Mary Ng
Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade - Government of Canada

Backing Canadian Businesses Through COVID-19 and the Recovery

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Takeaways

  1. The Government of Canada is supporting Canadian businesses by offering wage subsidies, interest-free loans and tax deferrals.  
  2. The Government of Canada is adapting its measures as it listens to the needs of Canadian business owners and entrepreneurs.
  3. Inclusive growth, that supports women-led businesses, Indigenous businesses and young entrepreneurs, is key to the recovery from this economic crisis.

Action

Canadians should seek out ways to support our businesses. Many businesses are adapting to online platforms, which allows Canadians to help businesses from coast-to-coast. We must continue to support our businesses, healthcare workers and frontline workers to navigate this challenging time.


The Business and Human Challenges Canada’s SMEs Are Facing in This Crisis  

Covid-19 has been very difficult for our Canadian businesses—in particular, for our small- and medium-sized businesses and small businesses. The challenges I have heard from them is: how do I keep my staff? How do I keep my business going and my costs low? And how do I manage through this very difficult period? We are uncertain how long it might take—so what kind of supports can I count on to manage my business and then get beyond Covid-19 and back on track, participating fully after we have gotten over Covid-19? 

The measures we have put out really are about people first—because they need to be. We are asking Canadians to do some really extraordinary things to plank the curve and to beat Covid-19, and that is having an impact on peoples’ lives. We are all doing things differently, and it is having an impact on Canadian businesses and the Canadian economy. It had to be about people first.  

The measures that we put out were always going to be about people first so that we can help support people. So that people are not thinking: how am I going to put food on the table? How am I going to make sure I have a roof over my head? How am I going to look after my family? How am I going to make sure my business continues to look after the people who I employ who are close-knit—particularly in small businesses. They are almost like an extension of your family, because you spend so much time working together. How do I make sure that as a business owner or a business leader that my team is being looked after? 

The measures that we put out were always going to be about people first so that we can help support people.

That is at the very essence of what we are needing to do to make sure that we recover when the time is right, based on what public health officials and experts are telling us. We need to make sure we are supporting people in all of this.   


The Government’s Response So Far  

The best way to describe it is through what businesses have told me that they need. The way our measures work, is one, let us help you keep your employees. Number two, let us help you with the operating funds that you need to weather through this very difficult period. Number three, let us help you keep your costs low. And number four, for those who are self-employed contractors or entrepreneurs, making sure that they are not left behind. 

On number one—which is the wage subsidy—it is a 75% wage subsidy to businesses, because we know businesses have seen a significant decrease in their revenue. Some businesses, for example, are not seeing a decrease in revenue and have not had to lay people off or make that difficult choice. At the same time, I know businesses. You and I both know that most businesses have absolutely experienced a significant decline in their revenue, and therefore they are making that decision.  

Am I going to be able to pay my employees? That is why there is a wage subsidy. That is why it is 75%. It is to help employers make the decision to not lay someone off, because they know the government will pay 75% up to $15,700. And if you have already laid people off and have had to make that tough choice, you can consider hiring those employees back—and I know employers that are making that decision. Our wage subsidy also covers that, so that is number one. Beyond the practical spreadsheet of keeping the employer and employees together, there is a social element as well. There is a wellness factor for keeping the team together, so that is really important.  

Number two is helping businesses get the necessary funds to operate to weather them through this period. For small businesses, that is access to a $40,000 interest-free loan where 25% or $10,000 is forgivable if you can pay it back within two-and-a-half years, or by December of 2022. It is $40,000 interest-free, available at your financial institution. Go to your bank or to your credit union—that is who we have worked with, and that network is all across the country and in every community. We are making sure businesses have access to that.  

For business that need more than $40,000 of lending support during this period, the loans go all the way up to $6.25 million dollars. Of course, the only interest free one is the $40,000, but there is a range of support there to help businesses manage their operating funds. We know that they have to pay the rent, they have to pay the salaries and the top-ups. They need to pay the regular operating costs and the bills every single month. That is what we have done through unleashing billions of dollars of support and liquidity into the Canadian lending system. 

Number three is keeping costs low. Businesses remit GST, HST and customs duty to the federal government. We said: do not do that for the next three months. It is a deferral for the next three months so they can have that money in their pocket as opposed to sending us a cheque. What does that amount to nationally? It is equivalent to a $30 billion interest-free loan to Canadian businesses—just by deferring the GST, HST and customs duties. We have also asked that they defer payment on filing income tax. All of these measures are there to help our Canadian business.  

The last measure is the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB, by which it is now known. The portal opened on Monday and people are getting access to it. This is $2,000 a month for the independent contractor who otherwise would not qualify, but saw their income completely decrease. And you heard the Prime Minister say that we had to make some adjustments to that, because some people have seen their incomes decrease but they are not completely depleted. And some people need additional help.  

In my view, the work is not done. We just need to keep doing this until we can help everybody weather the storm. 

We are a government that is getting things out, and adjusting along the way, because we are listening to people. We are listening to businesses and we are going to keep doing the work. In my view, the work is not done. We just need to keep doing this until we can help everybody weather the storm. 


