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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

CORALEE OAKES -- For every small business that closes because of COVID-19, that’s a family, a neighbourhood, and a community that suffers

Coralee Oakes -- Cariboo North MLA

Small businesses, and the families who run them, are suffering right now and they need to know they have our support. Of course, we know the assistance programs launched by the federal and provincial governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic are a welcome start, but those are just the beginning of what will be needed in the weeks and months to come.

We know British Columbians are resilient, but COVID-19 is yet another hit to our small business community — already under serious pressure from rising taxes and red tape — especially in the Interior following recent mill closures and two record wildfire seasons.

Many business owners have already gone through gut-wrenching decisions to lay off staff in the short term, and are wondering how they will manage expenses in the face of rapidly declining revenues.

Some business owners report that they simply don’t qualify for existing programs and feel like they are falling through the cracks.

Many more say that unless government provides some kind of relief from rent expenses and lease obligations, they will be unable to survive beyond May 1st.

The restaurant industry was the first to experience the worst of the pandemic. At a provincial level, four out of five restaurants have laid off employees since March 1st, amounting to the loss of over 120,000 jobs in every corner of BC.

Sadly, one in every ten restaurants in our province has closed permanently. Even more alarming is one in five say they will follow suit within weeks unless they receive relief from rent and lease obligations.

The dairy industry is suffering too because of reduced demand from the hospitality sector in general.

For every small business that closes because of COVID-19 in BC, that’s a family, a neighbourhood and a community that suffers and we cannot stand by and let that happen.

Small business in all sectors of the economy face a similar challenge. Most of the current support programs offered by government amount to tax deferrals that last until September 30th.

In other words, if we see a lifting of pandemic restrictions in the next few months, small business owners will be faced with a huge tax burden at a time when they are just struggling to get back on their feet.

If a second wave of the virus hits in the fall, we could be right back to square one. That’s why small businesses throughout the province have been loud in their calls for a government program that provides immediate rent and commercial lease relief.

We can each do our part by supporting small business on our own, but government needs to step up to the plate and take bold measures to save the foundation of our provincial economy, our local communities and the hard-working families that have put everything they have into their businesses.

Small business owners have spoken. Now it’s time for the provincial government to show they’re listening.

Coralee Oakes was elected as a BC Liberal MLA for Cariboo North in 2013 and 2017, and currently serves as Opposition Critic for Small Business. Prior to her, Coralee was a two-term Quesnel City Councillor, and served as the Executive Director of the Quesnel and District Chamber of Commerce.

She is a Past President of the British Columbia Chamber Executives and has also served as a Director on the BC Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Chamber of Commerce Executives, Cariboo Chilcotin Tourism Association and numerous local not-for-profit organizations.


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