The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed many of our realities that we were operating in only two weeks ago. It is affecting our lives in ever evolving ways. This afternoon I really want to stress the urgency of the health care messaging since our last update, which has been echoed by our Prime Minister and our Mayor among other leaders. Everyone must comply with the physical distancing orders of health authorities to help break the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve.

There is no doubt – the Fernie business community is suffering the heaviest blow we have ever faced. Local businesses are continuing to make extremely difficult decisions with little to go on and much that is still unknown at this point. But in the face of this adversity, there are some amazing examples throughout our business community of innovation and ingenuity through the crisis.

Many businesses are completely re-tooling their business models such as embracing e-commerce and moving online, offering free local non-contact delivery services, and offering other services like lessons and workouts online. Some businesses are assisting in the fight being waged by our health care workers right now with our local distillery manufacturing hand sanitizer and local hotels providing rooms for health care workers who must self-quarantine from family. Local businesses who remain open are taking extraordinary measures to ensure physical distancing of staff and customers, with signage and markings on the floor regulating and restricting the movement of people through the space. It is really encouraging to see our community pulling together to minimize the impacts this will have on people’s health and our health care system. The more we do now, the less the duration of disruption for our businesses.

What We Know Today
– Everyone should be following the orders of provincial health authorities. Physical distancing of at least 6 feet between people must be observed when outside your home. People are strongly encouraged to stay home and only go out for essential reasons like work or a weekly grocery shop. Regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face. It is critical that we do everything we can now to reduce the severity, spread and duration of this crisis.

– Many businesses and facilities in Fernie are now closed or have reduced service levels. The Fernie Chamber and Tourism Fernie are actively collaborating to bring our community the latest information on business closures, and what innovative things local businesses are doing to serve their customers while keeping everyone safe during this period of self-isolating: https://tourismfernie.com/news/coronavirus-covid-19

– Support local Fernie businesses wherever possible if you can during this time. Businesses whose doors remain open are taking extreme precautions to obey the physical distancing requirements by limiting the number of people in store and their movement in the space. Order online, get take-out, buy a gift voucher – every little bit of cash flow helps them right now.

– 930,000 claims for EI (Employment Insurance) were received as of Sunday 22 March, which represents approximately 5% of Canada’s workforce. That number will obviously be significantly higher by today.

– A survey from Angus Reid Institute found that 44% of Canadian households had someone who had lost hours due to the coronavirus shutdown. A third said they were concerned about missing a mortgage or rent payment.

– Federal government economic relief package (now worth approximately $107 billion) announced last week received royal ascent yesterday.

– Federal government announced yesterday that two previously announced benefits (the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit) will be streamlined and collapsed into one new program – the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). The application process will open on April 6 and payments can be expected to start 10 days after applying. The benefit will be worth approximately $2,000 per month for individual income support and is available to wage earners, contract workers and self-employed people who don’t qualify for employment insurance (EI) for the period March 15, 2020 to Oct. 3, 2020.

– Provincial government of BC announced a $5 billion dollar stimulus package on Monday. $2.8 billion is earmarked for helping individuals pay bills, and for funding essential services such as health care. The remaining $2.2 billion is for business relief.

– The $2.8 billion for individuals will include a one-time payment of $1,000 (expected in May) available to people who have been laid off, those who are sick or quarantined and those who’ve had to stay home to care for their children or sick family members. Anyone receiving Employment Insurance (EI), as well as anyone receiving the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit, will be eligible to apply.

– Part of the provincial relief package includes an extension on the filing and payment of some taxes, including the Employment Health Tax (EHT), Provincial Sales Tax (PST), and Municipal & Regional District Tax (MRDT) to September 30, 2020.

– Other specifics announced on Monday include a six-month freeze on student loans, postponed tax increases that were scheduled for April 1, and an increase in the BC Climate Action Tax Credit for July 2020.

– Yesterday the BC Government made a further announcement on their plans to assist renters in BC. The finer details are still to come, but the plan includes: a rebate of up to $500 per month for tenants who can’t work (money goes straight to landlord), a freeze on most evictions, and a rent freeze.

For more information on all the tools available for economic relief for businesses and individuals, please refer to the three key online resources below. We recognize there is a lot of information to wade through and it can become confusing and time-consuming. All three organizations listed below are doing a fantastic job keeping up with all the new announcements and pointing people in the right directions to find more information and to apply.

