OTTAWA — The federal government is adding $600 million to a fund to help small- and medium-sized businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic, Economic Development Minister Melanie Joly said Friday.
The announcement brings total support through the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund to more than $1.5 billion.
The government says the fund has already helped more than 12,000 businesses struggling because of the pandemic, which has hit everything from main street boutiques to hotels and restaurants.
The relief and recovery fund, administered through federal regional development agencies, is intended to help enterprises that might not be eligible for other pandemic-related assistance.
Of the new money, almost $456 million will go to small- and medium-sized operations facing financial pressure to help them keep employees and cover costs.
Another $144 million will provide rural businesses and communities with access to capital and technical support, and will be delivered by community futures development corporations across the country.
"What we've learned is that in certain hard-hit sectors, it was more difficult for businesses to have access to capital through financial institutions, and that's why they came up to us," Joly said in an interview.
For instance, in northern Ontario, half the businesses supported to date are in the tourism sector, she said.
"We're seeing that all over Canada."
Money has also gone to startup companies that need support to stay afloat, she added.
"That was key, because we need to keep our innovation and our competitive edge, notwithstanding the pandemic."
Joly said she's also aware that major downtown cores are "really going through difficult times right now, and we're looking at solutions."
The minister said she spoke with chambers of commerce in several big cities this week to see what the government can do to help.
Meanwhile, businesses have been urging the federal government to further expand the commercial rent relief program, especially since rent was due Thursday.
Earlier this week, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business warned that only one-fifth of its members expected to stay open without rent relief.
Pressed on this Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the added regional funding is needed because the larger programs, such as the one for rent relief, had not helped everyone.
"There were still many small businesses, particularly in rural or remote areas, that were falling through the cracks of those particular programs," Trudeau said at a news conference in Ottawa, where he appeared alongside Joly to unveil the new funding.
Still, he said the federal government would have something more to say on "support for fixed costs" in the near future.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2020.
Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press