Dianna Charleson oversees the reception desk at a hotel in Bamfield, one of several accommodations owned by Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses. Businesses the Huu-ay-aht First Nations own will qualify for the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy as a result of COVID-19 measures. (PHOTO COURTESY HFN)

Huu-ay-aht First Nations qualify for national wage subsidy

Limited partnership structure caused concern when CEWS was first introduced

Huu-ay-aht First Nations learned this week that the Nation now qualifies for the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) announced by the federal government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is very good news for our Nation and our businesses,” Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. said.

When the federal government introduced the program in April, the Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses (HGB) didn’t meet the criteria because its limited partnership structure was not considered an “eligible employer.”

The program offers 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.

Huu-ay-aht immediately took steps to reverse this decision, including working with the area MP Gord Johns in Ottawa and an aggressive media campaign. The Nations’ efforts paid off, as the Assistant Deputy Minister of Lands and Economic Development Kelley Blanchette notified Chiefs across Canada, including Chief Dennis, that the Nation now qualified.

“It just goes to show it’s worth standing up for what you believe in,”Dennis said. “Because our nation, and others across the country, raised the alarm about unfair criteria, hundreds of jobs will be saved.”

Dennis also pointed out that this highlights the importance of the Nation forming their COVID-19 task force. Because that task force was in place when they learned they were not qualified they were able to come up with a plan and take immediate action.

Huu-ay-aht Group of Businesses was optimistic the criteria would be changed, therefore, no one has lost their job because of COVID-19. That meant HGB was carrying a significant amount of staffing costs in hopes that the subsidy would become available. That was not sustainable for a long period of time, so this decision to extend the eligibility to include Indigenous government-owned corporations was a critical step. It will be retroactive to March 15, 2020.

Huu-ay-aht businesses will qualify for the subsidy based on HGB’s estimates that economic impact will be far greater than the required 30 percent. In March, HGB saw a 34 percent decrease in forestry revenue, 44 percent drop in sales at the market in Bamfield, and a 65 percent drop in their hospitality revenue. The HGB employs 55 full-time equivalent positions during its peak season. The wage subsidy will be applied to these sectors.

The Nation is developing an economic recovery plan. The wage subsidy will go a long way to help keep citizens employed and businesses operating during a difficult economic period in Canada.

CoronavirusFirst NationsPort Alberni

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