COVID-19 situation 'grave' for small businesses, CFIB warns

The House of Commons is set to hold a special sitting Saturday to debate wage subsidy legislation, but there are fears it may be too late to support many businesses that have already been forced to shutter their doors.

Some barely staying afloat, others unsure they'll ever reopen

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says 80 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses across Canada have been forced to either partly or fully shut down. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Even as the federal government gets set to expand wage subsidies for businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are concerns it could be too little, too late for some small operators.

The House of Commons is holding a special sitting Saturday to debate emergency wage subsidy legislation that would offer a 75 per cent subsidy to businesses that have lost 30 per cent of their revenue.

But according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB), there are fears the legislation may be either not in time or not enough for the approximately 80 per cent of small and medium-sized businesses forced to partially or completely shut their doors, often by provincial order. 

The federation says it's seen calls to its help lines increase from 50 calls a day to up to 800 — a 1,500 per cent spike — and some have been heartbreaking. 

The CFIB's president, Dan Kelly, said many business owners are panicking and the government should avoid adding hurdles — like proving a 30 per cent drop in gross revenue — to programs designed to assist them. (CBC)

"Just last week alone, we had five small business owners call and talk about suicide. That's how grave this has become," said Dan Kelly, CFIB's president.

While the wage subsidy is a positive measure, Kelly wants the government to scrap the 30 per cent threshold and open it up to all businesses.

For some businesses, Kelly said, it's likely already too late.

"One-third of the businesses that are currently closed are worried that they will never reopen. One-third. That is a massive number," he said.

Sean McVeigh says he's seen a 60 per cent drop in revenue after his brewery, Small Pony Barrel Works, had to close its taproom in Kanata and restaurants carrying his beer had to shut their doors. (Submitted by Sean McVeigh)

Barely staying afloat

Sean McVeigh counts himself lucky his Kanata brewery, Small Pony Barrel Works, has been able to stay afloat because of online deliveries and stock in the LCBO — but even he's had to lay off half of his four-person staff.

He's worried what will happen if his brewery's still closed during patio season. He also has questions about whether he's eligible for the wage subsidy, which would help bring back his other two employees.

"I don't want to just call them all up and say, 'Hey everyone, you're all back on payroll. You'll all be getting 100 per cent of your pay right now,'" said McVeigh.

Not everybody's going to have the money to keep spending on these things, too, if we're in a recession situation- Sean McVeigh

"[I'd hate to realize] in a month that, oh no, I'm not going to get the subsidy [and] that was my rent money that I just paid them."

McVeigh said he's watching closely to see if alcohol producers will remain an essential service in Ontario, and if his revenues from deliveries will continue the longer people remain out of work.

"Not everybody's going to have the money to keep spending on these things, too, if we're in a recession situation," he said. "That's always a concern."

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