An Open Letter to Mayor and Council on the Donair Debate

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October 27, 2015

Mr. Mike Savage
Mayor, Halifax Regional Municipality
Office of the Mayor
1841 Argyle Street
P.O. Box 1749
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 3A5

Dear Mayor Savage,

As Vice-President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) which represents 1,600 small- and medium-sized employers (SMEs) in Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), I would like to offer my input on an important decision with which you and other members of council are currently grappling.

As you know, our organization communicates our members’ municipal concerns to you frequently via meetings, reports and appearances before council. We strive to provide background on the size and importance of the small business community across Nova Scotia and we share data which we collect through carefully controlled research procedures.

Among the recommendations we have made on behalf of our membership, we have advocated for reducing municipal red tape, additional controls on municipal spending, the gap between residential and commercial property tax rates, mitigating the impact of construction projects and other issues which affect the bottom line of small and medium size businesses.

Today I’m personally asking council to examine with diligence a proposal which may have significant and long term impact on the economic and cultural success of HRM. While CFIB has not undertaken direct research to determine the percentage of support among small businesses in the city, the overarching principles of support for small business guide my comments on this matter.

In many ways, the donair is emblematic of our way forward in Nova Scotia. In its history it has incorporated elements of innovation, supported the success of our immigrant community and added value by providing employment and cultural benefits.

Through the lens of the Ivany report, we can view the donair is both an asset and an opportunity. It is about Halifax as a community, it is about the courage to take a chance, our imagination and our determination to do better. The donair as an official food is a game changer that addresses the need for a city-wide commitment to growing the economy and the population.

Also in line with Ivany recommendations, making the donair the official food of Halifax has the potential to assist in slowing our demographic decline. How many times have you heard from ex-pat Haligonians on your travels, “I need to come home so I can have a donair.”

In many ways, the donair is indeed the embodiment of the Ivany’s goals. Who in Halifax has not after an evening out on the town not been compelled by an urgent call to action and chosen to have a donair? Who at one time or another has not stepped up to the counter, looked at the kebab and said, “It’s Now or Never!”

There are a great many attributes of the donair which must be taken into consideration from the perspective of supporting small business. The donair (in its purest form) is exclusively the product of small- and medium-size business. It is affordable, requires no increase in public sector spending and is virtually free of red tape. (Hot banana peppers should never be confused for red tape.)

Since the early 1970’s, Halifax has been the epicentre of this growing culinary phenomenon. One important small business played a critical role in the establishment of the donair as a staple in the Haligonian diet. My first exposure to a donair was in 1977 when, as a student in broadcasting school, the donair was my primary source of sustenance for well over 8 months. Every day before heading off to learn my trade, I would stop in at King of Donair on Quinpool Road and spend, as I recall under $3.00 for a single donair with hot peppers, parsley and a squeeze of lemon washed down by an ice cold Brio Chinotto. (Totally old school).

How many others, like me, were convinced to stay here in Nova Scotia and help build the economy as the result of having access to a cultural and culinary resource unavailable at the time in other parts of the country?

The Lebanese community has added a great many economic assets to our community and many of these were precipitated on the economic foundation provided by their culinary heritage. In recognition of their commitment and the commitment of all small business to the growth of our community and province, I provide my full support to the consideration of the donair as the official food of Halifax.

Jordi Morgan
VP Atlantic

cc:
Norman Nahas,
President,
Canadian Lebanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Embedding Entrepreneurship in Our Education Culture

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We may be witness to a tectonic shift at the Department of Education and small business should be pleased. Recognition is finally being given to the Ivany suggestion that for far too long Nova Scotia’s schools have valued raising public servants rather than entrepreneurs. The result of this refreshing direction of thinking is the inclusion of the voice of the business community in the P-12 education system.

The shift in thinking also seems to have been ignited by the shockingly dismal statistic that only 12 per cent of Nova Scotia’s students envision themselves as future entrepreneurs.

This fall, the department will create a Business-Education Council. It is, in the words of the action plan, “a forum where business can identify the skills and attributes students need to be successful, create a database of entrepreneurs to serve as mentors, support teachers’ awareness of economic growth sectors and the importance of developing entrepreneurial skills across the curriculum.” Bravo. It’s about time.

There are a variety of other positives in this initiative including expanding the delivery of Junior Achievement and embedding and updating entrepreneurship courses. CFIB is hopeful Nova Scotia’s entrepreneurs will find time to contribute to this opportunity.

In recent surveys, CFIB members are expressing dismay with the qualifications of young people who are coming into the workforce poorly prepared for real world challenges. Many business owners tell us they find both the quality of applicants and the work ethic of new hires have deteriorated in recent years, particularly when recruiting for entry-level jobs. There are also serious gaps in finding workers for higher skilled jobs resulting from disconnects in our education system.

For example, when the shipbuilding contract was awarded, the department was quick to highlight the creation of training programs to fill what was seen as an immediate need for welders, pipe-fitters, electricians, etc. While these are useful and praiseworthy trades, the glaring omission was the tremendous opportunity the shipbuilding contract offers in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector.

