House of Commons Hansard #25 of the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was businesses.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Green

Paul Manly Green Nanaimo—Ladysmith, BC

Mr. Speaker, small and medium-sized enterprises are the engine of the economy in my riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith. The hospitality, tourism and entertainment industries have been hit really hard.

I would like to ask the member about the contradiction in the Conservative position around wanting to audit people for the CERB. There was a well-known news story about a senior who had two disabled children. They all applied for CERB. These people were not eligible, and the Conservatives wanted to see audits of people who were getting the CERB when they did not deserve it. Now they want to remove audits for small businesses, which is something I actually agree with.

Could the member comment on that?

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Tamara Jansen Conservative Cloverdale—Langley City, BC

Mr. Speaker, in a pandemic, people should not be getting a phone call from the CRA saying that they have 10 days to cough up the paperwork. We need to protect small businesses right now. We need to help them stay in business. The last thing they need is a call from the CRA.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Vaughan—Woodbridge Ontario

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue

Mr. Speaker, it is wonderful to be here today and great to see so many of my colleagues virtually while I am in the wonderful riding of Vaughan—Woodbridge. I will be splitting my time this morning with the member for Sherbrooke.

Before I get to the heart of the matter, I wish to say that where I am located is surrounded by small businesses. There is a local bakery shop, a convenience store, a cleaner and a restaurant. We know businesses across Canada, just like the ones here in Vaughan—Woodbridge, need our assistance. We have been providing that assistance, whether through the Canada emergency business account, the new rental program or the existing rental program, which will be finishing up. However, we also knew we needed to work with the provinces when we introduced the first rental program.

I wish to acknowledge that these small businesses did not do anything. Rather, this was an exogenous shock to the economy, as we say in economics. These small businesses were working hard. They were investing in their businesses. They were growing. They were hiring Canadians and creating great middle-class jobs from coast to coast to coast. Unfortunately, with COVID-19, we have seen, not just in Canada but throughout the world, that small businesses need our assistance, and our government has responded.

We have listened to the CFIB, business councils and small business owners. What we see in the legislation, in Bill C-9, is a flexibility that we are providing to businesses so we can continue to reinforce that bridge. We need to get to the other side. We know winter and spring are coming, and we need to ensure businesses have the confidence and certainty that the government has their backs, and that is what we are doing.

I am thankful for this opportunity to speak on today's motion. In my remarks, I would like to focus on the aspects of the motion that relate to the important Canada emergency wage subsidy and provide some insight on what the government has done to ensure this important measure is available to all those vital businesses across Canada that qualify for it. This government recognizes that, although the economy is slowly reopening, many people are still impacted by COVID-19 in devastating ways, and they continue to face very challenging economic circumstances as a result.

The government introduced the Canada emergency wage subsidy, or CEWS, in April to provide financial support to employers of all sizes that had been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Since its launch, more than 1.4 million CEWS applications have been approved.

I need to give a shout-out to the phenomenal team of civil servants and bureaucrats at the Canada Revenue Agency. They have worked tirelessly night and day to deliver programs to millions of Canadians who have been, and continue to be, impacted by COVID-19. Whether it is in respect to the Canada emergency response benefit, the Canada emergency wage subsidy, or even the new rental benefit, the folks at the CRA have just been top notch. We need to applaud them for their efforts in helping all Canadians, whether they are business owners or workers.

Additionally, millions of Canadian employees have had their jobs supported through the CEWS program, and that number continues to grow. The CEWS program, which is administered by the Canada Revenue Agency, has provided more than $45 billion dollars in support for Canadian businesses as of October 25, 2020. The CEWS program is an essential part of the government's COVID-19 economic response plan, which strives to support Canadian businesses by helping them avoid lay-offs and rehire employees.

Throughout the past few months the government has made changes to expand the reach of the CEWS in order to meet the needs of Canadian businesses. The program, originally launched for a 12-week period, has been extended multiple times, and just yesterday the government introduced legislation that would extend the program until June 2021. This would continue to protect jobs by helping employers keep employees on the payroll and rehire their workers.

Keeping the attachment of the employer-employee relationship is so important. We have seen the rebound in the Canadian labour market, and how it is outperforming many of our global peers. We are seeing employees returning to their work, but while we continue to experience the impacts of COVID-19, it is important we maintain the attachment between the employer and employee.

