Industry associations representing thousands of Canadian businesses are urging Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland to extend the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) repayment deadline.
Not doing so could put thousands of Canadian businesses at risk of closure.
With the CEBA repayment deadline on Dec. 31, 2023, if the loan is not repaid by then, small business owners will lose the up to $20,000 forgivable portion and pay the entire amount at a five per cent interest rate.
“It was a great support mechanism when it was needed the most. The government did the right thing in supporting people and then making money available to them. Adding the forgivable portion was a very important element in doing this and encouraging people to do it,” said John Kiru, Executive Director, Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA).
“The reality is that the recovery from COVID has not happened as quickly as people would have expected or at least as the government is expecting. Anybody on the streets of Toronto, anywhere across the country, the reality is that the recovery is nowhere near happening. The recovery is going to take many years and certain business types, certain sectors, will take even longer.
“So the reality is the initial deadline a year ago was too soon. It’s proving to be that even this year’s deadline is too soon because again nobody expected the cost of money to be where it is – five per cent overnight lending rate or five and a quarter per cent overnight lending rate, the carrying costs of money, etc., is incredibly, incredibly expensive. So add that to the cost increases of labour, product and everything else in the business sector and it’s the ultimate perfect storm if you can refer to it that way, which has not allowed the local small businesses to build up the revenue that they need, the savings that they needed, to pay off (the loan).”
Kiru said the majority of the businesses are not in the position to repay that loan at the moment. This will lead to either more business closures or businesses getting into more debt to pay off the loan.
“People will close their doors. We haven’t seen the end of this thing,” he said.
“This country, this sector, the small businesses, the main street, the communities, cities, towns, all these elements can’t afford more closures. The vacancies that are out there. How main street goes so goes the rest of the neighbourhood. So some of these social issues that we’re experiencing on our main streets are simply going to be compounded by having more vacancies, more derelict-looking stores with newspapers and brown paper hanging in their windows, because vacancies are an indicator of how the neighbourhood goes and that has an impact. There’s a perception of lack of safety. And that will affect the value of the properties that abut these neighbourhoods, these commercial areas, right across the country.
“Main street across Canada will be impacted if we don’t help to nurture and support local small businesses. It’s a perfect storm.”
At the end of July, more than 30,000 business owners have signed a petition by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), calling for an extension to the current CEBA repayment deadline.
“Businesses can’t wait any longer. They need a clear answer from Ottawa now,” said Corinne Pohlmann, Executive Vice-President at CFIB. “We’re not asking for total loan forgiveness—just more time. If businesses are forced to close because of their pandemic debt, government will not be able to recoup that money. It’s a win-win situation if businesses are allowed more time to repay.”
This summer, a joint letter was sent to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland calling for more time to repay CEBA loans while keeping the forgivable portion. More than 250 business associations from coast to coast and across all sectors signed on. CFIB’s research shows that one-fifth of all businesses in Canada—nearly 250,000 small businesses—could be at risk of closing their doors next year unless the federal government changes the deadline.
CFIB is pushing the federal government to extend the repayment deadline for the CEBA loan to the end of December 2025 or at least 2024.
“Small businesses have to deal with high interest rates, inflation and shortages of labour. Most recently, many were hit by the supply chain disruptions caused by the strike at BC ports. They’re suffering one blow after another. How much more do they need to endure before Ottawa realizes it needs to extend the CEBA loan repayment deadline to provide some reprieve?” said Christina Santini, Director of National Affairs at CFIB.
“The message from small businesses is loud and clear: they need more time to repay their CEBA loan. With only half of small businesses back to normal sales, most businesses — particularly in the arts, recreation, hospitality and the service sectors — will need extra runway,” said Dan Kelly, CFIB president. “Financial institutions still have time to delay repayment processes if the government extends the CEBA deadline, but that window is closing. Ottawa needs to act now.”
A new report by CFIB entitled Back in Business? Spring Update on Small Business and CEBA showed:
- Of the nine in 10 small businesses who used CEBA, three quarters accessed loans between $40,001 and $60,000, while one quarter received loans of up to $40,000.
- Only 10 per cent of CEBA users have repaid their loans.
- A total of 43 per cent of CEBA users risk missing the current repayment deadline by end of 2023. Small businesses in the arts, recreation, and information (62 per cent), hospitality (61 per cent) and social services sectors (46 per cent) are most likely to miss the current CEBA deadline.
- The smallest businesses with 0-4 employees are the most likely to miss the repayment deadline (49 per cent)
- Even among the 47 per cent of small business owners who indicate they will meet the 2023 deadline, half say they will struggle to do so, and two-thirds would like to see an extension of the repayment deadline.
Here is the full letter to Freeland.
Dear Minister Freeland:
Industry associations representing hundreds of thousands of businesses across Canada are urging you to extend the current Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) repayment deadline by two years to the end of 2025, or at least by one year, while maintaining access to the forgivable portion.
Almost 900,000 CEBA loans were approved across Canada. Many businesses had no choice but to take on this loan due to circumstances beyond their control. This includes businesses in some of the hardest hit industries such as the retail industry and tourism sector. Mandatory business closures and other government health restrictions left businesses with severe income losses and cash flow issues.
Despite their best efforts, high interest rates, inflation and increased labour costs are making it difficult for small-and-medium size businesses to keep their heads above water, let alone make any dent in the debt many had to take on to survive pandemic restrictions. A recent analysis of over 15,000 Canadian businesses found that inflation, input costs, and interest/debt costs are the three most acute obstacles faced by business (at 56%, 40% and 38%, respectively), and the smaller the firm, the more constrained they are by debt.
Moreover, recent surveys focussed on CEBA loan-holder companies reveal that:
- 49% of small businesses are still making below normal revenues;
- 50% of Canadian foodservice operators are currently operating at a loss or breaking even compared to 12% pre-pandemic; and,
- 45% of Canada’s tourism businesses are likely or somewhat likely to close within the next three years without government intervention into their mounting debt load.
Unless the federal government acts quickly to postpone the CEBA repayment deadline, businesses that are unable to repay their CEBA loan in time will lose access to the forgivable portion of up to $20,000, thus further increasing their debt load. Extending the repayment timeline for the CEBA loan without losing access to the forgivable portion would give many small-and-medium size businesses the stability and certainty they need to get back on their feet on a path to prosperity.
We urge you to quickly address this important matter.