What the parties are saying about small business in the Nova Scotia election

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As an advocate for small business, job one is getting issues in front of politicians. Prior to this election, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) presented each of the parties in the Nova Scotia election a small business “platform’ outlining key areas our 5,200 members in Nova Scotia have identified as priorities.

We sent out a survey to the leaders and they responded. While it wouldn’t be appropriate for CFIB to endorse any of the party’s positions during a campaign, it seems clear each of them understand the importance small- and medium-size business plays in the economy. It’s also clear their approaches differ, sometimes dramatically.

The areas we focused on in the creation of the platform were tax relief, regulatory reform (or “red tape” reduction), spending restraint and support for SME innovation activities to increase productivity and competitiveness.

You can find our platform here, the survey for the leaders here and the responses we received on these issues from the parties, by clicking on their logos.

Atlantica  Green Party of NS nslplogo NDP  Progressive_Conservative_Party_of_Nova_Scotia_2016

If you operate a business in Nova Scotia and are still considering your vote in this final weekend, it might be worthwhile to have a quick look at these documents. You can glean from them the importance each of the parties place on the issues we presented.

CFIB establishes its advocacy agenda based on responses to the many surveys we do of our membership to ensure we are focusing on the priorities that are important to small business. It’s our hope that any government elected on Tuesday, will do the same.

The future of our region depends on the prosperity of our small- and medium-sized businesses. We are not only the engine that drives the economy but are also the first to be impacted by bad government policy. I would encourage you to take few moments and have a look at where each of these parties intends to focus should they be given the opportunity to govern.

Fall Back Up

This week on Fall Back Up, perhaps one of the most important, yet least talked about issues facing entrepreneurs, their own mental health.

I first met Michael DeVenney after he reached out to me to discuss an initiative he is working on called The Mindset Project.

The work is about the intersection of entrepreneurship and mental health and he thought it would be of interest for the CFIB.

Michael is an entrepreneur himself as well as a strategy consultant and investor for other entrepreneurs.

Michael DeVenneyAfter struggling for years with anxiety and depression, Michael founded The Mindset Project to study the impact their work has on the well being of entrepreneurs

A lifelong learner, Michael holds his ICD.D and CFA and recently completed a degree in Applied Positive Psychology.

He holds degree in business, strategy, and leadership from Acadia University, Michigan State, Villanova and Notre Dame universities.

He’s completed the largest study ever done connecting entrepreneurship and mental health. The results are incredible.

In the study, more than 72% of entrepreneurs questioned if they were getting what they wanted from their company with more than 68% experiencing some form of mental health challenge.

Respondents also indicated that more than 74% faced deterioration of their social life and relationships while 40% found their physical and mental health had suffered after starting their business.

He is working now to publish the findings and develop actionable solutions.

Demographics and the Depredation of Deficit Politics

Last year, Richard Saillant, the former director of the Donald J. Savoie Institute at the Université de Moncton published A Tale of Two Countries, How the Great Demographic Imbalance is Pulling Canada Apart. His argument centers on how provincial governments must change the way they are doing business or the burden of our demography will eventually prove unbearable.

His is but one of what is becoming a cavalcade of documentation outlining the oncoming demographic and financial crisis to which our provincial politicians seem oblivious. The idea of the Nova Scotia government spending its way to future prosperity borders on immoral.

The mysterious “debt to GDP ratio of 36.6%” getting floated as some reasonable economic milestone, conveniently ignores the Sword of Damocles current day politicians are hanging over the heads of millennials who are being forced to pick up the tab twenty or thirty years hence.

Yes, there are several $175,000 per year, publicly funded economics professors with defined benefit pensions who seem quite happy to promulgate this idea however, the small business operators who are already picking up the tab through higher taxation, constricted growth projections and puny margins aren’t quite as enthused.

Given a robust economic growth rate over the next 30 years, perhaps we could swallow the theory of absorbing more debt, but there is nothing indicating that is even remotely in the cards in most sectors. RBC pegs the economy expanding by meagre 0.8% in 2017, and this with massive infusions from construction including the Nova Centre and the Maritime Link.

