By Christina Park
Politicians from all three levels of government met with the community via Zoom May 1 to talk about how to best access the COVID-19 government assistance programs.
The virtual chit chat had thirty participants and was organized by the Cloverdale District Chamber of Commerce.
Scott Wheatley, the Chamber’s executive director, linked up with Tamara Jansen (MP for Cloverdale-Langley City), Stephanie Cadieux (MLA for Surrey-Panorama), Marvin Hunt (MLA for Surrey-Cloverdale), and Linda Annis (Surrey city councillor) online for the cyber conference. Wheatley was also the moderator for the discussion.
During the one-hour session, Jansen said she sees two aspects of the pandemic that concern most people: the social aspect, with events such as weddings, funerals, and graduations being cancelled, and the economic aspect, where small businesses have taken the hardest hits.
“We have been working hard as the opposition to make sure (citizens’) voices are being heard,” Jansen said.
Cadieux said the main question she’s hearing relates to when businesses will be allowed to reopen. There was actually “no order for non-essential businesses to be closed, unless specially noted,” explained Cadieux.
Hunt followed up by saying next week, the provincial government would announce when those “noted” closed businesses would be allowed to reopen, along with details of how social distancing would then be implemented.
During the call different benefits were discussed, including rental subsidies, wage subsidies, tax grace periods, and student support.
Jansen said businesses, commercial properties, and anyone else applying for these benefits must “play by the rules.”
She said the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) for small businesses can provide forgivable loans to eligible commercial property owners. This is being done so they could reduce their tenants’ rents by a minimum of 75 per cent for April, May, and June.
“But what about businesses who have been running for a year and a half?” Wheatley asked on behalf of the participants. (Participants were asked to send Wheatley questions in advance.)
Jansen said although these new businesses would need comparative revenue to qualify, the emergency response programs were evolving and being extended to cover different needs.
Jansen added, the wage subsidy has been extended to Sept. 30 and family members employed are also eligible for the wage subsidy as long as they have a T4.
Hunt pointed out that individuals could apply for the B.C. Temporary Rental Supplement Program if they had experienced a drop of 25 per cent in monthly household employment income.
Jansen noted CERB is for those who have stopped working, or for freelancers or those with gig-economy jobs that earn under $1,000 a month.
She said the concern is that CERB could disincentivize people to work. “There have been volunteer firefighters refusing to respond to calls because they were afraid they might cross the $1,000 threshold … this is something that needs to be changed.”
Jansen added that when it comes to the specific details of the government’s emergency response benefits, it is difficult for the opposition to understand what is being decided. As the MPs are not actually present at the table during these discussions, she said there seems to be a lack of transparency within the federal government.
Jansen added the Conservatives are calling on the government to remove the requirement that applicants have businesses accounts when applying for benefits, as many small businesses only have chequing accounts.
“Small businesses are the backbone of Canadian economy and it is important that the government protects them,” said Jansen.
Councillor Linda Annis mentioned how the City is looking to reopen facilities soon. She said the big question everybody is anticipating is, “When will restrictions be eased off?”
Cadieux said reopening plans would take place in stages. She added that some activities, such as contact sports, will not likely be approved and the borders will remain closed.
Hunt said reopening will be based upon the decisions of health officers.
“We will get through this as we work together to get Cloverdale back on our feet,” he said.
“We’ll come out of this stronger as a country,” Wheatley added.