NORTH VANCOUVER -- Deep Cove Kayak was supposed to open for the season this past weekend. That didn't happen.

"With the news of COVID, we had held our opening optimistically ’til Easter weekend,” said co-owner Erian Baxter. “We realize that’s not going to work either.”

Baxter has already been forced to let her part-time workers go, and was preparing to lay off some full-time, year-round staff who’ve worked for her for over a decade. But, the new federal wage subsidy could save those jobs.

“I was so thrilled,” said Baxter, who admits to breaking down in tears at the news the government will cover 75 per cent of her employees' salaries up to $847 a week.

“As an employer, you’ll need to attest to that you’re doing everything you can to pay the remaining 25 per cent of your workers' income,” said federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau. “We know this may not always be possible. The system will be flexible.”

“I think for a little while we can probably do the 25 per cent,” said Baxter, who has put lay off plans on hold. “But I understand for some business that would be impossible with the other expenses they have.”

While his business can continue to operate within physical distancing rules, the owner of Great Canadian Landscaping Company in North Vancouver is starting to see a downturn because of COVID-19. Chris O’Donohue hopes the subsidy will allow him to keep all 40 of his workers on the payroll.

“Hiring people is usually the toughest part of our job, so if we can keep our team employed obviously we’re going to (look) at every opportunity to keep them going versus laying them off,” said O’Donohue. “The information is not totally clear on how we’re able to take advantage of it. Hopefully it works out for small businesses like ourselves to continue to operate and keep our employees.”

Allowing companies to retain staff members for the eventual return to normal operation is the driving force behind the wage subsidy.

“We need to make sure people stay attached to their place of work if at all possible,” said Morneau.

“It’s vital for businesses to have your key staff still here and available so they can join you, and if we get to get up and running, we can get up and running in a heartbeat. So yeah, super vital,” said Baxter.

Those currently collecting Employment Insurance and the new emergency response benefit can transition to the wage subsidy if their employer hires them back. And, if the company covers the remaining 25 per cent, they’ll be back to their full salary regardless of whether they’re working during the pandemic.

Baxter says any of her workers who are paid by the wage subsidy will volunteer in the community while Deep Cove Kayak remains closed.

The portal for companies to apply for the federal wage subsidy should be live in three weeks, and the first payments will be made in mid-May.