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.