The wage subsidy would remain at the current rate of up to 65% of eligible wages until December 19, 2020. The eligibility requirements for CEWS have also been expanded to include a greater number of employers by including those who experienced a revenue decline of less than 30%.

Additionally, other enhancements to the CEWS program are being proposed to ensure that CEWS continues to not only support employers, but also to respond and really enhance the flexibility of the CEWS program to the evolving Canadian health and economic situation. These adjustments to the program help ensure that CEWS addresses Canadians' needs, while also positioning them for success as we move through the economic recovery.

The government has striven to make the application process simple in order to get the money out the door quickly and into the hands of those who need it. In most cases, eligible employers receive their CEWS monies via direct deposit within 10 days of their application. In fact, eligible employers can apply for the CEWS through the CRA's My Business Account portal, and authorized representatives can apply on behalf of their clients through the CRA's Represent a Client portal. Additionally, both groups can apply through the CEWS web forms.

In order to make the process simpler, the government also developed an online CEWS calculator, which allows employers to estimate the amount of the subsidy they will receive for each claim period. The CRA's approach to CEWS compliance starts with providing early certainty through outreach and engagement with businesses and stakeholder groups, FAQs addressing common questions and auditors helping staff the CEWS inquiries line. This is all done to help businesses get it right from the start.

When more detailed review is needed with a CEWS claim, the CRA's focus remains on doing so as quickly as is practical. In fact, significant focus was placed on tools and information to help taxpayers get it right from the start. From calculators to outreach sessions, to updated questions on the website, helping businesses and their representatives has been our focus.

Along with the support of client focus, the approach to post-payment verifications of wage subsidy claims was designed by officials to reflect the current reality. Significant tax dollars are in scope. More than $45 billion in wage subsidies have been paid, and the program will continue to provide billions more to Canadian businesses and, obviously, their employees.

Within a few short weeks from launch to implementation, and less than five months since inception, it would be normal to see many more mistakes and grey areas than we find with more mature programs. We have to remember that the Government of Canada has rolled out a number of programs to help Canadian business and employees in a few short weeks, which would normally take years to do. We have been there for Canadian businesses and workers and we will continue to do so.

Many businesses are struggling financially and, with the pandemic, the CRA should match the scope of its compliance efforts to the size and scope of the issue. The CRA should apply targeted, minimally intrusive and commensurate interventions that reflect the nature and degree of any issue. Given this, the CRA has designed a multi-step approach to lead off with an initial phase of less than 600 verifications of claimants of all sizes who had some risk indicators.

Strategically, the overall analysis of these internal initial audits will provide the information needed to understand the nature and prevalence of issues, allow the CRA to consult with the Department of Finance on questions of interpretation and inform the options for addressing those issues needing further attention. CRA auditors were directed to be flexible on the timeliness for this work and to focus slowly on the calculations for the wage subsidy.

The government acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for all Canadians and that attempting to navigate the subsidy may be challenging, especially for those with questions about their eligibility or their own application. Up-to-date information on the CEWS and other recovery benefits is available at canada.ca/coronavirus.

If honest Canadians discover that they have made a mistake in their CEWS applications, they can easily make adjustments to their applications through the CRA's My Business Account. However, the government takes fraud very seriously, and the CRA is able to impose penalties against employers who have submitted fraudulent claims. The CEWS program is meant to prevent further job losses, encourage employers to rehire employees they had laid off due to COVID-19 and help Canadian businesses of all sizes, as well as other eligible employers, position themselves to better resume their normal activities after the crisis.

As part of the COVID-19 economic response plan, the government identifies its key areas of focus as support for individuals, support for businesses, support for sectors, support for organizations helping Canadians, and support for provinces and territories. The CEWS certainly provides support for businesses, but by helping keep millions of Canadians in their jobs, it also helps support individual Canadians and helps ensure the economic viability of hard hit sectors.

As the Canadian economy continues to safely reopen, a robust workforce is essential. The CEWS has supported Canadian organizations, both large and small, in such diverse industries as agriculture, manufacturing, food services, health care, social services, arts and entertainment, and hospitality.

