Billions of dollars aimed at guiding Canada through the COVID-19 pandemic and stimulating the economy will be announced late Monday afternoon (April 19) as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland presents the budget in the House of Commons.
The first federal budget in two years (and Freeland's first budget as Finance Minister) is expected to top $100 billion in spending aimed at supporting child care, climate and green infrastructure, housing, transit and correcting inequalities in society.
The long-awaited stimulus program is also expected to bet on supporting small and medium-sized businesses and providing financial aid to Canada’s hard-hit tourism, hospitality and small-business sectors, reports The Globe and Mail, which spoke to four unnamed federal sources.
As to whether or not this support will include travel agents and agencies has yet to be seen, but it’s worth paying close attention to given the vocal support that politicians, in recent months, have demonstrated towards travel agents amid Ottawa’s negotiations with airlines.
This support includes backing from both opposition parties and the Liberal government, including Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who has emerged as an important ally of travel agent and agency communities.
Aid programs extended
Key to small and medium-sized businesses will be the extension of Ottawa’s wage and rent subsidy programs through to September, The Globe reports.
Details of a new hiring incentive are also expected to be unveiled – launching this June, the program will allow businesses to either hire new employees or increase the hours of existing employees.
This new incentive will reportedly cover up to $1,100 in pay per employee every four weeks.
Sources The Globe spoke with say the budget will also include tax incentives for businesses, access to grants that can go towards purchasing technology, and zero-interest loans for medium-sized companies.
The Liberals are also expected to address hotels in Canada that are trying to survive amid the coronavirus crisis, sources say, as officials prepare funding that will go towards purchasing and converting struggling hotels into affordable housing units.
Support for Canadian aviation may or may not receive a mention.
If Ottawa’s recent $5.9 billion relief deal announced with Air Canada showed anything, it’s that federal support for Canada’s airlines is not a one-sized-fits-all approach and that the shape of any potential financing will depend on the specific needs of each airline.
Negotiations with WestJet, for example, are still ongoing as the airline says it remains focused on a "long-term solution that will serve the best interests of Canadians."
The fall economic statement released last November projected the deficit would reach $381.6 billion by the end of March 2021, but that number might be higher now given that many aid programs have been extended as provinces grapple with third waves of COVID-19 and its variants.
Extended & accessible support will be key
The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) has been gearing up for this day for several months now, dedicating its lobbying efforts to extending aid programs for travel agents and agencies on both the federal and provincial levels.
ACTA has also been working to identify the gaps some businesses within the trade face in accessing some relief programs.
In a recent national survey of more than 1,000 travel agents, ITAs and travel agencies conducted in April, ACTA found that 75% of the industry will not survive if financial aid programs are not continued until the end of 2021 or until 90 days after travel restrictions are lifted.
ACTA demands include an extension of CRB/EI, CEWS, CERS and the CEBA loan repayment schedule, the need for a plan to safely re-open travel and commission protections.
ACTA’s recent survey showed that if federal aid programs are not extended beyond June, 18% of respondents would not be able to pay on-going expenses for more than one month.
“The results highlight the sustainability issues of our sector without continued and enhanced access to government relief programs both federally and provincially while travel restrictions remain in place,” said Wendy Paradis, president of ACTA on April 15.
The Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA), a grassroots group that formed in June 2020 to educate politicians about the challenges self-employed travel agents face amid the pandemic, has also been calling for extended aid, among many other items.
The group, which urges its members to schedule one-on-one Zoom calls with their local MPs, has been vocal in identifying which programs are working for independent agents and which ones are not.
While some federal aid programs can benefit host agencies and agency owners, programs like HASCAP, for example, can’t be used by independent and self-employed agents because they don’t meet the qualifying criteria, ACITA has pointed out.
Minister Freeland will present Budget 2021 in the House of Commons on April 19, 2021, at approximately 4:00 p.m. ET.
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