Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced a new multi-million dollar program to help Black Canadians get business loans with national banks and said his government is looking at measures to tackle systemic racism in Canada.
The $221-million program will receive about $93 million from the federal government over the next four years and $128 million from eight financial institutions.
Ottawa is deploying close to $33 million — along with funds from RBC, BMO Financial Group, Scotiabank, CIBC, National Bank, TD, Vancity, and Alterna Savings — to create a new Black entrepreneurship loan program which will provide Black entrepreneurs with loans between $25,000 and $250,000.
Another $53 million from the federal government will go toward helping entrepreneurs access funding, capital, mentorship, financial planning services and business training, while $6.5 million will go support collecting data on the state of Black entrepreneurship in Canada.
“We’ve heard very clearly from the Black community that economic empowerment is an essential step toward breaking down those barriers and creating true success, not just for the Black community but for our country,” Trudeau said when questioned by reporters about his government’s anti-racism strategy.
“I recognize there’s much more to do on the justice system, much more to do on public safety and working with police and we will have more things to talk about.”
‘A good start,’ says business owner
Nadine Spencer, president of the Black Business and Professional Association, called Wednesday’s announcement a “game changer” for Black business owners who have struggled for access to capital and loans.
“I always say that the biggest challenge Black business owners face is that the owners are Black,” she told CBC News in an interview.
“Systemic racism, that is is the biggest factor when we walk into a bank. There is something different for Black businesses than for mainstream businesses.”
Meryl Afrika, president of the Canadian Association of Urban Financial Professionals, said it’s reassuring to see a promise come with a price tag.
“It’s better than what we’ve had in the past. So I think I think it’s a good start and it’s a good way to gauge whether or not it is going to be enough,” she said.
“I think it all comes down to data. At the end of the day, we want to be able to look at this, you know, three years from now, five years from now — even if the government changes — to know that there’s actual measures being tracked and that we can then hold our government accountable if they’re not being successful in deploying the funding to these businesses. That’s great.”
Support for Black-run businesses was one of the requests in a letter drafted by the Parliamentary Black Caucus back in June. The letter called on governments across Canada to immediately address systemic racism.
“We’re listening to that document. We’re also engaging directly with the Black community and hearing the challenges, the issues, the impediments, the barriers that we need to tackle,” said Trudeau while making the announcement at HXOUSE in Toronto, which describes itself as a “think centre.”
“But there are many other elements, whether it’s our justice system, whether it’s around public security, whether it’s around community supports, that we’re going to continue to work on.”
Trudeau criticized by Singh
In July, as “Black Lives Matter” protests swept North America, Trudeau announced his cabinet had created a summer work plan to draft policies to tackle systemic racism in Canada and to help eliminate barriers facing Indigenous and racialized people and those with disabilities.
At the time, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh accused the prime minister of not acting to eliminate systemic racism and criticized him for kneeling at an Ottawa protest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis instead of making legislative changes.
Singh said today’s announcement is helpful but added marginalized communities are waiting for systemic changes to policing in Canada, including a ban on the police practice of “carding”.
“There’s a lack of priority to the real concrete changes that are needed to tackle the problems Indigenous, Black and racialized people are facing,” he said Wednesday in Brampton, Ont.
As part of the cabinet’s plan, Justice Minister David Lametti has been asked to examine possible reforms to the legal system, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough and Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino are looking at improvements to the temporary foreign worker program and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair is looking into “modernizing policing structures and updating standards regarding the use of force.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.