Editorial – Much wrong with new aid

Jeff Burgar

In a live presentation last week, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney made his case for his government’s new “add on” grant to help Alberta business.

This new grant, which may be applied for beginning in April, is on top of $20,000 Alberta businesses can apply for until the end of March. This new $10,000 is an outright grant. No repayment needed.

This new money does come with a catch, however. Only those businesses seeing a 60 per cent drop in sales qualify.

According to Kenney, most Alberta businesses probably won’t qualify. In fact, in his own words last week, he mostly said the vast majority of Alberta small businesses don’t even need the money. Paraphrasing, “The fact is,” he said, “90 per cent or more of Alberta businesses are surviving right now.”

[For clarity, we watched the announcement last Wednesday. Several times the feed died. When we looked for the complete interview online, we could not find it. Other media reports made no mention of this quote. Please correct if we are in error.]

We are skeptical 90 per cent of Alberta businesses are surviving. This in fact, makes it sound as if Alberta small business, responsible for 55 per cent of the jobs, are doing just fine.

The truth is, for so many businesses, federal government wage subsidies are the only thing keeping doors open. Small business owners themselves are tapping savings, in some cases money that was put away for decades as retirement money. This on top of taking minimum pay, or no pay at all.

In coming weeks, business groups like chambers of commerce and trade boards should be asking their own members what they think of the 60 per cent limit. It could well be members are happy, and Kenney’s read of the province is correct.

For sure, there are businesses smiling. Some were already geared to take-out food, like pizza shops and drive-through services. There were big box stores that had food components, or were deemed “essential services.”

While small shops everywhere were closed, these outlets merrily filled the gaps. One big Canadian chain has just reported their sales for 2020 were actually at record highs.

No “one size fits all” situation. While nobody likes talking about their business situation, voices have to be heard if changes need to be made. Business owners, bankers and credit unions, landlords, even accountants are well placed to talk to MLAs where practical, without breaking confidentiality.

It could well be September or even later before vaccinations work their way into most of the population. Some people are saying it may be as long as two or three years, and perhaps longer, before business life is “normal.” Notwithstanding those companies making record sales, of course.

The bottom line here, the new $10,000 per business is something. Nobody is turning up their noses at any help. It just seems government can’t be bothered figuring out who really needs help, how best to get that help out there, and who is just crying sad stories.

Help sounds good on the news. Reality is nothing but pain.

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