The tide is turning… Early March, we mobilized the BCLT, most Associates started working from home, and non-essential storefronts began shutting down, as the number of Canadian COVID-19 cases increased. Now, with the pandemic slowing in most parts of the country, there is significant positive momentum for our business as reopening plans continue to rollout coast-to-coast.
Many of our non-essential retailers have now reopened, with new measures in place to safely welcome customers back. They are excited to be open, and their lineups and sales numbers indicate that Canadians are eager to support local retail.
The gradual reopening continues to progress. Gyms, theatres, personal care services (e.g. hair and nail salons) and sit-down restaurants, which remain closed in most provinces, are actively preparing to reopen next. Several provinces are allowing personal care services and dine-in restaurants to reopen this week (including Nova Scotia, PEI, Manitoba and Calgary [catching up to the rest of Alberta]). I know I am looking forward to that first haircut!
The positive momentum and confidence in our business was reinforced for our investors on Monday when we announced that our Board of Trustees approved maintaining our unit distribution levels (i.e. dividends) for the month of May, payable June 15th.
The Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) portal launched on Monday. We can now begin applying for rental assistance to support our small independent retailers through these challenging times.
To qualify for the program, we need to agree to cut eligible tenants’ rent by at least 75% and promise not to evict them. The program then provides us with forgivable government loans to cover 50% of eligible tenants’ rent for April, May and June 2020. The eligible tenants are responsible for covering the remaining portion of the rent (up to 25%). Effectively, we as the landlord receive 75% of the rent and forgive 25% of the rent, for the 3-month period.
We are proud to stand by our smaller tenants by participating in this program. Given the breadth of our tenant base, the CECRA application process is quite involved and lengthy. To receive the forgivable loans, we need to enter into a rent reduction agreement for April through June 2020, with each eligible tenant. Thank you to all the Associates that are supporting our CECRA efforts.
As companies begin the transition back to the workplace, adequate physical distancing on elevators and concerns regarding crowded public transit commutes have become key issues to resolve. We are very fortunate to have easy access to both floors in our home office, without the use of the elevator. Plus, we have ample free parking and almost all our Associates can commute by car, giving most Associates a convenient travel option until the current public transit concerns are resolved.
The Executive Team, the BCLT and I had the opportunity to review the Homecoming (HC1) Committee’s return to the office recommendations earlier this week, to gradually bring Associates back in stages. I want to commend the HC1 Committee for pulling together a very detailed and thorough plan. From temperature screening and HVAC enhancements, to touchless door openers and hands-free faucets and soap dispensers, their plan considers our everyday realities and includes practical solutions that exceed government guidelines, to safeguard our health and safety.
RETURN TO WORK SURVEY
On Monday, HR will be sending all Associates a confidential risk assessment survey, to help plan for the eventual return to the office. The intent of the survey is for HR to understand each Associates’ unique circumstances. I encourage you to be forthcoming in your responses, so we can proactively support you as we transition back to the office.
We are planning our first virtual townhall wherein we will share the details of the return to office plans. The townhall will take place the week of June 8 and will be live streamed on YouTube; you will receive an invitation and a link shortly. In the meantime, think about the questions you are hoping to have answered at the townhall and….
…ASK THE BCLT
Please submit all questions that you want answered at the upcoming virtual townhall via the anonymous “Ask the BCLT” survey. The submissions are reviewed regularly to incorporate the voice of our Associates into the BCLT’s planning and business decisions.
Stay strong and stay safe,