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OPINION: Productive and competitive

Canadian Federation of Independent Business
Canadian Federation of Independent Business

Broader immigration and investment in equipment and technology key for Atlantic Canada

BY JORDI MORGAN

GUEST OPINION

Recently the federal government moved to make it easier to re-invest in technology and business infrastructure. The proposed tax measures will enable businesses to immediately write off the full cost of some types of machinery and equipment, and allow companies of all sizes and in all sectors to expense a larger share of newly acquired assets. This is good news, especially for Atlantic Canada.

Investing in new machinery and technology is essential for businesses in the region to remain productive and competitive. Our demographic trends show productivity is clearly posed to be one of Atlantic Canada's greatest growth challenge. A large segment of the workforce is aging and retiring, and small businesses in Atlantic Canada are struggling to find workers.

A new report released by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) lays out the many productivity challenges facing small and medium size business in the region. It also provides recommendations for government provide a better environment for prosperity.

Barring massive influxes of workers and significant improvements to retention rates, trends do not suggest there will be enough workers to completely replace those leaving the workforce. For this reason, it is vital economic development policies extend beyond increased immigration to include policies designed to help small businesses adapt to an environment where workers are increasingly scarce.

Yes, we are seeing some modest progress on immigration. For businesses forced to look outside Canada for skilled labour, the Atlantic Immigration Pilot Project (AIPP) is reducing some of the frustrating red tape, but attracting more people through immigration is only one piece of the puzzle.

There should also be a keen focus on matching immigrant recruitment to small business needs. While many immigration programs focus on higher-skill, highly-educated immigrants, many small businesses need workers to fill lower-skilled jobs where on-the-job training is provided.

One option CFIB has proposed to help improve access to workers in lower-skilled workers is the addition of entry options similar to Alberta’s Opportunity Stream which allows temporary foreign workers of all skill levels, including entry-level, the opportunity to work with an employer as a defined step towards permanent residency.

In addition to immigration, mechanization, automation, innovation, robotics and other technological solutions will play a vital role in productivity growth and that means direct investment. While small business owners have a good sense of the types of investments that would help make their businesses more productive and competitive, they are not completely confident they will be able to make those investments.

When asked about the best ways governments could help them make investments, 76 per cent of small business owners said reduce the overall burden of taxes and fees followed by 44 per cent citing a reduction in the regulatory burden. Small business owners also saw value in improving or creating new programs that would help with financing investments. This is not surprising given that the cost of investments and availability of financing were seen as challenges for small businesses.

While the federal government has weighed in with their recent tax incentives, provincial governments in the region still have an important role to play. We still have room for creative thinking around reducing the total tax burden, reducing the total regulatory burden, improving government customer service and fixing barriers to inter-provincial commerce. These are all areas provincial governments can play a direct role in improving our chance for prosperity.

- Jordi Morgan, vice president, Atlantic Canada, Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB)

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