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Coronavirus: SMEs seek government help

Michel Bolduc, Radio Canada/CBC
March 4, 2020

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is asking Ottawa to give small and medium-sized businesses a delay in paying their taxes this year because of COVID-19.

Some Canadian SMEs are experiencing supply issues, while others face declining customer base.

This is the case of the Iranian grocery store Tavazo in Richmond Hill, a suburb of Toronto.

Its manager Alex Tavazo says that its turnover has dropped from 20% to 30% for two weeks, while the cases of coronavirus linked to Iran are multiplying in the Greater Toronto area.

Consumers are afraid, they prefer to stay at home.
Alex Tavazo, grocery manager

Some restaurateurs Chinatowns in Toronto and Vancouver also complain of a customer down and ask for help.

For its part, the Shopper + company in the Montreal region, a web platform for the sale of printer cartridges, household products and office furniture in particular, has no shortage of customers, but rather inventory.

Already, the company no longer has gloves, disinfectant and masks, which consumers have bought by “boxes” in recent weeks, says Alexandre Desrosiers, director of the company’s distribution center.

For its other products, the company has stocks for only 2 to 2.5 months, he adds, all following factory closings in China.

Sales of Shopper + are down 10% to 15%, because the company cannot lower its prices as much as usual, due to its low stocks, explains Mr. Desrosiers.

He adds that the company had to temporarily thank a “dozen” of its 200 employees.

Jasmin Guénette, Vice-President of National Affairs at CFIB , admits that only some of its members are affected at this time, but urges the federal government to be “flexible” with regard to SME.

Among other things, the Federation would like Ottawa to extend the deadline for paying taxes this year, and ask the provinces to expand their natural disaster assistance programs to include the coronavirus.

Put yourself in the shoes of some entrepreneurs who, in the fall, faced the CN strike. For the past few weeks, rail services have been disrupted due to a blockade, delaying deliveries, and now there is the coronavirus.

Jasmin Guénette, Vice-President, CFIB

Mr. Desrosiers says that the railway blockages disrupted the transport of Shopper + products from its reception center in Vancouver to its warehouse in Montreal.

However, for him, the most useful thing would not be to have more time to settle taxes, but to benefit from government assistance to extend loans.

Quebec Minister of Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon opened the door to loans to small businesses in need.

The Ontario and Canadian governments have not answered our questions yet.

Prepare for coronavirus

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business recommends that its members prepare now to deal with COVID-19.

Among the organization’s advice:

  • assess the possibility of allowing certain employees to telecommute
  • check their insurance policies to determine what is covered and what is not, for example, if an employee becomes ill;
  • set aside financial reserves, in case the coronavirus directly affects the business or causes a slowdown in the economy and demand.

Among the large companies is General Motors Canada, which has suspended all employee travel to China, Korea, Japan and Italy.

Dollarama, the retail chain, has also stopped its employees’ business trips to China. Dollarama has not experienced a supply problem, but continues to monitor the situation closely , the company said.

Costco declined to comment on the situation.

For its part, the president of the Auto Parts Manufacturers Association of Canada, Flavio Volpe, points out that some of its members have had to turn to other suppliers, notably from Mexico, following the closings of factory in China. “You get the parts you need, but you have to absorb the extra cost , he says.”

That said, he does not see the need for government assistance as long as consumers continue to buy vehicles in North America.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warns that COVID-19 is “threatening” the global economy and could reduce its growth to 2.5% or even 1.5% this year.

Click here for original article – in French.

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