The Liberal government delivered its long-awaited budget last month, unveiling $101.4 billion in new spending. Supports were specifically promised to aid the recovery of Canada’s hard-hit tourism industry, which includes meetings and business events. It outlines $1 billion over three years for tourism, starting in 2021/2022; a $500-million Tourism Relief Fund to support investments by local tourism businesses in adapting to the pandemic; a $595-million Recovery Hiring Program to make it easier for businesses to hire back laid-off workers or to bring on new staff by providing eligible employers with a subsidy of up to 50 per cent on the incremental remuneration paid to eligible employees between June 6 and Nov. 20; and a commitment to the safe reopening of Canada’s borders through funding further air travel protections and mandatory quarantine measures, among other initiatives. Both the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) and Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy (CERS) programs were also extended for an additional 16 weeks to Sept. 25, with the potential for a further extension until Nov. 20.
Sounds good, right?
Corporate Meetings Network asked two industry experts — Kate Kelly, president of the Canadian Society of Professional Event Planners (CanSPEP), and Clark Grue, chair of Meetings Mean Business Canada (MMBC) — to provide their take on the first federal budget tabled in more than two years on behalf of their respective organizations.
What did you think of the budget?
Kate Kelly: Across the board, the events industry in Canada has been decimated due to the public health measures imposed by all levels of government to deal with this pandemic. To date, there has been very little ‘good news’ to celebrate in terms of direct support of event planners. The recently released budget has now included that kind of support for our industry. It creates optimism that financial resources will be available to help get us back to business over the course of the next 18 to 24 months. There is no ‘quick fix’ to the damage done to the events industry; it will take time to rebuild itself. The supports this budget has promised will assist in that endeavour.
Clark Grue: Generally, this budget delivered a recognition that the hardest hit businesses in our country are in need of support as we rebuild. This is appreciated but the business events industry will take significant time to rebuild and once again become the economic catalyst that it can be for every industry in Canada.
Is there anything you would have liked to have seen in the budget that wasn’t included?
Kate Kelly: Women comprise a majority of the event professionals in the industry. The unique financial impact of the pandemic on them has to be addressed. So many are now underemployed or working from home while still supporting their children and their educational needs and requirements. Daycare and other support programs are essential. Financial and other support programs need to be in place and funded so that they are not merely short-term fixes but established as infrastructure to be relied upon into the future.
Clark Grue: MMBC was looking for support funding for the recovery of the business events industry. Specifically, funding for the attraction of new business events to Canada. It takes 12 to 36 months to attract a business event to Canada, with lag time between sale and event of 18 to 38 months. We were looking for government to introduce a business events and urban recovery plan that would help fund the attraction of these important events for Canada’s economy. We also hoped for a longer extension of CEWS since our industry will recover more slowly than other businesses in tourism or other economic sectors.
What academic grade would you give the budget?
Kate Kelly: C+
Clark Grue: B+
Why does it deserve this grade?
Kate Kelly: The inclusion of the Canada Digital Adoption Program is timely. As our industry moved online to virtual offerings, we incurred more technical costs, require new technical skills and the more than 160,000 businesses that will be supported by this program will be a good start to supporting the post-pandemic world of business events. The introduction of the new Recovery Hiring Program will also play a big role for those of us ramping up our businesses for 2022.
Clark Grue: The government did step-up with extensions of funding for CEWS and CERS, both good for the industry. Also, the additional funding for Destination Canada was positive. We are hopeful that it will allow Destination Canada to lean into the promotion of our country for the attraction of business events to Canada for 2022 and beyond. As we know, business visitors spend four times that of a leisure tourism guest but these business visitors are harder to attract and it takes longer to attract the events that bring them to Canada. We need to invest in 2022 to 2025 right now.
What more would you like to see from government, both federally and provincially?
Kate Kelly: We need a deep understanding that many event professionals are sole proprietors, independently owned and operated, and therefore do not qualify for a lot of the programs offered to corporations like CEWS. This is also true of the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program. Many independent planners work from their homes and do not qualify. Provincially, it would be useful to see additional support for our businesses with provincially accessed loans and grant programs. We would also appreciate an acknowledgment and assurance from the provinces that as we get back to business, we will be invited to be ‘at the table’ to help shape and guide our industry back to safe events.
Clark Grue: Clarity on the rollout of the new Tourism Relief Fund, which became available in the budget. From the provinces, we need more engagement to ensure that they understand the capabilities that exist in Canada to deliver business events in a safe and healthy way. The industry is well-prepared to run business events with all required protocols in place.