Huu-ay-aht appeals for expansion of national wage subsidy to include Indigenous businesses

Huu-ay-aht First Nations is concerned about the long-term impacts they will see on their businesses if the federal government does not change the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy to include Indigenous businesses.

Earlier in April, the federal government introduced the program, offering employers who qualify, a subsidy that would cover up to 75 per cent of their employees’ wages for 12 weeks. Businesses must be able to show they have suffered revenue declines of 30 per cent or more as a result of COVID-19.

The Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses (HGB) does not currently meet the criteria for this subsidy because the limited partnership structure is not considered an “eligible employer”.

HGB fears the economic impact will be far greater than 30 per cent. In March, the Group of Businesses saw a 34 per cent decrease in forestry revenue, a 44 per cent drop in sales at the Market in Bamfield, and a 65 per cent drop in their hospitality revenue. Based on these numbers, HGB estimates they will have to trim their budget 30 to 50 per cent over previous years.

HGB employs 55 full-time equivalent positions during its peak season. So far, they have been carrying a significant amount of staffing costs in hopes that the subsidy will become available, but that is not sustainable.

Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. points out the impact goes well beyond revenue and will have a significant social cost to the Nation as well. Most of the employees at the Group of Businesses are Huu-ay-aht citizens. If they are not employed, the Nations will see a rise in needs from their citizens in a year that the income for the Nation will be down significantly.

“We are the major employer in the region, and if we are forced to make cuts this will be devastating to the Bamfield and Alberni Valley economy,” Dennis explains. “Bamfield’s economy was just starting to rebound after years of neglect because of Huu-ay-aht’s investment in the community. I fear this will set us back again.”

Dennis says the Nation is already developing an economic recovery plan. Still, the small fishing community on the West Coast of Vancouver Island faces economic decline unless the federal government changes the restrictions on Indigenous businesses. Dennis points out that Huu-ay-aht is not alone in their concerns. Many Indigenous-owned businesses will be ineligible because of the limited partnership requirement and because it excludes businesses that are operated “on-reserve as a corporation that is tax exempt under the Income Tax Act”.