KWIECINSKI: Say ‘yes’ to buy local, ‘no’ to new small business costs


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In the classic children’s book The little engine that could, a long train must be pulled over a high mountain after its locomotive breaks down. While the big locomotives refuse to pull the train, a small locomotive agrees to try. The little engine successfully pulls the train over the mountain, while repeating the iconic line, « I think I can. »

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Today, small businesses – the engine of Ontario’s economy – need help climbing the mountain of COVID-related debt, high inflation, labor shortages and… Other Obstacles Hindering Recovery.

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Data from our recent survey shows that the economic recovery is just beginning for many small businesses. Well over half (59%) of small businesses in Ontario still earn less than their normal income. A disturbing 42% have yet to be able to pay off a penny of their average COVID-related debt of nearly $130,000. Additionally, a startling 79% have not yet recovered from the stress of the pandemic.

As we get closer to Saturday, November 26 for small business, you’ll hear the call for consumers to support small business. After all, an overwhelming 86% of all private sector jobs in Ontario were created by a small or medium-sized business.

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How can consumers help? No matter what you’re considering buying, first ask yourself, « Can I buy this item from a small business in my neighborhood? » If the answer is « yes », offer them the sale, instead of shopping at a big box store or online giant.

We know that’s a tougher job in these tough economic times. Like small businesses, consumers have also faced affordability issues. Inflation has driven up the cost of everything. People have been forced to make tough spending choices and limit their discretionary spending.

No matter how much people may spend, every sale – big or small – together will make a difference to the survival of local small businesses.

How can the Ontario government help? Policy makers should keep in mind that small businesses cannot afford new costs. Small businesses don’t have the larger profit margins or buying power of larger businesses. This means that even in better times, it is much more difficult for them to absorb higher costs, whatever they may be.

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Let’s not forget that many small businesses are still struggling. Recovery cannot be expected to happen overnight, especially when some businesses had to close for over 400 days during the pandemic!

Small business confidence levels are the lowest in Ontario compared to the rest of Canada, both in the short term (three months) and in the long term (12 months). Retail businesses are experiencing the lowest confidence levels of any industry as we head into Small Business Saturday and the holiday shopping season, which is often make or break time for many small retailers .

Now would be the worst time for the Ontario government to make small businesses pay for any new programs, like mandatory sick leave or portable benefits.

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However, measures such as raising the exemption thresholds for the small business tax rate and the employer health tax – and indexing them annually to inflation – would go a long way to advancing the recovery and ensure the success of small businesses.

We’d all love to sweep COVID under the rug for good, now it looks like we’ve reached the ‘new normal’. However, many small businesses cannot yet erase the pandemic past: Like the little engine that couldthey are still fighting an uphill battle to get to the other side of COVID-19 and fully recover.

Julie Kwiecinski is Director of Provincial Affairs (Ontario) for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business

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