First you have the Provincial Government with Bill 148 and then you add what our Federal Government wants to do regarding taxes and in reality it just adds up to a nightmare for small businesses. Greg explains in this weeks' 'The City'.
5 Minutes for Business: The Explosive Debate around Minimum Wage
Thursday, July 20, 2017
Big increases to minimum wage are becoming fashionable in Canada: first Alberta (from $12.20 currently to $15 in October 2018), then B.C. (from $10.35 to $11.35 in September 2017) and now Ontario (from $11.40 to $15.00 in January 2019, a 30% hike in 18 months). Are workers better off or does it mean fewer jobs?
The debate has been ferocious because economists don’t agree, but let’s look at the fundamentals. The government accepts that carbon taxes are effective at reducing emissions because if you make something more expensive, people will use less of it. We agree, but the same logic must apply to wages. And, actually, a business owner faced with the rising cost of an input (labour) has three options:
Absorb the added cost out of her profit margin
Reduce use of labour by substituting in morecapital or simply making do with less work
Let’s take these in order. Some businesses are so spectacularly profitable that owners can just absorb rising labour costs. But Apple and Microsoft don’t use minimum wage labour. If we look at profit margin by industry, the biggest users of minimum wage labour are in retail and food service, with razor thin (below 3%) margins. There is very little room to absorb these costs, and if a business is not profitable, there is not much point in keeping it going.
What about raising prices? The critical ingredient in business success is getting the right price point for your market. One restauranteur told us that the lunch menu in her neighborhood has to be $5-$8, any higher means flirting with disaster. In retail, the competition is with online giants, like Amazon. Often, there is no room to raise prices without driving away customers.
The third option to cope with rising wages is making do with less staff. This is controversial because many studies show that minimum wage can be increased without a corresponding rise in unemployment.
That’s why the recent Seattle study produced such a bombshell. Washington state collects detailed data on hours worked and it showed how part time workers with irregular schedules are cut back. Seattle’s minimum wage hike reduced the total hours worked by the low-wage workforce by about 9% while raising their wages by only about 3%. The net loss to workers was an average of $125 a month. This is a big, immediate hit to the most vulnerable workers.
There is some evidence that modest increases in minimum wage can be done without disrupting labour markets, but governments have to be cautious about hurting competiveness. Previously, I had said there are three options to deal with rising costs, but there is actually a fourth and a fifth option: shut down or move to a different jurisdiction. Let’s provide input to the Government of Ontario to prevent this from happening. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has
done some great work on this issue and has a report that can be viewed here.
5 Minutes for Business: Fast and Furious—Negotiating NAFTA
Friday, May 26, 2017
Tick-tock! The U.S. Trade Representative just sent the official notification to Congress that NAFTA negotiations will begin in 90 days. The Canadian government must now negotiate and resolve all the hot button issues with our American and Mexican friends—in the midst of a highly charged political environment. How will it play out?
For the next 90 days, every special interest and aggrieved Wisconsin dairy producer will have a chance to provide input during the consultation period under Trade Promotion Authority. Then, whatever new agreement is negotiated must pass the House and the Senate. All three governments want NAFTA 2.0 wrapped up ASAP. Canada wants to end the uncertainty that is hurting investment, and for our partners, it is even more urgent.
Mexico’s presidential election is set for July 2018 and will be in full election season by the early spring. Polls show the current leader is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a fiery left-wing nationalist who filed a human rights complaint against Mr. Trump and his plans for the border wall. He calls it embarrassing to see the current Mexican government prostrate before Trump. Mexico’s government would dearly love to conclude the NAFTA well before the election.
Similarly, U.S. mid-term elections will be held on November 6, 2018, and Republicans need to show progress on trade. The likelihood of NAFTA passing Congress drops off significantly after the mid-terms.
Gallup points out that when the U.S. President has an approval rating below 50%, his party loses an average of 36 seats during mid-term elections. President Trump’s approval rating is well south of 50%, in the high-30s. If the administration remains mired in scandals, special counsels and the Russian Connection, the Republican house is likely to lose its 31-seat majority. Would a newly-elected Democratic house be eager to pass Mr. Trump’s NAFTA?
No way. Is it even possible to renegotiate NAFTA before the deadlines? The original Canada-U.S. FTA took 18 months (May 1986 to Oct 4 1987), and our governments at the time were the closest of friends.
So it’s possible but very unlikely because of the politics. We often hear from Americans that Canada is not the main target of U.S. trade ire. Canada just needs to give the Trump administration a PR win, which it defines as a big give on supply management and softwood lumber, then it can have whatever it wants— regulatory cooperation, movement of people, maybe even an exemption from Buy American.
But the politics are awful because Mr. Trump’s bullying, blustering threats have made it impossible for Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Pena Nieto to agree to concessions without appearing weak. Their supporters despise Mr. Trump and would be furious. And even if it wasn’t politically poisonous, why should we make concessions for another country’s domestic politics?
There may be another way. The USTR referred to NAFTA modernization as opposed to renegotiation. In the past, NAFTA has been amended extensively without going back to Congress. We could add a chapter on ecommerce, fix the rules of origin and sign a bunch of side letters that could give the Americans the win they need. Let’s hope they take what they can get. Otherwise, NAFTA 2.0 is doomed.
