Coronavirus Survival Guide for Ontario Businesses: Current Government Programs, Business Discounts & More

I’ve lost 100% of my income, but still have to pay all of my expenses.

Does that sound familiar?

It’s a statement made by one Ontario business owner on the website, which is running a petition calling on the Canadian government to mandate the “pause” of commercial rent for 3 months. 

The reason is simple: government in many provinces have mandated the temporary closure of all non-essential businesses, effectively “pausing” businesses’ revenue. 

But if the government is forcing businesses to pause revenue, why doesn’t the government also force the pausing of businesses’ expenses?

Makes sense to me, and we’ll see how government responds. 

But in the meantime, what can you do to stay afloat?

Road Map for Surviving the Coronavirus Shutdown

The answer is to understand – and capitalize on – the financial programs and supports that are currently being rolled out.

In this comprehensive guide, I lay out a road map that you can use to get through these trying times, including programs offered by the federal, provincial, and municipal governments, banks, utilities, and many more, as well as discounts and deals offered by businesses.

Here are the five steps in the road map (click a link to go directly to the section):

STEP #1: Use Government Coronavirus Support Programs

Your first step is to get help from the many programs that have been launched by the federal government and Ontario provincial government over the past month.

Here’s a breakdown of the programs:

Federal Government Coronavirus Programs


  • Wage subsidy of up to 75% for qualifying businesses, for up to 3 months, retroactive to March 15, 2020.

    The wage subsidy applies to businesses, non-profits, and charities. Organizations must prove that their revenues have fallen by at least 30% due to the pandemic.

    The cap on wages will be $847 per week (or 75% of an employee’s salary, up to a maximum $58,700). 
  • Work-Sharing program extended from 38 weeks to 76 weeks. The Work-Sharing program is offered to workers who agree to reduce their normal working hours because of developments beyond the control of their employers.


The new Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) was established to provide $65 billion of loans to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), to be administered by Export Development Bank of Canada (EDC) and Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC)

  • Canada Emergency Business Account will provide interest-free loans of up to $40,000 to small businesses and not-for-profits.

    To qualify, organizations will need to show they paid between $50,000 to $1 million in total payroll in 2019.

    If you repay the loan by December 31st 2022, twenty-five percent of the loan amount (up to $10,000) will be forgiven. 
  • Loan guarantee for small and medium-sized businesses. EDC is working with financial institutions to issue new operating credit and cash flow term loans of up to $6.25 million to SMEs.
  • Co-lending program for small and medium-sized businesses. BDC is working with financial institutions to co-lend term loans to SMEs for their operational cash flow requirements. Eligible businesses may obtain incremental credit amounts of up to $6.25 million through the program.
  • Additional money for farmers. The federal government is allowing Farm Credit Canada to lend an additional $5 billion to farmers.


  • Deferred income taxes. Businesses can defer, until after August 31, 2020, the payment of any income tax amounts that become owing on or after March 18 and before September 2020.
  • Deferred sales tax remittance and customs duties payment. Businesses, including self-employed individuals, can defer until June 30, 2020 payments of GST/HST, as well as customs duties owing on their imports.
  • Temporary wage subsidy. The Temporary Wage Subsidy for Employers is a three-month program that allow eligible employers to reduce their payroll deductions to Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The subsidy is equal to 10% of the remuneration you pay from March 18, 2020 to June 19, 2020, up to $1,375 for each eligible employee and to a maximum of $25,000 total per employer.

You can see how the federal government is supporting business on this page: Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan.

Ontario Government Coronavirus Programs

In response to the pandemic, the Ontario provincial government announced a $17 billion plan called Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID‑19. Here’s what’s in it for business:


  • A five-month interest and penalty-free period to make payments for the majority of provincially administered taxes.

    You do not need to contact the government to arrange this – penalties and interest will be waived automatically for all late returns or remittances during the relief period

    These are the provincial taxes included in the relief period:

Employer Health Tax

Tobacco Tax

Fuel Tax

Gas Tax

Beer, Wine & Spirits Tax

Mining Tax

Insurance Premium Tax

International Fuel Tax Agreement

Retail Sales Tax on Insurance Contracts and Benefit Plans

Race Tracks Tax

  • Increasing the Employer Health Tax exemption. The exemption will be increased from $490,000 to $1 million for a five‑month relief period. Businesses can defer, until after August 31, 2020, the payment of any income tax amounts that become owing on or after March 18 and before September 2020.
  • Deferred Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) premium payments, for up to six months.

STEP #2: Reduce Expenses with Coronavirus Business Relief Programs

Your second step in surviving the business impact of the pandemic is to examine how you can immediately reduce expenses.

