GUEST COMMENT: Business owners lack confidence in politicians’ will

NANAIMO – Eighty per cent of small-business owners not confident concerns will be addressed by either party in the next B.C. election.

BY LAURA JONES

A startling 80 per cent of small-business owners are not confident their concerns and priorities will be addressed by either party in the next provincial election, according to a recent survey by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

This disconnect should worry all of us.

Small-and mid-sized companies in B.C. provide more than half the private-sector jobs in the province, make our communities vibrant and contribute generously to local charities.

To ignore the issues that challenge them is tantamount to ignoring the importance of a healthy economy.

What is at the heart of small business disenchantment? While chances are pretty good all parties will talk up the importance of small business, comments from the survey suggest a frustration with the lack of concrete commitments that will help small businesses thrive, or as is often the goal in the current economy, just continue to survive.

Talking about the importance of small business with no serious commitments is just blather and you can’t take blather to the bank.

So what does being small-business friendly mean in more tangible terms?

Following is a list of campaign commitments that the federation’s survey shows would be supported by a majority of small business owners.

First, commit to the province’s fiscal health by prioritizing continued balanced budgets and debt repayment. Barring any serious economic setbacks, the provincial government should not spend more than it takes in.

An important plank of long-term fiscal sanity is ensuring that public and private sector compensation for equivalent jobs is, well, equivalent.

Second, keep taxes reasonable. Ninety-five per cent of small businesses would like to see leaders promise not to increase taxes. Many businesses are struggling with the double whammy of fewer customers walking through the door and relatively rapid cost increases in other areas, such as utilities and property taxes.

Once the province’s finances allow for it, the provincial sales tax’s fundamental flaw – businesses having to pay sales taxes on business inputs like machinery and equipment – needs to be fixed.

This is a big disincentive to invest that doesn’t exist in most of the rest of the country and beyond. The expert tax panel appointed by the provincial government last year also strongly recommended this is addressed.

Another suggestion: stay focused on red-tape reduction. More than 80 per cent of the businesses in this province have fewer than five employees.

Don’t treat these businesses as if they have the same resources to deal with regulation that big businesses do. One area that needs a close review in this regard is new environmental handling fees.

Finally, small businesses support resource development with appropriate environmental checks in place.

The good news for political leaders is that it is early days with a lot of time left to engage small business owners with commitments on the issues they care about.

The good news for small business owners, their staff and customers is that the federation will be working closely with the province to publicize party leaders’ positions on small business issues.

Stay tuned.

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Laura Jones is executive vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.