Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House will be supporting Bill C-9, a bill that will be providing rent subsidies to Canada's small business community.
Quite frankly, this is a welcome bill although it has many flaws in its history. Over six months ago our party was encouraging the Liberal government to adopt many of the amendments and changes to this program. Unfortunately, at that time, our pleas for amendments and changes fell on deaf ears. Primarily, I think it is because the Liberal government does not understand the plight of small businesses.
On the Conservative side, we most certainly understand. I know, for example, many small businesses in my province of Saskatchewan are not only struggling, they are on the verge of bankruptcy primarily because of the pandemic. There is no question about that. I am not trying to sugar-coat this by saying the program the Liberals brought in was a flawed program. It was brought in during a time when the pandemic was first rearing its ugly head across Canada.
I appreciate the fact that the Liberals acted quickly. They acted quickly with the CERB. They acted quickly with the rent subsidy program, however, it was flawed. What we have been doing consistently since that time is trying to point out, not only to the Liberal government but to Canadians, where the flaws are in this program and encourage the government to make positive changes to help small businesses across Canada.
I will give credit where credit is due. Although six months too late, the government actually did make some positive changes that will help small businesses across Canada.
Initially, as many Canadians and many small business owners know, the restrictions placed upon them were too onerous. The uptake of the initial program was less than 10%, primarily because the program was designed to go through landlords rather than directly to tenants. Because of that, many landlords chose not to apply. Therefore, their tenants, the small business owners or leaseholders, were left in a very uncomfortable position, because their landlords would not apply for the rent subsidy program. That way it left the small business owners, who had to pay rent on a monthly basis, in a position where they were offered no relief whatsoever. That was almost untenable.
Now, however, there have been some positive changes and, as I said earlier in my remarks, I applaud the government for doing so. However, let us take a look back, a short brief view of the history to see exactly how we came from the initial bill that was introduced by the government six months ago to today's debate on Bill C-9.
As I mentioned, initially the government proposed that this rent subsidy program would be designed in such a way that landlords would have to apply. If they were successful in their application, then they would be the ones who would offer rent relief to their tenants. While some people may say that sounded like a reasonable approach, in reality it was anything but, as evidenced by the fact that less than 10% of landlords actually made application.
What should have been done initially is what the government has finally done in the current Bill C-9, and that is to offer rent relief directly to tenants so that those most affected by revenue drops and revenue losses will be able to gain relief and some financial assistance.
Initially, not only did the government fail to see that, it chose a very onerous and bureaucratic way in which to deliver this program. Initially the government decided that CMHC should be the delivery mechanism to bring this program into the pocketbooks of small business owners across Canada. However, CMHC was simply not designed to administer such a program, and that was discovered very early on in the process. Then the government doubled back and decided that if CMHC was not the way to deliver this program, it would find another way, and it came up with MCAP. MCAP is a mortgage insurance and financing company that the government determined, for whatever reasons, would be appropriate to deliver this program to small business owners.
However, shortly thereafter it was discovered that one of the principals of MCAP was a gentleman by the name of Rob Silver. In fact, he is a vice-president of that company and very influential because he is married to the current Prime Minister's chief of staff.
Anyone with any knowledge of how governments work would recognize that this was a complete conflict of interest. Here we had an individual, Mr. Rob Silver, who had been a spokesperson for the Liberal Party on many occasions over many years, now contracted by the government to deliver a program that would assist his company. That is absolutely a blatant conflict of interest that should have been obvious to anyone, anyone except, of course, the Liberal government.
However, we should not be surprised. We have seen conflicts of interest arise so many times before with the Liberal government. Whether it be the Prime Minister accepting gratuitous gifts to the Aga Khan's island or whether it be the Prime Minister embroiled in the WE Charity scandal, we have discovered time and time again that the ethical compass of the government has long been missing. The delivery of the government contract to MCAP is one more example of that ethical wrongdoing.
Thankfully, however, saner voices were heard and MCAP was removed from the bidding to deliver this program. The government avoided another messy ethical conflict that would have proved to be incredibly disappointing and embarrassing for the government. It finally took our advice and gave the administration of this program to CRA, which is where it should have been delivered in the first place. CRA has proven, through its administration of CERB and many other government delivery programs, to be the most effective mechanism that the government has at its disposal. Therefore, we are to a point now where, I think, the government has finally got it close to being right, but it is still not perfect.
What this has done over the past six months is demonstrate to small business owners that the government, despite the Liberals' protestations, does not in fact have their backs. If they had the back of small business owners, the Liberals would have employed the changes that we had suggested long ago.
Let us make no mistake. The small business owners across Canada are in an untenable position. Many of them, for example in the restaurant industry, are facing a reality that once rent and wage subsidies expire, come the summer of 2021, they may be forced to close their doors. In fact, many independent analyses have been done and have shown that over 60% of restaurants could be shuttered permanently unless these temporary wage subsidies are extended. Whether that will happen, I do not know.
We need many things to combat this pandemic. I believe, in all sincerity, that the government is working as hard as it can to try to find a vaccine, and I hope a vaccine is found because the lives of Canadians are at stake. The economy of Canadians is at stake.
The small business community in our country is the backbone of the Canadian economy. Small businesses have to be protected. They have to be given an opportunity, as they would be given with Bill C-9, to be able to tap into the government largesse and, at least for the foreseeable future, see a light at the end of the tunnel.