Entrepreneurs across the country will be able to apply to the Canada Revenue Agency for pandemic rent relief on Monday, nearly two months after Ottawa’s previous rent program was wound down following low uptake.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the impending launch of the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) on Friday after Bill C-9 received royal assent late Thursday.
The pandemic-support legislation was passed without a critical amendment that would have let business owners apply before paying rent – a significant requirement for many entrepreneurs who have seen revenues collapse because of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions. Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland tried to introduce the amendment two weeks ago but it was blocked because of a procedural error.
Businesses with unpaid rent would still be able to apply when applications open, the government said late Thursday. In a press release, the government said it “reaffirms its intention” to correct the matter with another piece of legislation.
But the error was just the latest in a series of delays in the federal government’s attempt to give rent assistance to small businesses. Storefront retail and restaurants have taken an especially strong hit in the pandemic, and many Main Street businesses across the country have shuttered for good after struggling to pay their bills.
The subsidy will be a crucial lifeline for small businesses in jurisdictions such as Manitoba, Montreal and Quebec City that have faced various levels of shutdowns for weeks – as well as in Toronto and its neighbouring Peel Region, which Premier Doug Ford said Friday would restrict entry to many businesses as of Monday morning. Mr. Ford said the province would provide up to $600-million in support for locked-down businesses to offset electricity and property-tax costs.
The new federal subsidy will be retroactive to Sept. 27 – the same week that CERS’s widely criticized predecessor, the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program, was wound down. That program only supported about 140,000 of the nearly 400,000 businesses that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimated should be eligible – which critics argued was largely because the onus was on landlords to apply, not tenants themselves.
Despite winding down the predecessor program in September, Ottawa did not announce CERS until early October. The federal government did not table legislation until early November – after which Ms. Freeland made the unsuccessful attempt to amend the legislation to allow entrepreneurs to apply even if they hadn’t paid rent.
“Our government has constantly re-evaluated our programs and support for Canadians in response to the changing economic and health situation, and to reflect feedback from businesses and workers,” said Katherine Cuplinskas, Ms. Freeland’s spokesperson, two weeks ago when asked about the last-minute amendment attempt.
CERS will allow eligible entrepreneurs to apply for subsidies of up to 65 per cent of their monthly rent within certain limits – or up to 90 per cent if they are under more severe pandemic restrictions such as a lockdown.
The new legislation that passed Thursday evening also extended the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy through to June, 2021.
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