Alberta retailers ready to reopen as aid boosted


Alberta small and mid-size businesses, including hard-hit retailers, are about to receive a double dose of subsidies

Ottawa is extending relief to businesses still reeling from the pandemic after Statistics Canada revealed the national economy contracted 5.4 per cent in 2020.

As well, the Alberta government has announced the Enhanced COVID Business Benefit which, starting in April, will provide payments to small and medium-sized businesses affected by the pandemic.

Provincial businesses able to demonstrate a reduction of 60 per cent in revenue will be eligible to receive 15 per cent of their monthly revenue to a max of $10,000. Altogether, businesses could receive up to $30,000 in grant money.

The federal Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and the Canadian Emergency Rent Subsidy will be maintained at their current rates from March 14 through to June 5, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced March 3.

The CEWS program originally covered up to 75 per cent on the first $58,700 an employee earns — or a maximum of $847 a week — before it was slated to decline at a staggered rate in December 2020.

But Finance Minister Chrystian Freelance announced the programs would be extended, owing to a harsher business climate during the winter months.

But even as the weather begins to warm, the maximum rate of 75 per cent will now be maintained throughout the spring.

Ottawa is also extending the Canadian Emergency Rent Subsidy with its maximum rate remaining at 65 per cent.

The base subsidy rate is a maximum of $75,000 in eligible expenses per location and an overall maximum of $300,000 in expenses for any affiliated entities.

A specific lockdown support measure offering to cover up to 25 per cent of expenses for the days a business was forced to close by health authorities is also being extended to June.

It’s all good news for business people like Larissa Whiting, owner of Lahari Yoga in the Edmonton suburban community of St. Albert.

Whiting, who has not yet received any government supports as her application is still pending, said the provincial money will be helpful but it’s going directly into her landlord’s hands.

“It's going to still leave me tens of thousands of dollars in the hole that I'm going to have to pay out of my savings to just pay the landlord to stay open for this year," she explained.

Before the pandemic, Whiting had three yoga rooms in her studio.

She had over 70 contracted workers and offered over 100 classes per week.

Now her studio is down to two yoga rooms. She has 10 staff that would be ready to come back when she opens up again.

Whiting does have suggestions for other supports that could be offered to small businesses.

“I think, personally, it would be really nice if the municipalities would step up and offer to help pay utilities because a lot of what I owe is actually for the utilities. I mean, I get rent relief. I get half the rent, but a gigantic portion of my rent is actually utilities, which you don't get any relief for,” she said.

Payments under the Enhanced COVID-19 Business Benefit will be available in April 2021 following the conclusion of the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant program. Organizations eligible for the Small and Medium Sized Enterprise Relaunch Grant can apply for funding through this program until March 31.

Eligible organizations must have fewer than 500 employees. Businesses also need to report the levels of support they have received both federally and provincially to ensure they do not receive more than 80 per cent of their revenue through these supports.

Chantelle Beasley owns four Aradia Fitness locations across the Edmonton region. She has also been shut down since November.

She has applied for and has received all the grant money the government has offered small businesses and will be applying for the enhanced grant when applications open in the coming weeks.

Beasley would also like to see rent subsidies continue and a small additional relaunch grant. She does, however, understand the difficult situation everyone is in.

“It's a hard place to be, because where does the money come from? There's always that question, and it comes from taxpayer dollars so it's not like there's all this money just sitting there that the government has for unexpected pandemics,” she said.