As reasonably addicted social-media user, it was great to see the recent federal cabinet line-up released in real time on Twitter. I followed each name closely as I thought of the implications of each change for Canada's small business owners.
Following the shuffle, I read many tweets, columns and stories about how a cabinet shuffle doesn't matter as power has become so centralized in the Prime Minister's office. And while there is no doubt that power and decision making have shifted into the top office of virtually all governments regardless of political stripe, I want to make the case that individual ministers can make a huge difference and that who is in cabinet matters a great deal.
As someone who meets with dozens of ministers each year, I can tell you first hand that a good minister can move an agenda along quickly and a bad one can mean an agenda grinds to a halt.
As an example, while I disagree strongly with some of Jason Kenney's recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, he has made an enormous difference in changing the culture at Citizenship and Immigration Canada. While the civil service also plays a huge role in a policy's success or failure, I've had several senior bureaucrats tell me that Kenney had been the strongest and hardest working Minister the department ever had.
Again, over at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), the Minister's office has also been very helpful in effecting change. The past two Ministers -- Keith Ashfield and Gail Shea -- have been strong leaders and have finally started to make substantive changes to the way CRA does business with small business. Given the reputation CRA has with entrepreneurs, change can't come soon enough.
CFIB is also very pleased to see Jim Flaherty remain at the helm in Finance. Prior to the 2013 budget, I made the case to the Minister that small businesses needed to see the renewal of the Employment Insurance Hiring Credit and the expansion and indexation of the Lifetime Capital Gains Exemption. I'm pleased to report that in his budget, the Minister not only adopted both measures, but publicly credited CFIB for our advice on this front.
And it wouldn't be polite for me to be more specific; in each shuffle there are several ministers we are happy to see leave their portfolio. I can recall wanting to beat my head against one or more towers in downtown Ottawa after meeting with a minister who just doesn't get it, or worse, one who agrees with everything you raise but does absolutely nothing about it.
Now that the cabinet has been named, our work is cut out for us in sharing the views and opinions of Canada's entrepreneurs with the new ministers.
CPP/QPP hikes: The federal and provincial governments are considering increasing Canada Pension Plan and Quebec Pension Plan benefits. Hiking benefits will also mean raising premiums on both small business owners and employees (one proposal would raise premiums by $1,100 a year per employee!), and it could lead to job losses, lower economic growth, and lower wages. CFIB launched the All Signs Lead to Trouble campaign to tell governments -- loudly and clearly -- that entrepreneurs can't afford a premium hike.
Red Tape: When it comes to running a small business in Canada, red tape is everywhere. It's the $31-billion "hidden tax" that leads to lost jobs, stress in the workplace and higher prices for goods and services. Every January since 2009, CFIB has held a Red Tape Awareness Week to raise awareness of this often-overlooked problem. This year, we awarded our coveted Golden Scissors Award to former Minister of National Revenue Gail Shea for improving service and accountability at the Canada Revenue Agency. I hope Kerry-Lynne Findlay continues the impressive work of her predecessor.
Public sector pensions: Many public sector pension plans are financially unsustainable (a CFIB report last year estimated the unfunded liabilities of such plans could be around $300 billion -- that's $9,000 for every man, woman and child), overly generous, and incredibly unfair to Canadians who work in the private sector. If we want to avoid a financial calamity, governments must: bring public sector wages back in line with private sector norms, push back the age at which full pension benefits are earned, and moving from a "defined benefit" to a "defined contribution" approach to pension entitlements.
I offer my sincere congratulations to the new ministers, along with the following advice: learn your files over the summer, and always make the time to speak to small business owners. We will be in touch soon.
Dan Kelly is President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). In this capacity, Dan is the lead spokesperson and advocate for the views of the Federation's 109,000 small and medium-sized member businesses across Canada. Follow Dan on Twitter @CFIB and learn more about CFIB at www.cfib.ca