Good afternoon, and thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
As was said, my name is Michael Wood. I am a partner at Ottawa Special Events.
I want to thank the Standing Committee on Finance for the opportunity to hear my concerns and recommendations on behalf of small businesses across Canada. I would also like to thank Pierre Poilievre for putting my name forward to the committee and allowing me to address you today, and Sean Fraser for hosting a round table with Ottawa's small businesses about a month ago. Thank you, sir.
Furthermore, I thank the Government of Canada for the programs that have been developed so far to support small business. Unfortunately, there are gaps that have not been addressed.
Ottawa Special Events is a small business that rents equipment to festivals, conferences, individuals, all levels of government, and essentially anywhere there is a public gathering. Like many small businesses, mine has been devastated by the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. We became a zero-revenue business overnight. Our expenses continue to mount. We have tried to mitigate our cost exposure. We have laid off 20-plus employees—all of them. We have negotiated with suppliers to try to obtain relief and payment deferrals. Despite this, our exposure, both corporately and personally, is huge and continuing to grow.
Our company is just one example of thousands of companies facing financial ruin as a direct result of COVID-19. There are several crisis situations that will require urgent attention from the Government of Canada and the provinces.
Crisis number one is personal guarantees. Many businesses are facing closure and bankruptcy as a result of the impacts of COVID-19. These closures and bankruptcies are not the fault of small business operators, yet somehow we're expected to bear the brunt. Existing loans taken out prior to the pandemic will be called and personal guarantees will be pursued by the lenders. This will result not only in businesses going bankrupt, but also the owners who made those guarantees.
We need an action plan that will protect small business owners from losing their livelihoods and potentially their personal assets. We need regulations or legislation that will prevent lending institutions from pursuing personal guarantees.
Also, small business needs much more than the $10,000 that's forgivable on the $40,000 loan. We need new grants. We need subsidies. The federal government needs to help us through this crisis. Additional loans are not the answer. I know you have heard this. We just simply cannot take on more debt. It's impossible for those to operate under a one-size-fits-all program. Some businesses can survive for months on $40,000, while others can't cover three weeks.
Here are my questions to you right now. Is there more financial support coming? What time frame did you think the $40,000 intended to cover? Was it for one month, three months, six months? We just want to know.
The second crisis that you're well aware of right now is with the commercial rent program. The commercial rent program is not benefiting many small business owners. Landlords are not obligated to participate in this program. Prime Minister Trudeau has said this. Premier Ford has said this. In fact, if you speak to your constituents, you'll find it is the largest landlords in Canada who are the least likely to want to participate. Tenants who should benefit are not able to apply and are at the mercy of the landlord to do so.
The program has created deep animosity between some landlords and tenants, while their energy should have been put into trying to find a solution. Giving tenants the opportunity to apply directly for the relief is one. Alternatively, landlords with tenants in need of rent support should be obligated to make the application.
Measures to prevent evictions of commercial tenants who cannot pay their rent are also urgently required, although I do understand that this is a provincial jurisdiction.
In addition, the commercial rent relief program covers us until the end of June. The application process just opened and no money has started to flow. It's clear that this program needs to be extended for several more months until the restrictions imposed on businesses are completely lifted.
Crisis number three is this: What happens after we've applied for the fourth time for the CERB and our businesses are still shut down due to government regulations? We aren't allowed to contribute to employment insurance. How are we expected to cover our basic costs and look after our families?
My question is this: Does the government have a plan to extend CERB payments?
Lastly, the fourth crisis is big box dominance. As you know, small business has been the backbone of the Canadian economy for years. How is it possible that stores such as Walmart were allowed to remain completely open, selling the same products that small businesses that were forced to close had on their shelves? Outside of groceries and pharmacies, why were the other sections not roped off? This created a totally uneven playing field.
While some businesses with a storefront are now able to offer limited access, this divide is unacceptable and must not be repeated in the future.
I will close with this. While I understand that at some point all storms run out of rain, the question is this: Until it does, how are we expected to survive this flood?
Thank you very much for your time today.