Thank you, Madam Chair.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak with this committee about some of our government's supports for Canada's small business owners and entrepreneurs.
Small businesses are at the heart of communities across the country and are truly the backbone of our national economy. They employ 8.3 million hard-working Canadians and account for nearly seven out of 10 private sector jobs in this country, so when this pandemic hit Canada and the rest of the world, we knew it was necessary to do everything possible to help them. Small businesses need our support to get through this very difficult time, and we need them to remain pillars of our towns, our cities and our neighbourhoods.
Over the past several weeks, my team and I have spoken with thousands upon thousands of small business owners and entrepreneurs in every sector and every region of the country. We heard that our response to COVID-19 needed to be flexible and balanced. It needs to be flexible because the situation we face is unprecedented. There is no template to work from. Circumstances and challenges are still evolving at a rapid pace. It needs to be balanced because we need to meet the needs of all small business owners during these challenging times and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to relief.
Small businesses, because of their size, are often more entrepreneurial, more nimble, and very much in touch with their customers and their communities. This is often their key to success, but it also makes them vulnerable during times like these. When Canadians are asked to stay home, they’re not able to eat out at their favourite restaurant, go to an appointment at their therapist's or at the salon, travel, or stay at a hotel or a bed and breakfast.
If you’re an entrepreneur who invested everything in a community theatre, a pub or a bakery, you're feeling the brunt of COVID-19. You've probably had to close your doors, and your sales have probably taken a huge hit or they have disappeared entirely.
When people are asked to stay at home, they’re likely going to delay major purchases, so if you’re a business that sells cars, technology or furniture, you’ve taken a huge hit too. Then there are the service providers that we normally interact with every day: drycleaners, yoga studios, day cares and hair salons. They’re feeling the effects of having to temporarily close their doors.
If you're in the business of moving people or goods, like our taxi drivers or delivery service workers, your revenue has been impacted too. The harsh reality is that the majority of our entrepreneurs and small business owners are facing serious challenges and it happened almost overnight.
For small businesses to get over the challenges of this pandemic, they're likely facing at least three major threats: keeping their employees, keeping their costs low, and of course, covering their operating costs. Our government has taken serious and decisive action to address each of these threats.
I grew up in a small business, and I know that it is often a family affair. Seventy-five per cent of Canadian small businesses have fewer than 10 employees, and they often know each other’s birthdays, kids’ names, and spouses. From my own experience, and through conversations with many small business owners, I know that employers often think of their teams as their extended family.
We also know that in order for a business to remain resilient through difficulty and to recover more quickly after a challenging time, the team must stay together. That’s why one of our most important initiatives is the Canada emergency wage subsidy. Through this wage subsidy, we will keep more Canadians employed by covering 75% of their wages. Our goal is to keep businesses together so that they have the required skills and expertise on hand to help them ramp back up when the economy restarts.
We're also helping over 3.2 million businesses and self-employed Canadians to keep their costs low by allowing them to defer the GST or the HST, and customs duty payments. Also, they can keep more money in their pockets over the next few weeks and months because we've extended the tax filing deadline to June 1, and we've allowed businesses to defer any payments they owe until August 31.
With the Canada emergency business account, we're also helping businesses keep up with their operating costs and their cash flow. This is an interest-free $40,000 loan guaranteed by the Government of Canada, with up to $10,000 forgivable if you pay it back by the end of 2022. These loans are available right now through your bank or credit union, your financial institution. When we heard that many small businesses were not able to access this support because of the requirement to have payroll of at least $50,000, we lowered that threshold to $20,000.
The common thread in all these initiatives is that they're going to help our small businesses retain the people they need and have the operating funds necessary to help them get through this difficult period and to succeed in the long term.
To date, over 382,000 businesses have already been approved for the small business loan, and our government's recent announcement to expand the eligibility criteria for the program will mean that even more businesses will qualify. This cash flow support means your favourite restaurant can keep the lights on while they switch over to delivery service. It means the small furniture store that usually relies on foot traffic to stay afloat can continue paying the costs and the upkeep of their warehouse space. It means a local bed and breakfast can maintain their property while they've had to temporarily close their doors.
For those businesses with larger operational needs, we have made loans of up to $12.5 million available, which will also be available through your local financial institution, your bank or credit union.
We've also heard from businesses that they need help paying their rent and that's exactly what we intend to do. As the Prime Minister announced last week, we will introduce the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program for small businesses. This program will provide loans, including forgivable loans, to commercial property owners who will in turn lower the rent for small business owners. Rent is an issue that falls under the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories, so we're working closely in active discussions with them on this important issue and we will have more details to share soon.
Our government has acted quickly and we've introduced broad measures to help small businesses from coast to coast to coast. We have also introduced targeted measures to help businesses in the northern territories, indigenous and youth-owned businesses, and innovative businesses in the start-up stage that have yet to turn a profit.
These measures will help businesses weather the storm, but we know the introduction of measures is only a first step. We need to help businesses access these supports in order for them to benefit. That's why we have leveraged the Canada innovation portal and the Canada Business app to help steer small businesses to the right supports. It's also why we partnered with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce to create the Canadian Business Resilience Network. This is going to help small business owners have the most up-to-date information on the supports that are available to them.
I'll close by thanking the many small businesses that are providing essential services to so many of our communities across the country through this very difficult and challenging time. My colleagues and I have heard countless stories of entrepreneurs in communities across the country who are going beyond the call of duty. I'm talking about those businesses and entrepreneurs who put up their hands to offer technical skills to find new ways to produce items that are in short supply, or the restaurant owners who are offering free meals to the front-line health care workers, or the innovative businesses that are finding new ways to create medical gear for front-line health care workers. The resilience of our Canadian business owners and our entrepreneurs is second to none, and to all those hard-working business owners, I say thank you.
We're all in this together. I appreciate this committee's support of our efforts during this difficult time. Together we're going to help our small businesses survive this pandemic and pave the way for our economy to recover. We're going to continue to work hard to save those Canadians' jobs and help Canadians save those businesses.
I thank you for the opportunity for me to speak to you today. I would be pleased to answer any questions.