Conversations With The Bull: Minister of Small Business, The Honourable Mary Ng
During these unprecedented times, Bay Street Bull has been committed to connecting business owners and entrepreneurs to the access to resources and content they need now. Many business owners have been left overwhelmed and confused by the relief funds and loans being provided by the Canadian Government. Last week in efforts to continue this commitment, Bay Street Bull Editor-in-Chief, Lance Chung, hosted an Instagram live with the Minister of Small Business, The Honourable Mary Ng.
Here is a recap of what Honourable Mary Ng says business owners need to know now about government aid.
Lance Chung: You have stated in the past that “small businesses are at the heart of our communities and are the backbone of our economy.” Understandably, many employers and employees are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and confused by the current economic landscape. So, our first question is one that was submitted on Facebook by Kaitlin Doherty, who is the co-founder of The Local Collective, a Toronto-based advertising agency.
“While the loans are a great way to get money into the pockets of small businesses quickly, companies aren’t going to be in a position to come back from borrowing money. On top of that, the personal liability that is required for small business owners to take on is crippling. Not only are small businesses now at a huge vulnerability of bankruptcy, but the personal liability on them will see an increase in personal bankruptcy. What steps is the government taking to put something in place to provide relief from… the relief?”
Minister Mary Ng: Well that’s a very good question and right now is a difficult time. There’s no question about that. And, uh, and we’re seeing it and hearing it directly from so many courses, like the company were talking about right now. The 40 thousand dollar interest free loan, $10,000 of that is forgivable– if you’re able to pay it back by December of 2022, so two and a half years from now. A lot of what I’ve heard from businesses, leading up to this once we got the measures in place for them is heard, “Help us keep our employees”, “Help us with the operating funds that we’re going to need to weather through this very difficult period”, and “Help us keep our costs low”
Our measures have done that in response to what businesses have asked for. But is the job done? No. We need to keep working with businesses, and we will keep working with businesses and entrepreneurs. Particularly female entrepreneurs [to] make sure that you’re supported through this very difficult period so that we can weather this period. Our first job right now is to plank that curve. And it’s extraordinary what Canadians are doing by self distancing, by staying at home and businesses are absolutely impacted by that. So, the various measures that are there are really intended to help us weather through this very difficult period.
LC: We have another question that was anonymously submitted,
“As a business owner, how can a wage subsidy help employers when businesses are forced to shut down and not operate as normal? What can I do if I have already had to close my doors?”
MMN: So that’s exactly what the wage subsidy is there to do. I know that businesses in every single community across the country have had to either make the very difficult choice of laying people off or they have to make a decision to do that [close their doors]. The purpose of the wage subsidy is to keep our businesses and to keep jobs. How do we do that? We know that one of the most important features of any business is your talent, it’s your people. And whether you’re that restaurant or you’re the physical therapist, you can’t see people right now or you’re closed. So the federal government covering 75 percent of those wages is going to be helpful. How do you qualify? Well, you have to see a decrease in your revenue. The reason you’re laying people off or you’re having to make that decision is because the revenue wasn’t coming in. So we need to see that you’ve had a 30 percent decrease in revenue.
For the month of March, we know that things didn’t really get going until mid way through the month, so it’s a 15 percent decrease. If you see a decrease in your revenue, 15 percent for the month of March but 30 percent in April and 30 percent in May you will qualify. For some new companies, that are new this year, they can’t measure against last year. So it’s a decrease over January and February. So we made this a little bit more flexible, but we also know that despite how challenging and how hard it is right now during COVID-19, some businesses who aren’t seeing revenue decrease. This waste subsidy is there for reasons exactly like the example you gave. Someone who’s had to close their business. The federal government will pay 75% of those wages up to $58,700 per employee. It doesn’t matter what the size of the employer or what size company you are, small, medium or large. It doesn’t matter how many employees you have. Wage subsidy means that you can keep your team together so that you’re prime for recovery.
We know one of the single most important factors for a company when they are heading into recovery is having their team together, their business together. And that’s what wage subsidy is about. It’s about saving jobs and saving businesses.
