The Alberta Chamber of Commerce (ACC) president and CEO Ken Kobly spoke to Ponoka chamber members on Oct. 20, giving them an update on what the ACC has done to support Alberta chambers since the COVID-19 shutdown began in March.
The ACC has held weekly chamber-wide calls with its 60 chambers and provided daily updates on resources, such as wage subsidy information, through e-blasts, says Kolby.
He also praised community chamber managers for informing, advising and supporting their local members during the pandemic, as well as chamber volunteers.
“Community chambers tend to be the 411,” said Kobly, adding the ACC wanted to ensure local chambers had the information so they could pass it on to their members, or direct them to resources.
Kolby credited information collected from community chambers with the ACC’s success in affecting changes to federal and provincial and supports for businesses during the pandemic.
For example, the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy was originally announced at 10 per cent, and after advocating to the federal government, it was amended to 65 per cent (for those with a 70 per cent revenue loss or greater) and the time frame was extended, he says.
According to Kobly, feedback from ACC was also instrumental in changes to eligibility for the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA).
CEBA wasn’t helpful to start-ups or other small businesses that didn’t have much payroll, and with the changes it’s more accessible, says Kolby.
The rent protection program was “ineffective from the start,” as it put the onus on the landlord to apply, rather than the tenant, and it leads to issues when landlords and tenants don’t see eye-to-eye.
The new program does as the ACC recommended, which is to have the tenant apply, which preserves the contract between landlords and tenants, says Kobly.
The federal government also announced a $12 million top up to the Canada United Small Business Relief Fund on Oct. 20. The portal for applications opens on Monday, Oct. 26.
The Alberta chamber’s engagement with both the federal and provincial governments has been “really good,” rather than the anticipated lack of opportunity due to the inability to meet face-to-face, according to Kobly.
The ACC has had several meetings with provincial government officials and cabinet ministers.
Kobly urges chamber members to fill out the surveys it sends out to members, which are also available on their website, abchamber.ca, as the data collected is then delivered to the government.
Feedback is also essential for the ACC, as it can’t advocate on an issue until it has been brought forward and adopted as a policy, says Kobly.
Kobly expects it won’t be until next summer that many Alberta businesses’ revenue will return to pre-COVID-19 levels and they will start to retain staff again.
Kobly says it’s “somewhat concerning to see the numbers spike,” but that government needs to “concentrate on the relaunch of Alberta’s fragile economy.”
If businesses are forced to close a second time, he fears they may not have the mental or financial strength “to recover a second time.”
Kobly says the ACC has “laid the ground” with the provincial government, advising that businesses can’t afford to shut down again, and believes that while Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw “gets it,” that her decisions will be based on science.
He also believes that if a shutdown were to be called for again in the event of a second wave, that the shutdowns would likely be localized, rather than province-wide.
The federal government can’t cause businesses in Alberta to shutdown, only the province can, says Kobly.
From a business perspective, there is a lot of risk in a snap election being called, as all program extensions and supports for businesses that haven’t been approved by Parliament yet would be in jeopardy, he says.
“Those programs wouldn’t exist past the current expiry dates.”
Kobly added that it isn’t the opposition currently threatening to force an election, but the Liberals themselves, if the other parties don’t stop pushing certain issues.
If a government wants to seek a mandate, they can go to the Governor General and ask them to dissolve the government.
“What government would call a snap election if they didn’t have to?”