Local businesses face challenges accessing province’s tourism dollars

·5 min read

Restrictive conditions on B.C. government recovery funding is leaving some local Sun Peaks businesses out in the cold when it comes to accessing grant funding, said some local businesses and local MLA Peter Milobar.

As part of its economic recovery plan, on Dec. 22 the province announced it would allocate a total of $105 million to a dedicated fund for B.C.’s tourism sector, doubling the $50 million that had previously been set aside.

Of this $100 million is being delivered through the existing Small and Medium Size Business Recovery grant. An additional $5 million will go directly to Indigenous Tourism BC to administer to Indigenous tourism businesses.

The Small and Medium-sized Business Recovery grants range between $10,000 to $30,000, with an additional top-up of $5,000 to $15,000 available to tourism-related businesses.

While there is likely to be relief for some struggling business owners, local businesses owners here in Sun Peaks appear to have had a challenging time accessing grant money administered via the province’s Small and Medium-Sized Business Recovery Grant Program.

Reiner Brecht of Bear Country Property Management said the company is unable to access the funding, despite having a need for it. He said with 100 employees, it was deemed too large to qualify.

Brecht added the company is only seeing a fraction of its usual business given the current travel restrictions in place across the province and internationally

He said the business wouldn’t have been able to keep operating without private financial backing it received.

Bear Country was able to easily access the federal government’s wage subsidy program, which pays up to 75 per cent of an employee’s wage. Like others Sun Peaks Independent News (SPIN) spoke to, Brecht said this funding was vital for the viability of the business during this difficult period.

Over at Sun Peaks Stables, co-owner Robert Taylor said that that he and his business partner did not apply to the Small and Medium-Sized Business Recovery Grant Program due to the structure of their business.

Taylor said while he’s disappointed he didn’t qualify, he wasn’t “surprised given the current government and its basic attitudes towards small business.”

“These programs are designed by politicians that have no clue what it’s like to run a business,” he said.

However, Taylor credited the government’s Canada Emergency Business Account Loan (CEBA), with helping his business to continue to operate during this difficult period.

Sun Peaks Stables was effectively shuttered in March of 2020, and was only able to open last summer with significant restrictions that cut down on revenue. The company also lauched a GoFundMe campaign in the summer to support the business and adapt to COVID-19 restrictions.

Rob O’Toole, owner of Vertical Café, said while his business has been able to access federal programs such as the wage subsidy and CEBA program, he didn’t qualify for an earlier iteration of the Small and Medium-Sized Business Recovery Grant Program because of a restriction that deemed businesses must have been in operation for at least three years.

O’Toole said this restriction has since been changed, and they have re-applied for the funding.

He added he’s hopeful the cafe will be successful in its application and didn’t fault the government’s handling of the program, saying that they’ve made necessary changes after receiving feedback.

“I would say if anything, that all levels of government…have done a pretty good job of adjusting on the fly and doing what’s necessary,” said O’Toole.

However, the province’s tourism assistance strategy has received forceful criticism from local MLA Peter Milobar, who represents the Kamloops-North Thompson riding.

Milobar said small businesses in the region have received precious little support from the province.

He said the programs set up by the province have been full of red tape and left far too many struggling business owners unable to access funding.

“They’re difficult to try to access, and the vast majority of people who apply end up getting rejected,” he said. “We’ve been doing this now for almost a year, and it seems that the government still hasn’t figured out how to properly support businesses in the way they need.”

Last week, it was revealed that only $10 million of the $300 million that has been set aside for the Small and Medium-sized Business Recovery Grant has been distributed so far, and that the program had fewer than 1,000 applicants. In December, the province overhauled the process in a bid to make it more accessible.

Milobar also criticized the province for convening the tourism task force in the first place, noting that a coalition representing the tourism organization originally called for a $680 million aid package for the sector back in September.

The Small and Medium-sized Business Recovery Grant grants range between $10,000 to $30,000, with an additional top-up of $5,000 to $15,000 available to tourism-related businesses.

“I think the tourism industry came [to the province] months ago, and brought a proposal that was rejected by the province,” he said. “Instead, they got a task force, which was essentially made up of the same people.

“Government’s been slow to implement all the recommendations from that latest report, and, in the meantime, we have tourism businesses that are struggling to see their way forward.”

Sun Peaks Independent News’ interview requests to the Tourism Minister Melanie Mark were declined by her communications team.

Joel Barde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sun Peaks Independent News Inc.