By Justin Seward
The Medicine Hat and District Chamber of Commerce have been watching how regional businesses have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and have been actively planning recovery strategies for their members.
“Over 96 per cent of businesses in our region are small businesses and through our provincial survey, there are 33 per cent that are working on reduced hours, with 16 per cent unemployed already or temporarily laid off,” said Lisa Kowalchuk, Chamber executive director.
“There have been over 50 per cent of business surveyed who had to lay off employees and about the same number have used up most of their cash reserves- many are having to turn to their line of credit and are concerned about a longer term impact and what will happen if the shutdown last more than two months.”
The chamber is seeing business revenues decrease by 25 per cent or more for 70 per cent of the businesses, while 35 per cent of businesses are seeing declines of between 75 to 100 per cent. It is expected that 74 per cent of businesses are expecting a steady decrease in sales volumes.
“However, having said that there is also 87 per cent that are somewhat likely or very likely to continue operating after the outbreak is over,” said Kowalchuk.
“Many businesses are looking to access programs, if they haven’t already. There is concern about being able to pay for deferrals in one lump sum payment and from respondents, the top priorities were for government to provide forgivable or interest free loans in addition to making operating grants available and reducing taxes.
“Many businesses are expecting the economic rebound to be slow due to the damage to customers’ ability to pay, coupled without oil & gas economy and global economic activity,” she said.
The Chamber network has been actively working and advocating with all levels of government since the pandemic started and here are some decisions that have been made so far:
– Deferring tax deadlines, audits and payments (both for individuals and businesses) to both assist with short-term liquidity and allow them to focus on dealing with the pandemic.
– Provide direct support to employers to cover a significant percentage of wages paid to workers who would otherwise lose their jobs.
– Offering flexibility on remittance payments
– Building upon previous announced measures to help affected businesses of all sizes access credit and capital swiftly.
– Accelerating government payments owed to private sector and non-profit vendors.
– Ensuring TFWs (temporary foreign workers) are in place for the agricultural season and allowing an exemption for TFWs that need to enter the country, as well as providing means for TFWs already in country the ability to extend. The government has announced that TFW’s will be able to remain and those who have been approved can still come, but will need to self-isolate for 14 days
– Providing provisional extensions for temporary foreign workers already in Canada
– Reducing tariffs on essential goods and medical supplies needed to deal with the pandemic
– Rental and lease supports for business. The government encourages commercial landlords to pass on these savings to their tenants through reduced or deferred payments to help employers continue to manage their debts, pay their employees and stay in business. There is no mandated response from the province at this time, however the federal government announced a Canada Emergency Rent program on April 16
– Defined who would qualify for child care through critical employees
– Recognized agriculture as an essential service during pandemics
– Provided additional income support options versus just deferrals and loan options
– Provided clarification on EI supports and additional economic supports for business
– Lay-off rules have been extended beyond 60 days, as many would have had to pay severance if the pandemic went longer than that. The province provided 120 days.
– Government defined what businesses are essential and rules for essential businesses to operate
– Provision for corporations to quality for the wage subsidies offered by the feds. Concern was previously restricting partnerships to qualify.
– Expansion of CEBA (Canadian Emergency Benefits Account) to allow a broader payroll window, from $50,000-$1 million, expanded to $20,000-$1.5 million
– Identifying and supporting front line workers for essential goods and services.
– Work options/opportunities and supports for students The chamber is still advocating for helping businesses, small and medium enterprise (SME) is the focus.
Postponing government consultations that are non-related to COVID-19 efforts and with a no hold on carbon levy increase, the chamber has suggested they look at the levy to benefit businesses to bring the cost to net zero.
Looking at funding for business to retrofit their operations, providing for reasonable and realistic payback request for those businesses that use referrals and looking into dividends for T5 income for eligible payroll on incomes and considering the payment to contractors as potential eligible payroll criteria/expense will continually be discussed
“We are in constant contact with government and making sure that we filter issues that come to us from the business community are brought to the attention of government,” said Kowalchuk.
The Chamber is reaching out to the business community with the contact information that is available to them to see how they are doing and what supports they need that have been announced, she added.
The Chamber of Commerce network has partnered with the federal government and set up the Canadian Business Resilience Network. A part of the network is a “Roadmap to Recovery.”