I will finish there. I look forward to questions and comments.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Brad Vis Conservative Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Vaughan—Woodbridge for the clarification he provided regarding a conversation he had with the CRA about an application that has been submitted for one of the small business support programs.

I would like him to comment on the remarks made by the member for Guelph earlier today. When he compared public service audits and private sector audits, he said they were not too different. In subsequent debate, he said that small business owners, like him, welcome federal audits and that auditing is a positive process.

Do small business owners in the parliamentary secretary's riding welcome federal CRA audits?

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, there are over 12,000 small businesses in the city of Vaughan, and there are about 4,000 in my riding of Vaughan—Woodbridge. Their owners get up every morning and work hard to serve their clients and produce the wonderful products we enjoy. They have commented about how much they appreciate the help and support that our government has provided to them through the Canada emergency business account, the wage subsidy and the rental program.

We will continue to be there for those businesses, and I look forward to continuing my conversations with all businesses in my riding of Vaughan—Woodbridge and with businesses across the country.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a very specific question for my colleague.

We have talked about various sectors that are in danger. The snow has started to fall and one sector in particular must be helped because, for the next months, in fact for the next season, there will be no day camps for our families and for the vitality of our communities. How can we trust the government when, just a few days ago, the riding of Laurentides—Labelle received the ninth batch of Canada summer jobs grants for our day camps last summer?

What does he have to say to that?

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague mentioned trust and the Canada summer jobs program. I thank her for commenting on this.

As for trust, members can look at the government's track record in assisting Canadian businesses and workers from coast to coast to coast and at the number of programs we have delivered. Our response to the pandemic has been top-notch. We are also working well with all provinces on the safe restart agreement.

As for the Canada summer jobs program, we have expanded it since we came into government in 2015. In my riding of Vaughan—Woodbridge, the amount of local funding has doubled to just under a million dollars now. It is supporting youth and getting them employment. I am happy and proud to be supporting the Canada summer jobs program year in and year out in my riding of Vaughan—Woodbridge.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

November 3rd, 2020 / 12:55 p.m.

NDP

Alexandre Boulerice NDP Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, in Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, as in many places in Quebec, SMEs are central to our economic development and our community life. Besides the SMEs that are currently struggling, we have all those live arts, performing arts, shows, cinemas, theatres and dance groups that currently have absolutely nothing. The federal government has done nothing to help them.

In my colleague's view, how can we help our cultural industry to survive during this pandemic?

Why has his government not done more?

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

Mr. Speaker, that could not be further from the truth. We have been there for the arts sector from day one. We have put in place a number of measures, and I will email the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie about the number of measures we have put in place to help folks in the arts sector.

Canada is blessed to have talented artists and performers in a very vibrant cultural industry. Our Minister of Canadian Heritage and our Minister of Economic Development are ensuring that programs are put in place to support people in that sector. We need a vibrant cultural sector from coast to coast to coast.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Sherbrooke Québec

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec)

Mr. Speaker, as you and I both know, since the spring, we have been facing an unprecedented challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic remains very difficult to deal with, and we do not know what the fall and winter will bring. One thing is certain: Our government will be there for Canadians to provide them with the support they need to get through this difficult time. Since the beginning of this pandemic, our government has supported Canadian businesses hurt by COVID-19 and its economic fallout. We took immediate action to support those businesses, particularly by helping them keep employees on the job, increasing cash flow and providing rent assistance.

As the pandemic continues to evolve, so too does our approach. In September's Speech from the Throne, our government committed to take further steps to help vulnerable businesses pull through. Consistent with that commitment, a few weeks ago, we announced our intention to implement new, targeted support measures to help hard-hit businesses and other organizations experiencing a drop in revenue. We committed to help those businesses safely get through the second wave of the virus and help them cover their costs so that they can continue to serve their communities and be positioned for a strong, dynamic recovery.

A number of programs were announced with the goal of fulfilling that commitment. For example, if passed, the new Canada emergency rent subsidy will provide qualifying organizations affected by COVID-19 with support of up to 65% of eligible expenses for rents and mortgages until December 2020. We also announced our intention to provide additional targeted support for organizations that have to shut down once again because of new restrictions imposed by public health authorities. They may claim a top-up of 25% of eligible expenses in the event of a temporary closing, in addition to the 65%, for a total of up to 90%. This rent subsidy will be available until June 2021.

