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Alberta to bring in commercial eviction ban, grants to help businesses get restarted

The Alberta government will introduce new measures to help small businesses in the province recover from the effects of mass closures and operating restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commercial landlords that refuse federal rent-relief program can't evict tenants

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced new supports for small businesses at a news conference Friday morning. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Alberta is planning to introduce legislation next week that will prevent commercial landlords who refuse to take advantage of a federal rent program from evicting business tenants who were forced to curtail operations due to COVID-19. 

Premier Jason Kenney said on Friday that Alberta is looking at a model announced earlier in the week by British Columbia, which enacted a temporary eviction ban for commercial tenants. 

"If commercial landlords refuse to participate in the rent assistance program and pass on its savings ... in the short term, that would be the kind of criteria which would trigger protection," Kenney said at a news conference.

Kenney also announced a one-time payment for companies and non-profits with 500 or fewer employees that were forced to close or curtail their operations due to the pandemic. 

The payment is worth up to 15 per cent of monthly sales revenue, with the maximum amount capped at $5,000. Companies can use this money for start-up costs like purchasing inventory, acquiring personal protective equipment and bringing back staff. 

Under the B.C. plan, small business tenants can apply for eviction relief if their revenue has dropped by 70 per cent or more, their annual gross earnings are no more than $20 million, and they pay under $50,000 in rent each month.

The federal Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program provides forgivable loans to commercial landlords as long as they reduce their tenants' rent by 75 per cent for April, May and June. 

However, many small business owners have complained their landlords haven't applied for the program and are still asking for the full rent.

Mark Von Schellwitz, Restaurants Canada's western vice-president, says the initiatives announced by Kenney will make a difference. 

"It is really throwing a lifeline out to these mostly small businesses in the restaurant industry and it directly responds to what we've been hearing about through surveys from members," he said. 

The Opposition NDP has been calling on Kenney to provide eviction protection and startup grants for small businesses.

Edmonton-South MLA Thomas Dang called Kenney's announcement light on details and too little, too late.  

"It's shameful that he waited until the 11th hour to step up, especially when our caucus offered to help implement these measures weeks ago," Dang said in a news release.

"At this point, we have to assume that Jason Kenney waits to take action on principle, as though taking advice from the Official Opposition is so offensive, he would rather let businesses be evicted before admitting he hasn't done enough."

Kenney said his government took immediate action on measures to help business weather pandemic-related shutdowns, such as paying half of WCB premiums for small- and medium-sized businesses. 

In Alberta, the impact of COVID-19 on businesses has been exacerbated by the collapse in oil prices.

An Alberta Chamber of Commerce survey conducted in mid-May found that 80 per cent of businesses expect a slow economic recovery — a six-per-cent increase over results from a similar survey done the month before.

But the survey, released this week, also found that businesses are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, including the fact that more than 90 per cent of respondents expect to continue operating after the COVID-19 outbreak.

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