September 7, 2017

Ending the war on small business

It’s time to end the war on small business owners and their families.

My father escaped Communist Hungary in 1956 as a child. Half the world away, our family knew of Canada for its can-do and open-for-business spirit. They bet everything to make it here – and succeeded.

There is now an alarming trend to punish success rather than celebrate it. As I go door-to-door every night, I have spoken to many of Ward 11’s entrepreneurs and small business owners. Here is some of what I’ve heard:

  • Despite our entrepreneurial reputation, if you’re not in oil and gas, Calgary is one of the most costly and unreliable jurisdictions to do business in North America. Why take a risk on Calgary when nearby cities are welcoming investment?
  • Politicians have become out of touch with the actual costs and challenges of doing business. Having run a small business myself, I believe that the “fair share” narrative doesn’t work if we refuse to tackle waste or government excess. With small business owners contributing nearly three-quarters of their income to governments at all levels, where is the line to be drawn?
  • And sadly: What’s the point? Why take on the risk, poor job security, lack of benefits and time with family, as well as the higher tax burden and scrutiny, when there is such easy access to high-paying government jobs?

It’s time for decision-makers to understand the cumulative effect of taxation and regulation at all levels of governmentIn the first nine months of 2016, more than 11,000 Calgary businesses either shut down or moved on. To make the situation even worse, this year’s municipal “tax freeze” was just a shell game; businesses in Ward 11 saw huge increases to make up for lower revenues from the downtown core. 79% of all Calgary businesses got an increase in business tax, and 73% of all non-residential property owners paid more property taxes.

My vision for City Hall: accountable, responsive, and open for business.

In my lifetime, government has only ever gotten bigger. I think there is a strong case for a smaller municipal government: more focused, agile, and delivering real value.

I’m running because we owe it to present and future Calgarians to build a city that’s the best place in the world to raise a family and start a business. Here are a few ideas within City Hall’s control to help get our business environment back on track:

  1. Force local government to become responsive. For businesses of any size, one of the first financing questions asked is “Do you have your permits and approvals in place?” Delays aren’t just time wasted, but also interest accrued and jobs lost.We can keep Calgary open for business through a taxpayer bill of rights that targets very specific accountabilities; for example, by guaranteeing a response time to questions about regulations, ensuring that final decisions on applications and permitting are made within a certain window, and promptly refunding deposits if the City is unable to proceed within a timely manner.
  2. One rule in, one rule out. You’ve probably heard of strange laws on the books — such as some businesses must provide rails for tying up horses. Click to read more strange laws you probably didn’t know existed in Canada. For every new inch of red tape that Council ties on, they should eliminate an equal amount. I would go even further; many of the new bylaws passed by municipal government should have a natural ‘sunset clause’ so that they have to be re-debated after a reasonable period of time, and if they can’t be justified, automatically expire.
  3. Prohibit government funding for anti-business and anti-energy lobby efforts. I am proud of our energy industry and the good, mortgage-paying jobs it enables throughout Canada. Ward 11 community sponsorship money is currently being used to support extremist ‘Leap Manifesto’ meetings, which call for an immediate end to our energy industry.Responsible energy production is the cornerstone of modern prosperity and I will strongly champion improved market access such as pipelines. Let’s evolve our oil and gas expertise to more broadly energy and technology. We should build upon our world-leading talent and technology, not seek an end to it.

Calgarians are some of the most innovative and creative people on the planet. What they need is a willing partner at City Hall who will keep Calgary competitive, cut red tape, and hold the line on property taxes. It’s time to get out of the way so that small businesses can do what they do best: power our economy, create jobs, and get Calgary back to work!

Let’s get it done!

With gratitude,

Jeromy Farkas