While Niagara faces the very realistic prospects of losing our second consecutive summer tourism season because of COVID-19, the federal government delivered their first budget in more than two years on April 19.
Of critical importance in this budget, was the federal government plans for the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS), and the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB). Through the support of Canada’s Conservatives, these emergency support programs have become essential lifelines for small businesses and their workers in many sectors across Canada, including tourism. Currently, both CEWS and CERS are scheduled to expire on June 5.
The good news is that Budget 2021 proposes to extend CEWS, CERS and the CRB. The bad news is the extension for CEWS and CERS only goes until Sept. 25, while only an additional 12 weeks will be added to the CRB.
Furthermore, the CEWS and CERS subsidy rates will begin gradually decreasing even earlier, starting on July 4, while the $500 payment usually received in the CRB will be reduced to $300, for the last eight weeks of the benefit.
Many travel and tourism stakeholders, both local and national, have been asking for some of these essential programs to be extended through until the end of 2021 for those who have been hardest hit.
The unfortunate reality is our Canadian travel and tourism industry will not resume right away as if switching on a light. Rather, it will take some time before we begin welcoming international and even domestic tourists back to our local destinations in Niagara-on-the-Lake and across Niagara.
Therefore, these extensions for CEWS, CERS, and CRB contained in Budget 2021 clearly fall short of business and worker needs, which is incredibly disappointing from my perspective as the local MP.
In Niagara-on-the-Lake, our tourism is heavily dependent on the summer season, and it will be devastating for many businesses and workers if the CEWS, CERS and CRB rates decrease, while COVID cases may remain high, the borders remain closed, and tourists stay away.
The government’s approach to these programs also raise many questions, such as why are these critical emergency business support programs set to these arbitrary timelines decided by the federal government? In a perfect world for this prime minister, the economy could be instantly reopened as good as before after most Canadians get vaccinated.
Unfortunately for him, that is an imagined world that is separated from reality.
The world we live in today is one with a severe vaccine shortage in Canada, without widely available rapid testing devices, and an overabundance of COVID variants that are driving a severe third wave, hospitalizations, and deaths.
Another question is what happens to CEWS, CERS, CRB, and the workers and small businesses who rely on these emergency support programs, if the variants continue unabated into the summer?
Or, what if the borders remain closed through the summer and into the fall, significantly damaging our prospects of having international tourists visit our destinations? After all, summer is the best tourism season in Niagara, but we are on the verge of losing it, once again.
If businesses don’t reopen this summer, or tourism does not return in time for the summer season, the CEWS, CERS and CRB plans as laid out by Budget 2021 could be a disastrous outcome for workers and the many businesses who depend on them.
On many occasions throughout this pandemic, I have asked this federal government to do more and to do better for seasonal tourism communities like our own.
Unfortunately, Budget 2021 is further evidence that this Trudeau government still does not understand or fully consider the operations and business cycles of seasonal tourism communities, like Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Falls, and Fort Erie. Rather, they plan to end these critical support programs too early; they fail to make rapid testing devices widely available; and there is no plan for recovery, to get our lives back to normal as quickly as possible.
Canadians deserve far better federal leadership from this government than we are getting. As Member of Parliament for Niagara Falls riding, which includes the towns of Niagara-on-the-Lake and Fort Erie, I will continue to stand up for Niagara’s interests in Ottawa.