It is mind-boggling to think there are politicians still willing to say, if only the government spends more money, things will be better. It is even more amazing there are people who still believe it. What is that saying about repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results?

What magical productivity unicorn are we collectively expecting will appear to provide the kind of economy that will sustain several billion more dollars in debt? Pile on top of this the vastly higher costs of a bubble of aging baby boomers siphoning off hundreds of millions more in pension and healthcare liabilities as they live into their 80s, 90’s and 100’s.

Optimism is one thing, delusion is quite another.

If anything, we should be saving right now, not looking for new ways to spend every dime that comes in and borrow more. There is a fiscal and demographic bill coming due and unless government dramatically changes the way it does business, the burden on all those fresh young faces graduating high school will, in the years ahead, become simply unbearable and they will leave. If they’re not already gone.

Meanwhile, federal and provincial politicians are skipping around the province espousing the virtues of borrowing cheap money. “It’s almost free!” they say. Except it isn’t. It has to be paid back, and when interest rates rise, as they inevitably will, there will be people down the road staring at debt servicing charges asking themselves, what were we thinking? Even at current bargain basement interest rates, we have spent over 4.5 billion in debt servicing charges alone in the last 5 years. That would build a lot of hospitals and highways or if you’d rather, green infrastructure and bike paths.

There are fewer than a million people in this province now. Despite some very long overdue attention to immigration and population retention, Statistics Canada projections over the next 20 years, which take into account real things like birth rate, mortality rate and net interprovincial migration, show a rapidly aging and shrinking population which will completely reshape our labour supply.

So where in this election are we actually discussing how a smaller, older population will bear not only the additional costs of this higher debt burden but also support the healthcare and retirement needs of, in military parlance, five or six full armies of seniors? Many of these 300,000 or so seniors, incidentally, will not have the resources to pay for these necessary services. This too will put additional pressure on the tax base.

Our current tax load is already the highest in the country, how do we expect to attract and retain people to this region when we are constantly looking for ways to put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage through taxation? And make no mistake, today’s deficits are tomorrow’s taxes.

The size of a government’s tax base is dependent on the size of its business sector. If we want to prepare for a better future, we need to provide a tax environment which will encourage businesses to set up and operate in Nova Scotia, not continually look for ways to drive them and our already shrinking labour force elsewhere.

There are those who may like the sound of a 15 dollar minimum wage, free tuition, free groceries, free drugs and free everything else, but I would ask them to stop and think for a moment about who’s spending the money, why they are spending it, when the bill gets paid and who gets to pay it?

Fall Back Up

This week, I have two more episodes of Fall Back Up for your weekend listening pleasure.

 

Bill CarrIn the first I talk with actor, commentator, motivational speaker, restorative justice specialist and now president of the Professional Speakers Federation, Bill Carr. I’ve known Bill for many years and we cover lots of territory in our conversation, from growing up in rural Nova Scotia and his athletic and theatrical career at Acadia, to restorative justice practice and how to give a better speech.

 

LisaAlso this week, entrepreneur, designer and philanthropist Lisa Drader-Murphy. After building a successful career in the textile business in Calgary, Lisa decided, along with her partner, to move their family to a renovated 18th century sea captain’s estate in Falmouth, Nova Scotia. I met her there to talk about why she decided to move to Nova Scotia and what it takes to build a successful business with no debt, on retained earnings and find ways to give back.

 

You can either click on the images above to go to my PodBean site or play the podcast directly from the Soundcloud players below. I’m still testing each of these platforms and if you have any comments on which work best for you I’m all ears…so to speak.

Again, if you have any suggestion of people you think might be good to interview for this podcast, just let me know on the contact me page up top…

Winter is Coming

Game of Thrones

Nova Scotia’s electoral Game of Thrones is in full swing and while it may lack the dramatic flair of the HBO series, it has one thing in common, winter is coming. Unfortunately, the parties are either unaware of it or are seemingly oblivious to a stark reality.

All of the parties have launched their offensives by flinging open the doors to the treasury, each with new and creative ways to spend our tax dollars with the greatest political efficiency.

