Manitoba promises an estimated $120M in support for small, medium businesses
Loans can't make up for what's lost thanks to COVID-19 pandemic, but may help bridge gap, premier says
Manitoba is rolling out a loan program for small- and medium-sized businesses that can't get federal help, Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday.
The Manitoba Gap Protection Program will be available to businesses in the province that have been hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic but don't qualify for programs from Ottawa, Pallister said.
Eligible businesses will each get loans of $6,000, for an expected total of $120 million, Pallister said. That number isn't a hard cap, but an estimation of how much funding will be needed, the premier said.
The loans can't make up for what businesses have lost due to the pandemic, he said.
"It's not enough," he said. "I wish we could do more."
They'll be forgiven on Dec. 31, 2020, if the business attests then that it hasn't gotten any major non-repayable COVID-19 supports from Ottawa. If the applicant has received benefits under a federal COVID-19 program, then the loan will be added to the recipient's 2020 tax bill.
There are roughly 120,000 businesses in Manitoba, the province said.
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To qualify for the loans, a business must have been operational when the government declared a state of emergency on March 20. It also must have temporally stopped or cut back its operations due to the province's public health order, which imposed rules about public gatherings and which businesses can stay open.
Businesses must also be registered and in good standing with the Manitoba Business and Corporate Registry, and have an email address and a bank account.
Manitoba had 257 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Six Manitobans have died. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, 154 people have recovered from COVID-19 in the province, while 97 cases remain active.
Pallister said small businesses have made big sacrifices to help stop the coronavirus from spreading.
"They are going to be the key to our recovery," he said. "And we want to position them in a way that they'll be able to help themselves bounce back, and in so doing, help all of us to bounce back from this economic crisis."
Gaps remain, chamber of commerce says
Loren Remillard, president of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said the announcement is "welcome news," but he would have preferred to see the offer go farther to include businesses that receive some help from Ottawa.
"There is the concern as [to] how it works with the federal programs," Remillard said. "We were looking for a provincial program that would layer over top the federal program, and seep into the cracks that have emerged within the federal programming."
He pointed to other gaps left open by the provincial program, including businesses that don't have registered business numbers, like some sole proprietors, and those that closed prior to March 20, like some bars or restaurants.
"What we need now is less prescriptive programing and more comprehensive support for our business community overall," he said. "Business has been acting in good faith, in terms of … transitioning the production lines [to make PPE], supporting front-line workers."
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Jennifer Snyder, president of the newly launched Doyenne Financial Ltd., said it's a hard time for small businesses, especially those like hers that launched in the past year. Newer businesses may not meet thresholds to qualify for various federal support programs, such as having a year's worth of payroll information.
A $6,000 loan will be helpful, but it may not do enough to help struggling businesses, she said.
"It's good that the provincial government is listening, it's good that the federal [government is] listening," she said. "But again, I question whether it's going to be enough for everybody that needs it."
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Despite his concerns, Remillard said he's hopeful the province will be responsive to feedback from the business community. That's been the pattern of other COVID-19 support efforts so far, he said: roll something out, get feedback, and make improvements as you go.
"I always like to say perfect is the enemy of good. As we've seen with all these programs, if you shoot for perfection out of the gate, you're never going to achieve it," he said.
"But let's start somewhere and see how things go, and adjust as we need. This needs to be flexible and responsive to what is, by the minute, a changing landscape."
Plans for reopening economy to be unveiled next week
On Wednesday, the premier repeated his goal of seeing Manitoba become the first province to reopen its economy safely.
He said a plan for how the province hopes to do that will be made public next week.
More information on how public sector employers are being asked to save money will also be coming soon, he said.
The province had previously asked all Crown corporations and publicly funded agencies to come up with plans outlining how they'd achieve budget cuts of 10, 20 and 30 per cent.
Pallister urged Manitobans not to relax social distancing measures based on the relatively low number of new cases over the past several days.
"We cannot relax," he said.
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