Even as Canada boasts rising vaccination rates, easing restrictions and a newfound optimism for the future, small businesses have a lot of work ahead to regain their traction within the economy, says Dan Kelly, President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).
Kelly, whose role is to advocate for the 95,000 small and medium-sized member businesses at CFIB, adds that the journey to recovery for small businesses has only just begun as they have been the hardest hit throughout COVID-19 restrictions, particularly for sectors like retail and hospitality that serve customers in person.
These businesses play an integral role in Canada’s economy, said Jason Charlebois, Scotiabank’s Senior Vice President, Small Business.
“The small business community employs over eight million Canadians, so they are businesses that are the cornerstone of our economy. Our economic livelihood as a country is really tied to these businesses.”
In the latest episode of Pandenomics – our podcast series looking at the impact of COVID-19 on the economy – Kelly and Charlebois discuss how small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs) have been impacted throughout the pandemic and the outlook ahead.
Their remarks come as various provinces including Ontario, Alberta and Quebec lift lockdowns and restrictions, which have disproportionately impacted independent businesses, after many months. There will be a surge of traffic to these businesses that are now reopening, Kelly added, but they will need a lot of support to manage debt built up during the lockdown and additional resources to resume pre-pandemic operations.
The global crisis has forced small and medium sized businesses to quickly adapt to new ways of operating, said Kelly, noting that research showed that 150,000 businesses that weren’t taking transactions online moved to do so during the pandemic.
“Small businesses were a bit behind their international counterparts in using some of the new technologies and adapting to some of the new ways of doing business that Canadians were, in many respects, asking them to. The pandemic did create a giant opportunity, in fact, the necessity for many businesses to move in that direction.”
The CFIB, which celebrates its 50-year anniversary in August and has been a Scotiabank partner for decades, pushed for initiatives such as wage subsidies, rent subsidies, the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) program, as well as grants to aid SMEs during the pandemic, said Kelly.
“We lobbied aggressively to try to put some proper supports in place. Those programs were absolutely vital in helping businesses survive and hopefully getting them through to what we hope will be a recovery very, very soon.”
Regardless of the hardships, small business owners have made commendable efforts to stay afloat and have shown true entrepreneurial spirit, said Charlebois.
“The resiliency of entrepreneurs here in Canada is something that we all should be so proud of. It's amazing to see and hear the stories from business owners about what they've done to keep their business going... They're super optimistic about what we hope is that full path to recovery as we finally come out of these lockdowns and look to a bright back half of the summer and hopefully a brighter fall and beyond.”
Kelly emphasized the role Canadians play in helping SMEs to regain their stability.
“A lot of them really do depend on being reunited with their customers for them to be successful. And finally, it appears that we may be back to being able to do that… So, I urge Canadians to get back out there and support their local small and medium sized businesses.”
This will be the last episode of Pandenomics. While COVID-19 isn’t gone entirely, and its impacts will likely be felt for some time to come, we want to move away from the focus being almost entirely on the pandemic. We’ll be coming back in September with a new name, but we’ll be continuing our conversations about the economy, the real estate market, consumer trends and much more, with experts from inside Scotiabank as well as external partners from a variety of fields. Thanks for listening to Pandenomics, I hope you enjoyed our conversations, and we’ll see you in September with our new name and look.
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