“If the program also succeeds, 62% of SMEs will not ask for more help from the provincial government,” said Francois Vincent, Vice President of Quebec for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. This is the data that we released last week. The number of companies assisted compared to all those that have been forced to shut down temporarily due to the shutdown sends a very clear signal, either there is a lack of communication about the program, or it is too much. Complex for entrepreneurs or either it does not meet the needs of the business. “
After counting the companies that were forced to close in the spring and fall of 2020 in Quebec, Mr. Vincent indicated that there are more than 20,000 restaurants, 2,500 bars, 2,500 private catering services, 807 gyms and a hundred cinemas. He added that if companies do not apply to AERAM, it is not because they do not need it.
“Comments made by businessmen should send a message to the minister that he should introspect the program that he is engineer to improve on rather than communicate that everything is the best in the best possible worlds,” added Mr. Vincent.
But what is wrong with the assistance program for companies in areas with high alert? First, representatives of small and medium-sized businesses believe that the eligibility criteria for the program are too stringent. This is the case of Mr. François Monnet, Vice President of Public and Government Affairs of the Quebec Restaurant Association. He said AERAM is good …. as long as you get it.
“And that’s the whole point. In the beginning, you had to prove that you were making a profit. In October, restaurants, for example, first had to go through more than three months of closing in the spring. It is not true that everyone did well during the summer.” Proving profitability did not work. Then it became the criterion of viability. But many restaurants had to borrow to obtain financing. In the eyes of one analyst, they were in a precarious situation, including not being able to survive. “
Mr. Monier expressed his regret that the government did not admit that many of the files had been rejected. The people he spoke to admitted that they were required to submit all kinds of reports like seven-month cash budgets.
“How do you manage such a budget when you don’t even know when it will open like in Montreal? This one on what? The weather is windy. Ultimately, companies are told that they are not profitable enough and that their viability is so dangerous that they cannot be granted funding.” “.
Another mistake that entrepreneurs have pointed out is the paperwork required to open a file in AERAM. Yes, the form to be completed consists of only five pages. But you add everything related to the five pages. For example, a program request comes with a commitment to preparing a budget forecast, which often leads people to consult an accountant, thereby incurring their costs. “At the end of it all, entrepreneurs don’t guarantee they’ll get help,” Vincent said.
The pill does not pass
Another pill that has not been passed between associations representing SMEs is the government’s decision to announce that it will retroactively stop helping companies for the months of October, November and December 2020 from February 18th. Many were waiting for news from the federal government that they had applied for the Canada Emergency Rent Grant (SUCL), the criteria for which were revealed at the end of November.
“We were very quick to trigger this,” said Mr. Monier. “AERAM applies after the federal programs. You cannot order both programs at the same time. At the time of the provincial government’s announcement, many people were just starting to finalize their case for AERAM. And the grass underneath the feet of many of them had been cut off.”
“There is a prescription for the months from October to December for no reason, except, perhaps, the depletion of the sums available from some public funds,” said Pierre Thibaux, president of the New Quebec Bar Association. And owner of Taverne Saint-Sacrement in Montreal. “What is really unfortunate is that we seem to be telling the entrepreneurs who decided to take on the burden of the crisis before the holiday: ‘We punish you and forbid you to seek assistance retroactively. The right to save your company. “It does not carry water. There is no government strategy other than the desire to close the safe. None of this was written in the agreements signed by the government with the mediators. I read the contract and no one spoke anywhere about the prescription for the months from October to December.”
SME association members acknowledged that since the launch of AERAM, the government agreed to relax some program rules after submitting memoranda to the Ministry of Trade and Innovation. “We feel that these very strict criteria have been a tactic to curb demands,” Pierre Thibaut emphasized. “Every time the government brought an aid program, there were always very strict conditions that we objected to and were later revised down. It’s a waste of time.”
Mr. Silvan concluded, saying that many companies in difficult situations want to reopen. He added that the government must be able to listen to them and adapt its programs to meet their needs. “The federal government was able to do this, I can’t tell you why the Quebec government didn’t do it as well.”