Opinion: Saskatchewan businesses still facing struggle to survive

Opinion: Saskatchewan businesses still facing struggle to survive

Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses says many businesses have not yet recovered from the pandemic, but are facing new challenges.

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For far too many Saskatchewan small business owners, survival is proving to be more difficult now than it was at the height of the pandemic.

Over the past year, the cost of doing business has skyrocketed. Business owners have seen nearly every line item in their budgets increase, from food to fuel to rent, and utilities.

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To make matters worse, only about half of small businesses are back to pre-pandemic sales levels. Many businesses say customers have been slow to return and are spending less on average when they do, and owners are not optimistic things will get better anytime soon.

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This new year will bring new challenges as the federal government piles on four major tax hikes.

As of Jan. 1, changes to both the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Employment Insurance (EI) premiums will increase payroll taxes by up to $348 for workers and $366 per employee for employers.

As a result of these increases, an employer paying the maximum CPP/EI contributions will pay up to $5,524 per employee this year. And that does not even account for the other payroll taxes, such as workers’ compensation premiums, that business owners must pay.

Then on April 1, the carbon tax will rise from $65 per tonne to $80, while the alcohol excise tax is automatically adjusted for inflation. Assuming Ottawa doesn’t legislate a freeze or cap, the increase will be about 3.5 per cent.

A higher federal carbon tax will be hard for many small business owners to swallow. the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses estimates that Canadian small businesses pay around 40 per cent of the funds the tax collects, yet Ottawa plans to rebate only 10 per cent of what it collects to small businesses.

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Small business owners are calling on the federal government to immediately return all promised funds to small businesses that paid into the tax since 2019.

Businesses would also like to see Ottawa halt future carbon tax increases and expand the carbon tax exemption to all forms of heating fuels, including natural gas and other sources used by small businesses.

These actions would go a long way to help Saskatchewan business owners deal with rising costs — especially as many are still struggling to pay back their pandemic-related debt.

The CEBA loans that helped many business owners survive the pandemic were due on Jan. 18, if businesses wanted to keep the $20,000 forgivable portion and avoid paying five per cent interest on the principal.

Yet, the federal government has since said that about 25 per cent of businesses missed this repayment deadline — a percentage representing hundreds of thousands of Canadian businesses (including approximately 7,200 in Saskatchewan) that are still in debt to the government.

And this number does not account for the third of businesses who repaid their CEBA loans through refinancing with their banks, according to CFIB data. Meaning even more businesses continue to carry pandemic debts at viciously high interest rates.

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The Saskatchewan government can also help businesses weather the storm. CFIB has recently met with the finance minister and urged the province to take a ‘do no harm’ approach in this year’s budget by avoiding the introduction of any new taxes or cost increases.

Additionally, the province can show small business owners they recognize the struggles they’re facing by providing affordability relief, such as reducing the small business corporate income tax rate back to 0 per cent, or at least freezing it at one per cent until more businesses have had the chance to recover.

CFIB data suggest an alarming 17 per cent of Saskatchewan small businesses are planning on scaling down or closing altogether. The damage that would do to the provincial economy underscores the need for governments to recognize and address the needs of small firms before many more of them are lost.

Brianna Solberg is the legislative affairs director for the Prairies and Northern Canada at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

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