ACOC had the opportunity to join industry leaders from across the region to provide testimony to the Federal Government's Select Standing Committee on Finance. Here our CEO, Alex Mitchell, focused on the burdens associated with the layering on of taxes on small businesses, ways for the Federal government to improve competitiveness, and the need to invest in trade-enabling infrastructure.
Ms. Alex Mitchell:
Good morning Honourable Chair,
It is my privilege to represent the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce and deliver this message on behalf of our nearly 700 members from across Abbotsford’s diverse business community.
In our community, we're grateful to live and work on the traditional territory of the Halq'emeylem-speaking people, the Sto:lo people, and today I am pleased to be a guest on the traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh people.
Our members include businesses of all sizes, from home-based operators to large scale manufacturers and they are facing many of the same challenges that are directly impacted by the loss of economic competitiveness in Canada and the rising cost of doing business, making it increasingly difficult not only to grow, but in some cases to continue to operate.
Today, Government has its foot in the pedal of inflation, and we see the knock-on effects at the community level with rising commercial rents and lease rates, alongside higher interest rates that result in reduced profitability, felt most acutely for the small and medium-sized businesses that are fighting to maintain their operations.
Ottawa has an opportunity to make a substantial impact to relieve the strains on small businesses, while improving the baseline of Canada’s economy. Some of those measures include removing internal barriers to trade, simplifying the tax code, and reducing the barriers that prevent the private sector from capitalising on our strategic economic advantages that are present across Canada and in the community of Abbotsford.
The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce is recommending five key areas for action in Budget 2024:
- Lowering the cost of doing business
The costs of running a business in Canada continue to climb making it very difficult for businesses to succeed and to grow. We call on the government to avoid imposing new taxes on businesses. For example, the upcoming increase of EI premiums in 2024 will be felt by every single employer in the country. This, paired with the numerous other costs being added by other levels of government such as increased property taxes for most municipalities, increased carbon taxes which impacts British Columbia’s business owners differently, and interest rate increases, mean that businesses are being squeezed from every direction.
Economic headwinds are still present, and businesses haven’t fully recovered from the impacts of the pandemic. One key issue remains the upcoming CEBA Loan repayment deadline. Now is not the time to recall loans for struggling businesses, and we strongly urge the government to give business owners more time by extending the repayment deadline to the end of 2025.
- Building resilient and trade-enabling infrastructure
Reliable connections with our trading partners across the province, country and globe is required for businesses in British Columbia to reach their potential. That includes flood mitigation infrastructure for the Fraser Valley, home to some of Canada’s most productive agricultural land that was impacted by the devastating floods just two years ago, and a rapid expansion of regional trade corridors like Highway 1 through Abbotsford. Ensuring we have resilient infrastructure in place to meet the demands of today, and the future, are critical to the long-term success of businesses.
- Fostering healthy communities
The health of a community is a direct function of the health of the businesses that operate within it. If businesses are prospering, the local community will too. Today we see how policies of bail reform for repeat offenders, alongside a rampant opioid crisis have impacted the job creators of our communities. For many small businesses in Abbotsford, this has become a virtual Crime tax where businesses increasingly need to account for regular property damage and vandalism cleanup, further adding to their cost of doing business.
- Addressing labour challenges
One of the most critical issues we face as a province is to ensure we have the people we need, with the training required, to meet our needs today, and into the future. We also need to ensure that our communities are equipped with necessary funding from the Government for the infrastructure that will support the growth in population, as well as the services to ensure the success of newcomers within their new communities.
- Incenting innovation
Empowering companies to do more with the same resources, or even less, is one way to help businesses grow and succeed. We want to foster the success of new industries such as agriculture technology which has a natural home in Abbotsford, Canada’s agricultural capital. In fact, Abbotsford’s farmers are driving the future of food security for the nation, and the Government can play a critical role in investing in the ecosystem that supports that innovation.
It is time to address the barriers that are preventing our economy from reaching its full potential.
Budget 2024 presents an opportunity to see decisive action that can benefit small businesses across the country. We urge Ottawa to adopt pro-growth policies that will support Canada's economy and make the necessary investments into our communities to drive resiliency and competitiveness.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
About the Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce:
The Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce has served the business community of Abbotsford with an attitude of vibrant engagement and proactive non-partisan advocacy for over 110 years. With 700 members, it is the largest Chamber in the Fraser Valley, located in the 5th largest city in the province. The Abbotsford Chamber is nationally accredited to meet standards of business excellence and provide benefits to its member organizations.
Alex Mitchell, CEO
Abbotsford Chamber of Commerce