Small business owners have asked the Federal Treasury Secretary to consider more help paying off their pandemic-related debt as the sixth wave of COVID-19 causes customers to stay home and sales to fall.
The request is one that Treasury Secretary Chrystia Freeland has faced repeatedly during a post-budget tour across the country in recent days.
Their response was that emergency measures are no longer needed as the crisis is over, the economy is hot and the government needs to tighten its budgetary belt.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, headlined the economic numbers, saying only two in five of its members report returning to normal sales.
He said more are concerned about the impact on revenue and their ability to repay loans when people stay at home even as provinces lift public health restrictions.
Its members brought those concerns to Freeland during a webinar on the budget, and Kelly said he left because he believed the Treasury Secretary heard their concerns.
The budget doesn’t include any further extensions of emergency relief programs that expire on May 7, but Freeland told webinar attendees, “I get you,” when asked about the debt relief, adding a moment later, “Let’s keep talking.” .”
CFIB members have averaged $160,000 in pandemic-related debt, including about $60,000 from a major federal loan program.
The government has set December 2023 as the deadline for repaying these loans with no interest or benefits for a partial waiver, although many small business owners believe it will take them until 2024 to be able to afford the repayments.
“Yes the streets are busier again, yes the economic headlines are positive, but there are plenty of small businesses – particularly in retail, hospitality, services and arts and entertainment – that are still holding on to their fingernails and are now deeper in debt,” Kelly said in an interview.
“There were huge amounts of new spending on almost every line in the budget, and yet it was pretty thin on any type of business support.”
He said about three-quarters of CFIB members said they didn’t find the federal budget helpful, acidified by a lack of movement on debt relief and a further delay in a promise to lower fees merchants pay each time a buyer comes in paid with a credit card.
This budget promises to continue the consultations promised in last year’s budget, which build on a 2019 Liberal campaign pledge.
“I would love to be able to accomplish anything that you think you would like to see the federal government do, but I know I don’t and never will,” Freeland told CFIB members.
“What I want to tell you is that when I’m putting together the budget, I’m always paying attention when I’m pushing policies, I’m paying attention and thinking about what they’re going to mean for small businesses.”
One positive aspect Kelly saw in the budget was a promise to raise the small business limit to benefit from a lower tax rate, which he said should remove barriers for small businesses to grow.
– Jordan Press, the Canadian press