Ottawa to offer rent relief for businesses forced to shut down during pandemic

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will announce a new rent relief program today to help businesses that can’t afford to pay their landlords at a time when their operations are shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plan is to provide loans to cover up to 75 per cent of the rental cost through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

A portion of the loan will be non-repayable.

The NDP have been pressing the government to deliver rent relief. In a statement Friday, the NDP said loans alone “are not going to cut it.”

“Businesses can’t afford more debt,” it said.

The NDP says the proposed rent support should also be extended to residential rent.

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa on March 23. The federal government is expected to announce today significant rent relief to help businesses that can’t afford to pay their landlords at a time when their operations are shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Small and medium-sized businesses, most of them shuttered since mid-March, have been clamouring for relief as the May 1 deadline for their next rent payment looms.

Canadian Federation of Independent Business president Dan Kelly told the House of Commons finance committee on Thursday that he was expecting an announcement as early as today.

Kelly said 70 per cent of the CFIB’s 30,000 members pay monthly rent for their business premises and, of those, 55 per cent report that they can’t afford to pay their rent next month.

Kelly said struggling businesses need a non-repayable rent subsidy, not loans or deferral of rent payments.

He was hoping the federal government would pick up the tab for at least 75 per cent of the monthly rent owed by businesses that have been forced to close in a bid to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

He urged the government to make the rent relief “broadly applicable” to all small- and medium-sized businesses, without imposing a lot of cumbersome eligibility criteria that he predicted would cause some business owners to “give up.”

“If we do that, I think we have a fighting chance of having the majority, not all, but the majority of our small business community make it across the emergency phase of this [pandemic],” he told the committee.

“Remember, businesses have been ordered to shut down in order to protect society and it is deeply unfair that they would have to pick up the costs of keeping real estate open and paying those bills while they are essentially unable to earn an income.”

Trudeau, premiers holding weekly call

Trudeau is also scheduled to hold a conference call with provincial and territorial premiers this afternoon, at which he is expected to raise another issue that is under provincial jurisdiction — the tragedy unfolding at under-staffed long-term care homes where more than half of Canada’s deaths from COVID-19 have occurred.

Trudeau last week promised the federal government would top up the wages of front-line workers in seniors’ facilities but said it would have to be done in consultation with the provinces. The issue was discussed during last week’s first ministers’ conference call but there was no resolution since not all provinces are experiencing the same dire problems that are plaguing long-term care homes in Quebec and Ontario.

Since then, the situation has deteriorated, with the two largest provinces calling on the federal government to send in the military to help care for people in long-term care facilities.

At his daily briefing Thursday, a visibly upset Trudeau called the situation “unacceptable.”

“We are failing our parents, our grandparents, our elders, the greatest generation who built this country. We need to care for them properly,” he said.

“In Canada we shouldn’t have soldiers taking care of seniors. Going forward in the weeks and months to come, we will all have to ask tough questions about how it came to this. We will all have to do more to get through this terrible situation.”

Trudeau is also expected to take part Friday night in a virtual vigil for the 22 people killed by a lone gunman masquerading as an RCMP officer in northern Nova Scotia last weekend.

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