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Small business debt demands help spice up Freeland’s post-budget tour

OTTAWA — Small business owners have asked the federal finance minister to consider additional help to pay off pandemic-related debt as the sixth wave of COVID-19 forces customers to stay home and sales to plummet.

OTTAWA — Small business owners have asked the federal finance minister to consider additional help to pay off pandemic-related debt as the sixth wave of COVID-19 forces customers to stay home and sales to plummet.

The request is one that Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has encountered repeatedly in recent days during a post-budget tour across the country.

His response was that emergency measures are no longer needed with the crisis over, the economy booming and the government needing to tighten its fiscal belt.

Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said under the economic headlines that only two in five of its members say they have returned to normal sales.

He said more were worried about the impact on incomes and their ability to repay loans with people staying at home despite the removal of public health restrictions by provinces.

Its members shared those concerns with Freeland during a budget webinar, and Kelly said he walked away thinking the finance minister had heard their concerns.

The budget does not include further extensions to emergency benefit programs that will end on May 7, but Freeland told webinar attendees, “I hear you,” when asked about the debt relief, adding a moment later: “Let’s keep talking.”

CFIB members have, on average, taken on $160,000 in pandemic-related debt, including about $60,000 from a key federal loan program.

The government has set December 2023 as the deadline to repay these interest-free loans and benefit from some forgiveness, although many small business owners believe they will need until 2024 to pay the repayments.

“Yes, the streets are busier again, yes, the economic numbers are positive, but there are loads and loads of small businesses – especially in retail, hospitality, the service sector and the arts and entertainment – who are still hanging on by their fingernails and are now more in debt,” Kelly said in an interview.

“There were huge amounts of new spending on almost every budget line, and yet for any kind of business support it was pretty slim.”

He said about three-quarters of CFIB members said they didn’t find the federal budget helpful, compounded by a lack of movement on debt relief and another delay on a pledge to cut debt. fees that merchants pay each time a buyer pays with a credit card. .

This budget promises to continue the consultations promised in last year’s budget, which built on an election promise the Liberals made in 2019.

“I would love to be able to accommodate whatever you think you would like to see the federal government do, but I recognize that I don’t and never will,” Freeland told CFIB members.

“What I’m going to tell you is that I’m always careful when making the budget, when moving policies forward, I’m watching and thinking about what they will mean for small businesses.”

One positive element Kelly saw in the budget was a promise to raise the limit for small businesses to benefit from a lower tax rate, which he said should remove barriers to small business growth.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 15, 2022.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press