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March 17, 2020 - Chamber update on business closures, staffing and relief

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - 12:09

Good afternoon Fernie Chamber members,
Since we issued our last statement on Friday morning, the situation related to COVID-19 has changed so dramatically that we felt it was appropriate to provide a further update to the Fernie business community. Things are evolving rapidly and we reiterate that businesses should be checking in with the authoritative resources shared below. There is a lot of misinformation on social media that is not helping anyone right now – please only refer to official sources.
With the announcement of the closure of Fernie Alpine Resort and Island Lake Lodge in the past 24 hours, many local businesses have taken the decision to temporarily close as well – either out of precaution or due to lack of business. There are many other local businesses weighing their options today as the number of closures and disruptions rises. In this email we wanted to provide the latest updates on the situation, discuss staffing options during the down turn, and point businesses to relief opportunities being offered by government.
What We Know Today

·         There are still NO confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our immediate area.

·         Yesterday the federal government announced the closure of Canada’s border to all non-Canadians (with some exceptions) and urged Canadians abroad to return home immediately.

·         Gatherings or events of more than 50 people should be cancelled or postponed. Use of technology to hold meetings remotely or virtually is strongly encouraged.

·         Anyone returning from abroad should self-isolate for 14 days.

·         Phone numbers have been setup in BC for information regarding COVID-19:

o    Dial 811 for medical information (including if you believe you are showing symptoms of COVID-19)

o    Dial 1-888-COVID19 for non-medical related inquiries including travel advisories and relief tools available for businesses/workers

·         West Jet has suspended all international flights for 30 days and is limiting its domestic services in order to focus on bringing Canadians home.

·         Everyone should be practicing common sense preventative measures like regularly washing your hands, covering your face when coughing, social distancing, and staying home when sick.

·         Those that have weaker immune systems (including the elderly) should be especially careful and consider self-isolating.

·         The federal and provincial governments are taking the economic impact of the situation seriously, freeing up cash and resources for relief efforts for businesses, workers and citizens impacted. We have shared what we know so far below.

·         The waiting period for Employment Insurance (EI) has been waived to facilitate getting sick or quarantined workers on to EI much faster with no loss of income. We are hoping a similar announcement will be made soon for any worker getting laid off and needing to go on EI.

·         The Fernie Visitor Information Centre remains open from 9am to 5pm and is a valuable resource for visitors, residents and businesses. The facility is taking all precautions and is prepared to move to a virtual contingency model where information assistance will still be available via phone, email and social media in the event we have to close the physical location.

·         Many local businesses and facilities are temporarily closed – a full list can be found here. The Fernie Visitor Information Centre is tracking this. If you have any updates on the status of your business, please email Jesse at jesse@ferniechamber.com

