Manitoba needs to help businesses more: CFIB

Manitoba is among four provinces that aren’t keeping up with the economic damage being caused by the growing third wave of COVID-19, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said Thursday.

With a rising number of regions currently under stringent public-health restrictions across the country, many provincial governments have extended or expanded their emergency relief programs for struggling storefronts and companies.

However, Manitoba — along with Ontario, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador — is not one of them, while businesses in other provinces have access to a widely available grant program with no strings attached.

“I have to give props to Manitoba for the Bridge Grant, which was a well-designed and relatively successful program,” said Jonathan Alward, Prairies director for CFIB, about the $5,000-a-pop grant that has yet to be extended.

“But we’re looking at very tight capacity limits right now and businesses are under tremendous pressure and debt... I think it’s time the government seriously look at expanding grants right now, or we can expect a lot more closures coming up.”

To measure the reach of provincial programs, CFIB conducted four case studies of how a dine-in restaurant, a small retailer, a dry cleaner and a new gym would fare in each province.

In most cases, grants helped cover less than one-tenth of new debt. In Manitoba, no such grant existed to cover any debt at all.

Economic Development and Jobs Minister Ralph Eichler hinted at further assistance for businesses earlier this week, but was hesitant to answer questions about that directly.

“If we need to do another program, we certainly will,” Eichler told the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce at a virtual event this week. “It may not be the same program we have before.”

The Tories have designated $300 million under the 2021-22 provincial budget for extended support like the Bridge Grant. A provincial spokeswoman, however, would not say when or if those funds will be used.

Instead, the Manitoba government spokeswoman touted the province for having the “most generous” programs in the country, and said they are in constant talks with the business community about “creating an environment for a sustained reopening of our economy.”

CFIB says talks are one thing, implementing urgent suggestions is another. The business advocates are calling for all provinces to ensure urgent aid packages with accessible applications are immediately available, so that funds can be released to those that need them as quickly as possible.

“At the end of the day,” Alward said, “you can’t tell people to operate in a certain way or not operate at all, and then expect not to support those that are impacted.
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