Struggling businesses call for extension of pandemic supports ahead of federal budget

Businesses from the sectors hit hardest by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic are calling on the federal government to continue pandemic aid programs for the rest of the year.

A coalition representing 1,700 businesses suggests 60 per cent will go under without further support

A coalition of businesses in the industries that have been hammered by the pandemic is calling on Ottawa to extend support programs. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Businesses from the sectors hit hardest by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic are calling on the federal government to continue pandemic aid programs for the rest of the year.

In an open letter addressed to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and released today, the Coalition of Hardest Hit Businesses asks Freeland to extend the federal wage and rent subsidies beyond the current deadline of June 5 through to the end of the year.

The coalition says it represents businesses across the tourism, travel, hotel, arts, culture and hospitality industries. It reports a survey of its members showed that 60 per cent of the 1,700 businesses that responded said they'll go bankrupt without continued access to federal support programs.

"The challenges we expect to encounter through 2021 are not the result of individual business decisions; they are entirely pandemic-related and have devastated an otherwise healthy and thriving industry," the letter says.

"We have every confidence that travel will resume once all barriers are lifted, but unfortunately, we are months away from a world in which borders (provincial and international) are open, mass gathering bans are removed and Canadians are encouraged to travel, rather than stay at home.

"Until this day comes, our industry will need additional government support to get to the other side."

Federal budget coming Apr. 19

The call comes one day after Freeland announced the Liberal government will present its first budget in over two years on Apr. 19.

The coalition wants that budget to prolong the Canada emergency wage subsidy at a rate of 75 per cent for the hardest-hit businesses. It also wants an extension of the Canada emergency rent subsidy with improved support for medium-sized businesses.

The coalition says more than 2 million Canadians were employed by the businesses it represents before the pandemic arrived. It said its members are largely small or medium-sized businesses that mostly employ women, young people, Indigenous people and new Canadians.

'First hit ... hardest hit'

Beth Potter, president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, told a virtual press conference that over half a million jobs have been lost in the tourism industry alone.

"The tourism-related businesses were the first hit by the pandemic, the hardest hit by closures, and we will take the longest to recover," said Potter.

"It is critical that the investments made to support tourism-related businesses be continued when our members need it most."

Susie Grynol, president and CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada, said the wage and rent subsidy programs have been a "lifeline" for businesses that have suffered because of ongoing public health rules that ban mass gatherings and greatly limit travel. 

"Their continuation would make the difference between a vibrant tourism and cultural industry in Canada and a generation-long loss of events, storytelling and tourism experiences that make our country so special," said Grynol.

"The cost of doing nothing would be far greater than the cost of supporting these businesses and keeping them intact until they get to the other side."

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