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Our efforts to help small businesses survive the pandemic didn’t work. As we wind down the Save Small Business campaign, here’s what we learned and why the future can be different.

By Erin Millar, Jon Shell, Michael Smith and Ben Coli of SaveSmallBusiness.ca

“I have so much fear. How will I feed my family?”

“I’ve stopped working to save lives, but am about to lose everything I’ve built.”

“This is scary as hell. I have employees to pay. Kids to feed.”

We watched these words appear in a Google spreadsheet on the early morning of March 23 2020. Written by small business owners across the country, their stories represented what so many people were feeling in that moment, a week after hundreds of thousands of small businesses suddenly closed because of COVID-19.

Reading these stories was heartbreaking — but the sheer quantity was shocking. Late the night before, a small group of us had hastily created a website called SaveSmallBusiness.ca, inviting other small business owners to share their stories and sign a petition demanding support. We didn’t expect much to come from it. But by morning, 200 small businesses had signed up. Within 24 hours, our group mushroomed to 2,000. …

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A lot of holes remain in government programs targeted at small businesses. But a few straightforward fixes would help a lot.

Canada now has a bunch of programs in place to support small business: a wage subsidy (CEWS), a loan (CEBA) and a rent subsidy (CECRA). The programs are fine, and are helping a lot of businesses. But, there are some clear holes, and the small business community is quite aligned on what they are and how to fix them. No one wants to continue to ask for more, but the holes are quite large. Businesses, livelihoods, families will be crushed unless they are closed. Here’s how to do it:

1. PROVINCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: Commercial Evictions Moratorium and make CECRA mandatory. The UK did this on March 24th, Australia on March 29th. New York State on March 20th. We are hearing that landlords are not coming to the table to agree to the CECRA plan. Businesses need to be protected from eviction due to forced closure, and landlords need to be forced to agree to what is a REALLY good deal for them. Provinces agreeing to CECRA and not imposing a moratorium on evictions either do not understand how small business works, or don’t care about them. There’s no other explanation for not taking this obvious step. …

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It’s not about evictions — it’s about negotiating power, and the massive imbalance landlords currently hold.

The reluctance of the Canadian federal government and its Provincial governments to institute a moratorium on commercial evictions is leaving hundreds of thousands of small business owners at the mercy of their landlords. This article explains why it’s not as simple as “why would a landlord want to evict anyone?” and why a moratorium is essential to a fair sharing of the burden of this public health crisis.

In many countries, one of the first acts of governments in their economic response to the COVID19 public health crisis was to ensure that businesses could not be evicted from their premises. The UK declared a moratorium on evictions on March 24th, and Australia on March 29th, both worried about the businesses that wouldn’t be able to pay their rent on April 1st. France and Denmark took different approaches, with France simply declaring a pause on both rent and mortgages, and Denmark announced very early on that they would pay a portion of fixed costs for affected businesses, ensuring that there would be no unpaid rent. …


Jon Shell

Entrepreneur, hopeful capitalist and aspiring economic justice activist

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