In this edition ofthis weeks V-Blog Greg discusses why it will not only keep the heritage aspect intact but also put a new spin on the area for our futures. Not only our futures though. It will benefit our grandchildren's future as well. This will be a district unlike any in Ontario. So check out this video and support the Gaslight District.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting (a Federal Budget!)
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Can you feel the excitement in the air? A brand new federal budget is about to be delivered into the world. A precious bundle of joy, full of hopes, expectations and the future of the Canadian economy will come screaming into the House of Commons in a couple of weeks. So what should we expect?
Three big things are keeping us on the edge of our seats. This baby will have larger deficits than last year amid economic uncertainty. She’ll be full of exciting details around previous announcements—the innovation agenda, the infrastructure bank, the FDI hub. Finally, we’ll see some nasty surprises coming from the review of tax credits. Wahhh!
The budget is unusually late this year. We’re now expecting it on March 21, after a number of delays. Pity the poor Finance Department. Last year’s budget was hit by a sharp decline in oil prices and an economy that was weaker than expected. This year’s budget is upended by Hurricane Trump—normal expectations around trade and business investment are out the window.
There is now more uncertainty than we’ve seen in decades, and the federal government has run out of fiscal room. The deficit will reach $26 billion this year, and that’s before the additional costs for new health deals with the provinces. For years, we’ve advocated balanced budgets, or at least a solid plan to return to balance. The Finance Department’s current forecasts show this will not happen before 2050. (This baby will be middle-aged by then.)
Growing deficits make it unlikely that we’ll see any large new programs. Instead, this budget is likely to fill in details around previous announcements. Remember, Budget 2016 left many of the tough questions to be filled in after consultations. The government had said Phase 2 of the infrastructure plan, with the “fast, efficient trade corridors” would be announced in the next year. The Innovation Agenda, a “bold new plan” to redesign how Canada supports innovation, was coming later. Health spending would be determined. A review of tax expenditures was coming soon.
We certainly support simplifying the tax system, but some of these tax credits are very important to business and Canadians. For several months, we campaigned vigorously to oppose a plan to tax employer-sponsored health and dental plans. The plan would have cost workers thousands of dollars and was only abandoned by the government after tens of thousands of emails and negative media.
The government is looking for revenue so we’ll likely see a few unpleasant surprises in the budget. It would be odd if the government reviewed 150 tax credits and decided to keep all of them. So, we just don’t know if the capital gains inclusion rate, the federal dividend tax credit or flow-through shares might be on the chopping block. We’ll be watching the budget closely to determine the positive (innovation agenda, infrastructure) and negative impacts (tax credits and deficits) on business. I’m worried this baby could be adorable and smiling on the surface but with some smelly surprises hidden away.
5 Minutes for Business: Are We Ready for the Next Generation of Small Business Owners?
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Canadian business is about to go through an era of unprecedented upheaval. Is it an economic crisis? A climate calamity? A Trump presidency? It’s much worse: a mass-retirement of business owners!
A staggering 75% of small business owners will retire over the next decade, and $1 trillion in business assets will change hands. Are we ready?
The answer is a resounding no. Less than half of small business owners have succession plans and only 9% have a formal written plan. We often hear that owners don’t like talking about retirement. They’ve been leading their business for decades and it’s part of their identity. Many just assume that they will be able to sell the business or pass it along to kids when the time comes. And because it’s years away, the awkward discussion can always be put off to another day.
There are huge implications. For starters, inadequate planning will lead to a big tax hit. Many family businesses have concerns that they are treated unfairly. If an individual sells a business to an unrelated person, it’s considered a capital gain and subject to a significant exemption. However, when an individual sells a business to a family member, the disposal is taxed as a dividend at the top marginal rate. That’s because the Crown sees the cash remaining within the family unit and wants to avoid creating a costly loophole. It’s a tough issue—there is an issue of discrimination against family business. In fact, NDP Deputy Finance Critic Guy Caron has prepared the private member’s bill C-274 to address the “unfair treatment” of family transfers.
The second big challenge is financing the succession. It can take years to find the right buyer with deep pockets to buy-out the retiring owner. Again, a lack of planning can force owners into a fire sale situation, and potential buyers need time to raise funds.
The Canadian Chamber recently passed a resolution asking that government small business financing programs be expanded so that potential buyers can access the funds to buy-out a retiring owner. It’s a great idea.
We sometimes focus exclusively on supporting startups, but it’s just as important to ensure the continued success of existing businesses. Consider the perspective of an entrepreneur: you could create a new idea from scratch, seek out customers who have never heard of you and hope against the odds to turn a profit. Or, you could take over a company that has been in business for decades, with a loyal customer base and a track record of profitability.
The point is that it takes years to plan, finance and implement a successful exit strategy—on top of the training and mentoring to prepare the business itself for transition.
That is why chambers and business associations must do more to encourage members to start early and create robust succession plans. Financial institutions and government agencies also must help fund the next generation of managers and owners. But it’s a big challenge for business and for the Canadian Chamber. If you have views on succession planning and/or on bill C-274, please email or give me a call.