Small- and medium-sized business owners are always told, ‘you are the economic engine of Canada’, but are they ever respected as such?
It seems governments are often more focused on attracting the ‘big corps’ with generous tax write-offs, interest-free loans and cash handouts than helping small businesses.
The federal government took a different strategy through Covid-19. The Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) treated all businesses and charities equally.
The 75 per cent wage subsidy was a life-saver for small businesses, but is scheduled to end in November.
Regretfully, the provincial government has done little for locally-owned businesses leaving the federal government to do the heavy lifting.
Alberta’s support for small and medium-sized businesses was a $5,000 relaunch grant and a 50 per cent cut in WCB premiums for 2020.
Everything else was short-term— commercial eviction protection, and six-month payment deferrals for education taxes, property taxes and the tourism levy.
The added burden of increased property taxes after the government choice to download oil and gas company tax obligations to municipalities will only add to small business grief.
As successful school re-opening and child care availability are important pillars to restart economic recovery, in Alberta, so, too, is the survival of small and medium-sized businesses and charities to keep communities viable.
Local writer, Doug Griffiths reminds us in his book, ’13 Ways to Kill a Community’, that each time a small business closes, their employees become unemployed, families leave to seek employment elsewhere leading to “fewer children in your school, fewer people using your hospital, fewer volunteers for your service clubs, fewer people to donate to community causes and less money spent in town.”
Every small business that closes has a negative multiplier effect and places the increased property tax burden on one less business.
For many sectors, it is too early for the CEWS program to end. Small businesses are still in crisis—for many, sales have not recovered, the full component of staff has yet to be brought back and all government deferrals are now due and payable.
According to the Canadian Federation of Business one in five small businesses are looking to shut down, in addition to those that have already closed.
Consumers need to do their part. Support your local restaurants, garages, bakeries, grocery, drug, clothing and hardware stores. Give Walmart, Shoppers Drugs and Canadian Tire a pass for a while.
Remember they’re the ones who benefited most from Alberta’s corporate tax cuts and they’re the ones who are quickly replacing local workers with automated tellers.
Call your local MLA or write the Premier, encourage them to not forget the importance of local businesses and communities.
Encourage newly-minted Conservative leader, Erin O’Toole, to roll out his proposed program to support small businesses through the ongoing pandemic and recovery.
He also needs to clarify MP Damien Kurek’s words in his August 27 column in ‘The Review’ when he said, “Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Government are failing on every front”. Does that mean the CEWS was a complete failure, or that it should never have happened, or that CEWS wasn’t generous enough? Business leaders need to know.
For many local businesses, federal wage subsidies, in some form, should continue until revenues recover sufficiently to cover employee wages.
The viability of local communities is closely tied to the viability of local businesses, and as the largest employer of any sector, Canada’s economy needs healthy small- and medium-sized businesses.
It may be time to adjust or audit the CEWS to weed out some fraudsters, but it’s definitely not the time to end the program or severely slash its benefits.
Schimke worked for small business owners in Toronto and Calgary for over five years.