Key Authoritative Information Resources

·         Health Link BC

·         BC Centre for Disease Control

·         Health Canada

·         Destination BC

·         Destination Canada

·         Canadian Chamber of Commerce

·         BC Economic Development Association

Staff Options
As businesses decide whether or not to temporarily close or reduce their levels of service in response to COVID-19, the physical and financial well-being of their staff should be a key consideration.
Where possible, offer your staff the option of working from home and minimize the amount of people in the workplace. We realize this is not possible for our retail and service industries, among others.
Before taking the decision to lay off staff during this time, consider whether there is any other planned work or projects that could be brought forward to keep staff busy during the down turn. Most local businesses have some form of deep cleaning or seasonal maintenance that they undertake during the shoulder season in April and May. Consider moving that work up to keep staff busy while your business is closed or offering a reduced service. Every business has a rainy day list of projects and tasks that they would like to tackle if time one days allows – cleaning out that filing cabinet, retooling your marketing plan, writing a new training manual, or reconfiguring your space. Now is an excellent time to put staff to work on those kind of projects, where feasible and safe to do so. Alternatively, agreements could potentially be reached with staff to use any banked time or vacation pay at this time. This is admittedly a difficult proposition with the amount of travel restrictions in place but there are still a lot of outdoor activities on offer within driving distance of Fernie that fit with social distancing.
If you have to make the difficult decision to lay off staff, please make issuing a Record Of Employment (ROE) a matter of priority so that your staff can apply for and receive EI in a timely fashion. Move up your payroll date if it makes it faster. Staff can always be hired back once the crisis is over, but you need to ensure their financial stability in the interim. Please note, there is a difference between temporarily laying off staff (and eventually recalling them) and a permanent termination. The federal government is actively removing a lot of red tape around getting on to EI and we hope to see the waiting period waived for anyone wanting to go on EI regardless of if they’re sick or in quarantine.
For more information on this, please refer to Employment and Social Development Canada.
In addition, Work-Sharing is a federal government adjustment program designed to help employers and employees avoid layoffs when there is a temporary reduction in the normal level of business activity that is beyond the control of the employer. Temporary special measures have extended the maximum duration of work-sharing agreements from 38 weeks to 76 weeks for businesses affected by COVID-19.
Business Relief
I sat in on a conference call with the BC Chamber of Commerce yesterday afternoon during which various relief measures for businesses were discussed. The BC Chamber of Commerce launched a COVID-19 Business Impacts Survey late last week and above all else, the business community is asking government for three things:

  1. To work with banks and lending institutions to offer zero-interest loans, loan guarantees, or lines of credit
  2. To be more flexible around timelines for tax remittances
  3. To enhance EI access or wage replacement for employees

Over the weekend the BC Chamber took that feedback to government. They are working to remove red tape and get cash flowing to the business community. In the meantime, some immediate measures have been announced to assist with your liquidity, operational concerns, and business continuity plans.
Our network has compiled a list of these measures on the BC Chamber of Commerce website, and will update this on a regular basis.
Here is a sample of what you’ll find there:

·         Federal Trade Commission has set up a great resource for businesses pointing to all kinds of valuable information.

·         Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) received a large portion of the federal government relief package announced yesterday and has resources available including: 

o    Small Business Loan: Up to $100,000 can be obtained online in as little 48 hours from time of approval. 

o    Working capital loan: Get extra funds to bridge cash flow gaps and support everyday operations. 

o    Purchase Order Financing: Increase your cash flow to fulfill domestic or international orders with very flexible terms. 

·         BC Hydro: The COVID-19 Customer Assistance Program provides the option to defer bill payments or arrange for flexible payment plans with no penalty. Call BC Hydro's customer team at 1 800 BCHYDRO (1 800 224 9376) to discuss options. Fortis BC, Shaw and Telus are all considering similar programs at the time of writing.

·         CMHC is working to address mortgage payment difficulties. They’ve said on twitter that they are collaborating with lenders to allow payment deferral of up to six months.

·         Export Development Canada (EDC). In partnership with the federal government and Canadian banks, EDC will ensure customers impacted by COVID-19 have access to credit.

The Province of BC’s relief package for business is still being worked out, and at the time of writing another press conference was being held by the federal government offering further details of relief available to businesses. Please keep checking in with these resources as the situation unfolds. We are encouraged by how seriously all levels of government are treating the economic impact of this unprecedented situation.
Fernie Chamber Events
Since our last statement on Friday, the Fernie Chamber has decided to postpone all our events for March and April – including our AGM on April 15. People who have already registered for the AGM will be able to transfer their registrations to the new date which we will announce in the coming weeks. All other Fernie Chamber meetings (including board and committee meetings) will be held virtually on Zoom until further notice.
The Fernie Chamber is doing everything we can to keep our business community informed as the situation unfolds. Please bare in mind that we are not in a position to make specific recommendations to business owners on how to navigate this crisis. All we can do is connect businesses with the most current and accurate authoritative information, and allow them to make their own decisions based on the individual needs of their business.
Stay safe and healthy, and continuing watching out for one another. Feel free to reach out to me directly at anytime.

Brad Parsell - Executive Director
250 423 6868 

Proud Community Partner