Business lobby group wants more pandemic money

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, usually a strident advocate of budget cuts and free markets, says its member companies need more public subsidies.

HALIFAX — Lisa Drader-Murphy opened her first store in 1997, and over more than two decades built her luxury clothing brand debt-free by reinvesting her earnings back into the business.

"I was raised with old-fashioned values," she said from her home in Falmouth, N.S. "You dig your heels in and you just get the hard work done. I haven't had to rely on government funding for anything."

But pandemic restrictions upended Drader-Murphy's retail business, repeatedly forcing the closure of her five stores, cutting off most of her income and pushing her into debt.

It's a situation that has already forced many businesses in Canada to permanently close and business groups are warning many more may not survive the summer as federal aid begins to phase out before the economy fully reopens.

Eliminating wage and rent subsidies before businesses are fully operational could unleash a wave of closures in the pandemic's final days, they say.

"Cutting back on subsidies prematurely when businesses are still closed or severely restricted is a recipe for disaster," said Corinne Pohlmann, senior vice-president of national affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

The federal government has provided businesses with wage and rent subsidies and lockdown support during the pandemic. These measures have been extended to September but they'll begin steadily phasing out next month.

Katherine Cuplinskas, a spokeswoman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in an email that Ottawa will continue to support small businesses through a new hiring program, business financing program and other measures.

While Pohlmann welcomes the hiring incentive, she said the wage and rent subsidies may still be required by some businesses past September given ongoing delays with provincial reopening plans.

Diane J. Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada, said smaller merchants and non-essential retailers are being left behind.

"I think people would be shocked at the number of businesses that may not make it in the final days of the pandemic if more isn't done," she said.

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