Best Online Resources – Business Relief Measures and Economic Recovery
BC Chamber of Commerce – Resources For Businesses Affected By COVID-19
Canadian Chamber of Commerce – COVID-19 Business Resilience
BC Economic Development Association – COVID-19 Resources for BC Businesses

Local Fernie Information
Fernie – COVID-19 Updates
Regional District of East Kootenay – Emergency Info & Regional Snapshots

What the Next Few Months Could Look Like
The uncertainty as to the timeline and duration of the crisis is a source of serious concern for our local business community. In our last statement we indicated that based on everything we knew then, it may not be back to business-as-usual in Fernie until at least Canada Day. While that still seems to be a likely scenario, what we are acknowledging today is that this summer season will be significantly impacted by COVID-19. Even if the spread of the coronavirus has somehow dissipated by then and confidence in travelling and shopping return, the financial impact of this crisis will have taken its toll on our key markets and travelling to Fernie this summer may simply not be a priority for them. We should be prepared as a business community that some of our industries will continue to be affected well through summer and fall.

To that end, cash flow management is still the most important consideration for managing your business through this difficult time. Take advantage of some of the taxation and utilities that are offering deferred payments but do keep in mind that these payments are only deferred and not waived. You will still need to pay these bills eventually and are just “kicking the can down the road” for now. There are lots of resources that are making it easier and cheaper to borrow during this time to bolster cash flow, but none that we can find are being offered at 0% interest at this time so consider this in your cash flow planning. The most difficult time to get through will be the next few weeks as government relief programs are spooled-up and before that money starts flowing to businesses and individuals.

Advocacy
The Fernie Chamber of Commerce has heard two things very loud and clear from the Fernie business community through the last week:
All the economic recovery measures announced from the federal and provincial government are appreciated, but it is taking too long to get this money into the pockets of those who need it.

What is currently on the table from government for economic recovery is not going to be enough to get all our businesses and workers through this.
Admittedly, the default relationship between government and business usually comes with friction. But right now, it seems that both the federal and provincial governments are in full agreement with the business sector – we need an unprecedented response for an unprecedented financial situation. While we may certainly differ on the specifics of each relief program, they have heard you loud and clear. We all understand that the gears of government are slow to turn, and a lot of this relief is still realistically a few weeks away. And that is frustrating when you are just trying to stay afloat. But we are also encouraged that both provincial and federal governments have acknowledged that what is on the table is just the first phase and there will be more measures to come.

Today we are concerned about some gaps that individuals and organizations could fall through. I have heard a lot in Fernie from sole proprietors and the self-employed who are not eligible for EI and some of the other programs, and are waiting desperately for the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit which is still weeks away and even then may not be enough. Certainly, in hindsight it most likely was a miscalculation to let hundreds of thousands of workers be laid off and pushed on to EI, instead of trying to keep workers in their jobs and offering a significant wage subsidy like the UK has. Double digit unemployment rates are now a certainty before this is over.

Yesterday, over 60 of Canada’s leading business organizations released a statement calling on governments to support a national effort to protect jobs and to postpone non-essential new measures. The Fernie Chamber of Commerce is in full support of this advocacy messaging as we move to sure up our own local economic recovery. The full statement can be read here.

Please keep providing your feedback, insight and concerns to the Fernie Chamber so we can raise this to the provincial and federal level. The Fernie Chamber of Commerce did send a letter on Friday to the City of Fernie on behalf of the business community advocating for further deferred payments on utilities and property taxes and I know they’re looking at that.

For those interested, our MLA Tom Shypitka is participating in a virtual COVID-19 town hall tomorrow night with details as below.

Chamber Update
The Fernie Visitor Information Centre remains open from 9am to 5pm (Monday to Friday) to facilitate the local Purolator shipping depot, which is experiencing high volumes of parcels due to self-isolation and online ordering. All precautions are being taken keep staff and guests safe while keeping this essential service open to the Fernie community. These measures include: one person at a time, two metre spacing between staff and guest with markers on the ground, staff are signing for guest’s packages on their behalf (with consent) to avoid people touching the machine, staff are wearing gloves when handling packages, and staff are regularly sanitizing door handles and other commonly-touched surfaces. We are evaluating these measures on a daily basis.

All Fernie Chamber events scheduled for April and May have been postponed – including our AGM originally scheduled for April 15. The Fernie Chamber of Commerce is currently exploring our options regarding the feasibility of hosting a virtual AGM to ensure the timely filing of annual reports, election of new directors and overall business continuity. Our organization will be a key part of Fernie’s long-term economic recovery program once the health concerns and orders are lifted, and we are in a strong position to do so.

While the Fernie Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to helping our businesses through this crisis and managing our eventual economic recovery, we again want to stress that we are aware of the very real human element during this time. It’s not all about the numbers. This is a stressful and difficult period for all. We encourage compassion and empathy as we all move through this together. We will recover from this as a local economy and a community – stronger than ever.

Kind regards,

Brad Parsell – Executive Director
brad@ferniechamber.com
250 423 6868
Fernie Chamber Update on Business Relief

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