Nicholas Boyack / StuffThe Western Hills of Lower Hutt are littered with little slides like…
Brian Vallis is the owner of Piatto Pizzeria + Enoteca, a St. John’s-based pizza chain with branches in Atlantic Canada and southern Ontario.
It is hard to overstate the widespread and debilitating suffering that Canadians have endured over the past year. Families have lost loved ones. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. Small business owners have lost their businesses and their savings. And it’s not over.
As many parts of the country struggle against a third wave, restrictions have become more severe, financial losses greater and signs of recovery are rare.
Our elected leaders did what they believed best for our safety and well-being, providing much-needed financial relief to individuals and businesses. This support has been a lifeline for many, but certainly not for all.
A significant group has fallen through the cracks – a group that is essential to the country’s economic recovery and a return to higher employment and vibrancy in our inner cities and neighborhoods.
These are the entrepreneurs who risked their capital and started businesses during the pandemic – many not by choice but by circumstance, as they were well advanced in building a new business when the pandemic struck and had a financial imperative to complete. the project and open their doors.
Canada’s newest entrepreneurs have rented and remodeled previously empty retail space, hired and trained people, and contributed to their neighborhood. In many cases, they enjoyed strong community support and good sales until the second wave of lockdowns hit. Like the vast majority of Canadian businesses, they wanted to help flatten the curve and therefore obeyed all regulations and restrictions to their operations like everyone else.
However, without any “previous year” sales (based on pre-COVID sales starting in April 2019), they were not eligible for government assistance, primarily the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the Canada Emergency Rent Grant. They were between a rock and a hard place. By complying with the lockdown orders, they had no way of surviving.
As companies collectively went through various stages of pandemic restrictions, no one knew what to expect. Most returned to work with reduced capacity. Some have closed permanently. Others borrowed where they could and worked excessive unpaid hours just to stay afloat. Many have pivoted, making new plans and new sources of income to survive. They have continued to contribute to the Canadian economy, creating jobs and providing products and services that Canadians want and need.
However, not being eligible for government assistance means that Canada’s new entrepreneurs have suffered the full brunt of the business disruption without any assistance in the form of wage subsidies or rent. With each new lockdown, more and more permanent closures have occurred and more businesses have moved closer to the brink of collapse.
Before the pandemic, small and medium-sized businesses represented nearly 65% of the national payroll. If this category of employers – the backbone of our economy – is allowed to wither away due to uneven government policies, the recovery will stop and more problems will arise.
Those in the restaurant and hospitality sectors, in particular, are often the first employers for many people in this country. They are essential for workers whose socio-economic status often leaves them without the means to afford an education that could enable them to compete in more competitive labor markets. For many, their education is on-the-job training, where they learn practical skills and ultimately develop rewarding careers. The lack of government support for small businesses is a direct barrier to those most in need of employment opportunities.
If these businesses are not supported and the associated jobs are not available to those who need them, social issues – addiction, untreated mental illness and crime – are a reliable consequence that strain our social and medical systems. .
And when businesses close, the buildings that housed them often remain vacant for long periods of time, which makes our neighborhoods worse. This becomes all the more evident as buildings go unattended for a long time, wear out and sometimes vandalize due to their lack of maintenance. When this happens downtown, the vibrancy that many municipalities have worked on for years is diminished and communities decline at a time when we need growth.
If, as the vaccine rollout begins to take effect, we want our communities to recover from this crisis with as much enthusiasm as possible, and we want to continue to grow and prosper, these inequalities need to be addressed. These new entrepreneurs want to be part of the recovery. They represent the spirit and initiative that this country needs to get back on its feet, but they need support if they are to survive, and they need it now.
If the government is truly committed to rebuilding this country better than before, if it cares about the vitality and security of our towns and cities, and if it wants to do what is best to those of us who struggle the most, he will rectify his lopsided treatment of small businesses and expand their aid programs to include our new entrepreneurs who started their businesses during the pandemic. Supporting them with the SSUC and CERS will surely contribute to Canada’s recovery.
In doing so, it will take an important step towards resuming and returning Canadians to the Canada they know and love.
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