We have also improved the Canada emergency wage subsidy. Since it was introduced, the subsidy has become a key part of Canada's COVID-19 economic response plan. Through the Canada emergency wage subsidy, we have supported more than 3.8 million jobs and spent more than $45 billion to help businesses keep their workers. The Canada emergency wage subsidy has mainly helped the country's retail businesses, as well as construction, restaurants and hotels. It has helped them to keep their employees on the payroll and encouraged them to rehire their workers.

Let me provide some statistics to illustrate the effects of this measure. In Newfoundland and Labrador, more than $400 million have been spent since March. In Prince Edward Island, more than $140 million has been spent since the subsidy was launched. In Nova Scotia, the figure is $800 million and in New Brunswick, $650 million. In Quebec, the assistance comes to more than $10 billion. Ontario has received $18.5 billion. In Manitoba, the total amount spent is more than $1.4 billion and, in Saskatchewan, it is more than $730 million. In Alberta, $6.8 million have been spent. British Columbia has received more than $5.3 billion. The Yukon has received $500 million, the Northwest Territories have received $32 million, and Nunavut has received around $10 million.

These sums that have been invested through the emergency wage subsidy have protected millions of the country's jobs. The Canada Revenue Agency, which, we must recall, is independent, is conducting checks to ensure conformity and to make sure that the funds are being properly used, meaning to help our workers.

In my riding, Sherbrooke, these programs have had a noticeable impact, as I have gathered from tours, calls and the economic recovery forum I launched. Local businesses have told us that our action plan means they will not have to close their doors and will be able to keep playing an active role in Sherbrooke society.

One of these is American Biltrite, the pride of Sherbrooke, which had to shut down its operations completely in April. With government support, the company innovated and retooled part of its facility to make equipment for hospitals, including face shields. American Biltrite was able to rehire employees and reopen the business. The company says that the Canada emergency wage subsidy must be extended because revenues are still low and that the government must do more to promote local purchasing in its tendering.

This kind of feedback and information from businesses led us to announce that we are extending the Canada emergency wage benefit until June 2021, so that it can keep helping businesses protect jobs by keeping their workers on the payroll and rehiring those who were laid off. We are also freezing the maximum subsidy at 65% until December 2020.

We are adapting and we are here for businesses because they are the backbone of our economy. Canadians also have a role to play to support businesses in Canada. Obviously, we all want every local café, shop and restaurant to stay open, even if the pandemic is eating away at their profit margins.

Therefore, while all of us are doing what we can to slow the spread of the virus, why not encourage our local small businesses by ordering a meal or buying a gift card from our favourite places? Personally, I buy my bread and pastries from Les Vraies Richesses, a local downtown bakery; my fresh pasta from Pizzicato, a restaurant; and my teas from Les Zerbes Folles, a shop on Alexandre Street. These are examples of small actions we can take to help our SMEs overcome the crisis and expand by giving back to the community.

It is important to remember that this pandemic is the most serious public health crisis Canada has ever faced. Canadians of all ages all across the country have been hit hard. COVID-19 has killed over 10,000 Canadians. Millions of Canadians are either unemployed, working fewer hours or making less money as a result. These job losses are perhaps the most obvious consequence of the global economic shock we have all had to face.

However, as the Prime Minister said, we can and will do everything in our power to limit job losses and business closings, and minimize the decline in economic activity. Our government is ready, and we will get through this crisis together. When it comes to an end, we will be better positioned to recover together and continue building a safer and fairer future for all.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay Bloc Saint-Hyacinthe—Bagot, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for her speech.

She spoke about the need for the Canada emergency wage subsidy, which we will obviously not challenge because it is needed, and she described the situation of businesses in difficulty. In many cases, these businesses are struggling and having a hard time, as we can see from the job losses and business closures.

Could she tell me whether the Liberal Party, which will not reimburse the wage subsidy, is a struggling business?

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

From the beginning, the government has put measures in place to help all Canadian businesses and workers because our top priority was and still is the health and safety of Canadians. As a result, the programs are open to anyone who needs them.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, this is the first opportunity I have to weigh in on the debate today. I am pleased with the motion and I thank the Conservatives for raising it.