LC: One of the concerns that businesses are also thinking about is a very uncertain future. We received a question submission from Ryan Chung, owner of The Quest Gallery in Banff, Alberta, about the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy Program, which is available for March 15th, the June 6th.
“For the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program available from March 15 to June 6, why is this not being offered beyond that? We understand that you’re trying to keep the economy running and to reduce layoffs within the country, however all non-essential businesses have had to close even before provincial mandates were put into place for social distancing. As a small business owner, wages cover a big percentage of a company’s expenses. This needs to be available when we are allowed to reopen to the public as well.”
Has there been any acknowledgement or planning around what to do once businesses or back up and running?
MMN: We are continuing to do work on this and as I said, the work isn’t done yet. The most important thing for us right now is making sure that we have put measures in place so that people can help plank the curve, can do social distancing and they can stay at home.
But one of the early measures we put on, which of course is now already available, is the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. That’s $2,000 a month for the self employed contractor or entrepreneur that would’ve seen their income completely disappear because of COVID-19, or they’re at home looking after children or they’re self isolating and not able to do their work. We’ve spent all of our time making sure that we are putting measures out to help Canadians right now and we are going to continue to listen to Canadians, continue to listen to businesses. The measures that we have put out are a result of us listening to businesses and businesses talking to us about what they need to weather through this period. And we’re going to have to take a listen and direction from the folks in public health to guide us around what we should do as a country in that regard. But we will keep working with Canadians and Canadian businesses on that.
LC: Right now there’s a lot of freelance workers and a lot of self employed individuals who are also trying to navigate this. We have a question submitted by Elaine Fancy, a Toronto-based photographer.
“As a freelancer, working on a per contract basis and not being incorporated, what other resources can I access to cover my costs monthly? In order to qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, I’m not allowed to work. Why can’t we supplement our income as allowed on EI?”
MMN: That’s a very good question. This is an example of how we are listening to Canadians. For people like Elaine and others, we know that the benefit there is helping many but there are others that we probably need to help more, so we are looking at that. What we really don’t want are people falling in between. The primary objective is really making sure that people are able to stay at home and that they are able to put food on the table to make sure that they have a roof over their head at this very challenging time. And for businesses to stay in business, to keep their employees employed and employees to know that they still have a place that they can work during this and after this and into recovery.
We are intently listening to people and we’ll make the adjustments along the way, but we are listening.
LC: One industry and community in particular that has been hit especially hard during COVID-19 is the hospitality industry. And that’s across restaurants, bars, hotels, tourism and more. We have a question that was submitted from John Sinopoli, owner of Ascari Hospitality Group and founder of Save Hospitality CA, which is a coalition of restaurateurs and suppliers amidst the COVID-19 response. His question is,
“What industry-specific plans do you have to aid the hospitality sector now that you know the current government initiatives are wholly insufficient? How are you pressuring your provincial counterparts to ensure commercial tenants are not evicted or unduly penalized for not being able to make rent payments during this crisis?”.
MMN: Well, that’s a very good question and I agree with you in terms of restaurants being a place where you break bread. It’s where I grew up. My own family had a small restaurant and that’s where I learned the value of hard work. So I certainly appreciate it. We are listening and looking at what measures we need to put in place for those sectors, like tourism and hospitality that have been severely impacted as a result of COVID-19. My team actually has been meeting with the professionals in the hospitality sector up to a couple of days ago out in BC. So we are working quite intently on this. I want to assure people who have businesses in the hospitality sector that we are working on this we’ll just have to keep doing that and see what we can do to provide the kind of assistance that will be helpful.
LC: I think a lot of the frustration from what we’ve seen in the questions that have been submitted and the conversation that we’re having with our audiences is around deferral of payments versus relief. And I think there is a concern for the business community that once we’re out of this, that they’re going to be in a bigger hole of debt when they aren’t able to take on more debt. We have a question from Nicki Laborie, owner of Bar Reyna in Toronto,
“Why are small businesses being told to take out loans in order to pay their rent, while banks, insurance companies, and landlords are expected to be repaid in full? While I will be applying for the $40k loan in order not to lose my business given none of my landlords have offered to reduce rent, I don’t think it’s fair to impede this on small businesses who operate with slim profits. Why should we be the only ones to pay for the pandemic?”
