“The pandemic has shone a light on the inequalities that disproportionately hurt Black Canadians, and has underscored the need to restart our economy in a way that allows all Canadians an equal chance to succeed,” Trudeau said. “As we move forward, this program will help support Black entrepreneurs and create new opportunities for Black-owned businesses, so they are well-positioned for our economic recovery.”
The investments, totaling nearly $221 million, come from a partnership with Canadian financial institutions. The Canadian government itself will fork out $93 million over the next four years, according to a news release published in tandem with Trudeau’s announcement, to be used for several funding, lending, and research initiatives.
In terms of financing Black businesses, up to $53 million of the dollars raised by the Black Entrepreneurship Program will be used to create and implement a new National Ecosystem Fund which will “help Black business owners and entrepreneurs access funding and capital, mentorship, financial planning services, and business training,” according to the news release. Another nearly $33.3 million will be put into a Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund, which will provide loans ranging from $25,000 to $250,000 for Black business owners and entrepreneurs. This will be bolstered by an additional $128 million in lending support from new government partnerships with financial institutions, including Scotiabank, BMO Financial Group, and Alterna Savings.
However, this project isn’t just limited to direct cash support for businesses. In pursuit of long-term change, nearly $6.5 million will be spent on creating a Black Entrepreneurship Knowledge hub, focusing on collecting data on Black entrepreneurship to identify barriers to success and ways to overcome them. “The Hub will be run by Black-led community and business organizations, in partnership with educational institutions,” read the news release.
The timing of this program’s announcement is no coincidence. As mentioned above, the coronavirus pandemic has hit business owners across the world incredibly hard, exacerbating pre-existing inequalities nationwide. Like in the US, Canadian business owners of color have been disproportionately affected.
Days before the program’s details became public, the African Canadian Civic Engagement Council and Innovative Research Group released a study finding Black Canadians suffered greater health and economic impacts from the pandemic. In addition to being more likely to report COVID-19 symptoms or know someone who died from the virus, Black Canadians are more likely (56% to 43%) to report layoffs or reduced working hours in their household, are more worried about paying rent (45% to 36%), and are more likely than the average Canadian to say their household finances have been negatively impacted by the virus.
“Although further research is needed, poorer health outcomes for Black Canadians may be explained by greater exposure at work to the virus,” reads the study, reporting Black Canadians are much more likely to work face-to-face with others through their job.
A similar concentration of COVID-19 woes among communities of color has been reported in the United States. The COVID Tracking Project, a racial data tracker from The Atlantic, found Black people are dying from the coronavirus at more than double the rate of white people in the US. Additionally, a study from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York concluded that Black-owned small businesses in the US have been disproportionately impacted amid the pandemic.
The initiative has been met predominantly with praise. Many point out that it’s a government acknowledgment that systemic racism limits the opportunities for many Black Canadian residents. Bardish Chagger, who was appointed as Canada’s minister of diversity and inclusion and youth last year, described the initiative as “another step towards removing the systemic barriers that exist within our society to create a truly inclusive Canada.”
However, some point out that this is just a jumping-off point — and there’s a lot more the country has to do to truly level the playing field for Canada’s Black business owners. Liberal parliament member Greg Fergus, who serves as the chair of the Parliamentary Black Caucus, said the program isn’t all that’s needed but will help the country see “that we are full Canadians and want to participate in this wonderful country that we call home.”
“It will not in one fell swoop eliminate all systemic discrimination and the consequences, but we’ve taken a positive step forward,” said Fergus.
About the Author
Jemima is a journalist who enjoys reporting on business, particularly small business and entrepreneurship.