PC minister vows action on troubled small business grant system

By Alan S. Hale May 10, 2021

Small business owners describe the system in place to apply for government support amid pandemic restrictions as “amateurish” and “a nightmare,” as the PCs vow to fix problems that have persisted for months.

Associate Small Business Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria said the government recognizes some shuttered businesses haven’t received the $40,000 available to them, but the province “made every effort to ensure the application process was as simple and straightforward as possible.”

To solve the application woes, Sarkaria said the province is tripling the support staff behind the $3.7-billion Ontario Small Business Support Grant program, as well as implementing a new “tiered response protocol” that will escalate applicants with specific questions.

“Clearly, there is more work to do in that area and we won’t rest until applicants’ questions are answered and eligible businesses receive their payments,” the minister said in a statement to Queen’s Park Today.

Steve Garbas, co-owner of Toronto’s Lucky Shrike bar, told Queen’s Park Today he has been trying since January to get his business approved for a support loan but has faced problems with the glitchy online applications portal.

Garbas said he has been trapped in a months-long cycle of calling for help and being promised something would be done to escalate his case — but action never materialized. The government simply doesn’t seem to know what it is doing, he said.

“It just looks like rank amateurs, top to bottom. The difference [with federal support] is night and day … the federal stuff works like clockwork,” he said.

“I’ve never seen a program that just didn’t have anyone there … there’s no one you can write to, no one you can call, there’s no other number to ask to be elevated to speak with someone else. Ever.”

The NDP says the broken system needs to be completely overhauled. During question period last Thursday, NDP MPP Jessica Bell said she conducted a survey of the business community in her University– Rosedale riding and found that 85 per cent, or 150 eligible owners, who’d applied for the grant have not received their money.

One of the businesses referenced by Bell is Sicilian Ice Cream Company in Toronto’s Little Italy neighbourhood. Owner Maria Galipo said her business eventually received support, but not until struggling against the application system.

“Honestly, it was a nightmare,” she told Queen’s Park Today. “Someone finally helped me with it and I was able to process it properly, but the amount of time that had to be put in was ridiculous … It was just an awful experience.”

Galipo said she feels sorry for any business owner that was relying on the grants to save their business and those who face language barriers.

“I think the whole way the government has approached this has not been properly executed,” she said. “I know it’s hard because we’ve never been through something like this, but there were definitely better solutions.”

Meanwhile, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner is calling on the PCs to issue a third round of grants as the stay-at-home order drags on.