I am very concerned for the tourism sector. We look at having help for rents, but for the tourism operators in my part of the country, we also need to look at assistance for moorage charges. A lot of tourism operators are facing fixed costs for taking tourists out on vessels.

Would the government consider some flexibility in that regard?

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

During the pandemic, we quickly implemented the regional relief and recovery fund, the RRRF. This program has helped a number of regional businesses. We, on this side of the House, also believe that these companies are the backbone of our economy.

Through the Community Futures Canada network, the CFDC, which is very robust, very active and has a very close relationship with its clients, we were able to deliver this assistance extremely easily. We have really helped many businesses. I have heard positive comments from several businesses that received help from us. They said that this program gave them the boost they needed.

We have been there since the beginning of the crisis and we will continue to be there for all Canadians.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe Bloc Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the parliamentary secretary's speech. I congratulate her on it.

There is a question we have been asking all day, but the government is not answering it. The Bloc Québécois demonstrated six months ago that the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance had significant problems. The proof is that more than half of the money allocated to this aid has not been used.

If someone can explain it to me once and for all today, I would like to know why, now that this aid is being changed and that it makes sense, it took six months to act and why we waited for companies to go out of business.

Why did it take the government six months to figure this out, when we said it six months ago?

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question and his comment.

Once again, since the beginning of the crisis, we have been working to put in place the best possible programs. We all agree that COVID-19 did not come with an instruction manual. Everybody is working hard, whether it is ministers, members of Parliament or public servants. They are there to step up and to put in place various programs designed to help as many people and businesses as possible.

Indeed, there was some trouble with the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance program. It is because we are on the ground, listening and close to our people that we have adapted and have proposed, in the last few weeks, a change to this program which, I hope, will come into effect quickly.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Philip Lawrence Conservative Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to split my time with my wonderful, and I will add punctual, colleague from Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo.

It is also an absolute privilege to rise today in this House and talk about some of the hardest-working people in one of the hardest-working countries: small business owners.

This motion is a great step forward for small business owners. The Conservatives seek to do two things with this motion, and I hope all members will join me in supporting small business owners. The first thing we seek to do is put a pause on troublesome and burdensome audits of the CEWS program that are causing business owners challenges. The second thing is to make programs more flexible to make sure no Canadians are being left behind, which is something that is absolutely critical.

I would like to talk a bit about small businesses and why they are so important to our communities. They are the lifeblood of our communities. They are the ones that are sponsoring our soccer and hockey teams. They are in the communities providing the services we need. They are the ones making sure front-line workers are fed and that we take care of the entire community. There are over one million small business owners in Canada, who employ over 70% of private sector workers in Canada and they also contribute one-third to our GDP.

After listening to the interventions today, I want to congratulate members of all parties. It is not every day we see the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands celebrating a Conservative motion. It is terrific and a great way to show that everyone can be constructive in helping small business owners go forward.

To provide context on where we are with small business owners, it has been a challenging time for them. Even pre-pandemic, they were going through difficult times. Going into the pandemic, Canadians were struggling, with 50% of Canadians within $200 of insolvency. Canadians were facing a GDP that was reduced to nearly 0% by the end of 2019.

The struggles continued for small business owners as they, from 2015 to 2020, dramatically reduced their investments in infrastructure, a sign that they perhaps saw challenges on the horizon. At the heart of some of these issues is the productivity gap going on in Canada. Productivity is a big fancy 10-cent word, but in reality all it means is how Canadians are able to manufacture products and deliver services. The harsh reality is that Canadians were struggling.

In the U.S., the average worker contributes $60 per hour to GDP. In Switzerland, that number is more like $84. Unfortunately, here in Canada that number is $50. That is important because it affects people. It affects real wages. Going into the pandemic, the average wage in Canada was $19, compared with $23 for the United States and $33 for Switzerland. We had challenges going into the pandemic.

During the pandemic, the economy has become much worse. Many of the constituents I spoke with told me about horrible, difficult situations. They have told me about losing their jobs, their homes, and in some cases, they have lost all hope. This is all despite record spending. The government has actually spent more than any other country in the G20. We have the highest deficit, yet we have the worst unemployment numbers in the G7.

