The September 2020 Speech from the Throne represents a milestone in Canada’s federal economic response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the efforts of policymakers to help Canadians weather the storm caused by shutdowns and slowdowns. Many of these policies—and their counterparts enacted by the provinces—have been focused on helping workers and businesses stay afloat and keep the lights on, while making vague promises to “build back better” once the virus was at bay.
Several of these policies and rapidly deployed programs have provided relief and support to small businesses. And understandably so: almost 70% of Canadians are employed by a small business, and in the preceding four years, small businesses accounted for the majority of net employment growth. In rural Canada, the economic and community role of small businesses is even more pronounced.
But as Canadians look forward to this period of economic recovery and governments herald a new normal, few signals have been given about its policy landscape, and even fewer about the role of small business and entrepreneurs in the post-COVID strategy. With the horizon now in sight, how can governments move quickly to put a shot in the arm of small businesses and entrepreneurs that are operating in disparate and localized challenges and conditions?
In this report, we advocate for six policy options that move Canada’s entrepreneurship and small business supports from strength to strength. They do so by leveraging and working within existing structures, policies, and priorities in a manner that can address numerous goals at the same time. In setting out these options, we have attempted to craft policies that offer a place-based framework responsive to local assets, opportunities, and priorities across Canada, without being prescriptive about the innumerable aspirations and opportunities that dot the map.
While recognizing a strong cultural and fiscal foundation for entrepreneurship which will follow Canada into its period of recovery, our proposals primarily support three dimensions of a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem—human capital, market access and institutional support. We address these through six enabling policies, which can be summarized as follows:
Recommendation #1: We recommend that entrepreneurship and small business support programming be designed and delivered in a “bottom-up”, intergovernmental structure in order to be more responsive to local economic needs. We propose to do this through the creation of new, regionalized economic development entities, which are funded by federal, provincial and territorial governments to implement economic development, small business, and entrepreneurship support programming based on localized strategic plans.
Recommendation #2: We recommend that Canada’s skills development and continuous learning goals for small businesses and entrepreneurs be addressed by incorporating micro-credentialing into government grants and financing for businesses, as a condition or requirement.
Recommendation #3: We advocate for the expansion of existing immigration programs to create a specialized stream dedicated to business succession—and to connect business owners in rural and remote communities with newcomer talent.
Recommendation #4: We recommend that government student loan borrowers be permitted to defer their repayments and pause interest accumulation for a period of five years in order to enable marginalized youth to engage in entrepreneurship.
Recommendation #5: We propose the creation of a new stream under the federal Youth Employment and Skills Strategy to provide placements for youth in ex-urban small businesses in order to facilitate reverse mentorship and skills development.
Recommendation #6: We call for federal, provincial, and territorial governments to craft policies that cause local-level public purchasers to develop entrepreneurship- and small business-focused procurement policies. We suggest, as a starting point, that the requirement for such social procurement goals be mandated as a condition for municipalities to receive funding under the federal Gas Tax Fund.
While the Canadian regional dynamic will never be fully immunized from economic inequities, we believe that these proposals provide a workable, place-responsive, and efficient means of leveraging the post-COVID recovery as a catalyst for a stronger and locally adapted entrepreneurial ecosystem.