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Small business on rough road in Manitoba

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Provincial governments across Canada often talk about the value of entrepreneurship to local economies and the need to support a vibrant small-business sector. Manitoba's government is no different with Premier Greg Selinger praising small business as "the backbone of the economy" during the 2011 election.

There's a reason for this. In Manitoba, entrepreneurs are the economic engine that drives the province. There are more than 83,000 businesses in Manitoba that employ less than 100 people, the traditional measure of a small business. Together, these businesses employ 275,000 individuals, more than 40 per cent of all working Manitobans. When small businesses thrive, jobs are created, the economy grows and everyone prospers.

Given this impact on the economy, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business surveyed our 109,000 members across Canada to see how confident they are premiers and provincial governments understand small business and have a vision to support its growth. The Manitoba results, from some 300 business owners, were troubling. The province placed dead last in nearly every category.

In Manitoba, only three per cent of CFIB members think Selinger understands the realities of running a small business, tied for last place with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. The provincial government as a whole fared no better with 91 per cent of CFIB members saying they are not confident the Manitoba government has a vision that supports small business. This was tied for last with the Quebec government.

It is pretty evident Manitoba entrepreneurs are disillusioned with the Manitoba government for good reason. According to CFIB's national survey, provincial government policy impacts Manitoba small businesses more than in any other province. At the same time, Manitoba ranked last on the issue of consultation with 92 per cent of Manitoba business owners saying the government does not consider the impact of policy changes on their business.

Recent government decisions such as raising the PST to eight per cent and supporting a payroll tax hike through the Canada Pension Plan exacerbate this disenchantment. We all know these policies drive up the cost of doing business and lower customers' purchasing power -- the exact opposite of what it takes to build a competitive and vibrant economy. Manitoba now has the dubious record of having the highest consumption and personal income taxes in Western Canada, which is the major reason why Manitoba business owners were the most likely to say provincial taxes discourage business growth.

Results like this are in stark contrast to those of Saskatchewan, which received the best ratings in the country. Small-business owners in Saskatchewan were by far the most confident, with 72 per cent believing their provincial government has a vision that supports entrepreneurship and small business. Maintaining a balanced budget, introducing legislation to balance labour laws, constraining red tape and reducing burdensome income taxes are all actions the Wall government has taken to help small business thrive in Saskatchewan.

Manitoba has a lot of work ahead and small-business owners are looking for political leadership with a vision to build a better small-business climate. We hope our report serves as a starting point for a constructive dialogue with Selinger and his government on what is needed to regain the confidence of Manitoba entrepreneurs. For Manitoba's sake, I hope the government starts listening soon.

 

Laura Jones is the executive vice-president with the CFIB. To view the full report, Wanted: Government vision for small business, visit www.cfib.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2014 A11

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