Small business issues have played a key role in the federal election campaign underway, with the leaders of the three main parties emphasizing the importance entrepreneurs have in advancing the Canadian economy. Small business owners concerned about access to capital, reducing red tape, controlling government spending and a lack of support for mid- to late-career entrepreneurs are anxiously awaiting the outcome of the federal election.
“I think it’s really important that small businesses and entrepreneurs think about what and who they’re voting for, since government by and large creates the environment in which they operate,” said Victoria Lennox, CEO and co-founder of Startup Canada, a grassroots network of entrepreneurs. “As an entrepreneur, it’s important to ask, ‘Do (the candidates) understand what I’m going through?’”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which represents 109,000 small business owners nationwide, recently asked party leaders about their commitments to small businesses. The Conservative, NDP and Liberal parties all said they would continue to reduce taxes, while the latter also aims to invest nearly $60 billion in public infrastructure in the next 10 years. The Green Party promised to further diversify the small business landscape, with more women- and First Nations-led startups.
“I think [the relationship between business and government] has been improving,” Lennox said. “They’re definitely listening and they’ve always kept the conversation open, but whether they understand startups is something else.”
“Canada is one of the leading startup countries and the movement has come into its own,” said Lennox, who founded Startup Canada in 2012 to unite the community. “As long as government is talking to the startup community and working with entrepreneurs to create those frameworks, I think entrepreneurs need to look at their local candidates and be party agnostic to make sure they’ll listen to you if you share your experiences.”
We know what the party leaders are offering but what would entrepreneurs like to see from their politicians? Startup Canada’s weekly podcast, which airs Tuesdays and is hosted by Rivers Corbett, co-founder of reLiSH Gourmet Burgers chain, gathered some thoughts from its guests about governments and small business — some food for thought as you get ready to head to the polls Oct. 19:
John Ruffolo, CEO of OMERS Ventures
“Let me give you an analogy — let’s use a farmer’s field. The role of government should be to help identify the actual field, to plough the field, to fertilize it and to remove some weeds out of the field. The weeds would be the equivalent of red tape, as an example. Then, allow the private sector to select the seeds that actually grow in those fields. Do not have the government, in essence, pick winners and losers. It’s difficult enough for the private sector to do that, and what it does is create distortions in the economy.”
Frank O’Dea, co-founder of Second Cup
“Many of us get stuck in the small business environment because we don’t know how to think differently. Thinking differently means experience, and being in experience with these large contracts could be very, very useful and very helpful. Partnerships and long-term relationships can grow out of those things, but it requires a policy shift at the federal and provincial levels to have a carve-out for small business.”
Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite
“There is an endless opportunity in technology, whereas the resource economy will ultimately head down more and more. We need to be telling this story. We need to be graduating more grads to be working in this industry. It’s a huge industry that pays people more than other and provides so many opportunities for them. So the education programs that are out there, that gets more and more people interested in looking at this industry, and I think we need to be telling educators to get the crop of people ready.”
Chris Johnson, CEO of Permission Click
“Follow the lead of the private sector, and in fact, the federal government. Here in Winnipeg, we have an enormous amount of support from those two entities, and the province has done an amazing job stepping up … on an ongoing basis, we have a multi-year commitment from them to support Startup Winnipeg’s operations, which is fantastic.”
Noah Redler, campus director of Notman House in Montreal
“[Startups are] very nimble and we’re able to do that because we’re small and we use our resources in a different way. Government doesn’t have that luxury — they have a lot of stakeholders, there are a lot of citizens they need to think about, not all of them have the same ideas, there are different political parties and different visions for how to move the country forward. But it’s an inseparable relationship. Business and government work together, whether it’s tax credits, whether it’s exports and whether it’s working to develop programs to support entrepreneurship.”