by Melanie Joly, Minister of Economic Development
For Canadians, the COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a torrent of uncertainty and anxiety. It is certainly the case for our country’s small and medium-sized businesses and their employees. Over the past weeks, we’ve heard from many of them – with different settings and characters, but a very similar script. These people work hard, play by the rules, and do all the right things, only to now be confronted by an economic tsunami no one could have imagined. The backbone of our communities, these businesses are a source of local jobs – but also local pride.
We stand at a unique juncture in Canada’s history. More than ever, our decisions will ensure not just the success of our economy, but of our communities. More than ever, the personal is political. More than ever, we must get it right.
This means frank, honest conversations, the kind we’ve been having during a series of virtual town halls with businesses, associations and individuals nationwide. This means listening more than talking.
With over 130 meetings across all 13 provinces and territories – from the Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce and the Surrey Board of Trade – that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. Put simply: we want to know what we don’t know.
What have we heard? Our efforts are having a tangible impact. Thanks to the largest economic aid package in our lifetime, we’ve put money in the pockets of Canadians and spurred companies to bring back laid off workers. But, no matter how wide we extend the safety net, many businesses still risk falling through the cracks. And that means too many people and their families are anxious and uncertain about whether they’ll get help.
The best way to help our communities is through a source they already trust. That’s why we will be working with those who know local economies best: our six Federal Regional Development Agencies. They’re well suited to assist workers and businesses because that’s what they already do.
With nearly a billion dollars in aid, the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund is here for you. We are supporting businesses who do not qualify for existing programs. Canada’s businesses are as diverse as Canadians are, and the fund’s immediate, concrete help will be tailored to those unique needs. Specifically, it will provide $675 million to support regional economies and $287 million for the network of Community Futures Development Corporations, which play a vital role in rural communities. Most importantly, it will relieve immediate pressures and help local businesses to both pay employees and cover cost. In the months to come, it will position them to play a meaningful role in our economic recovery.
Western Economic Diversification, as the only federal government department headquartered in Western Canada, has long served as an important link between Western Canadian businesses and Ottawa. Rather than navigating a bureaucratic maze, people can count on it as a “one stop shop”. WD also knows where our additional support is needed most: making sure businesses do not fall through the cracks. While Western Canada suffers from a “double whammy” of low oil prices and the COVID-19 pandemic, WD – with a presence in all four provinces – stands ready to “scale up” its efforts to meet the moment.
In this era of upheaval and uncertainly, Canadians can rest assured that their government has their backs. Our message to Canadian workers and businesses is clear: we’re here with concrete measures and supports in all regions of our country. We’ll be here for you in the weeks and months to come. And we’ll get through this, together. We’ve got your back.