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Banff begs for continuation of federal COVID-19 subsidy programs

These programs supporting businesses have proven to help save jobs and sustain local economies during the roller-coaster of closures and restrictions necessary to protect the safety of our community."
20210605 Banff Avenue 0001
Hundreds of visitors walk along Banff Avenue on Saturday (June 5). EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BANFF – Banff’s mayor has fired off a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau imploring the federal government to keep the rent and wage subsidy in place as the tourism industry struggles to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to maintain the survival of Banff’s economy devastated by the pandemic, Mayor Corrie DiManno asked the government to extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) beyond the scheduled end date on Oct. 23.

“These programs supporting businesses have proven to help save jobs and sustain local economies during the roller-coaster of closures and restrictions necessary to protect the safety of our community,” she wrote in her Oct. 4 letter to the prime minister.

With the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, Banff’s economy went from full employment to almost 85 per cent unemployment overnight.

Summer got off to a slow start, with only 27 per cent of hotel rooms full in June and occupancy rates for July and August at 53 per cent and 63 per cent respectively. In peak summer months, Banff would typically see more than 90 per cent hotel occupancy pre-pandemic.

Leslie Bruce, president and CEO of Banff Lake Louise Tourism (BLLT), said many businesses struggled.

“There’s a slight improvement over 2020, but still nowhere near the 2019 numbers,” she said.

At its Oct. 4 meeting, council unanimously endorsed having the mayor write a letter after a survey of local businesses showed strong support for advocating to extend the subsidy programs for businesses.

Of the 125 survey participants, 55.4 per cent said they had accessed the wage subsidy programs, and 27.9 per cent said they didn’t. About 5.7 per cent were ineligible to do so.

“Based on the survey results, it would be worthwhile for council to write a letter in support,” said Coun. Chip Olver. “Banff is still in economic recovery.”

In her letter, Mayor DiManno urged Trudeau to expand programs that support economies with a high proportion of sectors most affected by the global pandemic, such as tourism hotspots like Banff.

She also reminded the prime minister that some businesses continue to fall through the cracks in Canada’s support system because they are deemed ineligible, only because of the timing of starting operations.

“These entrepreneurs are unable to show lost earnings because they do not have previous years of operations for comparison,” Mayor DiManno said.

“Please include new businesses that can demonstrate their business project was not reversible at the outset of the pandemic and implement an alternate method for determining CEWS and CERS rates for these businesses.”