On March 4, Conservative Kenora riding MP Eric Melillo held a virtual meeting to talk about the Federal COVID-19 supports for businesses.
This session is part of the Northwest Business Centre’s Business Conversation series, an online conversation with business owners and entrepreneurs from across the Kenora and Rainy River District.
Along with discussing some of the federal government programs that exist for businesses, Melillo also canvased opinions about what the economic recovery should look like as the federal government is creating it’s 2021 budget.
“There’s been a lot of conversations with minsters and parliamentary secretaries to make sure that the government’s going to bring forward a budget that is going to help us, especially in northwestern Ontario recover from the hit that we’ve experienced with COVID-19,” Melillo said.
Melillo said the budget is not due at any specific time but that it is usually out in the spring, but given the situation of the pandemic, it could be longer.
Some of the federal programs Melillo covered were Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA), Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS), Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program and Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) to name a few.
There have been recent advancements for CEBA. Up until very recently, businesses had to have a business account prior to March 1 of 2020 in order to qualify for the program. However, businesses can essentially set up your business account today and qualify for it. Melillo said this was previously one of the challenges that small businesses or sole enterprises faced.
Melillo went on to say that he is interested in the Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program for the region because many small businesses in the region such as tourism, and seasonal industries, adding that they qualify to receive funding based on a 50 per cent or more drop in revenue as a result of COVID-19.
There were concerns from those attending about whether there are any grant programs for tourism. Melillo said he has had a number of discussions, and brought it up to the associate finance minister during their last call.
“In northwestern Ontario, domestic tourism just really doesn’t cut it for us,” Melillo said. “I stressed the importance of a more specific designated program and conversations are happening. Unfortunately we don’t have any real concrete steps at this point.”
Melillo also mentioned that the RRRF is targeted towards northern Ontario which is good news to have specific support geared towards the region, adding that the only complaint he has heard was that there was not enough because demand from businesses is high.
“I suspect that when we have this budget at the end of the month or early April, that they’ll have more of a wholesome picture for the year and what these programs will look like,” Melillo said. “I think part of the problem with some of the COVID programming is just that it was an unprecedented situation and it was a patchwork as time went one to try and put things in place.”
Along with tourism, there were many concerns for small businesses and whether a plan could be made to ensure that small businesses can stay open if the province were to go into lockdown again.
Melillo said that if it were to happen again, he is quite confident that some new measures will be taken to ensure that big box stores are able to benefit while small businesses are being hit.
The reopening of the border is still uncertain, Melillo said, adding that it is even more complicated with different vaccination rates in different countries, particularly with the U.S.
“It’s something I’m hoping that we can get some more of a projection on,” Melillo said. “I know the government probably can’t say definitively that it’ll be closed all summer or the stage it’ll be able to open but what we’ve been hoping to get is some of the information - some of the data that they’re using - to make the projections for the summer.”
Melillo adds that they are hoping to have that data so that they can understand when it might be safe to reopen the border or reopen some of the businesses to get back to normal.
Those who have more questions related to federal funding or concerns about the budget can contact Melillo at email@example.com or the Thunder Bay-Rainy River MP Marcus Powlowski at firstname.lastname@example.org
Natali Trivuncic, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times