Thank you. That's quite okay.
Good afternoon. My name is AnaBela Taborda. I am branch manager of IC Savings Credit Union and chair of the Little Portugal on Dundas BIA, or business improvement area, in Toronto, in Davenport riding. Thank you for inviting me to take part in this call.
Little Portugal on Dundas BIA represents a collection of approximately 325 small and independent businesses along Dundas Street West in Davenport. We are one of over 80 such organizations in Toronto whose entire focus is on the success and growth of our local economies.
Toronto's BIAs represent a diverse range of organizations with priorities that are defined by local business stakeholders. All funds raised by BIAs are reinvested back into their local communities. Over $1.4 billion have been paid in taxes by BIA members, and together we employ over 551,000 individuals. That’s a massive contribution, and a huge responsibility for individual business owners.
In my role as branch manager of IC Savings, a financial institution in Little Portugal, I witnessed the struggle of many small businesses during this pandemic and how the COVID-19 economic response plan and the initiatives put in place by the federal government provided financial help, without which it would have been virtually impossible for our small and independent businesses to survive. We had very few closures in our BIA, thanks to these programs and the ongoing work of our local MP, Julie Dzerowicz, in tirelessly advocating on our behalf and connecting with our membership to help guide them through the available options. Thank you.
Further, I also want to thank the federal government for increasing Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine supply, which is vital to the recovery of our citizens and small businesses.
We are encouraged by a number of proposed items within budget 2021's support for small business and we look forward to their implementation. We do have some concerns, however, as to the timing, duration and design for some of these initiatives. We are keenly aware that although the future is looking brighter, small business continues to suffer. Indeed, full recovery is still a long way off.
An example would be CEBA. Although it is stated that if a business repays their loans by December 31, 2022, up to a third of the value of their loans—meaning up to $20,000—will be forgiven, we know that even a deadline of December 31, 2022, may still be too soon for our individual business owners to manage.
Another example is the budget 2021 extension of the Canada emergency wage subsidy and the Canada emergency rent subsidy and lockdown support beyond June 2021 to September 25, 2021. We believe this should be extended further, because we must first take our small businesses to a livable state before we even consider setting upon any road to recovery.
Helping small and medium-sized businesses move into the digital age we applaud. The Little Portugal on Dundas BIA has been at the forefront of adoption of Toronto’s Digital Main Street program. We have benefited from having a digital service squad member fluent in Portuguese, since in some cases language was a barrier.
Language challenges aside, however, we cannot force people to adopt a digital program. The design of the Canada digital adoption program must be carefully engineered, understanding that many main street independent businesses are slow and unable to adopt for many legitimate reasons and that some will need support in their native language. The program must be adept at uncovering the barriers up front and addressing them directly before the digital training can take hold and be effective in practice. We know this is the case because of the number of current businesses we have worked with that needed additional hands-on assistance with all government relief programs, subsidies and initiatives, since only online access was available, and for obvious reasons.
But again, we do applaud this initiative.
In regard to new businesses, part of the recovery will be welcoming new businesses into our BIA. We need these new businesses to create new jobs and replace any that may have been lost. We need all levels of government to create ways and means of helping us attract new businesses and helping sustain them in their first years as the country emerges from the pandemic. Proof of revenue loss criteria for government subsidies or relief program applications, for example, must be revisited to be more sensitive to a start-up’s reality.
With regard to accessibility, approximately one in five Canadians, or about 6.2 million people aged 15 and over, report having a disability that limits them in their daily activities. That would include the ability to visit main street businesses.
The Accessible Canada Act was developed following the most inclusive and accessible consultations with the disability community in our country's history. More than 100 accessibility organizations and 6,000 Canadians took part in the consultations. What can be done and how can we prepare, as our population continues to age, to improve the accessibility of Canada’s main street businesses?
In closing, I’d like to say that as the government continues to develop COVID-19 recovery programs, we ask that our local MP representatives continue to actively engage us in the development of those programs. Our BIA boards and staff are highly skilled and adept at identifying potential challenges among our memberships and are only too happy to assist in any way we can.