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Expect ghost towns if small business evictions aren't stopped: Schreiner

Guelph's MPP is once again asking the provincial government for rent relief for small businesses affected by a drop in business due to COVID-19
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Guelph's downtown and those of many other municipalities could be ghost towns when Ontario’s economy eventually opens back up unless small business evictions are ended, says Guelph’s MPP.

Now is the time to act to save downtowns and neighbourhoods, said Mike Schreiner in a media conference call Monday.

There is light beginning to be seen at the end of the tunnel, said Schreiner, because of the sacrifices that have been made by people staying home and engaging in physical distancing. 

Schreiner said many small businesses are hurting as they are bringing in reduced revenues while still expected to pay rent for the stores and services that are mostly shuttered.

During consultations with the local chamber of commerce and downtown business association, Schreiner said he heard from many small business owners in Guelph who are concerned they may be locked out of their business if they are not able to pay the rent on time.

“I have heard that story over and over again from businesses not only in Guelph, but from across the province,” said Schreiner. “I am deeply worried that our downtowns and our neighbourhoods will be ghost towns if the government does not act not to address the crisis that many local small businesses are facing.”

Many landlords are choosing not to participate in the Commercial Emergency Rent Relief Program, a joint federal-provincial rent relief program aimed at small businesses, said Schreiner. He would like to see participation in that program to be mandatory for landlords.

One in 10 small business owners in Ontario don’t believe their landlords will participate in the program, said Schreiner, citing a recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses.

“Too many tenants are dependant on their landlords’ participation in the program and far too many small businesses are reporting that their landlords are not participating in the program. This must be fixed.”

So far, Schreiner has called for rent relief for families and businesses in March and again in April. He intends to ask for it again when MPPs return to Queen’s Park on Tuesday.

“Here we are in mid-May and we are still desperately in need of a rent relief program, especially for commercial tenants,” said Schreiner.

Schreiner said Rod Phillips, the provincial finance minister, would not commit when asked by media on Friday about ending commercial rent evictions.

On Monday, the Financial Accountability Officer released data predicting the provincial budget deficit will balloon to $40 billion due to the sharp decline in economic activity in response to COVID-19.

“I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure that all of these local businesses don’t go out of business,” said Schreiner. “If we are going to have a lot of bankruptcies and small businesses going out of business, it’s going to become even more of a challenge for us to dig ourselves out of this financial hole.”

Last week, GuelphToday reported on a longtime downtown business that is closing this month because small business rent relief to weather the COVID-19 pandemic never materialized

Schreiner is also asking the provincial government to put in place small business support programs so that when the businesses do begin to reopen they will have the resources to comply with physical distancing guidelines and public health measures put in place in response to COVID-19.

“We know so many small businesses are going to have additional expenses in order to reopen safely and in a way that protects the public,” said Schreiner. “It shows how much they care for their customers and their employees and they are going to need support to do that.”