OTTAWA — The Coalition of Hardest Hit Businesses has launched a campaign calling on the federal government to extend the CEWS program at the full 75 per cent rate for businesses facing an ongoing revenue decline of 50 per cent or higher, and extend the program until spring or summer 2021. The CHHB is an industry-driven group of over 40 stakeholders representing a variety of sectors including tourism, arts and culture, events and festivals, and hospitality.
The launch included a live press conference on the outdoor terrace of the Fairmont Le Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa, followed by a virtual press conference. Industry leaders Charlotte Bell, president and CEO of the Tourism Association of Canada, Susie Grynol, president and CEO of the Hotel Association of Canada, Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada and Martin Roy, executive director of Major Events and Festivals Canada, participated in the two launch events.
“Our sectors are different, we cannot offer curbside pickup or e-commerce or pivot to manufacturing new products,” Grynol said. “We are fundamentally people-facing businesses, we bring people together, which limits our ability to function during a global pandemic.”
“We understand that the ongoing restrictions are necessary and we respect them. But COVID-19 continues to create Depression-era economic conditions in our sectors,” Grynol said. “In a survey of 1,700 coalition businesses earlier this week, 75 per cent indicated they would not be able to remain in business without access to government-supported financing; 60 per cent said they are on life support and will run out of cash to pay their staff and other fixed costs in the coming months; and critically, 90 per cent have identified extension of the wage subsidy until 2021 as critical to their survival.
“Without help, many of the hardest hit businesses will not survive and those jobs will be gone forever,” added Grynol. “Our industries employe one of the most diverse workforces in the country. In the hotel sector alone, women make up 60 per cent of total employees, millennials make up 38 per cent, immigrants represent 31 per cent, and visible minorities make up 29 per cent. These are the very groups that the federal government and the Bank of Canada identified as being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and who need additional protection and support. The best and most empowering way to support these workers is to allow them to keep their jobs.”
Asked if the Coalition would be satisfied with another government program other than CEWS, or whether CEWS was the best option, Grynol replied that CEWS is working well, and was well-designed and well-built. “We like the program, and winding down and ending it does not align with the reality of these hard hit businesses.”
Grynol said that the program is much better than the CERB program, because it allows businesses to keep their employees. “If an employee goes on CERB, it severs the employee relationship. With CEWS, they still get health benefits… and the pride of keeping their job. There is nothing better than keeping your job. Taxpayers will be paying no matter what.”
“In the COVID-19 pandemic, our businesses were the first shut down, and we will be the last to recover – in short, we are the hardest hit businesses,” said TIAC’s Bell. “Our sectors will bounce back when COVID is behind us, but this fall we face bankruptcy and unemployment for over 2 million Canadians working in our sectors.”
She added that it was a shock to their systems when government quickly shut down borders and banned meetings.
On July 17, the federal government announced it would make the wage subsidy program more accessible for the summer months and then wind it down over the autumn. Beginning on September 26, the amount of wage subsidy funding for all businesses – including the hardest hit businesses experiencing revenue declines of over 50 per cent — will decrease until the subsidy is eliminated entirely in December.
“We expected a slight bump in revenues during the summer months as economic activity returned — but that ended along with summer family travel in September,” said Keith Henry, president and CEO of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada. “The CEWS program is the most accessible and successful of the government programs, and was critical to keeping Canada’s Indigenous people employed during the pandemic. We need this program to be extended through Spring 2021 at the full 75 per cent rate to keep people employed.” Henry’s association represents 1,800 indigenous tourism businesses including hotels, cultural, outdoor adventure and other operators.
“A large majority of our industry has been affected, with losses of more than 70 per cent in total revenues across the country. We offer authentic experiences, and Canada has become known as a premier destination for indigenous tourism around the world,” Henry said. “Our employees can’t simply be replaced due to loss of business. ITAC has trained employees who remain tied to their indigenous tourism businesses.”
“Meetings, events, and festivals have all been cancelled for 2020, and many will not be rescheduled until at least 2022 – that’s tens of billions in economic activity that has vanished overnight,” added Martin Roy, executive director of Major Events and Festivals Canada. “We have all complied with safety measures, and support the actions the government has taken to flatten the curve. Canadians came together to support employment with the wage subsidy before, and we need to keep that support up for our hardest hit businesses.
“In a post-COVID reality, Canadians still want to know that the events they hold dear ─ whether it’s the Calgary Stampede, the Toronto International Film Festival, a jazz festival in Montreal Festival, the Quebec Carnival, and the Blues Festival in Ottawa — will still be there,” said Roy. “Festivals and events are part of our identity and we need employees to organize them now and in the coming events.”
Asked if more associations might join the 40 already represented by CHHB, Bell said they were open to adding more associations to their voice. “Stay tuned,” she said.
To learn more about the CHHB and to get involved, visit www.HardestHit.ca.