There’s no business like small business and small business needs support, according to West Coast MP Gord Johns.
The rookie Member of Parliament for Courtenay-Alberni believes he’s brought a strong voice and much needed experience to a House of Commons that’s lost touch with a vital category of Canadian commerce.
“I really felt like there was a lot of lack of understanding in the House of Commons around understanding small business issues,” he said.
“The Liberals and Conservatives are disconnected with understanding who small business people are. Their priority has been Canada’s largest corporations; small business is not a priority.”
Johns, a 20-year Tofino local who served as the Tofino Long Beach chamber of commerce executive director from 2010-2014, said his West Coast experience showed him the community-building tools small businesses can bring to the table if they’re supported.
“I come from a community where we have 400 business licenses in a town of 2,000 people. That’s unheard of. You won’t find another community in North America that has that,” he said.
“Communities like Tofino and Ucluelet, where we’ve got lots of small businesses, we’re spending money in our local communities and that money’s recirculating into other small businesses and it creates a local economy that’s more resilient and more sustainable.”
He added entrepreneurs who shape their local business communities are an asset the government needs to nurture.
“They’re the cultural economic innovators of our country. They help define us. When we look at how cool our communities are in Tofino and Ucluelet and the names of our businesses, the products they offer the things they make, these are small business people; that’s what identifies us. It’s part of our West Coast culture. Big corporations aren’t what identify Canadians,” he said.
“I really understand the importance of community economic development, of investing in small business, of plugging economic leaks and building community through economic development and small business.”
He expressed frustration at the Liberal Government for, what he believes, was a slap in the face to small business owners when they reneged on a campaign promise to lower Canada’s small business tax.
During 2015’s federal election campaign, the Liberals promised to reduce the small business tax from 11 per cent to 9 per cent by 2019, but the party backed down on that plan after forming government.
“I’ve been the loudest voice in Ottawa around the government’s failure to reduce small business taxes from 11 to 9 per cent. That was a promise that was made by all political parties during the campaign,” Johns said.
“Imagine if we went to Canada’s biggest corporations and said, ‘We’re going to increase taxes by 2 per cent’ and not really have a conversation about it and dismiss it as no big deal. They’d be up in arms. They would tell us it would be a job killing tax and it would be on the front page of every newspaper.”
Tofino’s business community shares Johns’ frustration over the nixed tax cut, according to Tofino Long Beach chamber of commerce executive director Jennifer Steven.
“The fact that the Liberal government has voted against its own campaign promise to lower the small business corporate tax is disappointing. This will have a big impact on local small businesses. As a small business owner myself, I believed the campaign promise that the business corporate tax would be reduced to nine percent and planned accordingly,” Steven told the Westerly News.
“In terms of impacts, it’s estimated the cost to small businesses of not reducing the tax will be $2.2 billion over the next few years. That’s a huge amount of money that small business owners can’t put into their local economies in the form of wages, donations, and other spending. According to provincial studies, local businesses put roughly $46 per $100 earned back into their local economies in various ways.”
Johns suggested the government‘s dismissal of the tax decrease illustrated a widespread misunderstanding of small business.
“They’re saying it means nothing and it’s not important. That’s not true; 2 per cent is a lot of money when you’re a small business person,” he said. “For a lot of businesses, that 2 per cent is their profit. That’s money that goes into the pockets of small business people that they, in turn, recycle into the community. You couldn’t have money better spent.”
To help him raise his voice in support of small business, Johns has launched a non-partisan Entrepreneur Caucus with Brampton-North Liberal MP Ruby Sahota and Niagara West Conservative MP Dean Allison.
“The caucus will be a vehicle, basically, for parliamentarians to hear directly from entrepreneurs so they can be better partners. Small businesses, who are the risk takers, want to make sure decision makers understand the challenges and opportunities that they face,” he said.
“Small businesses are the job creators. We know that 78 per cent of new jobs in Canada are created by small business. I know that better than most because I led a very successful chamber of commerce and was a previous small business owner. I really get it.”
The caucus’ first meeting is set for September and Johns said one of its first goals would be to lobby for a reduction in red tape—a term meaning excessive bureaucracy and rules.
“There’s thousands and thousands of items of red tape so, hopefully, the Entrepreneur Caucus will be able to take a look at some of that red tape and make recommendations to parliamentarians so they can put forward bills of motions on committee or in the House to reduce red tape,” he said.
“There is a lot that government can do. They can create a healthy environment and demonstrate to small business that they’re a priority. That’s a really important sign for small business and for investment for business owners.”
He said the federal government must support the entrepreneurs who create small businesses.
“They have a huge role to make sure that there’s fair competition in the marketplace,” he said.
“They have a place when it comes to taxes. They have a place to protect merchants from organizations like [credit card companies] Master Card and Visa that can monopolize the rates that are set on merchants and merchants are literally held hostage by these rates.”
He said locals also have a strong role to play towards shaping their economy and he consistently urges his constituents to spend their dollars locally.
“The power that people have with their dollar to dictate what kind of economy we will have is incredible,” he said.
“A lot of people don’t realize that they have an opportunity, when they open their wallet, to control the purse strings of the direction of our economy. But, we have to have small businesses in place so that we can keep that money in our community…If we’re all made up of Walmarts, that money is flowing out of our communities and the economic leakages are huge.”