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O’Toole calls for pause on CRA audits for businesses struggling due to COVID-19

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is calling for the Liberals to put a pause on federal audits of small businesses hit hard by COVID-19.

He says too many small and medium-sized businesses are struggling to survive during the pandemic, and still have been hit by what he calls unfair audit requests from the Canada Revenue Agency.

O’Toole says his party will use its time on the House of Commons agenda today to also propose changes to the federal wage subsidy and commercial rent-relief programs.

Many small businesses, such as restaurants and in the tourism sector have been asking unsuccessfully for months for extra help through the federal wage-subsidy program to keep employees on payrolls, O’Toole says.

“And then the audit process. Can you imagine a small business holding on by a thread and having the tax collector descend on you with an audit? I think it’s horrible. It’s unfair,” he said during a morning press conference.

“We’re trying to show that we can improve the response … and I hope the government sees this.”

The Liberals tabled a bill Monday that would extend the federal wage subsidy and stop a previously planned slide in the value of payments.

The bill also creates a new commercial rent-relief program to provide aid directly to businesses. The Liberals’ last version relied on landlords to apply for help, which they didn’t do in great numbers.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to talk about the legislation later this morning.

The draft legislation has been met with mixed reactions from business groups that have been begging the government for extra aid to help cover costs while their revenues lag.

For others, the concern stems from new restrictions that have limited the number of customers a restaurant can hold, or closures ordered by public health officials to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

The federal program will cover up to 65 per cent of rent or commercial mortgage interest on a sliding scale based on revenue declines, with an extra 25 per cent available to the hardest-hit firms.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which represents thousands of small and medium-sized companies, sounded a positive note about the legislation but wanted to make sure all firms subject to lockdowns or restrictions would qualify for the extra help.

The association is also asking the Liberals to allow companies to apply for rent relief retroactively if their landlords failed to apply in the last few months.

“Rent relief is critical to the survival of many Canadian small businesses, especially with some provinces entering a second lockdown and requiring businesses to close again,” said Laura Jones, the association’s executive vice-president. 

Alla Drigola of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said the legislation, as written, doesn’t remove arbitrary caps on rent relief that had been a key concern raised with the Liberals as the government revamped the program.

“Unfortunately, businesses in the hardest-hit sectors operating multiple locations continue to be unfairly restricted under this new subsidy cap,” said Drigola, the chamber’s director of parliamentary affairs and policy for small and medium enterprises.

Drigola added that there appears to be some openness among all parties to amend this part of the bill, known as C-9, before it becomes law.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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