Businesses urge Trudeau to focus on resuming pandemic in the aftermath of election

CALGARY – By the time Brittany Anderson sat down on Monday night to watch the federal election results, she had already spent the day dealing with one COVID-19 challenge after another.

CALGARY – By the time Brittany Anderson sat down on Monday night to watch the federal election results, she had already spent the day dealing with one COVID-19 challenge after another.

As the owner of Laser City – a laser tag site with two locations in Calgary and one in Edmonton – Anderson spent part of Monday reshuffling staff schedules to accommodate employees awaiting COVID-19 test results and incapacitated to get to work.

She was also trying to figure out the ins and outs of Alberta’s new proof of vaccination restriction exemption program that went into effect on Monday, and she had to deal with a number of canceled reservations from of customers who were either confused or upset with the province’s latest round of rule changes.

It’s the kind of headache that Anderson says relieved her to see another Liberal minority government elected, if only because she wants to see politicians get back to work quickly on what she’s doing. considers problem # 1 – pandemic recovery.

“I’m pretty happy to see the stability, and hopefully that means more support for companies like mine,” Anderson said Tuesday. “We all get very tired and very exhausted.”

It’s a sentiment that was echoed on Tuesday by business groups across the country, many of whom said with the campaign in the rearview mirror, it’s time for the federal government to refocus on helping small and medium-sized enterprises to get out of the fourth wave of the pandemic which is currently sweeping most of the country.

“The hope here is that, because not much has changed (politically), the transition period will unfold quickly and we can get back to work,” said Todd Barclay, President and CEO of Restaurants Canada. “Because every day, every week, every passing month is a critical time to deal with the significant headwinds we face. “

“All of the issues facing businesses that existed before the election, they just became more urgent,” said Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. “Now is the time for politicians to put political issues aside and focus on the real issues.”

Many business groups are calling for targeted support for hard hit sectors like travel, tourism and hospitality. The Liberal Party pledged during the campaign to extend Canada Recovery’s hiring program – which was due to expire in November – until March 2022. The program aims to help employers reopen by offsetting the costs of hiring more than staff or increase in wages or hours. for existing employees.

But advocates say the government must also expand its existing wage subsidy and rent relief programs for contractors who still struggle to keep their heads above water. Anderson said Laser City has relied heavily on both of these programs, which are set to expire at the end of this month.

“A lot of companies like mine are not ready for these supports to be put in place because we are not yet close to operating at 100% of our capacity,” she said. “These programs have been incredibly useful and we wouldn’t be here today without them.”

Beatty agrees. “It would be tragic, to have brought people this far, to have them drown 50 feet from the shore,” he said. “We need to bring them successfully to shore, not with general grants, but with targeted measures to help those who really need it.

“How long will it take, I don’t know.”

The restaurant industry is also asking for partial debt relief for government guaranteed loans, including the Credit Availability Program for Highly Affected Sectors (HASCAP) and any other loan programs the government is introducing to help. businesses to recover from the pandemic. Restaurants Canada says eight in ten food service operators have taken on debt due to the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are looking for a loan discount. We don’t need more debt, ”said Restaurants Canada’s Barclay. “Most restaurants and small businesses have incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt over the past 18 months.

Barclay said the restaurant industry also needed help with an ongoing labor shortage made worse by COVID-19. He wants immigration programs to be expanded to help restaurants fill vacant positions, and a targeted component within the temporary foreign worker program designed for food service employers.

Douglas Porter, chief economist at BMO Economics, said labor shortages and supply chain disruptions are two of the main issues currently hampering small business recovery. He said it is likely that these problems will have the effect of “dampening the economic rebound.”

“The recovery is going to be a bit longer and longer than we initially thought,” Porter said in an interview.

Porter added that BMO recently lowered its economic growth forecast for 2021 from six percent to five percent, depending on the expected impacts of issues such as labor shortages combined with the fourth wave of the virus.

He said he believed the economy as a whole would return to “somewhat near normal” by next summer, but stressed that for the sectors hardest hit, the full recovery could take some time. years.

“I actually don’t believe much that there is going to be a sudden ‘aha’ moment. It will be a process,” Porter said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on September 21, 2021.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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