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Ottawa will extend its widely criticized pandemic rent-relief program for small businesses for a final month as officials weigh options to overhaul it.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland confirmed the news in a press release Tuesday. The Globe and Mail first reported on Saturday that the program would be extended through September while Ottawa considered changing its structure.

Many small businesses saw revenue collapse immediately as jurisdictions entered pandemic lockdowns in March. Main Streets all over the country are now dotted with for-lease signs as entrepreneurs spent the past six months struggling to keep up with fixed costs – the biggest of which is usually rent.

Ottawa announced the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program in late April to help with these costs by offering landlords forgivable loans worth half their tenants' rent if they absorbed a quarter of the rent and the tenants paid the final quarter. But the program required that landlords make the application – and very few did.

Polling from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has found that about 40 per cent of Canada’s slightly more than one million small businesses should be eligible for CECRA. The federal government said that more than 106,000 small businesses had received CECRA support as of Monday – meaning only about a quarter have accessed the combined $1.32-billion from federal and provincial governments.

A Parliamentary Budget Office report last week forecast that Ottawa would spend less than 40 per cent of the $2.4-billion it earmarked for the program.

With files from The Canadian Press

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