Naval warships are second only to spacecraft in the advancement of technological innovation. Most of our computing advances of the 20th century are rooted in NASA and military applications. Along with biotech and other digital start up opportunities, Nova Scotia is poised to become an epicenter not just corporate development, but also growth of small and medium-size businesses in ICT.

So it is good news to see the Minister announcing that coding will finally be introduced in Nova Scotia classrooms next year. Until this week`s announcement, coding and computational thinking has been largely absent from our school curriculums. Yes, children must be given a strong, broad based education in the early years focused on numeracy and literacy, but options must be available as they progress through late elementary and junior high to understand code, the working language of the tech sector. It’s great to teach Gaelic, but C++, Java and Python may be a tad more useful in the workplace of the 21st century. Pardon the pun, but it’s about time we got with the program.

Imagine if we are able to create an education system where other western school systems look for best practices in ICT education, where learning about the development of ICT is as important as using it, where parents wish to immigrate to educate their children in these areas and where businesses want to locate because of the base of ICT talent.

There are other positive signs. Spurred by private sector investors and supported by the province, Brilliant Labs is establishing spaces where young children can grasp the fundamentals of technology and design through interactive workshops. Acadia University’s high school robotics competition could also be a game-changer, but the fact remains, beyond bringing in IBM and Google consultants to orient existing teachers, there is a need for systemic change to grow our capacity to teach coding, CS and entrepreneurship.

Acadia University’s Master’s level teaching programs is producing a very small stream of new teachers who have a background in CS. For this to be successful however, we need the department of education to do what it must to keep these teachers in Nova Scotia. That means plans to create teaching positions for those who are qualified to instill not just the spirit but also the competencies of entrepreneurship in our next generation.

There are tremendous opportunities for contributing to society and personal success available through entrepreneurship and CFIB is delighted the Department of Education has identified this as a priority. We wholeheartedly support the establishment of the Business-Education Council.

Let’s hope this government’s action plan takes root in the department. Let’s also hope along with public service and personal growth, innovation, the development of a strong work ethic, creation of personal wealth and local economic prosperity are also seen, as they are by entrepreneurs, as important measures of success.

This blog post also appeared in the online version of the Halifax Chronicle Herald on October 24th, 2015

What Will a Liberal Majority Mean for Small Business?

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October 18th to 24th is Small Business Week in Canada. Every year, organizations across the country mark the importance of entrepreneurship to our economy. This year Small Business Week was kicked off with a wholesale change of government and there was lots of talk about small business during the campaign.

The health of the small business sector is critical to the economic success of the country. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is proud to provide a strong voice for our 109,000 members to ensure their opinions are heard when politicians are making decisions.

So what does this Liberal majority mean for small business? There is both good news and some cause for concern. During the campaign, the Liberals committed to reducing the small business tax rate to 9% by 2019 and to reducing employer Employment Insurance (EI) premiums from $2.63 to approximately $2.31 in 2017. We also like Justin Trudeau’s plan to waive EI premiums for new jobs for young people for the next three years. This will certainly encourage hiring in a segment of the population that can use a leg up.

The Liberals have also promised to maintain the Canada Job Grant while reinstating the federal-provincial Labour Market Development Agreements. According to their platform this will provide the provinces and territories with half a billion dollars per year in skills training. CFIB also supported two recent Liberal MP Private Members Bills including Emmaneul Dubourg’s bill to allow small business owners to pass their business to their children free of capital gains and Ted Hsu’s bill to bring back the long-form census.

These are all good measures.

On the other hand, there were a couple of red flags. The comment made by Mr. Trudeau suggesting a large percentage of small firms are used as tax-shelters requires clarification. The vast majority of small firms are legitimately using the small business deduction. If Mr. Trudeau was talking about ensuring that the deduction is not being abused, we can support that position. If there is a move to limit access to the small business deduction, as is taking place in Quebec, CFIB will raise strong opposition.

CFIB is also concerned about the Liberal plans to increase CPP premiums. We will be asking the new government to put this idea on hold until the economy is in better shape. Because CPP premiums act as a tax on every dollar a business pays to its employees, it is a big disincentive to hiring at a time when the economy needs just the opposite. CPP expansion is currently our members’ number one area of concern and we will be reaching out to learn more about the Liberals’ plans.

We are hopeful this new government will take note of our members concerns. Most have a direct impact on the bottom line of small firms and in turn the success of the Canadians who run them and are employed by them.

Now, with the election behind us, this week we want to focus attention on the importance of small business to our communities. On October 24th, CFIB is sponsoring Small Business Saturday to encourage the community to recognize the contribution of our local entrepreneurs by making a conscious choice to support local business.

We are asking you to take some time this Saturday to cast a vote for small business in your neighbourhood. Drop in for a meal, listen to some music, purchase a gift, get some groceries, have your hair done, drop off the dog for grooming or pick up that item you need for your home.

By supporting small business in your area, you are supporting your family, friends and neighbours. These are the same folks who often sponsor your kid’s sports teams, local cultural events and community projects.

At CFIB we believe small business makes Canada a better place. We hope this Saturday you’ll make your part of Canada a better place for small business.