Time to start planning for day when pandemic assistance stops
HALIFAX -- The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a financial strain right across the country and the East Coast is no exception.
As the federal government racks up record debt to pay for relief measures, financial experts in the Maritimes are worried about what will happen when all the assistance ends.
Tea shop owner Philip Holmans has managed to stay in business throughout the pandemic, paying what rent he can, but laying off his staff and working solo.
"I don't want to hire someone back, and then a second wave hits and then all the sudden we have all these layoffs again," Holmans said.
A fellow entrepreneur recently held a "rent drive" to help Holmans pay his June rent, and he's working with his landlord to see how much he can afford this month.
After that, the federal government's commercial rent assistance program ends.
"There's some reopening grants that we haven't seen yet that we've applied for that hopefully will come back as well to help us a little bit with cash flow," Holmans said.
The fiscal strain of an unknown future weighs heavily on Canadians -- and the Canadian government.
Funding pandemic relief programs like rent assistance and the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) means the federal deficit could hit more than $343 billion this fiscal year -- a figure not seen since the Second World War.
"Someone was going to take on debt during this pandemic and it was either gonna be households or corporations, or the federal government," said Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
It will take time to know if that strategy worked.
During the pandemic, the number of bankruptcies and insolvencies in Atlantic Canada actually went down, but experts say there are reasons for that.
"Canadians were struggling prior with their debtload," said Tina Powell, a licensed insolvency trustee.
Powell says bankruptcy numbers are down simply because people are getting help, not only from government, but from private lenders allowing customers to defer payments during the pandemic.
But what happens when that assistance ends?
"I'm very concerned for consumers. We are expecting an uptick in filings," Powell said.
That's why the head of East Coast Credit Union says consumers must look at their cash flow, and adjust financial plans now, especially with CERB coming to an end Oct. 3.
"It's been a bit of unsettling time I guess is a good word for it," Ken Shea said."It's gonna take people time to get back to full employment, and that might still have an impact on their overall financial well-being."
Meanwhile, with government's total debt expected to soar overall, there's concern over the cost to taxpayers.
"If that was the choice that the government made, it now needs to transition to what does the recovery look like? And what are you doing to kick-start that recovery?" said Paige MacPherson, the Atlantic director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF).
While the CTF is looking for a plan from the federal government, the Nova Scotia NDP has renewed its call for the province to create an economic task force to come up with its own plan for the economy moving forward.