CCentral-Main-logo-EN-trans

Convenience Central
Join our community
extra content
Shutterstock

Liberals revamp rent relief for businesses as second wave threatens job gains

Shutterstock

Shutterstock 

The Trudeau Liberals sought Friday to get ahead of growing economic concerns linked to rising COVID-19 case counts, vowing new and revamped business supports to keep workers on payrolls and maintain job gains threatened by the pandemic’s second wave.

The government plans to provide direct rent support to commercial tenants at a projected cost of $2.2 billion through the end of the year, rather than flowing the money through landlords who were not keen on a previous version of the program.

A wage subsidy program will cover up to 65% of eligible costs through December, costing the treasury $6 billion over that time, and $11 billion more to a well-used loan program by providing an added $20,000, half of which would be forgivable.

Even though many businesses have reopened, a number are not at full capacity while others worry about surviving a second wave. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government wants to help companies hang on, and keep their workers employed.

Job growth in Canada accelerated rather than slowed down last month, as the economy added 378,000 jobs in September, bringing overall employment to within 720,000 of pre-pandemic levels, and dropping the unemployment rate to nine%.

Still, there were 1.8 million Canadians unemployed in September, with about 1.5 million of them looking for work. Statistics Canada said the unemployment rate would have been 11.9% in September had it included people who wanted a job, but didn’t look for work, in its calculation.

The growth in overall job numbers for workers hit hardest by losses earlier this year, such as those in the service sector and visible minorities, are now at risk as local lockdowns loom, said Trevin Stratton, chief economist with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Losses for those groups could further strain a K-shaped recovery, where some sectors of the economy and workers fare well, and others do not.

“Now that we’re entering this second wave, that’s where we’re seeing this split take place,” Stratton said. “We can’t use a one-sized-fits-all policy response to this.”

The government opted for targeted relief in this second wave to help companies most in need, said Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The rent-relief program, for example, will cover up to 65% of eligible expenses for businesses, charities and non-profits on a sliding scale with income losses, with a top-up for those closed by public health orders that would cover up to 90% of costs.

“This is not for everyone. Some businesses are able to work at full capacity despite COVID-19 and they are doing well and that’s great,” Freeland said Friday.

“This support is not designed for them. These measures are targeted for those who need it most.”

While NDP small business critic Gord Johns was pleased with the new program, he urged the government to backdate funding so tenants in arrears or steeped in debt could get relief their landlords had refused.

Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said it was critical for federal and provincial governments to immediately get the welcomed economic supports to affected firms with closures seemingly imminent.

Threatened by surging case counts are gains for restaurant workers, whose industry saw a 72,000 increase in September. That is still 188,000 jobs shy of where it was in February before widespread closures of non-essential businesses.

With winter on its way, outdoor dining may be impractical in some cities, leaving fewer patrons at local bars, pubs and restaurants, even as Canadians are already planning on cutting spending in the area, Statistics Canada said.

“One of the key questions isn’t just what happens in areas like the restaurant industry, but whether the jitters that might show up there spread over to the broader economy,” said Brendon Bernard, an economist with job-posting website Indeed.com.

There are also jitters over the state of the “she-covery,” which in September seemed to catch up with the “he-covery” as mothers and fathers had employment levels that matched what was recorded pre-pandemic as their children went back to school.

Statistics Canada noted a greater share of mothers than fathers worked less than half their usual hours in September, and a higher percentage of mothers than fathers reported working from home in the month, suggesting childcare responsibilities were still falling on women.

Economist Armine Yalnizyan with the Atkinson Foundation said school and daycare closures since the labour force survey was taken suggest October’s figures may reverse some gains, and noted a year-over-year drop in the number of women in the workforce likely linked to the pandemic.

“Gender equity in the labour force is poised to go backwards by decades,” Yalnizyan said, adding that stopping that “really does depend on what our public policies are.”


Shutterstock

Ottawa delays new vape packaging regulations

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Ottawa is postponing the enforcement of regulations regarding packaging of vape products in Canada to January 1, 2021 from July 1, 2020.

In a statement, the Convenience Industry Council of Canada said that, since the start of the pandemic, it has been advocating for the pause of non-essential regulations: “Our key message to government is that the health and safety of our staff and customers would be compromised if we had to undertake extensive inventory changes. We are also reiterating that now is not the time to bring in new regulations that will take time away from the increased burden of complying with safety and sanitization procedures.”

In December 2019, Health Canada proposed to ban advertising of vaping products in spaces where young people can see them in a bid to rein in the rise of underage e-cigarette use.