The number one priority for CFIB’s 5,200 members in Nova Scotia, consistently, is a reduction of the overall tax burden and the clearest path to this is through alignment of public sector wages and benefits to private sector norms and an overall reduction of the size of the public service. In other words, reduce the cost and the size of government.

For those who argue we have already been dealing with austerity budgets, here’s the reality. Since 2007 Nova Scotia government spending has risen from $7.3 billion to $10.5 billion, an increase of 43 per cent. Additionally, we’ve seen a whopping 22.5 per cent increase in our debt from $12.4 to $15.2 billion over the same time period. All this with an increase of only 16 per cent in the CPI (inflation) and our population flat-lining at 1.5 percent. This is not restraint and certainly not “austerity” by anyone’s definition.

Spending restraint is becoming more important than ever before. Perhaps because the weather is warming our politicians are floating sunny prognostications but there is an inevitable, relentless sociological cold front headed our way. Stretching our Game of Thrones metaphor, let’s call it “The Wall”.

According to Statistics Canada, that “wall” can be found in baseline population predictions. In 20 years, those over 65 years of age will make up fully 30 per cent of our population. A great majority of those will be out of the workforce and needing higher levels of healthcare. Keep in mind, in 2013, that same cohort made up only 17 per cent of Nova Scotia’s population.

By 2038, the forecasts indicate our median age will be nearly 50 and our overall population is expected to decline to under 934,000.

So who will carry additional tax load? If you’re a voter in your 20’s and 30’s, have a look in the mirror.

While efforts are being made to increase immigration, and claims are being made about having the largest population “ever”, the fact remains, unless we make some fundamental and dramatic changes to the way our government spends, we will be faced with some very, very difficult decisions indeed.

Absent in all of the spending promises in this election is a discussion of any long-term fiscal planning to deal with this issue. By long term, we don’t mean 4 years out, we mean 25 years out. Intergenerational forecasts which will set sustainable spending patterns.

Where are the real plans to deal with the inevitable decline in revenues from a shrinking and aging workforce? While some creative gains are being made through immigration, they are incidental and the problem is not getting people to Nova Scotia, it’s keeping them here. More than half of those who arrive leave within five years.

It’s not much wonder as we’ve been struggling with economic growth and carry the some of the highest tax burdens in the country. Our public service is nearly 5 points larger than the national average and their salaries and benefits are completely out of whack with private sector norms. Is anybody connecting the dots?

Meanwhile, the front pages are littered with political spending sprees.

Small business owners want politicians to have the courage to not just stop the bleeding, but begin to fix the problem through an actual reduction in the size of government, lowering the costs of doing business and a putting laser-like focus on better regulation and more efficient service delivery.

If not, we are sentencing our next generation to a cold, bleak future, on the other side of the wall.

This originally appeared in the Chronicle Herald, May 13, 2017

Fall Back Up

Jordi FBU Cover 3.01

This week on Fall Back Up, I have two podcasts for you to enjoy with two exceptional people.

The intent of this podcast is to is to provide you with engaging and thoughtful insights into Atlantic Canada through conversations with business leaders, innovators and high performers.

First up this week, one of Atlantic Canada’s digital pioneers. Back in the early 90’s Malcolm Fraser saw a business opportunity in this thing called the Internet. Over the years he built Internet Solutions Limited (ISL) into one of Atlantic Canada’s largest web marketing and development companies, but as you’ll hear, it wasn’t without some bumps in the road.

MalcolmIMG_2060-1000x464-1401900483He is an active member of the business community and has been recognized as one of Atlantic Canada’s Top 50 CEOs and is now the Vice President and Managing Director, Halifax at FCV Interactive.

In this episode we have a wide ranging conversation about the early days of the Internet, what business needs to know about adapting to new digital marketing environments, and what’s really going on in the background while you’re scrolling through social media.

The second episode is with Dr. Jeremy Koenig, a fascinating guy who I first met when I was looking to get in shape to run the Bluenose Marathon in 2012. While I never became marathon man, he did manage to whip my 50 year old carcass into the best shape it had been in for 30 years.

