Provincial small business grant programs failing to meet challenge of fresh lockdowns, growing debt

Toronto, May 6, 2021 – With a growing number of regions now in lockdown, provincial small business grant programs are not keeping up with the economic damage business owners are facing across Canada, says the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). CFIB evaluated each of the main provincial grant programs across Canada and found massive gaps and a lack of support to address the third wave of COVID-19 restrictions.

“After more than a year of lockdowns and restrictions, small businesses have amassed dizzying levels of debt and the relief provinces have provided doesn’t even scratch the surface,” said CFIB president Dan Kelly. “In some cases, the programs have closed down, even as businesses are forced to shutter their doors once again, with no certainty of when they might reopen. It’s a really unfair situation.”

To measure the reach of the provincial programs, CFIB conducted four case studies of how a dine-in restaurant, a small retailer, a dry cleaner and a new gym would fare in each province. In many cases, the grant programs helped cover off less than one-tenth of the new debt small firms have inherited due to COVID-19.

Small businesses in four provinces (Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador) no longer have access to a widely available unconditional grant program at this time as several have closed their main program despite a growing number of COVID-19 cases and third-wave restrictions across the country.

Several provinces provided very little grant money ($10,000 or less) to small firms hit by pandemic restrictions. 

Many of the new businesses that began operations in 2020 have been unable to access any of the federal programs. Based on the case study analysis conducted by CFIB, three Atlantic provinces (Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island and New-Brunswick) would exclude a gym started in June 2020.

While some provinces provide support to most businesses facing a major decline in revenues, several jurisdictions exclude those that were allowed to stay open but faced a significant decline in sales due to government stay-at-home orders/advice (e.g. drycleaners). Such businesses were unable to get support anywhere except in British Columbia, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador.
CFIB is calling on provinces to ensure that all businesses affected by lockdowns and restrictions have access to enough financial support to get them through to reopening, to make the applications process simple, and to approve applications and release funds as quickly as possible. 

“This should serve as a wake-up call to every government—business restrictions and lockdowns place a disproportionate burden on small businesses. Hundreds of thousands are already contemplating closing down for good. As the pandemic extends into a second year, governments will need to do more to help them survive and repay the $170,000 in COVID-related debt the average firm has taken on,” concluded Kelly.

Small business owners can help by signing CFIB’s petitions calling on provinces to provide more support.

For media enquiries or interviews, please contact:
Milena Stanoeva, CFIB

About CFIB
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with 95,000 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. Learn more at