The Senate approved Bill C-2 last night (Dec. 16) after Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made a pre-Christmas plea to fast-track the legislation before MPs leave for a winter break that will run until the end of January.
Bill C-2 introduces the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program, which provides up to 75 per cent wage and rent support to businesses with revenue losses of over 40 per cent.
The legislation also aims to provide targeted aid to businesses that are ordered closed and to workers sent home, as part of a local lockdown.
Freeland didn’t say exactly when the benefits will kick in, but said the government will use existing systems for applications and payments in order to quickly dole out aid, reports the Canadian Press.
The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) took to Twitter last night to applaud the Bill’s passing.
“The Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program, which provides wage and rent support to travel agencies, will be available for applications soon,” ACTA posted to its account. “We are thankful to all members and partner organizations for their dedication and hard work.”
Earlier this week, ACTA issued an urgent call to action for travel agents to contact their MPs and demand that Bill C-2 be passed before Friday (Dec. 17) – the last day before the House of Commons takes a lengthy break.
“This bill is the only lifeline open to travel agencies right now,” said Wendy Paradis, president, ACTA, on Tuesday (Dec. 14), adding that travel agencies “simply cannot wait until February at the earliest for assistance.”
In a statement Friday morning, Paradis noted that ACTA is “extremely thankful that Parliament has finally passed Bill C-2,” which will provide wage and rent subsidies to hard-hit travel agencies through to May 2022.
“As governments respond to the Omicron variant of concern with new travel restrictions and advisories, this support becomes increasingly important to sustain businesses throughout the winter,” Paradis said.
ACTA is now calling on the Ministry of Finance and the Canada Revenue Agency to deliver this critical program without delay.
“Travel agencies have been without support since October and still have little to no revenue. The new restrictions and fear about the Omicron variant have jeopardized any hope of recovery this winter.”
Independent travel advisors left out
But Bill C-2 doesn’t help everyone in the travel trade.
As ACTA has pointed out, the Tourism and Hospitality Recovery Program does not benefit most independent travel agents, unless they were registered for payroll as of March 15, 2020.
“It is increasingly clear with the Omicron variant that the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit may also support ITAs,” ACTA wrote on Twitter. “It is a key priority in our advocacy strategy to lobby all levels of government for financial support to sole proprietors/independent contractors in the travel and tourism sectors.”
The Canadian Worker Lockdown Benefit replaced the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), which is one of the few (if not only) federal support programs independent travel advisors were able to qualify for during the pandemic.
It provides $300 a week to workers who are subject to a lockdown, which may now apply to travel advisors given that Canada’s non-essential travel advisory is back in place (but whether agents will actually qualify is unclear).
Bill C-2 deems a lockdown to be when a health authority orders non-essential businesses closed and non-essential workers to stay home.
“We assert that any COVID-19 related restrictions on the border, including travel advisories and onerous testing requirements, constitute a government-imposed public health lockdown that interrupts the work of travel agents,” Paradis told PAX in a previous interview.
Bill C-2 "only benefits storefront agencies," TravelOnly’s Nancy Wilson, a co-founder of the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA), told PAX previously.
Wilson said ACITA’s advocacy is focused on asking the government to “provide us with a vehicle to deliver aid to our 'sector within a sector,' or sub sector.”
The Travel Agent Next Door's Judith Coates, also an ACITA co-founder, said "most people don't understand that Bill C-2 has absolutely no provisions in it for independent travel advisors."
ACITA says it is currently working in coordination with the Tourism Ministry to find a solution for ITAs.
Meanwhile, ACTA, on Friday, acknowledged that most independent travel agents will not benefit from the new supports and urged the government to take action.
“We understand from our meetings with government that delivering sector specific financial support to independent workers is challenging. However, the government must work with industry to find a way to navigate through these challenges,” Paradis said.
“ACTA will continue to advocate for a new program that supports travel agency furloughed employees, sole proprietors and independent contractors.”