Many small business owners are heading out of business. The CFIB told us that, as of September 30, a full third of businesses will either close down or partially close. These are difficult times, but the numbers never tell the full story. I want to tell the House the story of John and Lent Travel.

John owns the Lent Travel agency in the beautiful town of Port Hope. By the way, if members have not been to Port Hope, please go once the lockdown is over. It is beautiful. He owns one of three travel agencies in town; one has shut down and one is operating at one-third its capacity. John told me that from the beginning of the pandemic to March 2021 he expects no revenue.

Just to go through the numbers, he was down 151% in April, then down 97%, 95%, 95%, 100%, 100% of revenue, equating to zero revenue over a year. He is in a challenging situation. He would have loved to have access to some of the programs, such as the rent subsidies, but unfortunately he owns instead of rents so he is out of luck there. John is like millions of Canadians who are feeling left behind in these difficult times.

The pandemic was a challenge to all of us. It required us all to sacrifice. There is no doubt about that. Government support programs were a necessary bridge, hopefully. Unfortunately, too many of those programs got confused, were delayed and held Canadians back. Instead of being that bridge to a brighter day, they became a trap. They were too complex and too confusing, and they even penalized work. No Canadian should ever be financially behind for adding an extra day's work. That should never happen. That is how John felt.

As we move forward into the safe reopening of the country, we are all looking forward. I know we all want that day when we can give hugs and shake hands again, when we can do all those wonderful things that we miss because of the pandemic. We need to move forward and give our businesses, not a shot of morphine but a shot of adrenaline, so we can carry forward. We need to have a safe recovery plan that includes rapid testing, so students could go back to school, so workers could go back to their factories and offices, and so that we could all once again start contributing fully to the economy, as I know every Canadian wants to.

We need policies that encourage work and promote opportunities. The government has had the opportunity to invest, however, it has too often squandered those opportunities of investing in the private sector. For example, while veterans are waiting, while new mothers are waiting, while people with disabilities are waiting, while that was all going on, the CRA proudly announced on social media that it was open for business, that it could audit and charge penalties and interest. Even for the Liberal government, that is peak hypocrisy.

If the government is saying it does not have resources to get money out to people with disabilities, new mothers and veterans, it cannot, at the same time, be saying that it has plenty of resources to audit and make life more difficult for hard-working, honest Canadian taxpayers.

The substance of this motion is with respect to the CEWS audit. Almost immediately upon the announcement of this, almost to the day, we started receiving complaints in our office about the burdensome, pages and pages, requirements by the CRA on an audit, a fishing expedition. These are not just simple documents, these are documents that have to be prepared by tax lawyers, by accountants, costing thousands of dollars. In fact, some folks have actually paid more in fees than they received in benefits. Imagine that. This is shameful, and all in the midst of a pandemic.

This is not the time in Ontario, Quebec and across the country in different regions. We are facing a second wave of the pandemic. Small business owners need to be helped. They need a hand up to get themselves back on track. They do not need a burdensome audit that puts them behind the eight ball and costs them thousands of dollars.

We are approaching the one-year anniversary of the pandemic. That is a terrible landmark to meet. The truth is, it is a year. These are not early days of the pandemic. The excuses are growing long, that there were not resources, we have shown that is not the case, or that we do not have time, we do have time. We need to work collaboratively so John does not feel left behind in Port Hope, and to help entrepreneurs who started a new business, some who started a new business in March of 2020 and do not have year over year numbers, who do not qualify, who are not eligible for these programs.

There are sectors of the economy that are being hit harder than others. This pandemic has not hit us all equally. Sectors like tourism, travel, aviation and energy have been hit harder than others. We need tailor-made solutions, not the one-size-fits-all that does not cut it.

Ultimately, we need solutions that do not come from government programs, but from the private sector. We have the most creative innovators, the hardest-working small business owners and the best workers in the entire world, and we have the opportunity to give them the ability to bring us out of this terrible economic crisis through their hard work. We just need to get out of their way.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member's comments regarding how innovative and fantastic our small businesses are. There is absolutely no doubt that they have gone through a great deal because of the pandemic. At the same time, the government has been working very closely with small businesses in all regions of our country. Recognizing that it is important for the government to continue to play a very important role in supporting our small businesses, I am a little surprised by the motion that is brought forward. I would ask the member if there are add-ons in terms of specific programs he would like to see that are not there to support small businesses.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Philip Lawrence Conservative Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always an honour to receive a question from my learned colleague.

