Minister Mary NG, Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade in an exclusive interview with CanadianSME shares her advice on how to succeed past COVID-19.
Throughout her 20 years of public service, Minister Ng has been a passionate community leader and advocate with a proven track record of results in the areas of education, women’s leadership, job creation, and entrepreneurship.
As Member of Parliament for Markham—Thornhill, Minister Ng helped to facilitate the Government’s commitment to invest in Canadian ideas and innovators in her riding by advocating for the inclusion of Markham’s tech-innovation hub, VentureLabs, in the Southern Ontario Supercluster. The Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster is expected to have a GDP impact of more than $13.5 billion in the next ten years and create more than 13,500 good, middle-class jobs in the region.
As part of her work on the Standing Committee of Industry, Science, and Technology, Minister Ng worked alongside her committee colleagues on intellectual property best practices. This work guided the Government’s launch of Canada’s first comprehensive intellectual property strategy, providing tools to support the growth of Canadian businesses domestically while ensuring their ideas are protected in the global marketplace.
Prior to serving as a Member of Parliament, Minister Ng worked as Director of Appointments in the Prime Minister’s Office. She also served as the Director of Policy in provincial education where she built relationships, negotiated with teachers’ unions, and served students while helping to improve Ontario’s education system.
Minister Ng also served in the President’s Office at Ryerson University, helping to shape new initiatives that connected students and their innovative ideas with businesses, creating quality jobs for young Canadians. She has been a speaker and panelist on topics ranging from business, innovation, women in leadership, and Canada-China relations.
1. COVID-19 has had a huge impact on Canadian small businesses. Recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that he will be expanding the emergency loan program to allow more businesses to be eligible. How do you believe this will help small and medium-sized business owners?
In the face of COVID-19, we have been listening to small business owners and entrepreneurs across the country and responding to them. One of the things they’ve said to us is that they have bills to pay and they need help with operating costs during this difficult period. That’s why the Prime Minister announced that we’ve expanded the Canada Emergency Business Account Program. It is a $40-thousand dollar interest-free loan, and $10-thousand or 25% of that is forgivable if you’re able to pay it back by 2022.
This is going to help businesses bridge through this period, get the cash flow that they need. To give you an idea of how many businesses that this has helped, as of yesterday, over half a million businesses, small businesses, small business owners and entrepreneurs have been approved for loans under this program. I expect to see the numbers grow given the expanded category and expanded eligibility. It’s simple for businesses to get access to it, just go to your bank or credit union, they know these loans are guaranteed by the government of Canada and intended to help small businesses to get the cash flow needed through this difficult period.
2. You’ve partnered up with Finance Minister Bill Morneau to find new solutions that can benefit entrepreneurs during this difficult time. How will this collaboration help you in finding solutions for SME owners who have been impacted by COVID-19?
The finance minister has been ensuring that he led the effort to launch the largest economic package that we have seen in response to COVID-19 to make sure we are helping Canadians through this crisis. For me, working with Minister Morneau to help our Canadian businesses and small businesses through this difficult time we heard several things from businesses. We heard that they need help to keep their employees. We know that for employers that have employees in their small business they are as close can be, because you count on your team to create that successful business. They needed to make sure they could keep the team together and that’s why we introduced the 75% emergency wage subsidy. This subsidy will cover the wages of employees up to $847 weekly and gives the employees the certainty of keeping their staff on the team even if they had to close their doors or significantly reduce their operations.
The other thing that we’ve heard from businesses is that it’s important to keep their costs low during this period. What we did right from the get-go was different GST and HST and customs DG payment for businesses for 3 months, so this is going to help 3.2 business owners from across the country. We’ve also extended the tax filing deadline to June 1st and allowed businesses to defer any payments owed to August 31st.
We’ve also heard from businesses that they have a significant expense every month and for those that had to close their doors or reduce their operations, they still have to pay rent. So, we introduced the Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance, and this will cover rent for April, May, and June and enable landlords to give their small business tenants 75% off on their rent. Why is this important? Because landlords are business owners as well and they depend on their tenants to be able to pay their rent. But when you’re a tenant and you see your revenue decline to over 70% then your ability to pay is severely hampered so that’s why we introduced this program to help landlords and to help small businesses as well. Between the Federal government and the provinces, we will be able to give landlords 50% of the forgivable loans, so this is a win-win for both the tenant and the landlord.
3. What is your advice to SME owners to help them through this challenging time?
I know that from speaking to so many businesses and entrepreneurs that they’ve given everything to their business and we’re going to do everything we possibly can to make sure we help and supporting them so that we can work hard to save Canadian jobs and Canadian businesses. What I would say to SMEs is to stay informed and stay adrift with what is going on. The Prime Minister does daily press conferences to update the country on the state of affairs as well as the health officials and deputy prime minister. We, the government have partnered with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and they’ve created the Canadian Business Resilience Network. This is a one-stop-shop that we and other jurisdictions have put out to help Canadian Businesses looking for support, programs, and information to help navigate through this time.
