Canadian Cities Urge Government Action to Revitalize Ailing Downtowns as Vacancy Soars and CEBA Deadlines Loom


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Cities across Canada are calling for immediate action to revive struggling downtowns and main street businesses amid rising vacancy rates and the burden of having to repay federal government loans. 

The International Downtown Association Canada (IDA Canada), a national coalition, which supports organizations representing and serving business districts nationwide, said its members are concerned about the elevated vacancy rates in the downtowns of many Canadian cities.

Post-COVID-19 effects, compounded with rising costs, labour shortages, and operational barriers that include anti-social behaviours in public spaces, have harshly affected Canada’s downtown and main street businesses, said IDA Canada.

The organization said that addressing these hurdles is essential not only for economic rejuvenation but also for ensuring community prosperity.

IDA Canada is also advocating for an extension to the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan repayment timeline, aiming to offer significant financial reprieve to beleaguered small businesses.

Kate Fenske

“While government efforts have certainly aided struggling businesses, the brief 18-day extension for federal payments falls short of what’s needed,” said Kate Fenske, Chair of IDA Canada. “Many businesses are teetering on the edge. The very core of our downtowns and main streets—our central business districts—are feeling the strain. The moment calls for collaborative and holistic strategies.”

IDA Canada is calling for the government to strengthen Canada’s main street and downtown businesses by directing federal business funding effectively through Regional Economic Development Agencies, guaranteeing that these funds reach local main street and downtown businesses via their respective improvement associations. 

“This isn’t solely about lengthening loan repayments, vital as that is. We’re looking at addressing systemic issues impacting every riding from coast to coast. Downtowns and main streets are the economic lifeblood of our communities, and relief, restructuring, and visionary leaders are needed to ensure their prosperity,” said Fenske.

Calgary Cityscape (Image: IDA Canada)

IDA Canada is a national coalition that works on behalf of more than 500 Business Improvement Associations. Together, it represents over 250,000 business and property owners in districts that account for billions of dollars in assessments and economic activity. 

In its written submission, Pre-Budget Consultations in Advance of the Upcoming Federal Budget, IDA Canada also recommends the government address main street and downtown challenges by providing funding through the Canada Health Transfer to treat addictions and mental health in collaboration with municipalities and their social service partners for in-patient addiction support. 

It also recommends the government invest in skills and infrastructure development by dedicating $500 million annually from the Investing in Canada Plan for main streets and downtowns with a focus on ensuring streetscapes are fully accessible; public spaces are vibrant; cultural hubs are dynamic and welcoming; public transit is accessible, safe, and affordable; public washrooms increase in number and accessibility; existing buildings and their ground level storefronts are re-utilized and made more efficient; and all infrastructure investment is sustainable.

“Street issues, including homelessness, addiction and mental health, have become a barrier to the recovery of significant downtowns and some main streets. To ensure these places remain vibrant destinations where all community members can thrive, we ask the federal government to play a meaningful leadership role in addressing this crisis. We call upon the federal government to lead a nationwide initiative to find and share best practices for addressing street issues and subsequently coordinate government action at all levels to manage them,” said the IDA in its submission.

“Every dollar invested in main streets, downtowns and their businesses has a robust downstream impact on the economic health of a community. Providing support to address skills, labour shortages, immigration targets, and infrastructure gaps will further support the health of main streets and downtowns across Canada. Main streets and downtowns across the country need revitalization. For decades, municipalities have carried the weight of infrastructure repairs to maintain the integrity of community centers and preserve tourism, arts and culture and heritage. Prioritizing the maintenance and updating of aging infrastructure will also provide workforce development opportunities across the country, stimulating local economies and providing economic stability for newcomers coming to Canada.”

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.


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