Commentary by: Dan Kelly in Toronto, ON
Governments of all stripes are often eager to turn the page in times of tumult.
It's probably an appropriate strategy: when you're in the midst of turmoil, it's best to change the conversation by presenting the public with some positive news.
Last week — following three months of intense backlash culminating from their small business tax proposals — the federal government introduced some 'cheerful' news in the form of their fall economic statement. In it, the government trumpeted lower-than-projected deficits, solid GDP growth and improving job numbers. They also increased the Canada child benefit by indexing it to inflation as of July 2018 and boosting their working income tax benefit for low-income Canadians in the workforce.
Much of this is good news, but has the page turned?
Not so fast.
The smaller deficit number is welcome but what's missing is a plan to get back to a balanced budget. Right now the country's economy is improving, but are we prepared for the next slowdown? What tax tools or levers will the government be forced to implement when the rainy days eventually come and revenue growth inevitably drops?
A plan towards deficit elimination should be a priority right now.
What was also missing from the government's economic update were details on its revised small business tax proposals.
Thanks to a three-month unprecedented backlash from the small business community, the government has partially retreated on their tax measures.
Most importantly, they dropped provisions to limit the use of capital gains in business succession. They also exempted up to $50,000 in annual passive income from proposed higher tax rates on the money firms have invested for future expansion or for the business owner's retirement.
They even reinstated a 2015 election promise to reduce the small business corporate tax rate to nine per cent. That promise — which had been abandoned in the 2016 budget — will help return hundreds of millions of dollars to independent business owners. The government should be congratulated for these important moves.
But while the feds have backed away from their original bluster (which included characterizing small business owners as tax-cheats), version 2.0 of the tax measures will still make it more difficult for business owners to grow their businesses, innovate and create jobs.
We await further details to understand the full effects of these proposals on small businesses and their families. In particular, we need details on whether the passive income threshold will be indexed to inflation or what the CRA test will be for income shared among family members associated with a business.
Aside from the proposed tax changes, small business owners still face a myriad of other challenges.
We are anxious about the NAFTA negotiations — the current U.S. administration muses about killing the trilateral pact. What happens if NAFTA is terminated? There are also major tax hikes going ahead, including EI and CPP rates, carbon taxes on top of rising borrowing costs, higher minimum wages and new labour legislation in some provinces.
So, while the federal government may wish to turn this page — for small business owners, the next page still has a lot of question marks.
Dan Kelly serves as President, Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the Board of Governors of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). Republished under arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post.
by Laura Jones (
It is an embarrassing state of affairs when many small businesses report that north-south trade with the U.S. is easier than east-west trade within Canada.
But this is nothing new. It was such a big concern when the North American Free Trade Agreement was coming into force more than two decades ago that the provinces put in place the Agreement on Internal Trade. Unfortunately, that agreement has been a colossal failure.
Fast forward to today and the prospects of a trade deal with Europe is shining a spotlight on our domestic dysfunction. Do we want it to be easier for Canadian businesses to trade with other countries than other provinces? Well, of course not. But the big question on everyone’s mind is whether Canada’s provincial and federal governments can deliver a better outcome than last time around.
A Non-Partisan Approach
There are some reasons for optimism. On the premiers’ direction, Canada’s trade ministers met for the first time in four years earlier this week to work toward a March 2016 deadline to have a new agreement in place. As part of a business coalition, I presented to the group. The thing that struck me most was the non-partisan environment in the room. Politicians of all stripes seem serious about working together for the good of the country. They are all saying the right things. But saying the right things is the easy part. Doing the right thing is harder.
How important is it that we get it right this time? Very. An overwhelming majority — nine out of 10 — of Canada’s small businesses want the premiers to make free trade within Canada a priority, according to a recent survey done by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. In the 125 pages of survey comments there was example after example of domestic trade red tape.
In the words of one insurance broker: “The regulations are so varied by province that one almost needs to hire trade lawyers to get things done. Trying to do business in other provinces is severely hampered by this reality.”
Many commented on differences in transportation rules (for example, different licensing structures, wide-load signs that need to be changed at provincial borders).
Others commented on how frustrating it was to deal with different Workers’ Compensation Boards. A local art school owner summed it up well: “Canada should have its own free trade act. It’s sad that it seems easier to do business with the U.S. than Canada.”
Makings of Effective Internal Trade
A successful agreement will have three characteristics. It will be comprehensive, covering all goods and services, with any exceptions clearly listed. Accepting each other’s regulatory standards (mutual recognition) will be the default. If it is safe enough for Quebec, why shouldn’t it be safe enough for B.C. (again, exceptions can be listed).
The alternative to accepting each other’s rules is trying to harmonize everything, which is a nightmare of epic proportions in terms of time and energy.
Finally, the agreement will be simple, with a clear and effective dispute mechanism. International free trade agreements have thousands of pages where exceptions can hide, and copying that approach for Canada would be a mistake.
We are at a crossroads where provincial leaders can decide to be ambitious and finally make Canada free. They will likely be tempted to focus on eliminating only some barriers. This would be a mistake. Only an ambitious deal will lead to the ambitious outcomes that Canada needs in the modern world.
Canada turns 150 in 2017. I can think of no better birthday present for the country than to deliver a real trade agreement that unites us in creating new opportunities.
Laura Jones is Executive Vice President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
Published in Partnership with Asian Pacific Post.
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-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit