Conservative leader requests changes to COVID-19 business support programs

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is calling for additional changes to federal support programs meant to help businesses and workers survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

O’Toole is using his party’s Opposition Day in Parliament — days where opposition parties get to set the agenda of the House of Commons — to present a motion demanding the government pause all audits of small businesses that have received the emergency wage subsidy until June 2021 at the earliest. 

The motion also calls for “additional flexibility” in the commercial rent subsidy, wage subsidy and other support programs.

O’Toole will speak to reporters this morning at 9:30 a.m. about the motion.

The motion comes one day after Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tabled legislation containing long-awaited changes to the commercial rent subsidy, after the government faced widespread criticism that the earlier program was poorly designed and insufficient.

Freeland’s changes include the introduction of the Canada emergency rent subsidy (CERS), which replaces the Canada emergency commercial rent assistance (CECRA) program. It also includes new “lockdown support” to aid businesses ordered to close by a public health order. The legislation also extends the Canada emergency wage subsidy until June 2021.

The previous rent support scheme, CECRA, covered up to six months of rent by extending forgivable loans for up to half the value of a business’s monthly rent, in exchange for the landlord agreeing to reduce the rent.

The main complaint from businesses was that they could only access the benefit if landlords chose to participate.

The new CERS allows businesses to apply directly for the benefit without having to go through landlords.