Minister Patty Hajdu put forward new rules Dec. 19 designed to prohibit vaping promotion in specialty shops, businesses and online platforms frequented by youth.

She also outlined requirements that vaping packages feature health warnings and be child-resistant, as well as plans to place limits on nicotine content in vaping liquids to reduce the risk of accidental child poisoning.

The move followed several months of consultations examining measures to restrict advertising for e-cigarettes in the face of growing evidence that vaping has taken off among teens.

In June 2019, the Minister of Health launched public consultations on proposed regulations that would set out new and updated requirements for the labelling and containers of vaping products. The proposed Vaping Products Labelling and Packaging Regulations would require that all vaping substances be labelled with a list of ingredients. In addition, vaping products containing nicotine would be required to display a standardized nicotine concentration statement and a health warning about the addictiveness of nicotine.

The new rules would have come into effect next month. However, convenience industry, like many others, is in the midst of updating operating procedures and, in some cases, dealing with revenue hits in the face of COVID-19.

The delay gives those in the industry time to focus on the essential work of ensuring a safe retail environment with proper social distancing protocols in the ongoing battle against COVID-19.

Industry lobbying Ontario for regulation extension

Ottawa’s announcement comes on the heels of Ontario’s Ministry of Health announcing in April it was hitting pause on a series of new vaping regulations that were to come into effect on May 1.

The implementation of the new regulations, which have far-reaching effects on the convenience sector, were delayed until July 1, with an eye on giving all parties time to make adjustments, while also dealing with the business impacts of COVID-19.

At the time, Dianne Alexander, director Health Promotion and Prevention Policy and Programs Branch, Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Public Health Ministry of Health, said: “The government understands that some of the proposed amendments would require certain businesses to remove inventory from their stores, which may involve contact with others. Providing more time to implement would allow owners and employees of affected businesses to practice physical distancing.”

However, as c-stores continue to adjust to the new normal and the need for distancing continues, the industry is lobbying to further delay the implementation of Ontario’s new regulations, which  would:

  • Restrict the retail sale of flavoured vapour products to Specialty Vape Stores and Cannabis Retail Stores, except for menthol, mint and tobacco flavours.
  • Restrict the retail sale of high nicotine vapour products (>20mg/ml) to Specialty Vape Stores.

Unless a new agreement is reached, c-stores will have until July 1 to sell out or return to suppliers their existing inventory of higher nicotine and flavours that fall outside the new regulations.

Keep an eye on our website and social media for updates on this evolving situation.

UPDATE READ: Ontario agrees to delay enforcement of new vaping rules

With files from The Canadian Press.


Shutterstock

Retail tenants hopeful over federal relief plan, but landlords reluctant to join

Bill Pratt hasn’t paid some $70,000 in rent for his restaurants in Atlantic Canada since April after having to shutter operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic and experiencing a “critical” sales drop.

“There’s no way I can make it,” said Pratt, the CEO of Chef Inspired Group of Restaurants and Food Trucks. “I can’t pay 100% rent with no income.”

When the federal government announced a new measure aimed at reducing rent for small businesses by three quarters, it sparked hope of survival among restaurateurs like Pratt. However, without buy-in from landlords – some of whom have decided to take a wait-and-see approach due to what they say is a lack of clarity – the program will fail to provide relief to those who need it most.

The Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program will allow landlords to apply for government funds to cover half of rent payments for small businesses, up to $50,000 a month, with tenants paying 25%. Landlords would forfeit the remaining 25%.

Pratt deals with seven landlords across 10 locations for his 22 restaurants spread out across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

He wrote to all of them to inform them he wouldn’t be able to pay April’s rent, but said most didn’t respond. Once April 1 arrived, so did some default letters. Pratt told his landlords he wanted to work out an arrangement other than rent deferral as he can’t afford to push the bills into the future.

As he started reopening some locations for takeaway and delivery, the government announced its rent relief measure. Pratt was hopeful he could use the money from the limited sales he’s making to pay his share of rent on all his properties _ so long as his landlords agreed to apply.

“So far … I’m six for six that don’t want to do this,” he said.

Other landlords, including big real estate trusts like RioCan, have said they’d be open to considering the program.

“We believe it’s incumbent upon us to actively consider participating,” said RioCan president Jonathan Gitlin on a conference call last week.

But RioCan and others in the industry say there’s still too little detail to decide yet.

“It’s too early to tell how cumbersome it’s going to be,” said Michael Brooks, CEO of landlord industry group Realpac.

“No one can make a decision, they’re frozen, until such time as we see all of the details, and we just don’t have them.”

