Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, members of the Standing Committee on Finance.
It's a pleasure to be here again.
Festivals and Major Events Canada, or FAME, and the Major International Events Network, or RÉMI, represent more than 500 festivals and events in Canada that are direct and affiliate members in the tourism and cultural industry sector. This sector alone contributes more than $1 billion to the country's GDP, year after year.
In September, FAME was at the Chateau Laurier alongside the Tourism Industry Association of Canada, the Hotel Association of Canada and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada to launch the Coalition of Hardest Hit Businesses.
On the coalition's website, which I invite you to check out at hardesthit.ca, there are now more than 100 business and association logos of all kinds, primarily from the two sectors where FAME acts as a bridge, tourism and culture.
In the fall, following the press conference, we were heard by the Canadian government. We were pleased to see our reality recognized in the Speech from the Throne and the fall economic statement. The Canada emergency wage subsidy, or CEWS, rate was subsequently increased.
For all of this, we are very grateful to the government.
On the other hand, faced with the prospect of a possible end to the wage subsidy in June, the coalition had to formally appeal to the government three weeks ago at a press conference.
We asked the Minister of Finance to use the budget to extend and improve the CEWS and the Canada emergency rent subsidy beyond the June 5 deadline, to the end of 2021.
We understand that these programs are costly to taxpayers, but we caution elected officials who would want to end them too soon or opt for declining assistance.
If choices must be made, we believe that instead we should continue to support fewer businesses by making only those that continue to be most affected eligible for programs, in the tourism and cultural sectors, for example, where revenue losses can be as high as 100%.
If the CEWS is to end in June, it should only be to make way for the wage subsidy for the hardest hit businesses.
At a festival, although it varies from province to territory, self-generated revenue accounts for 85% of budgets, and government revenue accounts for about 15%. Right now, that 15% is often the only revenue our organizations have, both to organize activities for communities between now and the end of this pandemic, and to pay fixed costs and salaries. Without the CEWS, we are not there. Organizations will close down or have to let go of key staff who will be out of work. Then we will be no further ahead.
While they are still hopeful of hosting festivals and events this summer, organizations will not return to their often high-traffic business models until 2022, after the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the expected effect of vaccines, even if it is done in compliance with health regulations that will hopefully be eased. That means that festivals and events have only crossed half the desert at this point.
We are told every day that the pandemic is not over. Canadians are being told not to give up until we get to the finish line and our businesses are still being asked to make huge sacrifices. We are saying to the government: “Fine, but don't give up on us until we get to the end of this, either.” It's a pact or a deal that has to go both ways.
If governments maintain restrictions, they must also maintain support for the businesses that suffer the most, like ours.
It would be a shame to lose festivals and cultural and tourism institutions in general because we will not have been willing to pay six more months of wage subsidies, when we will have done so for over a year. We will need it more than ever after the pandemic to boost the economy and tourism and to provide social healing. We'll also need it to finally get together and party like we did before the pandemic.
We will, of course, be listening carefully to the budget announcement next week, hoping that your recommendation, recommendation 55 in your pre-budget consultation report, will be taken up in full, particularly because it incorporates our idea of a festivals and events recovery program. We will also be mindful of this because your report recommended that the government support the cultural, tourism and hospitality sectors by “providing additional financial support to these sectors until the COVID-19-related restrictions can be safely lifted.”
We won't go so far as to say that the budget announcement will be the moment when we can gather 90,000 people on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City or at the Calgary Stampede. You will agree with me that this moment could happen in July 2022, but certainly not on June 5, 2021.
Thank you for your attention.