B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and former finance minister Carole James roll out “StrongerBC,” a $1.5 billion business support plan for COVID-19, eight months after the B.C. legislature approved the money and four days before a snap election call, Sept. 17, 2020. (B.C. government photo)

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and former finance minister Carole James roll out “StrongerBC,” a $1.5 billion business support plan for COVID-19, eight months after the B.C. legislature approved the money and four days before a snap election call, Sept. 17, 2020. (B.C. government photo)

B.C.’s COVID-19 business grant fund still mostly unspent

$300 million pandemic assistance approved almost a year ago

One of the most pressing issues facing B.C. Premier John Horgan’s government when the legislature resumes sitting March 1 is its inability to provide grants of up to $30,000 to keep small businesses going until the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are eased.

Tourism businesses are eligible for up to $15,000 more, because travel restrictions have devastated their ability to operate, but eligibility rules have prevented many businesses from applying. And almost a year after borrowing the money was unanimously approved by MLAs, the business portion remains mostly unspent as businesses continue to fold.

Horgan announced the program days before calling the October election, with $300 million allocated from a $5 billion emergency fund approved by the legislature last March. In December the Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grants program was overhauled by incoming Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon to make it easier to qualify.

RELATED: Tourism business assistance ‘coming soon,’ Horgan vows

RELATED: No election regrets, Horgan says in year-end interview

As of Feb. 18 the ministry reported 9,500 applications were in progress for only $21 million in grants, with a deadline of March 31 for the remaining $279 million. Due to the accounting rules of the legislature, any money not spent by the end of the fiscal year is automatically returned to the treasury to pay down the province’s fast-growing debt.

The program deadline can’t be extended because of that rule, Horgan said, but more changes may be made to get the rest of the money out to struggling businesses, with as many as one third of owners saying their operations won’t survive the pandemic.

“The challenge is not criteria,” Horgan said. “The challenge is we are not having enough people asking for the money.”

Interim B.C. Liberal leader Shirley Bond said there is no doubt of the need, and Horgan’s suggestion that even more changes are required is an admission of “how badly this program has been botched.”

“To suggest it might be retooled again?” Bond said. “Since the moment this program was rolled out, it has been a mess. Now we’re finding a mad scramble to try to get dollars out the door.”

The original program required businesses to show they lost at least 50 per cent of their revenue in each month of pandemic restrictions. With the December changes, businesses in operation for 18 months were allowed to apply, down from the original limit of three years, and an additional grant for tourism-related businesses was increased from a maximum of $10,000 to $15,000.

The 2021-22 B.C. budget has been delayed until April, and Horgan said there will be further assistance, including for businesses that are too large to qualify for the current grant program.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislatureBC politicsCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A small memorial to Rich Goulet was started at Pitt Meadows Secondary after his recent death. (Neil Corbett/The News)
LETTER: Rename Pitt Meadows school gym in coach’s honour

Rich Goulet was considered one of the provinces best basketball coaches and died recently

Doug Nolin, a Maple Ridge senior, snapped this picture of his pet pigeons taking flight down by the old Albion ferry dock. “What a beautiful land we live in,” he said. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Chirp, chirp: Ridge senior captures pigeons taking flight

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

Pamela Franklin captured this picture of a raccoon in Maple Ridge, “chilling” in her backyard, on her storage bin. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Lounging in the spring sun

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

Debbie Noseworthy snapped a sunset picture the first day of daylight savings as seen from the dikes off 216th Street in Maple Ridge. (Special to The News)
SHARE: Sky on fire over Maple Ridge dikes

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

Darlene Martin captured this ‘breathtaking’ view of a sunset and the Fraser River as taken from Osprey Village. (Special to The News)
SHARE: View from Osprey Village breathtaking

Send us your photo showing how you view Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows, and it could be featured soon.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Most Read