Canada is working on a new COVID-19 aid program to subsidize rent for businesses without putting the onus on commercial landlords to request that help.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office is in talks with business leaders and provincial governments on next steps, Katherine Cuplinskas, a spokesperson for Freeland, said in an email, without giving details. “We will have more to announce very soon,” she said.

The government allowed a similar program, known as Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance, to expire last month. That plan didn’t have strong support because it required landlords to apply on behalf of tenants and to share in the financial pain -- taking a reduction of as much as 25 per cent of the total rent payable.

The new program is expected to allow businesses to apply directly for rent assistance without relying on landlords to handle the process, said people with knowledge of the discussions, cautioning that the plan wasn’t finalized and could still change. Justin Trudeau’s government has a separate program that subsidizes wages for businesses that have suffered revenue declines because of the COVID-19 pandemic; it was recently extended to next summer.

The new program will be aimed at small- and medium-sized businesses, according to one person. The old program was limited to companies with $20 million in annual revenues paying no more than $50,000 a month in gross rent per location.

About 128,000 small businesses received CECRA aid at a total cost of more than $1.8 billion (US$1.36 billion) as of Oct. 4, according to Cuplinskas.

“It was too complicated,” said Laura Jones, chief strategic officer of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. “I don’t think there’s any desire to double down on something that wasn’t working.” Her group is pushing the Trudeau government to offer certainty to businesses by stating it will run the new rent program well into 2021.