Hard-Hit Canadian Businesses Call for Extensions as COVID-19 Aid Programs Wind Down

Richard Vanderlubbe, owner of Canadian travel agency Tripcentral.ca, has had to cut active staff to about 15% of the total workforce and close all physical locations since the coronavirus pandemic’s start, despite receiving the wage subsidy and business loan. As the Canadian economy gradually reopens, the government is winding down these programs. But Vanderlubbe and other businesses hardest hit by the pandemic are calling for the extension of support until all restrictions are lifted, warning that failure to do so could choke many of them at the eleventh hour.

“The subsidies have been a lifeline,” Vanderlubbe said, particularly as travel agencies’ revenues have evaporated even as staff have had to keep working. “The company has to go more into debt or I have to put personal assets into the business… or lose it,” he added.

While the worst-hit businesses from the pandemic are mostly related to tourism, events and recreation, they made up less than 5% of the economy in 2020. Still, they employed about 1.5 million of Canada’s 18 million-strong workforce.

Their struggles contrast sharply with much of the rest of the economy, which is bouncing back strongly, with employment within 1.8% of pre-pandemic levels and further recovery forecast. “It’s one thing to look at things in macro and say it’s not a big impact, but these are significant to the individual business owners,” Conference Board of Canada’s Director of Economic Forecasting, Ted Mallett, said.

Nearly 60% of the most affected businesses will not survive if the subsidies are not extended through 2021, surveys by the Coalition of Hardest Hit Business (CHHB) showed. “The timing they’ve proposed makes sense for 95% of the economy,” said Hotel Association of Canada (HAC) Chief Executive Susie Grynol. But “it does not make sense to invest in the (hardest-hit) businesses… then drop them right before the finish line, which could result in a collapse of the industry,” she added.

Already, the pandemic-driven emergency wage and rent subsidies have fallen to 60% of eligible expenses this month and are scheduled to decline to 20% by September. And the business loan program stopped accepting new applications on June 30.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland reiterated that the government is prepared to extend the support until the end of November if needed. Business lobby groups are petitioning for the programs to remain for the most affected businesses. “Politicians are anxious, understandably, to turn the page on this, because these programs are super expensive, and move forward to other agenda items,” said CFIB CEO Dan Kelly. “So the momentum… to fix some of the programs seems to have slowed.”

So far, the government has approved C$86 billion for wage subsidies and C$48.4 billion of business loans, official data show. Additional aid of a few billion dollars, introduced more recently for the hardest-hit is not sufficient, the business groups said.

“The number of bankruptcies has started to rise,” said Lori Sterling, senior counsel at law firm Bennett Jones and former federal deputy labor minister. “It’s not huge at this stage but small businesses are predicting there will be a tsunami of bankruptcies,”

Source: Global News

U.S. Border to Remain Closed Until at Least August 21

The U.S. land border will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least Aug. 21, according to a renewal order issued by the American government on July 21. In a notice pre-published in the U.S. Federal Register, the U.S. government says that while vaccination rates have improved, opening the land border to non-essential travel still poses too great a risk. The new order expires one minute before midnight on Aug. 21.

The American order comes only a few days after the Canadian government announced its land border would open to fully vaccinated U.S. citizens on Aug. 9 and to fully vaccinated travellers from other countries on Sept. 7. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the U.S. policy doesn’t affect Canada’s decision to open its border next month.

Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, was sharply critical of the U.S. government’s decision and the lack of co-ordination with Canada’s move to open the land border to fully vaccinated Americans with a PCR test starting Aug. 9. “It flies in the face of both science and the most recent public health data,” said Beatty, who urged the Canadian government to press Washington to change its mind. “It’s hard to see how allowing fully vaccinated Canadians to enter the U.S. poses a public health threat when travel within the U.S. is unrestricted.”

South of the border, Democratic congressman Brian Higgins was infuriated by his own government’s announcement. Higgins said the continued border closure doesn’t make sense given the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines, and is costing the U.S. economy an estimated $1.5 billion a week.

Source: CBC

Masking, Self-Isolation Set to End in Yukon as Vaccination Rate Approaches 80%

As of August 4, the Yukon government will ease major COVID-19 restrictions. No more masks will be required in public spaces, and no one will need to self-isolate when they come into the territory  — regardless of vaccination status.

The territory’s Minister of Community Services Richard Mostyn said that Yukon is now the “safest place on the planet” for those who are vaccinated. “Our high vaccination rate makes the Yukon one of the safest jurisdictions in Canada indeed … it makes Yukon one of the most safe places in the world.”

As of July 19, 79% of eligible adults were fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Mostyn also said the risk of COVID-19 importation in Yukon is now low. “That low risk combined with … our global leading high vaccination rates have prompted new recommendations.”

Bars and restaurants will be able to return to full capacity, and physical distancing measures at stand-up and counter service for bars and restaurants will be lifted.

The chief medical officer of health still recommends that masks continue to be used in specific settings such as physicians’ offices, hospitals, and long term care facilities. Businesses may also ask that masks be worn.

Limits on social gatherings will stay in place, Mostyn said, as that is where spread has been happening. He said the territorial government will look for vaccination rates continuing to increase and case counts to continue to go down. 

If current trends continue, he said Yukon is on track to lift its state of emergency — and all remaining restrictions introduced under the Civil Emergencies Measures Act — in August. “That will mean all the remaining restrictions introduced under the Civil Emergencies Measures Act will be lifted and we can truly begin to move on from this life-changing pandemic,” Mostyn said.

Source: CBC