Canadian small business owners borrowed an average of $170,000 to try and stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, says the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Across the country, a total of $135 billion was borrowed, with each small business going an average of $169,992 further into debt to try and survive.
“It’s pretty bad,” Dan Kelly, CEO of the Federation, Thursday told the Commons finance committee.
“My little not-for-profit association took 78,000 calls from business owners last year to try to provide them with guidance and support: 78,000. And these calls are dark. These business owners are really at their breaking point.
“The economic damage we’ve seen so far is a tiny, tiny portion of what we’ll be seeing in the days ahead.”
The Federation in a survey Small Business Debt And Profitability estimated only a quarter of small businesses nationwide have normal sales, and just forty percent are operating with normal staffing levels.
“We’re starting to see some signs of life, but I can tell you when businesses reopen they’re going to be looking at their bills and their income in May and June and the summer, and they’ll be lucky to be able to pay their current expenses let alone trying to make a dent in $170,000 in COVID-related debts that they will have inherited,” said Kelly.
“All those bills for back rent, for inventories they’ve either had to chuck in a restaurant setting or perhaps sell at fire-sale prices in a retail setting, those costs have not gone away. They are not going to be forgiven in most circumstances. And there will be an anchor around the neck of the business owners as the economy begins to recover.”
Findings were based on questionnaires with more than 7,000 operators nationwide.
“The pandemic will ruin us,” the report quoted one business owner.
“It will take me years to pay it off,” said another.
Conservative MP Pat Kelly (Calgary Rocky Ridge) described the scope of unpaid bills in the sector as alarming.
“$170,000 average debt per small business is a staggering number,” said Kelly.
“The fact a significant portion of this debt is not public aid money at low rates or forgivable, it’s not bank debt at historically low rates, but in fact unpaid commitments that may threaten to bring down tens of thousands of these businesses,” said MP Kelly.
Federation research documented cases where business operators opted to forego their own wages, drained personal RRSP accounts and took out new lines of credit to stay afloat through successive lockdowns.
Only 51 percent of small operators across Canada have resumed normal operations, said Debt And Profitability.
BC drops more COVID fines under pressure from Justice Centre
On Tuesday, the JCCF announced that five more “public health” tickets issued to its clients have been dropped by Crown Prosecutors in BC.
BC officials have dropped five more COVID-19 related tickets in response to pressure from the Justice Centre.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) is funded by voluntary donations and represents its clients free of charge.
On Tuesday, the JCCF announced five more “public health” tickets issued to its clients have been dropped by Crown prosecutors in BC.
Three tickets totalling $6,900 were issued to a health care worker named Nadine Podmoroff, who organized three outdoor events in Castlegar and Nelson.
Podmoroff said, according to JCCF, that leading up to the Dec. 21, 2020 event she was in contact with Castlegar RCMP who gave her the green light to proceed without being ticketed as long as the laws were followed.
Policed “monitored the event throughout and said we behaved peacefully,” said Podmoroff, who added RCMP did not issue any tickets until two days after the event when they arrived at her home and issued a ticket of $2,300.
Podmoroff organized two additional outdoor rallies shortly after, for which she was also ticketed.
JCCF filed a Notice of Constitutional Question on Nov. 5, 2021, challenging the validity of the tickets issued to Podmoroff. On Nov. 15, 2021, the Crown dropped two tickets challenged by the notice, as well as an additional ticket issued to an unnamed individual who spoke at a protest with Podmoroff.
Podmoroff has one remaining ticket from Dec. 21, 2020 which JCCF is attempting to have dropped.
“The scientific data unequivocally shows outdoor public gatherings are not, and never were, a public health risk,” said Jay Cameron, litigation director at JCCF.
Additional tickets issued to JCCF’s clients for protesting or holding in person religious services have also been recently dropped in BC, according to the organization, which is in the process of having dozens of more tickets dropped in the province — such as a church in Fort St. John that was fined for recording a Zoom service in its building with staff present.
“The Justice Centre will continue to defend BC citizens against the Government’s unjust violation of their Charter rights,” said Cameron.
BC-based non-profit the Canadian Society for the Advancement of Science in Public Policy’s (CSASPP) Executive Director, Kip Warner, among others involved in combating state overreach, speaks highly of the JCCF.
“The problems Canadians are facing are across the country and are best met with areas of responsibility allocated to different competent campaigns,” Warner told the Western Standard.
“For that reason Alberta’s JCCF and BC’s CSASPP have a complimentary, productive, and professional working relationship.”
Liberals axe mandatory minimum sentences for many firearms crimes
“Conservatives believe that serious, violent offences that are committed with firearms deserve mandatory prison time. It’s shameful that the Liberals think we should be weakening firearms laws in Canada,” said Rob Moore in a statement.
The Liberal government is moving again to eliminate the mandatory minimum prison (MMPs) times handed to people convicted of some gun crimes.
A proposed Liberal bill would affect 14 Criminal Code sections and six drug-related offences.
The gun offences that would see MMPs dropped include possessing a restricted firearm with ammunition, weapons trafficking, discharging a firearm while committing an offence, reckless discharge of a firearm, and extortion and robbery with a firearm.
It follows a similar bill the party introduced February that died without being passed when the election was called in August.