My advice is to stay informed and be informed about the programs and support that’s available.
Entrepreneurs and business owners are incredible, they are innovative, resilient and they can look at things and say, “okay I can make this work for me”. For example, a great female entrepreneur who’s from the Atlantic region has a bakery business with 5 staff members. The retail part of the business had to close because she was helping to plank the curve, but because of that, she was able to get access to the wage subsidy. She’s keeping all 5 of her staff on board but the other side of her business is baking bread and people still have a high demand for that. Even though the retail part is closed, the demand for bread is still there. She’s keeping her baker’s on staff and taking out the $40- thousand dollar loan and paying the 25% of salary to her staff so that they are paid just as they were pre-COVID. In the meantime, she’s also using some of that money in the loan and investing it in an online ordering system so that she has revenue coming in by keeping that side of her business open and creating that capability to have her customers order online. She as a business owner herself is not taking any salary because of her revenue and she’s taking advantage of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit because it gives her $2000 a month.
She’s looking at the different ways that the government has put support out and using it in a combination that’s helping her keep her business running and hopefully that pivot on the online site will help her expand her revenue there. This is the kind of thing that businesses (SMEs) are doing and again my advice is to stay informed and use your resilience and innovation because I’ve seen that from so many business owners.
4. In your expert opinion, what are some of the ways that Canadians can help small businesses succeed at this moment?
Canadian Business owners have been incredible. I want to draw an example of the made in Canada initiative. We, as the government of Canada, are helping to procure and to buy Personal Protective Equipment for our frontline health workers that are working with the provinces and territories. But right now, it’s very competitive because other countries are looking for the same products so its incredible what Canada has done and what many of our companies have done. Over 5000 businesses have stepped up in the call to action on the made in Canada initiative, whether it’s making ventilators, making masks, medical-grade gowns or sanitizer. This is what Canadian Businesses have stepped up in the fight against COVID-19 and its extraordinary. Again, it goes to the heart of how good Canadian businesses are.
I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution. I think a lot of businesses have been thinking, how do I manage this period and how do I come out of this so I can continue to have a business in the restart that’s going to contribute and continue to strive. What Canadians can do is support their local businesses. Many of us may still need a range of products or so forth, so consider what you have around the corner like your local Canadian retailer or restaurants that have switched to take out only. Consider ordering from these retailers and giving them your business. Canadian’s looking around in their neighborhood should support their local SMEs.
5. You recently mentioned that it’s crucial for entrepreneurs to look beyond the United States for new trading opportunities. Why do you believe it’s important and how can it be beneficial for SME owners during this time?
The US has always been the largest trading partner and will continue to be so important to so many of our businesses. There are so many opportunities and customers in the international marketplace. As the internal trade minister, what I have done during this pandemic is to stay connected to my collogues and other parts of the G20 countries. Earlier this month I had a video conference with my G20 trade ministers where we talked about our commitment to making sure that during this global health crisis, we will support global trade and continue to support global investments and make sure that our supply chain continues to stay open so that we have groceries in our stores and the necessary medicine and medical supplies that can come into the country.
On the 25th of March, Canada joined counties like Australia, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore and others to release a joint statement on committing to keep supply chains open and removing existing trade-restrictive measures on essential goods, especially on medical supplies. Just last evening, I met virtually with several the G20 trade ministers to reiterate the importance of keeping our supply chains open. Canada, along with 23 other world trade organizations members signed on to the joint statement to reinforce our cooperation on open trade and agriculture to make sure that Canadians and people around the world can have access to food and the products they need.
Why is it important for SMEs to look beyond the customers? Because Canada is a trading country and right now we have access to 1.5 billion customers in the global marketplace and trade agreements that cover access to 51 countries. When Canadian companies grow, they create jobs and those jobs contribute to our economy. That’s why it’s important to always continue to look beyond to make sure that we access those markets to help our Canadian companies grow.
6. On a final note, what do you believe will be the biggest impact that COVID-19 will have on small businesses?
I’m seeing it and we will continue to see that Canadians are innovative and resilient. Peculiarly for Canadian SMEs who are facing this challenge with resilience, it’s been inspiring to see them come together in new ways. Whether it’s entrepreneurs offering technical skills to find new ways of producing items that are of short supplies like medical supplies, to restaurant owners who’s decided to offer meals to front line staff, or to the innovative business leaders that are finding new ways of creating medical gear for health care workers, and thousands upon thousands of Canadians raising their hands to help their fellow citizens. I believe the biggest impact is going to be the resilience and the innovative nature of who we are as Canadians and stepping up, standing together and having a team Canada approach to getting past COVID-19.