'It's not too late': South Okanagan-West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings calls for loan repayment help for small businesses

Alarmed for local businesses

South Okanagan-West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings is calling for more help for local businesses ahead of a looming Canada Emergency Business Account loan repayment deadline.

Cannings stood in the House of Commons and called lack of action on extending that deadline a "big disappointment."

"CEBA loans saved hundreds of thousands of businesses across Canada and millions of jobs during the pandemic, but recovery has been slow, particularly in sectors such as tourism. The deadline to repay CEBA loans was extended from the end of 2022 to the end of 2023, but there continue to be calls to extend it once more, to the end of 2024," Cannings said.

Premiers from around the country have been extremely vocal in recent weeks, asking the federal government for just such an extension. The deadline was eventually moved — but only by 18 days, from the end of December to Jan 18, 2024.

In Cannings' opinion, that is nowhere near enough, and will only provide a window for businesses to secure additional loans if they want to stay afloat, adding to already dire debt.

"I recently met with Anette and Jörg in my riding," Cannings said, referring to the Engels, who own Maple Leaf Spirits in Penticton, one of the oldest craft distilleries around.

"As many of the small businesses in my riding do, they depend on the tourism industry to be successful, so the CEBA loan program literally kept their business alive during the pandemic. They were on schedule to pay back their CEBA loan until this summer, when wildfires in the Interior of B.C. drove the provincial government to close the region to tourism. It was not just that visitors did not want to come to a region that was on fire; they were literally told they could not come. August, one of the two big months for tourism-related business, was a complete writeoff."

Cannings also shared that he heard from a family-owned retail business in Osoyoos that "did not even get to the break-even point this year," and who will not be able to pay back the CEBA loan or buy new stock for the coming year.

Then there is the wine industry, which saw a rough harvest year in the Okanagan Valley after an early, hard frost the previous year. They were also hard-hit by the tourism ban in August.

"I had dinner last week with wine industry leaders and learned that many wineries are considering closing or selling right now, because they cannot make ends meet. Some have already closed," Cannings said, also noting a recent report from the B.C. Craft Brewers Guild that 15 per cent of their members "face bankruptcy" if the CEBA loan repayment period is not extended.

"I knew there would be a financial cost for the government to carry $40 billion in loans for another year ... However, even if only 10 per cent of businesses go under, we would lose over $4 billion in unpaid loans. More importantly, we would lose tens of thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of jobs across this country ... Small businesses across Canada are in crisis. We need to support them by extending the CEBA loan repayment deadline. It is not too late."

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