Over the last 12 months in B.C., those of us at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) have seen several positive developments for small business, as well as some emerging problems.
According to our monthly Business Barometer survey, B.C. small business confidence grew substantially this year. In February, B.C. ranked in sixth place among Canada's 10 provinces -- but by the end of November, we were sitting solidly in second place.
That shaky start to the year could have been caused by a number of things, such as a combination of political uncertainty, the launch of the Family Day statutory holiday for which small business owners picked up the bill, and the looming re-introduction of the provincial sales tax.
With the New Year almost upon us, it is worthwhile to take a moment to reflect upon 2013's high and low points for small business. Here are the year's top 10 stories for B.C. small business.
10. The B.C. government promises to increase the amount of goods and services purchased from B.C. small businesses by 20 per cent. As the government spends billions each year procuring goods and services, it is a great idea to spend more of that total on local independent businesses. The process to achieve this goal is now underway.
9. The Municipal Auditor's office opens for business. According to CFIB's member surveys, small business owners' concerns about the cost of local government are higher in British Columbia than in any other province. B.C.'s Auditor General for local government is beginning to scrutinize how municipalities spend our tax dollars, and not a moment too soon.
8. B.C. tables a balanced budget. While critics raised valid concerns about how the B.C. government balanced the books by proposing to sell assets, an important priority of small business owners was met nonetheless. Despite the slow pace of economic recovery, Minister of Finance de Jong and Premier Clark deserve praise for their promise to keep B.C. in the black.
7. Property tax protests take place in the District of Hope and City of Coquitlam. When small business owners take precious time away from work and family to organize property tax protests, it is a message to our mayors and city councillors to stop treating small businesses as bank machines. Rising property tax rates are a reflection of undisciplined spending and over-generous compensation for public sector workers, and it is time to rein it in.
6. Mobile business licenses take off. What started among a handful of municipalities a few years ago -- the so-called mobile or inter-city business license -- has evolved into 10 separate agreements involving dozens of B.C. cities and municipalities, who are cooperating on the issuance of business licenses. This is of particular benefit for businesses in construction where jobs cross municipal boundaries. A hat tip to the province and all the municipalities involved.
5. The City of Langford ends annual business license renewals. Mayor Stew Young of the Vancouver Island community of Langford got high praise from the small business sector, particularly for his admission that business license renewals are just another tax that costs almost as much to collect as the revenue they generate.
4. Small business gets on the B.C. election agenda. When surveyed back in March, 76 per cent of CFIB members doubted small business concerns would be on the radar of any of the provincial parties looking to form government. Thankfully they were proven wrong, as each party acknowledged small business in their platforms and responded directly to questions from CFIB.
3. Multi-Material B.C. (MMBC) recycling regulations unveiled. When you establish new public policy, it is always a wise idea to address stakeholder concerns before the legislation is passed, not after. Small business owners were outraged after receiving letters threatening $200,000 fines for non-compliance of new regulations they had never even heard of, and still do not understand to this day. Now the BC government is scrambling to fix the MMBC mess -- but don't count on this issue going away in May 2014 when thousands of businesses may be forced to comply with costly new regulations.
2. CPP increases put on hold. Even though 58,000 small business owners across Canada and 5,000 in B.C. signed petitions to tell their governments not to raise CPP payroll taxes, several finance ministers still tried to take more money off your paycheque. Thankfully employees and employers got a reprieve when a consensus could not be reached among finance ministers on increasing CPP.
1. The Return of PST. B.C.'s flawed provincial sales tax is back, and small businesses for the most part are not pleased with the complicated rules -- or having to file GST separately. Because PST makes B.C. less competitive among Canadian provinces, the government will ultimately have to make changes to the tax. For now, unfortunately, we're stuck with it.