Canada Recovery Benefit hurting part-time labour availability, CFIB tells Ottawa

Lack of staff ‘is one of the top concerns among small business owners,’ SME lobby claims

In a letter sent recently to federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says it believes the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) program is contributing to a growing shortage of part-time labour across Canada and that it should be changed so that no one is earning more under the program than they were in the pre-pandemic period.

Saying that the CRB program “is one of the top concerns among small business owners,” CFIB CEO Dan Kelly wrote, “A small firm will not be able to recover if it is not able to meet demand for its products and services due to a lack of staff.

Earning more on CRB

“While we recognize that many workers and self-employed business owners may still require CRB benefits, many part-time workers are earning more on the program than when working. CFIB proposes that the CRB be changed to ensure no one is earning more than they were pre-pandemic and that existing EI rules requiring workers to return to their positions when recalled or to be available and looking for work be enforced.”

This year’s Small Business Week was anything but something to celebrate, according to the CFIB. Instead of celebrating from Oct. 17 to 23, small businesses across the country were counting down to a grim deadline: the end of federal business support programs last Saturday.

Want programs extended

With only four out of 10 small businesses in the country being back to normal sales following the COVID-19 pandemic, the CFIB has been urging the government to immediately extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) until November 20 as a first step.

Following this, says the CFIB, the government should work on new legislation to extend the programs and the Canada Hiring Benefit until next March.

“Small Business Week is not just an opportunity for politicians to say nice words about small business owners. It needs to include concrete action to help them with their challenges – particularly at this time when concerns about COVID restrictions and passports are growing across Canada,” said Kelly.

“The federal government needs to extend its crucial business support programs now, so business owners can have more certainty heading into the fall and winter months.”

Just 40 per cent normal

In the CFIB’s letter to the finance minister, which was co-signed by CFIB senior-vice president for national affairs Corinne Pohlmann, they noted that the CFIB’s Small Business Recovery Dashboard indicated that 76 per cent of small businesses in Canada were fully open, 45 per cent were fully staffed, but that only 40 per cent were making normal sales.

‘Many part-time workers are earning more on the [CRB] program than when working,’ says CFIB CEO Dan Kelly

“Our September Business Barometer showed a significant drop in business outlook – the largest drop we have seen since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Kelly, adding that a large proportion of small businesses are still facing major hurdles including increased uncertainty due to the fourth wave, ongoing capacity restrictions, cashflow concerns, a growing shortage of labour, and rapidly rising costs.

Worried about future

“Clearly many small businesses remain worried about their future and need certainty to help them through the next several months. As a result, we ask that you immediately extend The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) to November 20 as outlined in Bill C30 as these programs are to expire on October 23.”

Kelly said that the majority of SMEs (73 per cent) have had to take on significant amounts of debt, averaging $170,000 per business. To help them deal with this debt, he asked that Freeland “look at implementing further rounds of funding through the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan, as well as delay the deadline to pay back the loan from the end of 2022 to the end of 2024 when more businesses will be back to normal sales.

Borrowed money issues

“We believe a reopened CEBA program should raise the maximum loan amount to at least $80,000, increase the forgivable percentage to 50 per cent, include new and micro-sized businesses and delay full repayment requirements until the end of 2024.”

Dan Kelly, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. (Photo: Canadian Manufacturing Magazine)

Kelly said that as most of the associated costs with administering a vaccine passport system are being borne by small business owners, the CFIB was asking that the federal government request the provinces to dedicate this $1 billion funding to help affected small businesses with their vaccine passport related costs by providing them with provincial grants to cover their required staffing and technology costs.

CFIB’s wish list to Ottawa

The CFIB maintains that the federal government can also help businesses by:

  • Working with Parliament to further extend the Canada Recovery Hiring Program, CEWS and CERS, to March 31, 2022.
  • Returning the maximum wage and rent subsidies to 75 per cent for all sectors of the economy, as promised to the tourism sector by the Liberal party during the election.
  • Including new businesses that started after the pandemic began in all business support programs.
  • Offering additional funding through the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan and delay the repayment deadline to the end of 2024.
  • Changing the Canada Recovery Benefit to ensure it does not incentivize workers to stay at home rather than returning to the labour force.

Dedicating the $1 billion in funding promised to provincial governments to implement passport systems to small business owners required to implement these systems.