Supporting small business

In these times of uncertainty, I often hear from anxious business owners as they try to navigate the complex web of application forms, reporting, and now CRA audits, for the various federal programs.

Small businesses are the backbone of Kelowna-Lake Country. The revenue they generate is spent in our community helping make it the wonderful place it is to live, work and play.

I hear real-life examples of hardworking entrepreneurs sitting at the kitchen table, crunching the numbers. They’re watching their profit margins shrink while their expenses pile up.

A local resident who is a professional hair stylist brought an issue up to me. Normally, stylists can operate by stacking, which involves efficiently rotating between two clients. But in order to meet new safety protocols, her salon is using a three-day workweek rotation.

She now must work 12-hour days, taking her away from her family, just to bring in the revenue that she would normally make in eight hours.

Another constituent I spoke with recently is a registered message therapist working longer days due to client distancing and cleaning protocols. As a self-employed health care provider whose hourly rates are regulated, she doesn’t receive PPE assistance.

In both instances, these women are not applicable for any aid programs, unless they dramatically reduce booking their long-time, loyal clients.

We knew that various federal programs for businesses would be ending this fall. Parliament and all committees could have been working hard all summer, just as we are doing now, to come up with the best solutions.

Instead, the government chose to not sit regularly and prorogue Parliament. This forced us into the position of dealing with expiring programs at their very end, or in some cases, after they ended, bringing much uncertainty to business owners.

On Sept. 30, the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) closed to new applications.

Ten days later, on Oct. 9, the government announced that the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) benefit would take over from CECRA. Thankfully,

CERS will now allow business owners to apply directly, instead of having to go through their commercial landlord. This is something the Official Opposition has been asking for since the inception of CECRA.

When the government introduced a 10% wage subsidy, we fought to increase this, after hearing from businesses that the subsidy was far too low. The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) will now be extended until July 2021.

It will have a graduating scale depending on lost revenue, something the Official Opposition has also been asking for.

Now that we are back to the full powers and functions of Parliament, we have been able to table Opposition Day motions. On Nov. 3, our Conservative Official Opposition put forward a motion focusing on small and medium business owners. This motion included:

  • Postponing small business audits until at least June 2021
  • Increasing flexibility in the CERS, CEWS, and other support programs

Our motion was supported by the other opposition parties, but not by the governing Liberals. I’ve been speaking with accountants and bookkeepers who are mystified that the CRA is auditing businesses on government pandemic programs while the programs are still in place.

 They explained this would usually occur once a program closes and all the adjustments and reporting are finalized.

I will continue to stand up for small business in Kelowna-Lake Country, bringing your concerns and recommendations forward.

If you need any assistance with programs or have any thoughts to share, feel free to reach out. 250-470-5075 or [email protected].

Stay Well.

PM playing political games

Of Opposition days and confidence votes

Day by day we’re moving further into autumn. The temperature is slipping, and the days are getting shorter, but there’s plenty to report on here in Kelowna-Lake Country as well as in Ottawa.

I’ve had many questions about “confidence votes” and “filibustering” because of the headlines that arose from the federal government’s most recent actions, so I’ll address them here.

It is solely the authority and decision of the government in power to decide which votes in the House of Commons are confidence votes. Simply put, the government can fall if the vote is not in their favour. This would put us directly into an election.

To be clear, all Opposition Day motions (from any opposition party) prior to the pandemic in this Parliament were not confidence votes.

For example, earlier in this term, the Conservative Official Opposition moved a motion to create a China-Canada committee to address the many issues with the Chinese regime.

It was debated, voted on and passed. If the majority of MPs had not agreed with the motion, it simply would not have passed.

The Official Opposition put forth a motion a few weeks ago to create another committee and the government made this as a confidence vote, less than a month after the Throne Speech confidence vote. 

All this creates stress and uncertainty for businesses and families, as an election would mean several weeks where the government could not make changes to pandemic response programs. Committee work would once again cease and important legislation would not pass.

In more than 150 years of our history, never has a motion to create a committee ever been a confidence vote.

Bottom line — there is no reason for the government to make any vote a confidence vote at this time unless the government wants to force Canada into an election.