Priority Areas as the Crisis Evolves  

We are in unprecedented times, and the future is going to be guided by our experts in health. Job one right now is to plank the curve in Canada and to make sure that Canadians stay healthy and stay safe. That job has to be job number one. 

As far as our businesses go, it is really incredible to see how businesses have stepped up. Look at our incredible manufacturers and other businesses all across the country. These are Canadian businesses that have risen to the challenge because we asked and because they are serving Canadians. This is so incredible. Whether it is retooling their manufacturing shop to be able to make ventilators, protective equipment or masks—these are Canadian enterprises stepping up and doing that. That is really, really incredible.  

 Look at our incredible manufacturers and other businesses all across the country. These are Canadian businesses that have risen to the challenge because we asked and because they are serving Canadians.

During this time, we need to make sure that our high-growth businesses, our small businesses—which are some of the most innovative in the country—are supported through this, because we need them to continue. We need them in our recovery because they are in our communities and are the engines of our economic growth. 

We also need to make sure that our inclusive growth continues to be supported during this very difficult time. I am talking about women entrepreneurs, I am talking about young entrepreneurs, I am talking about new growth entrepreneurs, I am talking about Indigenous businesses. We need to make sure that we have inclusive growth that we have worked hard for—and to make sure these businesses are in the economy, because they want to contribute to our growth during this time. 

We also need to make sure that our inclusive growth continues to be supported during this very difficult time. I am talking about women entrepreneurs, I am talking about young entrepreneurs, I am talking about new growth entrepreneurs, I am talking about Indigenous businesses.

The last thing I would say, is that last week I had a meeting with my G20 trade ministers globally, and we all committed that during this period we need to ensure that the supply chains remain open for critical medical supplies, agriculture and essential goods and services. Those supply chains need to maintain open and that we all—in our G7 countries, but indeed globally—commit to making sure we keep those supply chains open. Remember, Canada is a trading country and we are doing some incredible things that are made in Canada. But we also have to keep our eyes on what the future will be as well, and we need to make sure that in this time we help our businesses through Covid-19 and beyond that through the recovery. 

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Lessons Learned for Government  

If I take anything away from this, it is how important it is for us to continuously always work together with our businesses. The measures that you are seeing today from the Government of Canada, they come directly from the people. They come directly from those businesses who I have the privilege of working with and talking to. We created a partnership with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce so that they are also supporting businesses and members in their national network.  

If I take anything away from this, it is how important it is for us to continuously always work together with our businesses. 

I am going to continue that work of listening to businesses, because the conversations that I am having, they are looking at how they can respond to their customers and how they might need to pivot. The key for us is making sure we are supporting businesses through this tough period—so that our businesses remain intact, so that they can keep their employees, and so that they have the cash flow they need. I am going to keep listening to businesses because businesses and entrepreneurs are solutions-makers. They are the ones who—with their ideas, innovation, ingenuity, and go-get-it attitude—are going to come up with those solutions as well.  

I think for government, we need to keep doing what we are doing, which is listening, working together, collaborating, adapting and changing. The measures we have put out we have had to do very quickly and have had to make sure people understand what we are doing—but we are also working along the way, and we can adapt and make necessary changes as we hear from the people. 


#WFH Top Tips  

I am not different from so many Canadians who have had to adapt the way they are working. As a Cabinet Minister, we have Cabinet meeting that are hosted by the Prime Minister and I do those from home. I have a secure line here, and we do that from home. I also sit on the Covid-19 committee that is chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, and I do that from home as well. I had a G20 meeting with international trade ministers, and I did that through a video conferencing feature. You and I are having this session, which normally we would do with an audience, for example. I do media—live media, radio media, telephone and social media—and we are doing it by using these new tools and adapting.  

My advice would be this: stay informed. The Prime Minister walks out of those steps every day to give Canadians an update—as do our health ministers and the leaders of our provinces and local communities. Staying updated helps us stay abreast of what is going on.  

I would also say—as a business minister—find ways to support your businesses. I know a lot of businesses that are looking at different ways of continuing to do business through online platforms that they have never used before—and that is one thing that I would love all Canadians to do. Everyone is doing it, and you might actually get online and be supporting somebody on the East Coast or the West Coast. Support our Canadian businesses and support our Canadian healthcare workers, frontline workers or essential workers. That goes without saying, and we are all doing that.  

I would also say—as a business minister—find ways to support your businesses.

The very last thing is there is nothing like picking up the phone. If you are someone like me, I have a busy schedule so I am not wondering what I should do day-to-day. My schedule is just as busy, in fact busier, but I pick up the phone or I send an email. Sometimes emails are good—but sometimes, picking up the phone is the best option. Not everyone will have access to Skype or online platforms, so the good old phone works. Just pick it up and give someone a shout, say hello, just checking in on you and seeing how you are doing.  

All of those things give you the balance of adjusting to working while staying connected—even though we are not physically connected. It is a way to stay connected with your fellow Canadians, your family and your friends.