Federal NDP unveils election-style promises to support small businesses in pandemic

OTTAWA — Jagmeet Singh is promising a federal NDP government would provide more support for small businesses struggling during the pandemic, including paying bonuses to companies that hire new employees or bring back those who have been laid off.

Singh unveiled the promises during a campaign-style event in British Columbia on Tuesday, less than a week after he said the New Democrats would not provoke an election as long as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.

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The federal NDP leader said last week that his party would support the minority Liberal government on confidence votes in the House of Commons during the pandemic. Parties are nonetheless preparing for an election that could come at any time.

Singh accused the Liberal government of having turned a blind eye to the profits that he says large businesses such as Amazon, Walmart and banks are generating while failing to offer proper support to small companies.

"Big box stores like Walmart and Costco have continued to do well. ... We've seen Amazon make record profits, but no attempt to make sure they paid their fair share," he said.

"And in the inverse, or in contrast, we've seen small businesses, local shops, they've had to shut down one in 10 small businesses."

The hiring bonus proposed by the NDP would see the federal government cover the portion of employment insurance and Canada Pension Plan contributions normally paid by employers for new staff or workers rehired after being laid off.

The NDP did not provide an estimate for how much that or any of the other measures announced on Tuesday would cost.

"Working with small businesses, we will strategize what's the best way in terms of how long they should last," Singh said.

"We're proposing this to start off right away as an immediate measure that we would cover it. And we want to put this plan in place for as long as we need to help businesses get back on their feet."

The government announced in September that it was freezing employment insurance rates for employers for the next two years with the pandemic. The move was expected to save businesses and employees about $1 billion this year.

Singh also promised to extend the federal government’s existing wage subsidy, rent assistance and business loan programs until the end of the pandemic, while also making it easier for businesses to access those relief programs.

The wage subsidy is set to expire in June, but the Liberal government has extended it several times since it was first unveiled last April. The government also expanded the amount of support following complaints from business and opposition parties.

Singh is also highlighting an earlier promise to impose what he describes as an "excess profit tax" on companies that have benefited during the pandemic, though the NDP has yet to provide details on how that would work.

The NDP leader suggested the profit tax would be modelled after similar initiatives introduced during the two world wars, and floated the idea of doubling the corporate tax rate on revenues "over what is normal."

"The goal is: let's make sure when it comes down to who pays for this pandemic, it should be the big businesses that have profited, it should be those at the very top," he said. "It shouldn't be small businesses that have suffered, it shouldn't be working people."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021.

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