Op-Eds Aug 31, 2020

The recovery will be business-led, make no mistake


Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and now Minister of Finance, can be forgiven if she feels she’s carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. She faces a grander challenge than any of her peacetime predecessors since the Great Depression. But it is an unfair burden, as erroneous as the idea that governments can borrow or regulate our way back to prosperity.

Any true recovery must, and inevitably will, be led by business. Just as every downturn is first felt on Main Street when the lights begin to go out, every recovery starts when the open signs begin reappearing.

Getting where we need to be will take years. It will require both a clear vision, steadfast perseverance and ultimately job creation. Canadians cannot return to their normal lives until they are gainfully employed. Everyone recovers when business recovers.

A unique phenomenon over the past several months sets the stage for a successful recovery. For the first time in generations, business and government are squarely focused on the same thing – getting Canadians back to work safely and building our economy out of global pandemic.

Not in decades have we seen these often competing protagonists working so productively toward a shared national objective. There is no playbook defining our next moves. We need to work together creatively and collaboratively.

We can start by building a strategy that gives Canada’s businesses the opportunity to combine the full power of our educated and skilled work force with our business acumen to drive a historic recovery.

Faced with imminent failure, businesses have been doing what they do best: adapting and innovating, at warp speed. They have been doing their part to keep Canadians employed. Given the opportunity, they will develop business plans, find the capital and take the risk of rebuilding. But they need government help to clear obstacles to growth.

Our small and medium-sized businesses are on the front lines of this crisis. They represent many of the hardest-hit sectors – restaurants, retail, accommodation, tourism and the arts – that rely on physical presence for their business models to work. What they need is tools to help them survive and adapt. This should include targeted liquidity supports to maintain operations and a national initiative to transform Main Street for technology adoption and the digital economy.

Leaving emergency liquidity programs in place after winding them down so they can be restarted in the event of another crisis will provide a small-business safety net. Introducing a tax-free emergency savings account, where all firms eligible for the small-business tax rate would qualify, will help smaller companies better prepare for another emergency.

If we truly want to future-proof these companies against subsequent waves of COVID-19, we need digital transformation grants to implement new technologies and support programs to help businesses acquire health and safety equipment and reconfigure their facilities.

Our large businesses have been exceptional during this downturn. They’ve retooled to provide medical equipment while preserving jobs and continuing to make inclusion and diversity in their work force a priority. But governments need to create a more attractive environment for investment, growth and recovery. They must eliminate the regulatory gridlock that paralyzes some of our most innovative, growth-oriented projects.

Mobilizing a privately financed stimulus package is essential to any sort of recovery. A program that defers or waives capital gains taxes for investments in economically disadvantaged areas can promote inclusion through job opportunities for Canadians in these communities. A time-bound tax incentive to encourage Canadian companies to repatriate more of their international earnings would help fuel growth.

Now is the time to finally address interprovincial barriers by removing all exceptions to the Canada Free Trade Agreement and providing for automatic mutual recognition of professional and trade qualifications.

Business is already laying the groundwork for Canada’s recovery. We’re ready to take some of the weight from Ms. Freeland’s shoulders. We just need her to make sure the path in front of us is clear.

Perrin Beatty is chief executive officer of the 200,000-member Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

Contributed to The Globe and Mail.