MMN: You’re right, the loans are $40,000 interest free for the small businesses. But there are loans that go all the way to $6.25 million dollars as part of this. And businesses who need to deal with the operating funds during this period. So for businesses of all sizes, everyone is being impacted by COVID-19– small businesses, businesses in virtually every sector are being impacted. I hear how it’s tough it is and how challenging it is for those very businesses. I want to assure you that the measures we have put out for businesses of all sizes. Like I said, the wage subsidy, it doesn’t matter how many employees you have the threshold there is revenue loss. For small loans, to be able to do what we’ve done it’s a fee as a federal government to unleash billions of dollars of liquidity and lending that is available out to all of our businesses. Not only our businesses that are small but businesses of large sizes as well. In fact, for the small business, it’s interest free with $10,000 of that $40,000 forgivable. The other loans in the other amounts are at commercial rates but they are there and they’re there for our Canadian businesses.
LC: Now I know that you are also very active in your work with female entrepreneurs, spearheading initiatives like the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy. I have a question submitted by the Equality Fund team. Their question is,
“We know that Minister Ng is very committed to supporting women-owned businesses. COVID-19 has highlighted the tremendous resource inequality gap that women face, in terms of care responsibilities and disproportionate representation among small and service-based businesses. What support and policy changes can she drive together with other departments to tangibly get more resources in the hands of women (such as nationwide $10/day child care, improved tax collection from large corporations, and tax relief for small businesses.)”
MMN: I am absolutely committed to assisting female entrepreneurs and certainly before COVID-19 and certainly after COVID-19. The contribution of women led businesses and female entrepreneurs in this country will add to the economy. We are certain of that. I am talking to many, and have participated in many sessions like this one, that have a large number of female entrepreneurs about really what we can do more of to help female entrepreneurs. My commitment is unwavering and I want to assure those who are women led businesses, female entrepreneurs that I’m going to keep working with you.
LC: With the roll out of the services and the resources that are being made available for entrepreneurs and businesses, what do you think have been some of the misconceptions or areas of confusion that you’re hearing from the community about the current relief plans that are put in place?
MMN: I think that we’ve put a lot of measures out, so I understand what a challenge it is to navigate through the various supports and figure out which support is the right one for me. As a government, what we tried to do was make sure that we are helpful to people. There’s a lot out there, there’s a variety and that’s because there isn’t a one size fits all. Whether you are the contractor or whether you are the business owner, small, medium or large. So I would encourage people to take a look at the many measures that we’ve put.
We’ve actually tried to make it easy by putting everything www.Canada.ca/covid19. What I’m also doing is starting this Monday, a series called “Ask Me Anything”. So I encourage everyone who’s on here to ask me anything on my Instagram on Monday and I will answer one or more of the most frequently asked questions. I’m going to do that every week until we are over COVID-19. My commitment is to help businesses through this very challenging period.
LC: I know that we are running out of time here, but I have one more question that was anonymously submitted,
“As an immigrant yourself, you understand that the business community is powered by immigrants, many who may not speak English or French fluently, or even have access to basic technological resources. Providing resources is one thing, but accessibility to these resources is another issue that needs to be addressed. As contributors to the business community, how can immigrants better access these critical resources that have been made available if they are social distancing, don’t understand our official languages, or have technology readily available?”
MMN: That’s a very good question and it’s something that we are endeavouring to make sure that we get information out in more than the two official languages. Just in recognizing the great diversity of our communities across the country.
With respect to our loans, for example, the $40,000 interest free loan, it is being done through financial institutions, so banks and credit unions. If you walk into any of the financial institutions you should be able to get financial services in languages other than english. We’re going to make sure information is coming out in more than English and French so that we can make sure that information is available broadly to all Canadians.
We also partnered with the Canadian Chamber they have this initiative called Canada Resilience that operates both in large and small communities. So we’re also enabling those businesses to be able to get in touch with their chambers. And some of the chambers also are able to help them, in their language, in those particular areas as well.