The Pocket Guide to Canadian Election Issues for Entrepreneurs

Startup Canada Vancouver Panel

As federal political candidates ramp up their election campaigns, Canada’s next big breadwinning companies are building and testing prototypes, finding market validation, seeking investment, and marketing their products. Small businesses in Canada create approximately 100,000 jobs per year and account for over one-quarter of the country’s GDP, making entrepreneurs key members of the electorate, particularly when Canada’s economy is on shaky ground.

Small businesses in Canada create approximately 100,000 jobs per year and account for over one-quarter of the country’s GDP, making entrepreneurs key members of the electorate.

Statistics Canada data released on September 1st showed Canada was in a recession earlier this year, adding new fire to the economic debate between leading parties. As candidates vie for their spot in the Commons, all parties insist their plan for the economy is the right one. Entrepreneurs and small businesses are mentioned every so often in this rhetoric, but candidates won’t put entrepreneur-related solutions on the agenda until entrepreneurs remind them that startups and small businesses create jobs for Canada, and insist on improvements to support for businesses at the startup and growth stages.

In her recent BetaKit editorial, Victoria Lennox argued this election could be a defining moment for Canada’s entrepreneurship movement. She’s right, but only if every entrepreneur and every member of the startup ecosystem plays their part by knowing the issues that affect startups and small businesses, communicating them to candidates, asking questions about party positions and platforms, measuring responses, educating peers, and voting informed. When a candidate knocks, calls, or debates, the best way to change the status quo is by asking them for a commitment to better business for Canadian entrepreneurs.

Red Tape Efficiency

In its 2015 “Canada’s Red Tape Report,” the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses put a dollars and sense figure on regulation to show its influence on the bottom line. The time and money spent dealing with government red tape is a whopping $37.1 billion and 185 employee hours annually. That’s up approximately $5 billion from 2012, despite the federal government’s implementation of a Red Tape Reduction Commission and commitments by various government bodies including the Canada Revenue Agency, to reduce red tape. While yes, many regulations are in place for the benefit of business, the federal government can work on red tape efficiency, to ensure the measures improve and not impede business.

Support for Mid-Late Career Entrepreneurs

Nearly 40 percent of baby boomers are considering entrepreneurship, if they have not already started a business, according to a 2012 TD Canada Trust survey. However, many government programs that support entrepreneurs are limited to those between the ages of 18 and 35. These age limits on support programs reduce opportunities for mid and late career entrepreneurs.

Empowering Women Entrepreneurs

Companies majority-owned by women in 2011 had an approximate six percent lower rate of growth than other companies, according to a study by Industry Canada. However, the study showed women entrepreneurs are more likely to innovate. As innovative businesses are key to a growing economy, the government needs to help women entrepreneurs overcome barriers to growth by improving access to and quality of programming that empowers women with equal opportunity for success, and champions them as the next great leaders in business.

Internet Access for Entrepreneurs in Rural and Northern Canada

Digital connectivity has opened access for local entrepreneurs to national and international markets and made it easier than ever to start a business, but many rural and Northern Canadians continue to be left without this opportunity. Fifteen percent of Canadians in rural Canada have no access to Internet and among the territories, connectivity ranges from a paltry 27 percent in Nunavut to just over 83 percent in the Northwest Territories, according to the Canadian Internet Registration Authority. It’s a cause for the migration of talent to larger towns and cities, and leaves those who stay behind with limited business and training options. According to Statistics Canada, Canadian businesses sold more than $136 billion in goods and services online in 2014. The Internet economy is an opportunity that needs to be made available to all existing and aspiring Canadian entrepreneurs.

Talent and Training

Businesses across Canada are struggling with a common problem: the recruitment and retention of quality skills and talent. Overall, Canada’s workforce needs to upskill. Entrepreneurs and their employees need financial literacy education to balance the books, sales and marketing skills to attract and keep customers, and the greater workforce needs access to specialized training to fill jobs in emerging tech industries. The changes to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program has shrunk the talent pool in Canada, and current training programs need improvement to create a talented workforce to fill jobs created by small businesses.

The federal government does not regulate education, but it does offer its own training programs and regulate funding bodies like the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council that set the tone for priorities among Canada’s universities and colleges. The federal government also regulates immigration and can do more to encourage the nearly 300,000 culturally aware, highly skilled international students enrolled in Canadian post-secondary schools to fill jobs in Canada post graduation.

Access to Capital

For any entrepreneur, access to capital is one of the biggest barriers to growth. There are a number of things, tax credits and funding programs among them, that could create long-term benefits for the economy if implemented by the federal government. From implementing a national angel investor tax incentive to reforming the Canada Small Business Financing Program and following Singapore’s lead to implement a new entrepreneur startup tax through regulatory and tax reform, there are numerous ways the federal government can unlock investment in Canada.

Culture and Risk

Canada’s politicians need to lead by example and promote a strong entrepreneurial culture in Canada. The federal government needs to be a collaborative partner in the national startup community by consulting with entrepreneurs to recognize their needs and work with the ecosystem to meet those needs. Policymakers need to accept risk as a gateway to innovation and progress, and encourage and celebrate entrepreneurs because their success creates jobs for Canadians.

On September 9 at 12-1pm EDT, Startup Canada will be holding a #StartupChats Twitter conversation on ‘Startups & the 2015 Election’. It’s a Q&A interview panel wherein experts share information and Startup Canadians can ask questions and share their perspectives. During this #StartupChats, the panel will discuss how entrepreneurs can stay engaged during election time and how they can get their message in front of local candidates. Join the conversation here.

Image courtesy Cyprian Szalankiewicz | Startup Canada.

Kathryn Forrest, Startup Canada

Kathryn Forrest is an entrepreneur advocate and Communications & Marketing Manager for Startup Canada.

Startup Canada

Startup Canada

Startup Canada is a grassroots network of entrepreneurs working together to build an environment for entrepreneurship in Canada.