I would start with the motion and stop audits. We would not even stop them, just pause them for about six months for small business owners. The CRA would get its pound of flesh, but let us defer that until after the worst of the pandemic, hopefully, is over. I think that is a reasonable thing.

I really do mean with all sincerity that I would love for all members to vote in favour of this motion. There is nothing unreasonable in here. There is no language that is exploitative or over the top. We are putting our hands forward to this government as a constructive opposition and hope that it will walk forward with us.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on his speech.

I have a question for him. We have heard a lot of talk about the issues facing the tourism and aviation industries. I wonder if he is aware that, in many ridings, including my own, Laurentides—Labelle, and a number of others in Quebec, there are two industries, tourism and aviation, that are being hit hard. People are crying out for help right now.

Did we make sure we had not forgotten anyone when drawing up the requests? Between my colleague and I, these two industries go hand in hand, and neither could not survive without the other.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Philip Lawrence Conservative Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the question, and also for killing time while I got my translation. I appreciate that, and I am working on my French.

Regarding aviation, there is an airport in my riding, so I am very familiar with the struggles that are going on. One of things that I think will be key in getting us all back in motion is finding a safe way to travel and finding a safe way to get our economy back in motion. Of course, safety will alway come first, but there are ways to do it. There is rapid testing, and technologies are out there that can get the economy back in motion. Also, it is not one-size-fits-all. We need to have tailor-made solutions for individual sectors, because they have been hit in different ways.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am dealing with a number of companies that are really struggling with the Canada emergency business account, or CEBA. Their bottom lines are being hammered right now.

I know of one small business that has been turned down three times. It is trying to work through this. The owners have been told that their stock does not count in their costs and that their Visa bills cannot be used, even though most small businesses in my region are paying with Visa to get supplies. They have tried three times. When we tried to get answers for them, we found out that this work was outsourced to the Canada Development Investment Corporation.

The CDIC is arm's length, but it does not have a clue what it is like to be a small business owner in northern Ontario. This is a $40,000 loan. It should be straightforward. We should be able to phone and find out what the problem is. Instead, we are seeing businesses about to go under if the government does not start to fix the problems.

I would ask my hon. colleague what he thinks we need to do to make sure the money that should get out the door to small businesses actually gets to them.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Philip Lawrence Conservative Northumberland—Peterborough South, ON

Mr. Speaker, in my early days I started a business on my credit card. I know exactly what the member is talking about. That is the type of flexibility we are talking about with respect to this motion. In this fluid environment, we need bureaucrats to think outside the box and we need the government to empower them to do so. I would say 99.9% of Canadians are not fraudsters. They just want to go out there, work hard and provide for their families. If we have to change the rules and make things more fluid and flexible to help them, let us do it.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join this debate. It was an excellent motion put forward by my colleague from Calgary Rocky Ridge. It certainly shows that he understands the huge challenges our businesses are going through right now. There are two components included in this: One is pausing audits until 2021 and the other is flexibility within the rent subsidy and wage subsidy programs.

The government has stood up already and proudly proclaimed how much it has done. However, I want to note that with the six-week prorogation, and the fact we have been back here going on seven weeks, for three months we have had no answer to some programs that had some significant challenges. How many businesses were lost during those three months? We had the six weeks of prorogation and some additional time before we saw some action.

Interestingly, back in January or February, businesses told me they heard that COVID-19 was low risk and they were not really worried. They were not doing any anticipatory planning, but then all of a sudden it was like a volcano. They had not had proper warning this was coming. The government was very concerned. All of a sudden the minister was saying people should stock up, and there was a run on toilet paper and other products.

For businesses, the reality did not hit until they saw some of our national sports organizations closing down. I believe that when some of those organizations said they were closing down for the season, then all of a sudden it was serious for business owners. Something was going to happen and something was going on. Across the country, many businesses had to immediately shut their doors.

