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Ottawa announces 75% rent relief for small businesses hit by COVID-19 crash

The program currently will be eligible for small businesses to lower rents by 75% in April, May and June.
Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians during a daily COVID-19 press conference. File photo

Prime minister Justin Trudeau announced this morning the launch of the Canada Emergency Rent Assistance program, which will lower rent payments by 75% for small businesses hard hit by the COVID-19 economic malaise.

The program currently will be eligible for small businesses to lower rents in April, May and June. In order to be eligible, the small business must currently be paying less than $50,000 per month on rent and have suffered significantly under the COVID-19-induced economic lockdown.

Details of how the program will be launched were scarce, but Trudeau did confirm that government will be responsible for 50% of that rent relief, while property owners collecting rent will take care of the other 25%. Ottawa was able to announce the deal after individually negotiating with each province and territory, Trudeau added.

He also noted that Ottawa is still looking at similar relief for bigger companies, and another announcement will be coming in the next days.

In addition, Trudeau added that Ottawa will begin engaging with each province to discuss the standards, guidelines and requirements for a gradual reopening of the economy. The approach will be on a province-by-province basis, Trudeau said, because COVID-19 has hit different areas of Canada differently.

He added that officials have looked at what happened in places like South Korea and Japan to learn from their lessons during their processes to reopen or to keep businesses open after the initial wave of COVID-19. But Trudeau stressed that - while Canadians will hear more about the plans to reopen in the coming weeks - the process will not be immediate, and people need to remain vigilant to prevent Canada from losing the progress made so far against the pandemic.

“I want to be clear that getting back to normal will not happen overnight,” he said. “It will not be like flipping a switch.”

Some businesses have expressed previously that - even if rent relief comes in April - it was already too little, too late for many of them as the lack of business and expensive rents in urban areas like Vancouver have already driven them out of business.

Trudeau said Ottawa is moving as fast as it can to provide support to Canadian businesses at risk of disappearing permanently, but added that the scale of the COVID-19 crisis means that not everyone will be saved.

“We know certain businesses are extremely hard hit,” he said. “But we also see that this is the greatest economic impact and event of our lifetimes. It’s going to be extremely difficult.”

Trudeau noted that the Canadian economy was doing “very, very well” before the crisis, and the goal now is to salvage as much of that as possible post-COVID.

“This is an event that put us into deep freeze - into hibernation, as it were - and everyone had to stop and hold while we let this wave of COVID pass through,” he said. “And our ability to hold well depends on… the government’s ability to support people, to demonstrate that we will be there to make sure that as many as possible of our businesses will be able to bounce back afterwards.”