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Let’s play a game of This was Then.

Let’s start with when then was February 2020, which — as the crow flies and the pandemic super-spread itself into every nook and crevice of our working, waking, walking, living lives — seems like at least a few millennia ago.

Back in February, Finance Minister Bill Morneau was still planning to introduce a federal budget on March 30 (since “postponed to a time yet to be chosen”).

Back in February, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business—as is its annual wont—was preparing to snow Morneau, and us, with its latest 28-page, colour-coded, pre-budget laundry list of wants and whines.

The CFIB, which claims to represent 110,000 members, including 5,200 in Nova Scotia, and boasts it’s been “in business for your business since 1971,” has rarely encountered a government or government business tax measure of which it approves.

Fresh off its 2017 success at gutting Ottawa’s attempt to end unfair tax advantages enjoyed by those small businesses umbrella-ed under the designation “Canadian-controlled private corporations,” and still basking in the afterglow of yet another reduction in the federal small business tax rate, the CFIB wanted… well, more, of course:

  • Eliminate even the last vestiges of the government’s failed try at ending small business loopholes by “fully exempting” spouses from having to prove they actually work in a business to split its income, and grandfathering all those “passive” small business “investments” still gathering dust and interest from before new tax rules came into force.
  • Put the kibosh on a proposed 10 per cent “luxury tax” on cars, boats and personal aircraft valued at over $100,000. (Not, the CFIB argued with a straight face, to make life less expensive for the already rich, but to protect all those “small businesses” that make and sell high-end baubles. Of course.)
  • Effectively reduce the employment insurance rate paid by small businesses.
  • Implement an employment insurance “holiday” for businesses hiring anyone between the ages of 15 and 24.
  • Integrate the Canada Pension Plan with public sector pensions, meaning “a larger portion of the funding coming from CPP and a small portion coming from the workplace.”
  • Balance the federal budget within five years “mainly through spending restraint” (Natch).

OK, well you get the “then” picture.

So let’s fast forward two months to now and explore the latest from the fine folks at the CFIB…

“Since the beginning of the pandemic crisis, CFIB has been… working overtime to push policy makers at all levels of government to provide economic relief measures for small businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak…”

Those “taxpayer-fund federal relief measures” for business already add up to… well, who can keep count these days?

Let’s try.

On Friday, Ottawa added $250-million to “a fund that helps small and medium-sized businesses commercialize their work as part of $1.2-billion in new pandemic support for entrepreneurs.”

In the same prime ministerial briefing breath, we learned the federal government will provide “a $962-million boost to both the Community Futures Network of Canada, which provides support to small businesses in rural areas, as well as funding for regional development agencies such as Western Economic Diversification Canada and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.”

That’s in generous addition to an already announced $65-billlion Business Credit Availability Program, not to forget a $20-million Futurpreneur Canada infusion to help next-generation business creators, and… and… and…

Thank goodness there are now even you-need-a-spreadsheet-and-a-calculator-to-keep-up  private sector guides to all the various and sundry government supports available to business owners during COVID-19.

So is the CFIB happy?

Well, yes — thanks for what you’ve done, governments — but, no. It’s still not enough. Not nearly.

The CFIB even has a petition — “My business needs urgent help to survive COVID-19!” — on its website asking the government to sweeten its already sweet deals still more… with still more taxpayer money, of course.

Balance the budget?

That was then.

This is now.

Let me be clear. I’m not making the case that businesses don’t need — or deserve — help in this crisis. They do. We need to find ways to make sure as many of them as possible survive COVID-19 so they — and we — can make and sell again.

We’re in this together.

But that’s been the problem. Many of the folks with their hands out now are the same folks who kept their hands deep in their pockets and tightly wrapped around their wallets in the good times.

We’ve allowed our values and our priorities to get out of whack when those who can afford to buy luxury cars and boats and planes are seen as essential and deemed worthy of tax relief, while those who drive our buses, or pick up our garbage, or look after our youngest and our oldest, or ping pong in and out of the country as temporary farm workers… all find themselves working for minimum or almost-minimum wage and deemed worthy only of our indifference.

We need to rethink what matters. Let’s start with a fair tax system, a living wage, a recognition of whose work is really vital…

Time to reset. Time to create a new and better now for the future.

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Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. I suggest you write a fair article about CFIB ,I wrote 3 comments that disappeared ,I’ll write no more .If I was still a member in Business I would be upset .
    They did a lot for me in terms of advice with CRA when they tried to steal from me .My accountant finally got them to refund the money back to my tax owing after 2 years .

    1. Paul, your comments didn’t “disappear”, they weren’t posted because the site was experiencing too much traffic, as I explained to you earlier. I invite you to add your comments again.

  2. your site is on melt down ,took 20 mins to get logged in , still cant comment on your CFIB article ,the real insidious outfit is the CRA .who tried to steal $5000.from me when I was in Business .CFIB has people that help small business

    1. The CFIB has never been a friend of small business. It’s policies are those that actually support big corporations to the detriment of small business. Cutting public sector pensions or minimum wage, for example, would mean that many rural and small town businesses would not have the customers to stay in business. That, tax cuts, and cutting government services are just the tip of the iceberg in ways CFIB supports the large corporate sector.

  3. As with the bank induced crisis o 10 years ago, this crisis will be wasted in half measures and indifference. There is a chance to truly make the world more equitable in a truly revolutionary way. Is our patrician prime minister up or that?

    He ain’t no FDR. i won’t even mention the Conservatives or Trump and his sycophants.

  4. Thank you Stephen for shining a light on this insidious organization. A lot of these so-called small businesses are laughing at us. Pretty well no risk to set up shop; they take the write-offs, tax breaks, loopholes, and stiff the government and their employees. Real tired of the whining.