But rather than just call an election, which would make the government accountable, they created a perception that it was Official Opposition party creating the confidence vote and uncertainty.

As well, now that MPs are back with the full functions of Parliament, the first time since March, there are more roadblocks for accountability. Studies were being delayed in committees by Liberal MP filibustering.

This is where talking continues on and on in order to delay a vote. As an example, some MPs read from newspapers or lengthy documents already submitted to the Finance committee.

I wanted to bring forth an issue that may affect some seniors across Kelowna-Lake Country who rely on Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) to heat their homes, put food on the tables, and fill their gas tank. We’ve heard there are a number of seniors who have deferred filing their personal income taxes.

It’s important to check with seniors you may know who receive GIS that they have filed their taxes to ensure that any payments they are applicable for continue.

With Remembrance Day coming soon, Legions are launching their annual poppy campaign this week – a critical fundraising initiative. There are new challenges with health restrictions this year as there will be less in person sales and a trial is underway for tap payments.

You do not need to be a veteran to become a member of your local Royal Canadian Legion or Army Navy and Airforce Veterans organization. These veterans service groups also serve the families, providing support, referrals, representation, advocacy and other assistance.

They offer social interaction and well being support at a time when many feel isolated. If you are able, join me in becoming a member, volunteering, or making a donation.

You can also order from the national wreath or poppy store.

Feel free to reach out if you need any assistance with programs or have any thoughts to share. 250-470-5075, [email protected]

New CERB-style benefits

New and Amended Federal Programs

Earlier this month, the government introduced new CERB-style benefits for Canadians not eligible for Employment Insurance.

  • The new Canada Recovery Benefit is for the self-employed or those not eligible for EI and cannot resume work;
  • The new Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit is for those ill or who must self-isolate for reasons related to COVID-19;
  • The new Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit is for those unable to work because they are caring for a child, dependent or family member because schools or daycares are closed due to COVID-19.

Benefits are in effect until Sept. 25, 2021. There is far too much to include (a 37-page bill) in this column, so please reach out if you need assistance accessing these benefits.

We’ve known about the expiration of existing government programs for months, and we could have properly scrutinized options and heard from people over the summer, but the Trudeau government instead decided to shutdown Parliament through prorogation to escape difficult political circumstances.

Once the bill was tabled, the Official Opposition proposed we work over the weekend to properly review and debate the legislation to get it right. We also proposed a committee study.

This would have allowed more accountability with ministers having to answer detailed questions and allowed affected stakeholders and citizens the opportunity to bring their voices and ideas forth.

Bill amendments often come out of detailed committee work. However, our proposal was voted down, and there were only 4.5 hours of debate and a forced vote on this over $50-billion legislation.

On Oct. 9, the government made changes to the Commercial Rent Assistance Program, taking our recommendations into account and allowing tenants to directly apply. This program for businesses, charities, and non-profits, is available on a sliding scale.

They also announced expansion of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy until June 2021 and a top up to the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA). For those who were already applicable for CEBA, a further $20,000 loan will now be available, of which $10,000 would be forgivable if paid back by Dec. 31, 2022.

We are awaiting the details of these programs to see if they need to come to Parliament to be voted on.

While in Ottawa, it was an honour to stand up for Kelowna-Lake Country many times with either statements, questions, or at debate. Here are some of the pressing issues I highlighted:

  • How the lack of COVID-19 rapid testing in Canada, which exists in other developed countries, has affected our residents and businesses with forced shutdowns
  • Mortgage deferrals coming due
  • The ongoing closure of a section of the Okanagan Rail Trail which involves an Addition to Reserve to be completed by the federal government
  • Ongoing softwood lumber job losses due to government inaction and the U.S. appeal of a ruling by the World Trade Organization
  • Pressing the government to work on a trade deal with the United Kingdom, as the December 31st deadline is rapidly approaching
  • The need for wage subsidy clarity so businesses can plan ahead
  • How the Commercial Rent Assistance program is still not working for many businesses
  • Supporting Bill C-3, the Judges Act and the Criminal Code first introduced by former Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, which will require judges to participate in continuing sexual assault law education and training 
  • The lack of substance in the Speech from the Throne
  • The government not planting one tree from a promise they made to plant two billion trees

Please reach out if you need any assistance or have thoughts about various programs. 250-470-5075, [email protected]


Cut, paste Throne Speech

Thoughts on the Speech from the Throne

With children returning to school, I can appreciate that this has been a difficult time for families figuring out new schedules and uncertainties.

