In a radio debate that may be the last head-to-head discussion before the Oct. 24 election, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan snapped back at B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson for accusing Horgan of delaying tourism and small business aid for months so he could use it as a prop for a planned election.
“It’s happening now, dude,” Horgan told Wilkinson on Vancouver radio station CKNW Oct. 15, referring to a $300 million fund for grants to small- and medium-sized businesses.
In fact, the only thing “happening now” is the opening of a long and restrictive application process that will dole out $10,000 to $30,000 to qualifying businesses between now and March 31, 2021, unless the money runs out before then.
After a summer-long consultation period, Horgan announced his economic recovery package seven months after the B.C. legislature unanimously approved $5 billion in COVID-19 pandemic aid in March. The Sept. 17 rollout of “StrongerBC” was widely seen as a pre-election event, and four days later Horgan made that official.
“We’re in a major crisis, with half the households in B.C. expecting someone to lose their job in the next year,” Wilkinson said during the debate. “A quarter of our small businesses expect to shut down completely in 12 months or less.”
Horgan replied: “They asked for the consultation, man.”
What businesses did not ask for was to wait until 2021 for help. The Business Council of B.C. and Metro Vancouver Board of Trade have issued reports pleading for action to keep businesses going so they can begin to rebuild in 2021.
Unlike Horgan’s promised second round of $1,000 pandemic payments to families that doesn’t consider personal income loss, the business grant program is strict. Available only to companies employing between two and 149 employees at least four months of the year, it requires a recovery plan with regular updates to government, and disclosure of all federal assistance received. B.C. grants can’t be used for fixed costs like mortgages or vehicle leases and businesses under three years old aren’t eligible.
Businesses must be collecting and remitting PST to qualify, and provide a year of payroll documents, two years of financial statements and three years of tax returns.
Tourism businesses can apply for an additional $10,000, if they can show that 75 per cent of their revenue comes from visitors from outside B.C.