Newmarket businesses grilled local politicians and business leaders to address what supports are available to them amidst another round of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
The Newmarket Chamber of Commerce hosted a conference call via Zoom Jan. 10 to highlight the support available at every level. Both Newmarket-Aurora MPP Christine Elliott and MP Tony Van Bynen spoke about what their respective governments had to offer. Approximately 75 people attended.
Ontario Chamber of Commerce president Rocco Rossi, another guest speaker, said although the pandemic is challenging to manage, governments should not hold back on providing support. He said qualifying for supports remains an issue.
"Ontario has lost over 50,000 businesses over the course of the pandemic. Despite all efforts and claims that 'we have your back,' companies, businesses have fallen through the cracks," he said. “We also stress the point that when you’re falling from the sky, nobody asks for the price of the parachute."
Both the province and federal government have business support programs in place, including a new $10,000 grant program announced by the province Jan. 7. But chambers of commerce and businesses have criticized them for not having more at the ready when the new restrictions came into place last week.
Businesses have also said it can be challenging to apply for different programs. Jenn Walker said there is paperwork to navigate for her business, and she is now going through a retroactive process with the Canada Revenue Agency after implementing a wage subsidy.
“Everything from the government needs paperwork,” Walker said. “Now CRA is looking for 'forms' that we did not complete at that time. It takes time and energy to go back now to review and submit.”
Although details for the new provincial grant program have yet to be released, Elliott said those would be forthcoming. Meanwhile, she also noted relief programs for energy costs, property tax relief, and upcoming electricity cost reductions.
“Throughout the pandemic, our local businesses have worked hard to keep our community safe. I do want to extend my deepest appreciation to each of you for rising to the challenge and continuing to do your part,” Elliott said. “We are taking an all-hands-on-deck approach, working directly with businesses to protect against the omicron variant as we continue to ramp up capacity to administer vaccines.”
Van Bynen discussed federal initiatives such as a lockdown benefit, worker benefit, and subsidy programs for the hardest-hit businesses and those in the tourism and hospital sector. He also encouraged businesses to apply for the summer jobs program.
"We've come a long way from where we've started. Al levels of government have come together. Organizations, businesses, and Canadians have stepped up," Van Bynen said.
Chamber treasurer Pierre Bonhomme walked businesses through how to apply for different programs and check eligibility. For the federal initiatives, there is a website listing all the different initiatives with eligibility and applications.
Rossi said chambers of commerce are pushing for support to go beyond tax delays or loans. Instead, they advocate for grant support so that businesses do not add to debt taken on in the pandemic.
“Despite the rise of omicron, I remain — and many remain — extremely optimistic that we are close to shore,” he said. “All the more reason we certainly don’t want any more business, after treading water for 20-plus months, to drown just five metres from shore.”
Newmarket Chamber of Commerce president Chris Emanuel said businesses should continue sharing their stories.
“It’s a narrative we need to be sharing with federal, provincial, municipal levels of government. It’s so important right now that you’re vocal and that we all do our best to amplify each other’s message,” he said.
You can watch the presentations on the Newmarket Chamber of Commerce Youtube page.