Jeremy is a geneticist and athlete. He got his PhD in biochemistry and molecular biologyJeremy_New specializing in genetics. As he tells it, he ran track because it fed his need to train.

After teaching nutrigenomics at Mount St. Vincent University and training high-performance athletes, in 2014, he launched Athletigen in cooperation with the high tech incubation hub Volta Labs. Athletigen uses proprietary software which looks at an athlete’s DNA to uncover data about strengths, weaknesses and ideal diets.

In another wide ranging conversation, we talk about how he landed in Halifax, how DNA analysis could be a game changer in personal health care and thoughts on success and failure.

If you have any feedback, comments, or suggestions, please be sure to leave a quick note on the comments section of my site.

To access the podcasts, there are a few options here. You can click on the pictures above, take this link to my PodBean site and you also can now also find Fall Back Up on  Stitcher or  iTunes.  The Soundcloud versions are below. I’m testing to see what works best so let me know if you have a preference of platform.

Have a great weekend.

 

Fall Back Up

Jordi FBU Cover 3.01I’m delighted to announce the launch of my podcast, Fall Back Up.

It’s a weird name, I know. The idea is to explore the experiences of business leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators and high performers in Atlantic Canada. The idea behind “Fall Back Up” is the exploration of  life’s missteps as they relate to individual growth.

I’ve had a broadcasting career spanning over 40 years. If it’s in the realm, I think I’ve done it. From reporting news to interviewing and long-form journalism to rock radio, music television, sports and the weather, I’ve had the opportunity to interview some of the more fascinating people on earth. In Canadian politics I’ve talked to everyone from Stephen Lewis to Stephen Harper. In the music world, it’s ranged from AC/DC to Frank Zappa.

And pretty much everything in between.

So I’ve taken to listening to Tim Ferriss. Tim has a podcast where he deconstructs ‘world class’ performers to tease out habits, rituals, and their approaches to living. He talks regularly to an impressive list of innovators and thought leaders, trying to pull out some of the techniques they use to achieve amazing results, from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tony Robbins to Navy SEAL generals and Internet billionaires. It’s personal, practical and compelling. You can find the podcast at www.fourhourworkweek.com. I’d highly recommend it.

Tim’s podcast served as an inspiration for me. I’ve lived in Atlantic Canada all my adult life, and as mentioned, I’ve had the privilege while working in broadcasting to meet a boatload of fascinating people from all walks of life. Since I jumped on board with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) as the legislative lead in the Atlantic region, I’ve not only expanded my exposure to people but to many profoundly interesting stories of entrepreneurship and personal growth.

This podcast is not about public policy, but we’ll discuss it, it’s not about economics, but we’ll discuss it, it’s not about politics, mental health, taxes, failure or success, but we’ll talk about all those things too. This podcast is about people. The people who make up the fabric of this fabulous place we call home. I’ll leave the ‘world class” designation to Tim, I’m looking to talk to ‘Atlantic Canadian class’ people because they are the folks who exemplify the spirit of our place and as is very often the case, they are, in fact, world class.

I hope you take some time to listen.

I want this to be a two-way communication. The funny thing about being in broadcasting this long is you get very used to putting stuff out, but less adept at getting feedback. I want to hear from you. Leave a comment on my site. If you like it as is…terrific, if you think it can be better, please tell me how.

I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on the people interviewed and your perspectives on the topics raised. I’ll be keeping the tone respectful and I expect the same from anyone providing feedback. I’ll be moderating comments. Also, if there’s someone specific you’d like to hear interviewed, let me know. If I agree, I may be in touch with you to do some networking.

I want also to take a moment to thank Jim Robson and Russell Grosse at CIOE, 97.5 FM, the community radio station in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia. Jim and I started talking about doing some kind of business-oriented radio show about a year ago, and after a lot of thought and some pretty bad first attempts, this is what emerged. All the folks at CIOE are so committed to doing something good for the community, they deserve a huge pat on the back. Thanks for letting me be a part of it. I edit these interviews and provide a bit shorter version to the station and they are gracious enough to air it every Tuesday at noon. Community radio is a pretty awesome little movement.

