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COVID-19 Economic Response Plan

June 26, 2020

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition)

Leader, my next question concerns the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the CFIB, says that about half of small businesses are fully reopened, but only 17% are making their normal sales, so rent support remains crucial. Landlords must apply to this program for small business tenants to obtain rent relief. Take-up so far has been extremely low.

As of June 8, only $39 million has been paid out in rent subsidies, a tiny fraction of the almost $3 billion budgeted by your government. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec have stepped in to try to salvage your program by banning evictions when landlords are eligible but don’t apply.

Leader, the commercial rent program is not working. How will your government revise the program to ensure more businesses are helped? And as the July rent is due on Wednesday, do you plan to extend this program past the end of June?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate) [ - ]

Thank you for your question. It’s an important one, as businesses struggle with reduced revenues to pay their rent and other obligations, including maintaining a workforce with reduced revenues. It’s also a challenging time for landlords who have not been receiving rent in many cases, or who have foregone rent if they’ve been able to make arrangements with their tenants.

The suite of government programs has been put in place in an enormously accelerated time to deal with this. The benefit is not always taken up on day one. For this program to which you refer, in particular, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation has been taking applications only since May 25. Certainly any business paying rent has to make a very difficult calculation to decide how they’re going to move forward and whether they’ll move forward. These are difficult and often rather sad calculations.

In all of our home towns, we know of our favourite stores, neighbourhood and otherwise, that have closed shop as a result of this. It is not necessarily the case that the program needs adjustment. It is important that we give some time for businesses to decide how they’ll move forward and give some time, frankly, for the system to process the applications that they’ve received. It has been only four weeks since those applications have been submitted.

With $39 million out of $3 billion, I would suggest the program isn’t working. I think there the proof is, as they say, in the pudding.

Leader, The Royal Canadian Legion says 124 of its branches across Canada closed due to COVID-19 and are in danger of never opening their doors again. Over 350 more branches are facing financial hardship. They’re not eligible for your emergency programs. Although they’ve sent two letters to your government for help, they haven’t met with a response.

Leader, would your government be willing to allow the Legion branches to apply for support under the rent program? Will you help them with their rent?

Senator Gold [ - ]

Thank you for your question. Thanks to the Legion branches, in particular those in Vancouver, I was able to pay my way through law school because I worked as a musician in Legions in Vancouver for many months prior to my returning to my studies.

I understand the importance of Legions. As a young man, I met so many veterans who were kind enough not to walk out when our band started to play. We weren’t very good, but we did our best.

The government remains committed to helping Canadians as best as they can through this difficulty, including non-profit organizations and others who may not have qualified as easily or readily for the programs that were put in place so quickly to get help out to the maximum number of Canadians.

I’ve been advised that Veterans Affairs is in regular contact with stakeholder groups and those involved in The Royal Canadian Legion to make them aware of those funding opportunities that are available to them and are exploring ways, as they have continued to do through this crisis, to adjust their programs to help a greater number of Canadians and as many as they can.

The Hon. the Speaker [ - ]

Honourable senators, the time for Question Period has expired.

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