Throughout this, some people have managed to do pretty well. I have talked to businesses throughout my riding. The folks who sell bicycles and boats, and the businesses that do landscaping, have been so busy they cannot keep up with demand. For those few that have this robust volume, there are so many others suffering, mostly in the hospitality, tourism and personal care industries. There are some people who have kept their heads above water, and thank goodness we have those businesses doing okay.

Let us imagine someone closing their business down in March. The Blue Grotto had to close down. The owner knew he was going to be allowed to reopen his nightclub, so he spent thousands of dollars to prepare for the reopening in terms of safety and barriers between places where people sat. He was open for one night, and then received an order to close down. This particular business owner has been very vocal in public, so I do not mind sharing his story here. He has shared his story of how difficult it was to spend so much money to prepare to reopen and then all of a sudden get closed down.

Adding insult to injury was the issue of his rent. His landlord was not in a position, or was unwilling, to look at the rent subsidy. This owner put his heart and soul into his business, like so many others. He was not even receiving the advantage of some of the existing programs. He had no money coming in from the rent subsidy or the wage subsidy, and is still closed down. He is trying to keep his head above water.

What if he happens to get a notice from the Canada Revenue Agency? For small business owners, receiving a notice that they are going to have an audit is very stressful at the best of times.

Imagine, in the worst of times, not just trying to survive but getting a notice from the Canada Revenue Agency asking for piles of documents that it wants within 10 days. I think everyone in the House believes that there should be some good process to make sure that the programs we have developed have been used appropriately, and there should be some audit process, but the least we can do is delay that process, as the motion states, until June. I think that is a very reasonable motion because we cannot afford to put that stress on our small business owners right now.

Like most members in the House, one of the challenges we had when the pandemic first started was helping businesses to navigate the programs and services available. I would like to share some anecdotes provided by the Kamloops Chamber, and also by other chambers in the riding. One person said they were tapped, stretched and scared of losing everything they worked decades for. This was a commercial landlord who did not apply for the benefit because they did not like the way the program was being delivered. It was a personal service company. Another said, “I never thought I would be managing an inherently dangerous organization to society.” That was a local arts organization. Imagine someone thinking they were providing a good service for the community that was then deemed to be dangerous. “Every decision we make feels like we are screwing ourselves over,” said someone in the restaurant business. “I desperately wanted to be able to keep my employees on, but I can't afford it in this uncertainty.” That was someone who had been business since 1995.

I went into a shop downtown and a person there told me that people would come in and say they were so glad that she had survived. She said she tells them she has not survived, she has just reopened. She does not know if she is going to survive.

There are stories from the hotels in 100 Mile House to north Thompson, where someone who just bought a business did not qualify for assistance. Again, they put their life savings into a business. I hear that story over and over. People do not realize, if they are lucky enough to have a job that pays well, gives a pension and health care benefits, that many of our entrepreneurs are taking huge risks. Their life savings, and their hearts and souls, have gone into these businesses. They do not have pension plans and they do not have benefit programs, but they have something that they care about and believe in.

That person in north Thompson who just bought a small resort found out that they did not qualify for programs because they were a new owner, and as a new owner could not show their revenue losses. In the riding I represent, a larger business, the Rocky Mountaineer, lost its entire season. The Rocky Mountaineer is not just the company itself, but the spillover to the hotels, restaurants and so many others.

It was heartbreaking. I remember having many painful conversations about what they had tried. It would mean something to small businesses if everyone in the House would say we were going to delay the Canada Revenue Agency audits and do the best we can to change programs and make sure they meet people's needs in a flexible, fluid and responsive way. This is an incredibly important motion and I hope that all sides of the House can agree.

Opposition Motion—Consequences of the Pandemic on Canadian Workers and BusinessesBusiness of SupplyGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, small businesses can take encouragement from the House in that all members of Parliament, from all political parties, understand and appreciate that there is a great deal of value attached to the work and efforts of small businesses throughout the country. In listening to a lot of the debate thus far, one of the aspects of small businesses that we often overlook, but should not, is the importance of social enterprises and non-profit organizations. These also have commitments that they have to maintain, and they contribute immensely to Canada's economy and our lifestyle.

Could the member provide her thoughts in regard to that aspect of small businesses?