Business advocates to Pallister government: Free up $65M in unspent aid

About $65 million intended to help Manitoba businesses survive the pandemic remains unspent — and advocates want the province to dole out the money sooner rather later.

$200M set aside for Manitoba Bridge Grant, and only $134.8M spent to date

A closed sign on a business.
Non-essential businesses were required to close in November 2020 under Manitoba's COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

About $65 million intended to help Manitoba businesses survive the pandemic remains unspent — and advocates want the province to dole out the money sooner rather later.

The province set aside $200 million for a program called the Manitoba Bridge Grant. It allowed businesses access to a pair of grants worth up to a total of $10,000.

As of Monday, the province paid out $134.8 million through the program to 14,775 businesses.

Organizations that represent businesses expected another $5,000 would be made available to businesses in the program in late January.

Five weeks later, they fear the province will choose to sit on the cash instead of announcing a third $5,000 instalment.

"It's disappointing if they're not planning to offer it," said Jonathan Alward, prairie director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

"It's a good program. It rolled out money very quickly to a lot of businesses that needed it, but now they need more money."

Alward said a lot of businesses remain entirely closed as of this week, in spite of restrictions easing in stages since late January.

Some businesses that never closed or recently chose to reopen are losing money every day, said Colin Fast, a spokesperson for the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.

"We think it's really important that that money actually gets spent and actually gets out the door and helps out businesses that are really struggling right now," said Fast, noting hundreds of businesses have closed in Winnipeg alone over the past year.

"We know that there's probably going to be a lot more because the bankruptcies and closures there, they're a bit of a lagging indicator.

"We know that there are so many entrepreneurs out there that are just trying to hang on as long as they can, but they're kind of reaching the end of the line."

On Monday, Premier Brian Pallister refused to say whether another instalment of the bridge grant will be made.

The premier said support for business "has been a matter of great importance" to his government, and said Manitoba is doing a better job assisting entrepreneurs than other provinces have.

"We have developed some of the best supports we think, overall most appropriate supports," Pallister said.

Fast said if Manitoba doesn't make a third bridge-grant installment, the province should devote the remaining $65 million to aid for businesses who have suffered the most during the pandemic.

"Our members prefer that the money goes to sector-specific support to those industries that are either still experiencing closures or the ones that have been hit the hardest," he said. 

"We're looking at things like hospitality, tourism, the arts, recreation and, to some extent, restaurants and gyms as well."


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.