Many residents are also reaching out to our office as different tax and payment deferrals start coming due and federal programs change.

In my next update, I’ll go into more detail about possible EI program changes working their way through the legislative process in Ottawa. 

Before recently heading back to Ottawa for a couple of weeks, I endeavoured to meet (safely) with as many people in the community as possible who wanted to connect.

We also set up a virtual roundtable meeting with local business leaders who rely on international trade. I wanted to see if there were any time sensitive or emerging issues that are a priority for them — specifically around my new Shadow Ministry portfolio of Export Promotion and International Trade.

Even with short notice, there was great attendance and I want to thank all those who participated, and the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission for co-ordinating.

There were many issues and suggestions that they brought forth which will be useful in my work on Parliament Hill.

Much of what we heard in the “new” Speech from the Throne on Sept. 23 sounded like it was cut and pasted from the last one ten months ago.

When you add statements made by the government over the last few months, there is nothing new that we hadn’t heard before.

The prorogation of Parliament and the cancellation of all scheduled committees to achieve, as the Prime Minister noted, a “relaunching of the economy" Throne Speech, seems more like a cover the government used to distract from uncomfortable political circumstances with the WE Scandal investigations.

Planting two billion trees was in the last Throne Speech. Planting two billion trees is in this Throne Speech. Yet, no trees have been planted.

What a lost opportunity to plant trees this summer and fulfil this initiative, when people were looking for work, and they could have been safely outdoors. 

What was not said in the Throne Speech speaks volumes:

  • Unity
  • Sovereignty
  • Freedoms.

These are important values that I hear are top of mind for people and it is unfortunate that these do not seem to be priorities for the government. 

The Throne Speech states, “the government will also continue to address the opioid epidemic tearing through communities.” It is not explained what this means. 

“Addressing this” in the manner they have been focusing on over the past five years has not led to a reduction in overdoses, which are up substantially, including in our community and in B.C. 

Small businesses are mentioned, but there is nothing new or hopeful to grasp onto. There is no inspirational “relaunching the economy” plan.

It’s simply a listing of existing programs, many of which don’t work for small business owners who still do not meet the requirements of the programs. 

The speech also mentions creating one million jobs. However, the facts are that two million people lost their jobs at the height of the pandemic, and one million people are still out of work.

Hundreds of thousands of workers lost their jobs before the pandemic in the resource sectors due to government policies — with many more to come if nothing changes.

Other G7 countries have the same challenges with COVID-19, and yet we have the highest unemployment rate.

If the government creates stability and certainty, businesses and workers can have hope.  

Please reach out any time. Stay safe.

More In Your Service articles

About the Author

Tracy Gray, MP for Kelowna-Lake Country, is the Official Opposition’s Shadow Minister for Export Promotion and International Trade.

She also serves on the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, and is a member of the National Caucus Committees Credit Union Caucus, Wine Caucus, and Aviation Caucus.

Gray, who has won the RBC Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the year, and Kelowna Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award, worked for 27 years in the B.C. beverage industry.

She founded and owned Discover Wines VQA Wine Stores, which included the No. 1 wine store in B.C. for 13 years. She has been involved in small businesses in different sectors — financing, importing, oil and gas services and a technology start-up — and is among the “100 New Woman Pioneers in B.C."

Gray was a Kelowna city councillor for the 2014 term, on the Passenger Transportation Board 2010-2012, and elected to the board of Prospera Credit Union for 10 years.

In addition, she served on the Okanagan Film Commission, Clubhouse Childcare Society, Kelowna Chamber of Commerce, Okanagan Regional Library as a Trustee and was chair of the Okanagan Basin Water Board.

She volunteers extensively in the community and welcomes connecting with residents.

She can be reached at 250-470-5075, and [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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