Mr. Speaker, before I begin my remarks, I would like to take a moment to thank all my colleagues for being here to take part in this important debate. I can think of many places we would rather be spending this Easter weekend. However, what we are doing here is extremely important, and I want to thank all my colleagues for being here.
When I gave the response to the original COVID-19 fiscal response by the government on behalf of my caucus, I indicated that the largest gap in the government's response was supports for small and medium-sized businesses. I also commented that whatever the government did, it must be fast, responsive to the need and must act as a temporary bridge until we can get back to normal. As we do not know what time normal will occur, I will focus today on the necessity for the government to be both fast and responsive.
It may seem like a formality to pass this bill to enable the wage subsidy program, but we must never forget this place solely exists to serve those who elect us. Ottawa, our country's capital, exists to serve as the home to provide critically needed federal services to Canadians, but the one thing we must bear in mind is that every single one of these services delivered by faithful servants of our public service is 100% paid for by the private sector. Without a thriving private sector, there can be no viable and effective public one.
Many British Columbian municipalities right now, which, by law, must balance their budgets, are having to lay off significant numbers of city staff and are curtailing services because revenues are drying up.
That is why our efforts here today are so critical. Our private sector, our entrepreneurs, especially our small and medium-size business owners, are depending on us to get this right. Canadians who depend on those employers for their paycheques are depending on us to get this right. We must not forget the critical importance of this.
Is this bill part of the solution? Yes it is, but we cannot overlook that when this government first announced a wage subsidy, it was at 10%, which was entirely insufficient to address a crisis of this magnitude. We are here today to fix that mistake. I know some will say that was the past and we are focused on the future, but keep in mind that many employers were waiting for that program. When they heard 10%, they knew that would not work, and they made decisions accordingly. People were laid off. Some business owners made the decision right then and there to pull the pin. Fortunately, the Liberal government, and I will credit them for this part, went from saying it thought 10% was enough to changing its messaging to an admission that it knew it needed to do more.
This brings us to today. When the government announced that it would make further changes for business owners who could afford to wait, they waited. Then they heard the revised announcement, this time with a 75% wage subsidy.
However, there were problems. One was having to demonstrate a loss from this time one year ago. Some of you will ask if I read the bill, because that is what we are here to change. I raise this point because when people heard they would not meet the former threshold, they, once again, made decisions. More staff were let go, leases abandoned and doors were closed, probably many permanently.
This is what this government has to understand. Every time they get this wrong, decisions are made by the Canadian public. By the time this government goes from saying it thinks this is enough, to yes, it knows it must do more, that delay results in small businesses shutting down and people being laid off.
That is the reality, and this brings me to what is perhaps the most important thing missing from this bill. There are no provisions to ensure that this assistance, which is so urgently needed, can get out faster. That is the government's biggest failure. Time is running out, and there is nothing in the bill about that.
As one small business owner recently shared with me, one does not throw out the life jackets six weeks after the ship has sunk, yet that is precisely what we are told this bill will do.
For five hours on Thursday morning, the Prime Minister blamed the official opposition for the delay. The Prime Minister was worried about that five-hour delay when he felt he could blame it on the official opposition. What about the six weeks or more delay in getting benefits? Who carries responsibility for that? Over those six weeks, how many more businesses will fold? How many more Canadians will be laid off? How many landlords will have a tenant default? Let us not forget landlords are also part of this.
I really do not want to be partisan here, but as the official opposition, we have suggested ideas that will put assistance payments out to businesses faster. However, as is always the case from the finance minister and the Prime Minister, they say that they think they have done enough, until they admit that they know they must do more.
That is really where we are today. In this case, we cannot afford to have any more Canadian business fail, because we all know the CERB is a temporary program financed by borrowed money. Yes, the wage subsidy program is designed to combat that, but because it will take six weeks or more to deliver, we may as well have Jeff Probst as finance minister, because businesses are caught in a real-world version of Survivor. Those who least need the assistance because they have the resources to wait those six weeks or more will survive to get the assistance.
Some will say that there is a guaranteed business loan program to bridge the gap. For the small business across the street from my Summerland constituency office that deals with the Summerland & District Credit Union, the Summerland & District Credit Union, like many small credit unions, is not on the finance minister's list of approved lenders for this program.
Some might say to switch to the big bank. Aside from the blatant unfairness to small credit unions, there are those who have tried, and they were told that only business accounts that existed prior to March 1 were eligible for the program. This also excludes many sole proprietors who often do not use business banking accounts because they use a personal one, and those accounts, much like many small credit unions, are not eligible.
Let us come back to small businesses in Summerland. Many of these small businesses employ people and pay taxes to Ottawa. Today, Ottawa is bringing in a program that excludes them. It is not designed to help them. What I mean by that is that the government is aware that the Summerland Credit Union, like many other credit unions, is not on the approved list.
Are credit unions like the ones in Summerland and elsewhere in the country not important? I would say they are.
This brings me back to the six-week waiting period for the business subsidy program. We know that those six weeks will leave many businesses behind that cannot afford to wait and they will close. I do not believe there is a member of Parliament in this room who doubts that. In fact, I know they are all working incredibly hard right now and I am certain they have probably heard from business owners who have shared with them that they need the government's assistance right now.
Even if the bill is a necessary step forward, we must remember that it was just as necessary two weeks ago and it was rolled out last week. We cannot allow our private sector to fail.
Our future depends upon it.
Before I close, I would like to add one final comment. There will come a day when we look back at the days that are now before us. People will ask if we did everything we could as quickly as we possibly could have done it. I will leave that comment for this place to ponder.
While I support the legislation, I must again add that if we cannot find a way to provide support in a more timely way, as the official opposition has suggested various ways of doing, we will be failing many Canadian small business owners who are now most in need. We must not forget them. We must not fail them.
In closing, I want to thank all hon. members for listening to my comments today. I want to say a special thanks to all the staff who made this day possible. Canadian democracy is stronger today because of all their efforts. I thank them.