If you’re arriving here through social media platforms (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+), I’d also recommend you check out The MacDonald Notebook. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to Andrew MacDonald’s new subscription based weekend newsletter with the podcast and commentary. Andrew has a deep, rich journalism background and is one of the founders of AllNovaScotia.com, the excellent business and politics online news outlet. You can subscribe to Andrew’s weekend read for only $3.50 per issue at themacdonaldnotebook.ca

All this being said, welcome to the first edition of Fall Back Up, today with the Chairman of Clearwater Seafoods, Business Hall of Fame Laureate, philanthropist, music fan and family guy…the inimitable, Colin MacDonald.

Colin MacDonald Clearwater

In the mid 70’s Colin MacDonald and John Risley opened up a small retail lobster shop on what was then, the outskirts of Bedford Nova Scotia. 40 years later Clearwater has grown into one of the world’s leading seafood companies. With a combination of enthusiasm and grit and a little help from their friends, the duo changed the face of seafood exporting in Atlantic Canada.

MacDonald grew up in Fairview, just down the road, in a family familiar with hard work and the rough and tumble of suburban Halifax. In this conversation, he explores his early days, dealing with adversity, the politics of the fishery and how he views both success and failure.

Nova Scotia’s pre election budget: anger and gratitude

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Nova Scotia Finance Minister Randy DeLorey looks on as Premier Stephen McNeil speaks in Nova Scotia Legislature 

Premier Stephen McNeil must be listening to Tony Robbins. One of the tenets of the motivational speaker’s philosophy is it’s impossible to be angry and grateful at the same time. McNeil’s recent budget leverages the idea in spades.

CFIB members have been lobbying for tax relief over the last four years. Finance Minister Randy DeLorey delivered one of our key asks, to raise the small business tax threshold from $350,000 to $500,000, giving small business owners the capacity to retain more money in their business to innovate and create employment. Check that box.

Additionally, we’ve been adamant about providing some relief on personal income taxes, especially so lower-income earners can keep more of their earnings.

By raising the basic personal exemption by up to $3,000 for those earning less than $75,000, many low-and-middle-income earners in the province will see more of their paycheck, a much preferable mechanism than raising the minimum wage.

As we’ve argued for years, as a poverty-reduction measure, minimum wage is ineffective because government becomes the principal beneficiary through higher taxes. With this adjustment to the basic personal exemption, thousands more lower-income Nova Scotians will pay no provincial tax at all.

Another positive benefit of the budget for small business owners is the provincial government’s measurable commitment to reduce red tape. This is a principal file for CFIB. We have been supportive of the efforts of this government to put in place the structures to begin reducing unnecessary regulatory burden. Nailing down a target of $25 million in cost to business is the right thing to do.

CFIB members will be grateful for these improvements, which may temper taxpayer anger heading into the predicted provincial election. While these measures are sensible, and should be commended, there is still much work to be done on tax reform to put Nova Scotia in a competitive position.

We remain concerned, however, about the propensity of government to create boutique programs to benefit specific sectors. While there are programs geared toward small business growth in areas such as export and innovation, historically the programs go largely unnoticed or unused.

Leaving more money in the hands of small business owners to reinvest, without forcing them through the rigours of bureaucratic process to access benefits is a far more efficient and desirable approach.

Preparing for an election, it’s not hard to see why this government has chosen the former option. It provides more control over who will be the principal beneficiaries and constituencies. That is a simple political calculation.

Many small business owners remain frustrated by high taxes and governments that seem out of touch or ambivalent to their needs. This is a good start, but it’s only a start.

It has been a very long time since the people in Nova Scotia have seen any meaningful tax relief at all. A morsel can seem like a feast for the starving. Now that the math is done in the Department of Finance, it will, presumably, be put to the people of Nova Scotia to determine if they are indeed grateful or angry.

This post originally appeared in the Chronicle Herald, April 29, 2017 on day prior to the call of the 2017 provincial election.