Local businesses are welcoming more supports in this year’s provincial budget in the face of uncertainty about the year ahead.
The Government of Ontario released its budget March 24 and spotlighted its business support. That includes measures such as a second round of Ontario Small Business Support Grant (OSBSG) payments, providing 120,000 small businesses with an automatic benefit of between $10,000-$20,000 each. A new grant, the Ontario Tourism and Hospitality Small Business Support Grant, will also provide businesses in that sector $10,000- $20,000 after it was excluded from the first OSBSG.
Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce president Andrea Strano said other supports, including a job training tax credit, a task force for inclusive economic growth and $4 billion in broadband funding over six years are welcome.
“Ontario’s 2021 Budget means supports for the hardest-hit sectors and communities including right here in the Haliburton Highlands,” Strano said. “Initiatives that will create a strong economic rebound related to tourism, training, and vital infrastructure.”
Other measures included in the budget towards economic development included pausing property tax reassessments for a year and $100 million for a tourism recovery program to launch later this year.
Oakview Lodge and Marina owner Greg Hebert said the hospitality sector was overlooked for the OSBSG, since many could remain partially open in the first lockdown. But he said the industry still felt the hit of fewer travellers and the grant is welcome.
“It’s been a long-time coming and for the people in the accommodation sector specifically, it’s been a bit rough,” Hebert said.
Strano said there is uncertainty for the sector with the possibility of a third lockdown due to rising COVID-19 cases. But she said there is cause for optimism with more people moving to the area permanently.
Chamber executive director Amanda Conn said the budget does a good job addressing the hardest-hit sectors.
“There would be people out there that would say we need a bit more, but I think it does a decent job,” Conn said.
Hebert said the budget does not seem to be missing anything major but expressed concern about the $38.5 billion projected deficit. Still, he said given the government support coming from loans and tax deferrals, it might take until 2022 to find out which businesses survive and which will not.
“That’s when we’re going to start seeing people getting squeezed,” he said. “By the end of next year, that’s when we’re going to find out who lived through this thing.”
County warden Liz Danielsen said the budget’s economic recovery programming, along with more funding in the broadband and long-term care sectors, have been identified as key priorities by the Eastern Ontario Warden’s Caucus.
She said the deferral on property tax reassessments also ensures stability and helps residents as they readjust from the pandemic’s impacts. The budget promises $1 billion in additional financial relief for Ontario’s municipalities. Another $50 million is being added for municipal modernization.
“Continuing to commit to modernization funding for all municipalities will enhance efficiency and should create a reduction in costs over the long term,” Danielsen said.
However, Danielsen said the budget lacked enough new funding for human and social services to meet demand. She also expressed concern about the debt load.
“There is little doubt that we will all be facing challenging years ahead,” she said.