Some of the unknowns include how landlords will verify that tenant earnings are down, what happens if a tenant doesn’t pay their share, and what happens if tenant revenues recover partway through the program. The application process has not yet opened, though it is expected this month according to the CECRA website.

Some landlords will likely also hold off on the program in the hope of recouping full rental fees, said Brooks.

“You’re going to have some who foolishly, I think, will think that if they refuse to cut any slack for a tenant the tenant’s just going to pay anyway and they’ll still be there when the smoke clears. I don’t think that’s the case.”

Other landlords might choose instead to continue with the rent deferral programs they’ve already set up, said Brooks.

Raffaele Morana re-opened Bar Volo at a new Toronto location in October 2019, only to close down mid-March due to the pandemic. He’s since re-opened as a retailer, selling alcohol and some food, such as spices and fish tins, in an effort to make some money.

He worked out an agreement with his landlord, whom he would not name because he doesn’t want to damage their relationship, to pay rent twice a month as opposed to in one monthly sum, but won’t qualify for CECRA in part because he re-opened for some sales.

In order for landlords to qualify, tenants must be closed temporarily or have experienced at least a 70% drop in revenue compared to the same time last year, according to The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s website. The CMHC administers the program on behalf of the federal, provincial and territorial governments.

Since Morana’s bar wasn’t open between April and June 2019, he must compare his current revenues against an average of this past January and February _ two of the slowest months of the year, and a period that saw a two-week closure at Bar Volo for staff vacations.

He falls a few percent shy of the 70% revenue drop requirement.

“They have to change it,” he said, noting he’s being penalized for staying open.

Even if the government changed the criteria, it’s unclear if Morana’s landlord would even apply, let alone qualify.

His landlord’s “initial impressions” of the program are that the “eligibility rules are in need of explanation and clarification, and … there are fundamental flaws that need to be overcome,” according to a letter shared on Bar Volo’s Twitter account, dated May 5, that Morana says is from his landlord.

“Accordingly, the landlord is not, at this time, in a position to make a decision of whether or not they will opt into CECRA.”

Morana said he found the letter disappointing, though he is sympathetic to the fact that the program is creating confusion.

One of Pratt’s landlords agreed to apply for the CECRA program if Pratt repaid him the 25% in rent that’s meant to be forgiven, which amounts to a little over $560 monthly, throughout 2021.

“… I would like to defer this portion of the payments for one year, and have repayments commence January 1, 2021 and ending December 31, 2021,” reads an email from landlord Abe Salloum dated May 7 and provided by Pratt to The Canadian Press.

“This will provide you the opportunity to get the business up and running successfully and give you time to prepare the adjustment to your monthly rent payments.”

The email had a rent deferral contract attached, which Pratt refused to sign. He has also received a default notice for the location.

According to CMHC’s website, Salloum’s demand that the outstanding 25% of the rent be paid back is contrary to the rules of the program, which state that property owners are “to not seek to recover rent abatement amounts after the program is over.”

Salloum did not reply to requests for comment.

“I said it flies in the face of the prime minister and the premier, you know, the spirit of this program,” said Pratt.

Neither Pratt nor Morana know any restaurant owners whose landlord has agreed to apply for CECRA.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people. No one’s heard anything from their (landlord),” said Morana.

“Well, they’ve heard from their landlords. They’re not doing it.”

Eve Schwarz manages a few properties in Toronto that she and her father own, and has already cut rent for her struggling tenants. She hopes to be able to apply to a government program to ease the loss of income, but with no mortgage she’s waiting on details for a promised second program since the main initiative requires one.

She said she doesn’t understand landlords who aren’t being flexible during these times, and that it’s important to think about the longer-term health of local business.

“How is that going to benefit me to have empty space that I can’t rent in the next two or three months, because things aren’t going to normalize until late summer, early fall.”

She said that delays in rolling out the program, however, are already having an effect.

“Given the fact that so many small businesses haven’t survived the first two months, there’s going to be a lot of vacant storefronts, so I guess that would be the frustrating part, that it took so long.”

 


Shutterstock

Federal government earmarking $77M to keep food processing industry safe

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced May 5 more than $77 million to help keep workers in the food-processing industry safe.

The news comes as a Cargill meat-packing plant in High River, Alta., south of Calgary, reopened Monday after a two-week shutdown due to a COVID-19 outbreak. More than 900 of its 2,000 workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

There are also outbreaks at the JBS meat-processing plant in Brooks, Alta., which has reduced production to one shift per day largely due to absenteeism, and at Harmony Beef just north of Calgary.

