The federal government has added clear references to Canada’s cultural sector and other industries in new legislation aimed at reviewing and expanding federal wage and rent subsidies for companies hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The new legislation, Bill C-2, implements a statement from Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland last month and includes new details related to the programs.
That October announcement included an immediate termination of the Canada Recovery Benefit, which was the main income support program paid directly to individuals unable to work for reasons related to the pandemic. The announcement also included an extension of wage and rent subsidies to businesses, but through more narrowly targeted programs targeting the hardest-hit sectors of the economy such as tourism and hospitality.
Wednesday’s announcement lists a large number of business categories that will qualify under the more generous tourism and hospitality program, provided they meet the criteria to have a revenue loss of at least 40 percent. Categories include everything from restaurants and nightclubs to fitness facilities and theaters. The program offers a grant rate of up to 75 percent.
The government said last month that extending those programs until May will cost $ 7.4 billion. It reiterated that cost estimate in Wednesday’s announcement.
The October announcement divided wage and rent support into two separate programs: the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program and the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program. The October announcement did not provide a detailed overview of the types of companies that would qualify for the first program.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business and others had raised concerns that some sectors – such as the cultural sector – would have fallen into the second program, which is less generous than the program focused on tourism and hospitality.
Ms. Freeland said the new list of qualified sectors is the result of feedback the government has heard since the announcement of its original plans.
“What has happened since our announcement is that we had a consultation process. We came up with the basic message and we said this is the approach we are taking. And then we talked to a lot of people. We talked to stakeholders, we talked to companies, ”she said.
CFIB President Dan Kelly said his organization is pleased that several sectors were listed as eligible for the Tourism and Hospitality Program. However, the CFIB had also called for lowering the revenue loss threshold.
“This is not the comprehensive change needed to help small businesses cross the COVID-19 finish line,” he said in a statement. “The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is disappointed that the federal government has not changed the minimum income loss requirement of 40 to 50 percent to access small business support programs, which means most small businesses will be barred from receiving access to them. “
CFIB calls for the threshold to be lowered to 10 per cent.
Finance Canada has published a long list of business categories that may qualify for the program, including restaurants, nightclubs, live events, museums and zoos, tours, theme parks, fitness and sports centers, amateur sports clubs, theaters, casinos, and hunting camps.
“Those companies that do not qualify under the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program but still face significant losses may be eligible for the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program,” the government said in a press release.
The government needs the support of at least one other major party in the House of Commons to win votes. Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet said this week that his party is ready to support COVID-19 benefits legislation. He said on Tuesday, ahead of the bill, that his party had secured assurances from Mrs Freeland that the government would provide support to workers in the cultural sector.
Ms. Freeland said Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez is working on a further measure related to the cultural sector, which will be announced soon.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said his party would vote against the bill because the NDP disagrees with the decision to close the main benefit program for individuals.
Conservative financial critic Pierre Poilievre said this week that his party is in favor of continued support for businesses as long as it targets hard-hit areas such as tourism, but he also said it was too early to say whether his party would vote in favor of the bill.
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