Ottawa business leaders urge feds, province to provide more aid for hard-hit local sectors

Ottawa landscape

A group of prominent Ottawa business organizations is calling on the federal government to open its wage subsidy program to all small and medium-sized companies, provide emergency aid to the city’s hard-hit tourism industry and implement a host of other measures to offset the devastating economic effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford, officials from Invest Ottawa, the Ottawa Board of Trade, the Ottawa Coalition of BIAs, Ottawa Tourism, the Ottawa Festival Network and the Regroupement des gens d’affaires de la capitale nationale are urging both levels of government to “address needs and gaps in critical sectors” of the city’s economy. 

“With increased and targeted business support from your governments, we can help companies to survive this crisis and drive economic growth and job creation during recovery,” said the letter, which was signed by the leaders of all six organizations and released Wednesday morning. The group says it represents more than 28,000 companies and entrepreneurs.

Among the letter's chief recommendations is eliminating revenue criteria for the federal government’s wage subsidy program. 

In order to be eligible, firms currently must prove their revenues fell at least 15 per cent in March compared with a year earlier. They also have the option of comparing their March revenue with average revenue from the first two months of 2020.

The letter’s authors say “any high-growth domestic tech company, small-to-medium-sized business and not-for-profit organization that filed taxes in 2019” should be able to receive the benefit. They say the current rules prevent startups that aren’t yet generating revenues from gaining access to much-needed capital to help them weather the coronavirus storm. 

“Rapid deployment and approval of this subsidy through established vehicles is critical to help firms to stretch their cash and survive this crisis,” the letter says.

In addition, the authors are calling on the federal government to expand the Industrial Research Assistance Program, which provides R&D grants to SMEs, to companies that are still in the pre-revenue stage. They want the feds to expedite IRAP applications and claims for tax credits or refunds to companies that conduct scientific research or development in Canada.

The business organizations are also seeking immediate support for the city’s beleaguered tourism industry, which has seen thousands of layoffs in the wake of measures aimed at curbing the spread of the novel coronavirus. They’re calling for “strong, sustained investment” in tourism marketing efforts, aid for conventions, festivals, sports and cultural events and incentives for Canadians to travel domestically. 

Among their other recommendations are:

  • Rent assistance programs with “flexible terms and conditions” for both tenants and landlords;
  • Continued investment in “strategic infrastructure projects” such as phase two of light rail;
  • “Targeted support” for “marginalized entrepreneurs and business owners at significant risk,” including women, francophones, members of the LGBTQ+ community, persons with disabilities and indigenous entrepreneurs;
  • Expansion of “buy local” and “buy Canadian” procurement programs such as DND’s Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security plan;
  • And support for retaining top talent in “high-performance sectors” such as tech.

The appeal comes as the city grapples with the economic fallout of COVID-19 after governments imposed strict measures aimed at controlling the pandemic. Thousands of local businesses have closed and tens of thousands of Ottawa residents have been laid off since the crisis began.