Posted on Mar 23, 2021
NDP CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO SPEND REMAINING GRANT MONEY, PROVIDE NEW SUPPORTS TO SMALL BUSINESSES, CULTURAL VENUES IN LIGHT OF STEP 3 DECISION
EDMONTON - Alberta small businesses and cultural venues need immediate support — including money that Jason Kenney and the UCP have allocated to them but stalled on spending — in the wake of the necessary decision to pause Step 3 reopening on Monday, says Alberta’s NDP.
During supplementary supply debate in the Alberta Legislature, it was revealed $137 million of the Small and Medium Sized Enterprise Grant funding allocated by the UCP Government had yet to be spent. That program is due to end on March 31.
Businesses speaking to Alberta’s NDP have expressed intense frustration that more money hasn’t flowed to help keep their doors open during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Not one small business has come to us saying the amount provided is adequate or they don’t need anymore support from the government,” said Deron Bilous, NDP Economic Development Critic.
“We are calling on the UCP to immediately allocate the remaining grant money before the end of the fiscal year and to also accept our longstanding calls to reinstate the commercial eviction ban, put a cap on fees charged by third-party delivery apps, cut business insurance premiums by 50 per cent and ban business utility shutoffs.
“There is so much more that could be done to support Alberta small businesses. Actions speak louder than words that is why we are calling on the government to get the money in businesses hands,” Bilous continued.
James Burns, owner of Pazzo Pazzo Restaurant in Edmonton, said he’s concerned that the government hasn’t even followed through on the meagre supports they’ve promised to date.
“It seems that the government does not care what is going on, which is very frustrating,” Burns said. “There is still $130 million of outstanding support for small businesses sitting with the government while I struggle to pay rent, payroll and we are facing rising food costs and utility bills.”
Meghan Schuch, owner of Circofit, said her centre has been hit hard by public health orders over the past year and has only received little provincial support.
“In the past year, we’ve been mandated to be closed for a total of six months, and for the other six months we’ve been operating at 25-50 per cent capacity,” she said. “The one-time Alberta Relaunch Grant will be giving us $1,658, essentially half of one month’s commercial rent.
“I need more than this to survive, so unbelievable to hear that the government is still holding back $130 million that was promised to businesses like mine.”
Nicole Goehring, NDP Culture and Tourism Critic, said she’s heard from numerous venue and theatre owners that they’re struggling to cover expenses. Most have been shuttered for the entire year since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.
“Restaurants and retail stores are no doubt struggling with constant closures and capacity limitations, but for venues that have not been allowed to reopen at all, the problems are even greater,” Goehring said.
On Monday, Alberta’s NDP did call for the Government to halt Step 3 reopening in light of surging case counts involving variant strains of COVID-19. Alberta currently has the highest number of variants in Canada. In second is Ontario, with a population 3.5 times the size.
“We support doing what’s necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19; however, the government needs to protect the health of the public and support the economy at the same time,” Bilous said. “If it’s not safe for businesses to reopen, then the government needs to support them while they stay closed.”