It would remove MMPs from 13 firearms offences and one for a tobacco offence.
MMPs would remain for murder, treason, impaired driving and sexual offences, as well as a some firearms offences.
“With Bill C-5, we are turning the page on the policy of the former government. It is a policy that in the end did not discourage crime or make our justice system more efficient or more fair,” Justice Minister David Lametti said.
“All the approach did was imprison too many indigenous, black and marginalized Canadians.
“Indigenous adults represent 5% of the general population but account for 30% of federally incarcerated inmates. That’s double where it was 20 years ago.”
The legislation also would repeal MMPs for all six offences to which they apply under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, including possession, trafficking and the production of substances classified under Schedules 1 and 2 of the act.
“This measure will allow for more effective rehabilitation and integration by allowing individuals to keep their job, to care for their children or family members or to seek counselling or treatment for substance and addictions abuse,” Lametti said.
“Think about your own kids. Perhaps they got into trouble at some point with the law. I bet you would want to give them the benefit of the doubt or a second chance if they messed up. Well, it is a lot harder to get a second chance the way things are now.
“And that’s particularly true if you are a young person who happens to be indigenous or black.”
Conservative justice critic Rob Moore was less than pleased with the proposal.
“Conservatives believe that serious, violent offences committed with firearms deserve mandatory prison time. It’s shameful that the Liberals think we should be weakening firearms laws in Canada,” said Moore in a statement.
“This bill is soft on crime and puts communities and victims at risk.”
Indigenous leaders welcome ‘Elders Wisdom Panels’ recommended by Allan Inquiry
Stephen Buffalo, President & CEO of Indian Resource Council, wants the premier to formally accept the Allan report in the legislature and Energy Minister Savage to give a mandate to elders panels.
Indigenous leaders are calling on the Alberta government to implement vital First Nations recommendations from the Allan Inquiry’s Final Report, including the establishment of Elders Wisdom Panels.
The statements were issued in a press release by the Indian Resource Council which was founded in 1987 by chiefs following the recommendation of a task force that was established to study the role of the Crown in the management of First Nations oil and natural gas resources.
The IRC now represents more than 155 oil and gas producing First Nations across Canada.
“Commissioner Steve Allan has defined a vital instrument — Elders Wisdom Panels — for opening a novel path to relationship development, establishing common purpose and the cooperative and constructive economic foundations for reconciliation,” said Stephen Buffalo president and CEO of IRC.
“We call upon Premier Jason Kenney to advance a motion of acceptance in the Alberta Legislature of the Allan Inquiry Final Report’s six recommendations. Energy Minister Sonya Savage should then work with Chief Littlechild and other respected elders to formulate the terms and mandate for Elders Wisdom Panels, including the implementation of regulations that require Elders Wisdom Panels as constructive intermediators for all substantive resource developments.”
In his report, Steve Allan noted that $102 million had gone from nine U.S. foundations to indigenous environmental initiatives from 2003 through 2019.
Allan said elders panels could “breach the divide, not only within and between First Nations communities, but also to advance greater understanding among all Canadians of First Nations issues, as well as the responsible stewardship of Canada’s natural resources.”
Bearspaw First Nation, part of the Stoney-Nakoda Nation in Alberta, has been involved in resource development and natural gas for nearly 70 years. Chief Darcy Dixon believes the Allan report and elders panels could facilitate more development.
“The Allan Inquiry provides solid recommendations for resolution of conflicts among indigenous groups, energy developers, environmental groups and governments. For too long we have been handicapped by the Indian Act and a government bureaucracy that restricts our ability to create strong economies for ourselves and to become true business partners. Elders Wisdom Panels would certainly help bring about mutually beneficial agreements, as well as a greater level of mutual understanding,” he said.
Former Grand Chief Wilton J. Littlechild, a lawyer and one of three commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, also gave his endorsement.
“Commissioner Steve Allan’s recommendations must not be ignored,” said Littlechild, who added the panels could help Canada fulfill its obligations under the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The Ermineskin Cree Nation, located 80 kilometers south of Edmonton, has been involved in oil and gas for more than 60 years from the Bonnie Glen Field at Pigeon Lake. Chief Randy Ermieskin believes economic development and reconciliation go together.
“Reconciliation begins when indigenous people grow their own economies for financial security and stability and have meaningful participation in the greater Canadian and international marketplace. First Nations themselves also need to come together to joint venture and partner in large projects, many of which are in the energy sector. We are a force that is not going away,” said Ermineskin.
Mac Van Wielingen, Founder of ARC Financial Corp and incoming chair of the Business Council of Alberta, believes the indigenous aspects of the “large and comprehensive” Allan report have received too little attention.
“The public discussion to date has focused narrowly on foreign funding of opposition to Canadian oil and gas development… [but] the Allan Inquiry Final Report has many other constructive recommendations,” said Van Wielingen.
“Canada’s resource sector is ideally placed to accelerate indigenous reconciliation through partnership, education, training and economic development that advance multi-generational self-reliance and shared prosperity. Elders Wisdom Panels will help bridge the opportunity gaps and build the structural conditions for economic and social sustainability among all Canadians.”
Harding is a Western Standard contributor based in Saskatchewan
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