Feds unveil new support program for small businesses; PM says new border measures coming soon

By Ian Burns

Law360 Canada (January 27, 2021, 9:15 AM EST) -- The federal government has created a new support program for small-business owners as they continue to navigate the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ottawa released details of its Highly Affected Sectors Credit Availability Program (HASCAP) Jan. 26. Through HASCAP, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) will work with Canadian financial institutions to offer government-guaranteed, low-interest loans of up to $1 million. Hard-hit businesses, like a chain of hotels or restaurants with multiple locations under one related business entity, could be eligible for up to $6.25 million.

The program is aimed at helping businesses with their day-to-day operating costs and enable them to invest in their longer-term prosperity. Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade Minister Mary Ng said HASCAP loans will have a fixed interest rate of four per cent across the board, with flexible repayment terms of up to 10 years.

“Whether it is your favourite neighbourhood restaurant, that bed and breakfast, the local movie theatre or even a franchise restaurant or hotel, businesses that have been hardest hit by COVID-19 will now have the support they need to keep moving forward,” she said. “We know that supporting hard hit businesses isn’t just the right thing to do for our economy. It’s the right thing to do for employees, families and the communities that these businesses support.”

To be eligible for HASCAP, businesses need to show a year-over-year revenue decline of at least 50 per cent in three months, within the eight months prior to their application. They must also be able to show their financial institutions that they have previously applied for either the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) or the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS).

 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

At his morning press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said spring and summer seem a long way off for many business owners.

“Our government has rolled out the largest economic measures in Canadian history to support small businesses across the country, but even with this help during the second wave things are tough,” he said. “For many businesses and their employees, it is hard to get back on their feet. We have work to do ahead but I know together we can make it.”

The HASCAP program will be available at some participating financial institutions as of Feb. 1, with others rolling out the program progressively over the days that follow. More information can be found here.

As new coronavirus variants emerge from around the world, the Trudeau Liberals have also been facing calls to enforce stricter measures to protect the border. The Ontario government said Ottawa should implement mandatory COVID-19 testing for all incoming international passengers and bring in a temporary ban on direct flights from countries where new variants have been detected.

Premier Doug Ford noted over 6,800 international travellers have been tested for COVID-19 as part of the Ontario government’s voluntary and free border testing pilot program at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, but said thousands of people continue to pass through the airport every week without being tested.

“Until vaccines are widely available, we all need to do our part to stop the spread of this virus and that means tighter controls at our border,” he said.

According to the Ontario government, 146 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pilot was introduced Jan. 6. The province also said Ottawa should strengthen enforcement of quarantine measures, including exploring new approaches such as isolation hotels which have worked in other jurisdictions, to ensure compliance with the 14-day minimum quarantine requirement for incoming travellers.

Trudeau said new travel measures would be coming soon, but did not offer further details.

“All options are on the table,” he said. “We have the strictest travel and border measures in the world, but we will not hesitate to take even tougher measures if and when they are needed.”

And Canada’s planned schedule of vaccine doses are “very much on track” despite warnings from the European Union it may put limits on vaccine exports, said Trudeau. He said he had spoken with executives from drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna who assured him there would be a full six million doses by the end of March and that everyone who wanted one would have a vaccine by September.

“We will of course continue to work closely with our European allies and counterparts to ensure there are no disruptions to the Canadian supply chain, but Canadians can rest assured we are working diligently every day to get as many doses to Canadians as quickly as possible,” he said.

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily please contact Ian Burns at Ian.Burns@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5906.