Companies have implemented new safety measures, including the use of masks and installation of barriers to ensure social distancing.

“This is money that they can use to purchase personal protective equipment for workers, adapt health to protocols and support other social-distancing measures,” Trudeau said at a news conference.

“It will also help expand or adapt our processing capacity to increase the amount of Canadian products we make domestically.”

The union representing the meat-packing workers has argued that it is still not safe inside the facilities and more needs to be done. It has said many staff are afraid to go to work.

Trudeau defended making the cash available to large companies.

“The responsibility is shared from the owners and the operators of the plants to the provincial government,” he said. “But the federal government is happy to be part of creating solutions in this situation where we’re in an unprecedented crisis.”

The Agriculture Union, which represents federal food inspectors, said Trudeau’s announcement misses the mark and will do little to address cramped quarters in hallways, lunchrooms and washrooms at meat plants.

“If we had been consulted, we would have advised the federal government to get off the sidelines and exercise their responsibility and authority over federally regulated food processors when there are outbreaks, and to shut them down when they are not safe,” said union president Fabian Murphy.

“Generally speaking, a handout to processors is not going to solve the issue of protecting workers safety if they cannot access adequate personal protective gear.”

An official with Cargill said it is assessing Ottawa’s announcement. It’s High River plant processes about 4,500 head of cattle a day – more than one-third of Canada’s beef-packing capacity.

“We’re currently reviewing the prime minister’s announcement to determine any impacts to our operations,” said Daniel Sullivan in an email.

“We are grateful, however, to the government and community organizations for their commitment to ranchers and processors and to the health and safety of industry workers during this difficult time. That is our top priority as well.”

 

 


New economic measures to help your business survive

While convenience stores across the country are still open for business, that doesn’t mean business isn’t hurting.

In turn, the federal government is implementing a number of measures that will help c-stores and related businesses improve their cash flow and survive during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retailers or suppliers who have experienced a 30% drop in business should qualify.

  1. $73-billion federal wage subsidy program. The Liberals are hoping the 75% wage subsidy will prompt companies to retain and rehire the more than six million Canadian workers who have asked for emergency federal aid. Online applications will open April 27 and officials expect to have processed 90% of claims by May 4, with payments coming to applicants later that week.
  2. The Canadian Emergency Business Account provide up to $40,000 in government-guaranteed loans to businesses that had payrolls in 2019 of between $20,000 and $1.5 million. It previously offered loans to business with a narrower range of payrolls ($50,000 and $1 million), but lobbying helped rectify this. The loans are interest-free until Dec. 31, 2022 and if they’re paid off by then, up to 25% will be forgiven. So if you borrow $40,000, you pay back only $30,000.
  3. The Commercial Rent Relief Program is for businesses paying less than $50,000 per month in rent and have temporarily ceased operations or experienced at least a 70% drop in pre-COVID-19 revenues. Forgivable loans will be offered to qualifying commercial property owners to cover 50% of monthly rent payable by eligible small business tenants in April, May and June. The loans will be forgiven if the mortgaged property owner agrees to reduce the eligible small business tenants’ rent by at least 75% for the three corresponding months and not to evict the tenant while the agreement is in place. The program will be available mid-May and will be retroactive. The small business tenant is expected to cover the remaining 25% of the rent.

FAQ about the 75% wage subsidy to eligible small businesses:

Who is eligible?

           Businesses (regardless of the number of employees)

           Individual employers 

           Partnerships

           Not for profit organizations

           Charities

 

How do I calculate a 30% reduction in revenue?

You will have to compare your revenue for the month you wish to receive the subsidy with your revenue for the same month last year and show a 30% decrease.

As the subsidy is for salaries paid since March 15, the three claiming periods are the following:

           March 15 to April 11: compare March 2020 over March 2019

           April 12 to May 9: compare April 2020 over April 2019

           May 10 to June 6: compare May 2020 over May 2019

For employers established after February 2019, eligibility would be determined by comparing monthly revenues to a reasonable benchmark.

What is the eligible period?

For salaries paid between March 15 and June 6.

How much can I receive?

For employees hired before March 15, the subsidy will cover the lesser of:

           75% of the pre-crisis weekly remuneration paid (up to $847 per week); or

           Current weekly remuneration paid (up to $847 per week).

For new employees (hired after March 15), it will cover 75% of the current remuneration paid (up to $847 per week).

Do I have to pay the remaining 25%?

All employers would be expected to at least make their best efforts to top up salaries to 100%.

How can I apply?

Businesses will be able to apply through the CRA’s My Business Account portal, as well as a web-based application. Businesses will have to apply every month.