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Canada’s small businesses now collectively owe over $135 billion as a result of the pandemic

Winnipeg, February 25, 2020 – Seven in 10 small business owners have taken on debt due to COVID-19, with the average now reaching almost $170,000 per business, according to a new report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). In total, small businesses in Canada now owe a collective $135 billion.

“Over the last six months, the average debt taken on by small businesses to deal with COVID-19 has grown significantly,” said Laura Jones, Executive Vice-President at CFIB. “While many businesses had previously reopened and were attempting to regain lost sales, the second wave and the restrictions that came with it are putting a massive wrench in an already slow recovery for small businesses.” 

After adjusting the data to reflect the entire economy, CFIB estimates that the total debt taken on by Canadian small businesses as a result of COVID-19 as of early February is $135.1 billion, a significant increase since CFIB’s previous estimate of $117 billion in July 2020. 

Of businesses that have taken on debt, three quarters (76 per cent) say it will take them over a year to repay, with 11 per cent of this group expressing concern that they may not be able to repay their COVID-19 related debt at all. What’s more, when asked how long it would take them to return to typical profit levels (not including any debt repayment), four in 10 businesses say it will be at least a year from now, if not more, until they expect to see normal profits.

CFIB’s #SmallBusinessEveryDay campaign encourages Canadians to choose to shop at local, independent businesses every time they can to support their recovery. Governments can also help by ensuring that support programs match business needs and can be easily accessed.

“Small businesses need our support through this challenging time,” added Taylor Matchett, a research analyst at CFIB and the lead author of the report. “We must also keep in mind that businesses are much more fragile now than at the beginning of the pandemic, and every effort should be made to keep businesses open while managing the health implications of the virus.”     

“Even with many businesses now partially open across Manitoba, getting back to normal is still months away for most,” concluded Jonathan, CFIB’s director, prairie region. “It is critical for the provincial government to immediately renew the Manitoba Bridge Grant to help those businesses that continue to struggle with ongoing restrictions. The province certainly has enough money to do this.”

Read CFIB’s full research report for more details: Small Business Debt and Profitability: The COVID-19 Impact.

For media enquiries or interviews with Laura Jones, CFIB’s executive vice-president, or Taylor Matchett, CFIB’s research analyst and lead author of the report, please contact Milena Stanoeva, Manager of Public Affairs, at 647-464-2814 or email [email protected].

To arrange an interview with Jonathan Alward, CFIB's director, prairie region, please call (431) 998-4498, or e-mail [email protected]. You can also follow CFIB Manitoba on Twitter at @cfibMB.


The total COVID-19-related debt estimate for Canadian SMEs is based on results from CFIB survey results and Statistics Canada business counts for December 2020. For additional details on how the estimate was calculated, please refer to the methodology section of the full research report.

Survey results come from CFIB’s Your Voice Survey – February 2021, which was taken online by 3,554 small business owners in Canada from February 4 to 8, 2021. For comparison purposes, a probability sample with the same number of respondents would have a margin of error of +/-1.6%, 19 times out of 20. Results from this survey are preliminary at the time of reporting. 

About CFIB

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with 110,000 members across every industry and region. CFIB is dedicated to increasing business owners’ chances of success by driving policy change at all levels of government, providing expert advice and tools, and negotiating exclusive savings. 

About #SmallBusinessEveryDay

The #SmallBusinessEveryDay campaign encourages local shopping, promotes initiatives to support small business and provides posters and other tools for businesses to use. It is supported by Scotiabank, Chase Merchant Services, eBay Canada, Intuit Canada and Interac Corp. To find out more about being a media sponsor please contact [email protected].  

February 25, 2021

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