Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on the motion moved by our colleague from Calgary Rocky Ridge. I also want to inform the House that I will be sharing my time with our esteemed colleague from Richmond Hill.
Today's motion deals with an important matter. I want to give a little context to the motion by giving an overview of what Canada's six regional development agencies are doing to support small businesses get through the COVID-19 pandemic and tackle the challenges the pandemic is leaving in its wake.
The pandemic has had a significant impact on Canadians from coast to coast to coast. With the lockdown, much of our economy is on forced pause. Everyone's life has been disrupted. This is especially true for entrepreneurs and workers in small and medium-sized businesses. These businesses are a source of good local jobs, but also of local pride. They are the backbone of our economy and our communities.
The Government of Canada very quickly understood the importance of helping them weather the crisis and acted very quickly. We launched the largest economic assistance program in our history. That included the Canada emergency wage benefit to help businesses keep their employees and rehire the ones they had to lay off, deferral of GST and HST remittances and customs duty amounts for businesses, and the Canada emergency business account offering interest-free loans to businesses and not-for-profits. We have been responsive to needs and have continuously adjusted and improved our assistance.
However, one of the things I heard when I met with entrepreneurs in my region, the vast and magnificent Madawaska—Restigouche, is that, despite the extensive social and economic safety net we set up, the smallest businesses are still having a hard time.
We asked ourselves two questions. How can we help those who are slipping through the cracks? What tool can we use to assist them, knowing that these entrepreneurs would rather turn to institutions that are part of their community, institutions they trust?
To respond to both of these concerns, we created a special assistance program implemented by our six regional economic development agencies. These agencies are on the ground. They are the ones who are best positioned to help workers and SMEs at the very heart of our communities.
That is why we established the regional relief and recovery Fund, or RRRF. The RRRF has a total budget of $962 million and is implemented either directly or indirectly by our regional development agencies in co-operation with key partners such as Community Futures development corporations, or CFDCs, in Quebec, or the CBDCs, in the Atlantic provinces, for example, and lastly with the PME MTL network.
The purpose of the RRRF is to support businesses at the heart of their local economies that cannot use existing federal programs or whose needs cannot be met by those programs. It provides SMEs and organizations that lack liquidity with emergency financial support to enable them to pay their employees and cover fixed costs so that they can stay in business.
Through the RRRF, we have been able to provide financial and technical assistance to thousands of businesses and organizations across the country, from coast to coast to coast. For example, by supporting Québec International, we have helped build the resilience of many SMEs in the Quebec City region affected by COVID-19, such as the Quartier Petit Champlain co-op, which has since shifted to e-commerce, and Défi-Évasion, which now has an online gaming platform.
Through the RRRF, we have provided direct assistance to many SMEs, including Proposify, a Halifax-based tech company that develops winning marketing strategies for its clients, particularly in exports. I would also like to mention Vexxit, a budding, innovative and majority woman-owned company in Winnipeg that has developed a unique intellectual property protection algorithm and uses it to match professional services businesses with clients.
The RRRF has proven essential to help businesses stay open and retain their highly qualified employees. I have seen it myself in my own riding of Madawaska—Restigouche.
Since the launch of the regional relief and recovery fund, the RRRF, in May, more than 12,000 businesses across the country have received help through this fund. However, it should be noted that the economic repercussions of the pandemic are not felt the same way in every region of the country, and that is especially true for Canada's northern territories. The Government of Canada understands and acknowledges that. That is why, in addition to the RRRF, $15 million was allocated to the creation of the northern business relief fund, which targets other immediate assistance needs for SMEs and seeks to ensure stability for businesses in sectors that are essential to economic recovery in the North.
Our response to the challenges that SMEs are facing in this crisis would have been incomplete if we had not recognized that certain sectors have been more directly hurt and require special attention. One of those industries is the fish and seafood processing chain. That is a vital sector of our economy, especially in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and in western Canada.
Overnight, the health crisis paralyzed these businesses' supply chain and cut off their access to markets. Action was needed. That is why the government created the Canadian seafood stabilization fund. With $62.5 million in support, this important sector of our economy can get what it needs and adapt to the new realities brought about by COVID-19.
Together, these measures have helped protect many Canadian jobs, provide emergency support to families, and keep businesses afloat as they deal with the impact of the health crisis. No sector of our economy has been spared by this health crisis, and with the arrival of the second wave, there is clearly a need for additional support.
That is why the Government of Canada announced another $600 million on October 2 to help Canadian businesses recover from the impact of COVID-19. This additional investment brings the total amount of assistance provided to businesses through the RRRF to over $1.5 billion.
Our SMEs are still facing many challenges. As my colleagues know, businesses on our main streets are vital to our communities. They have been hit hard. Many businesses have responded to the lockdown by expanding their offer of goods and services and joining online stores to attract new customers and to reach new markets. This was an unprecedented opportunity for us to help them not only rebound, but also to become better prepared to be competitive in the economy of tomorrow.
That is why we launched the Digital Main Street platform, which seeks to support almost 23,000 Ontario businesses by helping them survive and also prosper in the new economy. With federal funding of more than $42 million disbursed by FedDev Ontario, this innovative program helps businesses go digital.
We also know that it is not just main streets that are facing challenges. All the economies of our major cities have been greatly impacted by the economic repercussions of COVID-19. The number of active businesses in all major Canadian cities fell sharply in February and June as follows: 18% in Toronto, 15% in Montreal, 10% in Vancouver and 9% in Calgary.
I will use the example of Montreal, which became the epicentre of the Canadian pandemic in the spring of 2020. Social distancing measures and bans on large public gatherings have deprived the city's economy of its main sources of revenue associated with commerce, industry and tourism. The increase in e-commerce and telework has also had a serious impact on customer traffic in the downtown core, and the absence of international students has compounded the situation. In short, customer traffic in downtown Montreal is estimated to have dropped from 600,000 to 50,000 people a day. As of August, 26% of commercial space in downtown Montreal was vacant. Hotel occupancy in this tourist metropolis has plummeted by 69%.
The Canadian government is well aware of these challenges and has already begun to take action. For instance, we have allocated $30 million through the RRRF to the PME MTL network to provide targeted support to SMEs within Montreal affected by the economic impact of the pandemic.
I could go on. We have been listening to our businesses and to SMEs all across the country. We are ready to answer questions about the government's plans and the measures we have put in place.