenging, unprecedented times and be in a position that will allow us to come back gangbusters once the worst of this is over.
A good example of the approach we are taking by helping SMEs is what we are doing through this economic epidemic. We are taking a regionally based approach and delivering what is called the regional relief and recovery fund program. We believe we need a layered approach and those at the local and regional levels are going to be the ones who understand where the support is most desperately needed.
We have invested over $1.5 billion nationally in this one program for regional economic development and it has seen an incredible take-up. Demand has been especially high in western Canada. This result has been a lifeline to more than 12,000 businesses, which have protected 95,000 jobs, 20,000 jobs in western Canada alone.
Looking at just Alberta, Western Economic Diversification Canada has provided $96 million in relief to over 1,700 small and medium-sized enterprises in that province and has helped protect more than 6,900 jobs. On all accounts, this is by far the highest volume of activity for the regional relief and recovery fund of any province in western Canada and, indeed, one of the highest across the country on a per capital basis. The numbers do tell an important story. The immediate impact is that this funding is ensuring Alberta keeps firms operating and helps them retain their workers, and the government takes immense pride in that.
Another important part of the regional relief and recovery fund is the response in rural communities, delivered through our partners at Community Futures organizations. Another Alberta example is that over 800 loan applications have been approved through Community Futures, translating to more than 3,600 jobs protected in rural Alberta. I am really pleased to say that nearly 60% of that support has been directed to under-represented communities, including women-owned, youth-owned and indigenous-owned businesses.
We have helped dozens of small businesses, even in the member's hometown. This is through direct and indirect support.
Here is a case in point. The University of Calgary is using a $250,000 regional relief and recovery fund contribution from Western Diversification. It is using it to enable Creative Destruction Lab-Rockies to help businesses mitigate the impacts of the pandemic and access capital to adapt their business models and develop innovative COVID-19 solutions.
We have the talent, the skills and what it takes to help businesses. The world is looking for solutions, and it is looking at us. For every one of the 95,000 jobs that has been preserved across Canada through this one program, we have saved many more, and who knows where those people would be tomorrow.
The RDAs are delivering other creative programs to support business people who are under-represented. Our message to companies and communities in regions across Canada is clear. We are here for them now and we will get through this together.