I’ve broken down some of the main categories of expenses below, along with how you can temporarily reduce or eliminate them:

Mortgage/Lease & Loan/Credit Card Expenses

Here are the main types of support you can get from the big banks:

  • Deferred mortgage payments. The major banks are all offering up to 6 months mortgage payment deferral. While many small businesses don’t own their premises, you can take advantage of mortgage deferral if you own your home.
  •  Business loan payment deferrals
  • Increases to operating line of credit limits
  • Waiving of credit card minimum payments. 

(You might expect the banks to do something truly radical during a time of crisis and, say, temporarily reduce interest fees (which the federal government has apparently asked them to do).

Keep wishing! The only thing that seems to have changed is the banks are delaying interest rate and fee increases on their credit cards.

Here are links to the banks’ web pages on their coronavirus programs:

RBC coronavirus page
Scotiabank coronavirus page
TD coronavirus page
BMO coronavirus page
CIBC coronavirus page
National Bank coronavirus page

Property Taxes

As with mortgages, this only applies if you own your business’s premises, but you could also use it if you own your home. Check the website of your municipality to see if they are offering a property tax deferral. For example, the City of Toronto has deferred payments for residents and businesses for 60 days, and the City of Ottawa also has a deferral program. 

Hydro/Electricity Expenses

Utility companies in Ontario seem to be offering support mainly through suspension of electricity disconnections and “flexible” payment plans.

Here are the COVID-19 pages for a few of the major utilities:

Toronto Hydro
Hydro Ottawa

And don’t forget to check out the energy efficiency grants and rebates that some of the utilities are running separate from their coronavirus programs.

STEP #3: Find Coronavirus Business Discounts

There are a bunch of companies that have stepped up and offered discounts to businesses during these crazy times. 

The website has a continuously-updated list of business deals and discounts (some are U.S.-specific, but there are others that Canadian businesses can take advantage of).

STEP #4: Apply for “Regular” Grants

In addition to the extraordinary support programs that governments are implementing because of the pandemic, there are “regular” programs that have been running for years and are still available.

That’s the whole purpose of – to promote the generous financial incentives that are available to Ontario businesses, year-in and year-out!

Here’s how you can educate yourself:

a. Use the Grant Search tool on to search for grant, loans, tax credits and more that your business is eligible for.

b. Check out the Grant Lists article on that pertains to your business. The Grant Lists articles group together financial support for various audiences, by different organizations, and for various business purposes.

(To see the Grant Lists articles, look at the top menu of this page and mouse over “Grant Lists”.)

STEP #5: Grow and Streamline Your Business

If you have a small business that provides services, you might be able to grow your business and permanently reduce expenses during this crisis.

You can do so by doing a couple of things:

a. Increase your online marketingusing special grants programs by tech companies

Did you know that, despite social network usage increasing significantly because of the pandemic, ad revenue at networks like Facebook and Twitter has taken a big hit?

If you’re one of the lucky business owners who has cash on hand, those lower rates could be an opportunity for you to grow your business.

Additionally, some of the big tech companies are offering free money to small businesses to advertise on their platforms:

  • Facebook has set up a $100 million fund offering cash grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 eligible small businesses in over 30 countries.
  • Facebook also has a business resource hub set up to help companies through the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • Google is offering $340 million in ad credits to small and medium-sized businesses. The ad credits can be used until the end of 2020 across all Google Ads platforms.

b. Start a remote work set-up to reduce or eliminate office space costs

A prediction: some of the companies that operated out of office space before the coronavirus pandemic and moved to remote work will not go back to office space after the pandemic ends.


Because during the pandemic they’ll experience the many benefits (financial and otherwise) of remote work – and they’ll wonder why they rented office space in the first place!

Here are a few resources that you can use to set up remote work:

  • The digital agency Conversion Rate Experts have only worked remotely since the company’s founding in 2006, and they’ve put together an excellent remote working guide with 100+ tips and resources
  • The website WPBeginner has a useful coronavirus guide on remote work tools that small businesses can use to set up (or improve) remote work and grow their business online.
  • LinkedIn has a free 16-part online course on how to set up remote work teams.

Wrapping Up

In this guide we’ve covered things you can do immediately to protect your business during the crisis:

  1. Use government support programs to pay wages and other variable costs
  2. Use relief programs to reduce or defer your monthly expenses
  3. Use discounts on products and services offered by some vendors

As well as the longer-term approach of applying for existing government grant programs. 

What are you doing to weather this storm?

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