All hands on deck – on the front lines with Canadian businesses in a pandemic

Before Covid-19, Brenda Arsenault worked with the Business Number Operations team at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), handling complicated questions that arise from calls/written requests about everything business number related. When the pandemic hit, her team priorities shifted to assist with questions related to the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). CEWS is a benefit launched in April  2020 to pay a portion of employee wages directly to employers who apply and qualify for it.

 “It’s a part of my career with CRA that I’ll always remember,” says Brenda.  “So many people across the Agency  worked so hard, spent many long irregular hours, in such strange times, working to put pieces together to try to help save businesses, all while trying to navigate the effects of the pandemic in our personal lives.”

Brenda was not the first point of contact for the businesses who were calling; rather their cases would be forwarded to her if they were particularly complex. As a result, Brenda would often end up speaking with frustrated Canadians who were, understandably, worried that they might not receive their CEWS benefit in time to keep their businesses afloat.

 Sometimes the puzzles that Brenda needed to solve were simple, other times they were complex and difficult to figure out. Sometimes a business was registered incorrectly and it was something she could easily fix. Other times, a claim could not be processed because of concerns with the application or because the CRA couldn’t make contact with a business owner – those cases would be referred to Brenda and would take a little more legwork.

Knowing the importance of the wage subsidy to business owners, Brenda would make every effort to contact clients to discuss the issue with their CEWS submission. She would often make a second call to check in on the status of their applications.

“To me, the folders on my desk were not just work assignments,” she says. “They were people who needed help and I knew that I was in a position to provide it. What I’m most proud of is hearing the voice of the person at the other end of the phone and the expression of relief and gratitude as they say ‘thank you’. It’s knowing that I was able to make a difference in someone’s life, at least for today, no matter how small or big an issue that I helped resolve.”

Today, Brenda looks at the Agency as a whole and believes that every employee should be proud. By working together, CRA employees made it possible for the Agency to step up for Canadians when they needed it most.

“Ten years from now, when discussing Covid-19, I will be able to say that I was on the front line. Not in health care, but in helping Canadian businesses to survive, to continue to operate and to grow. I will remember having helped a small ‘mom and pop’ business that may have been operating for 50 years, on the brink of shutting down due to Covid, to keep its doors open.  There were days it made me think, I don’t work for the CRA. I work for the Canadian public and the CRA is a workplace that allows me to do that.”

This story first appeared as part of a series to celebrate Small Business Week, 2021. It marks a time when small and medium businesses fought so hard to manage the circumstances of the pandemic, and the employees of the Canada Revenue Agency came together to deliver the tools and services that would help these businesses during these challenging times.

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