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Volume Ten, Number Three   May 2005

Small Business Group Backs NDP

Marco Procaccini

The supposedly “business friendly” image of the BC Liberals is again being challenged as one prominent small business organization has strongly endorsed the NDP in the May 17 election, claiming the Campbell government has gone out of its way to hurt small business.

The Community Business and Professional Association of Canada has slammed the BC Liberal government for jacking taxes and fees, mis-managing the province’s finances and stifling consumer spending by undermining wages and raising and transferring huge costs onto middle-income earners.

“When the NDP left office in 2001, it left a 1.4 billion dollar surplus. This has been verified by the politically independent Auditor General,” says CBPA President Dave Myles. “Without even a glance at the books, Gordon Campbell gave away 2.2 billion dollars a year in a 25 percent tax break to the richest 5 percent of the BC population, wiping out the entire NDP surplus and driving BC into a record deficit. He then made massive social spending cuts to pay for this tax break.”

Myles says this is more than just unfair. It’s also bad business, he says, since the tax break either directly or indirectly involved taking money out of the pockets of small business, working people and local economies—which are the main markets for small business. Myles quotes Statistics Canada figures showing that small business makes up about 43 per cent of the workforce and opens up a whopping 70 per cent of job in BC. Also, the BC Federation of Labour reports that over 50 per cent of its affiliated union members work in certified bargaining unit in single-outlet companies of fewer than 30 employees. It is also estimated that around 40,000 union members are self-employed owner-operators.

He adds that the Liberals’ commitment to satisfy the demands of elite wealthy special interests and large corporations is at the expense of small business, and that this is a threat to the economy considering the huge role small business plays in it.

“Campbell attempted to look fiscally responsible. He generated an artificial fiscal surplus on the backs of seniors, public service workers, students, the poor and the sick, by cutting services to them and raising the costs to them of the services that remain. Ottawa even helped him this one time with much greater than usual equalization payments in 2004,” he says. “The key responsibility of any business (as with a government) is to see that everyone impacted by decisions from the top in that business, benefits -not just a handful of insiders as with Enron or WorldCom, and a few wealthy Liberal supporters.”

Myles is angry that many of the Liberal government’s policies are adding huge costs to small businesses in almost every economic sector. From raising medical premiums while cutting coverage to tripling tuition fees and cutting schools to dismantling the apprenticeship programs, he says this government’s claim to be business friendly blows of hot air.

“Gordon Campbell has dismantled apprenticeship training programs, put what training is left out of reach for average income young adults, and ripped up properly negotiated union contracts,” he said. “The result is a growing shortage of skilled labour driving up construction and business input costs and reducing the personal incomes of thousands of working families in BC. Unemployed people don’t have money to spend in local businesses in their communities.”

While much of the Liberals’ anti-labour policies, including gutting public sector collective agreements and introducing a lower minimum wage have been joyously praised by elite corporate lobbies like BC Business Council and the Independent Contractors and Business Association, Myles charges many small business people are feeling the pain, as these measures have resulted in lower consumer spending, especially in small communities, which is suffocating their local economies. He also insists that it is mostly large corporate chains like McDonalds and Wal-mart, which are taking advantage of the Liberals’ $6-an hour so called “training wage” (which is $1.35 an hour lower than the regular rate), not small businesses.

He adds that ripping up freely negotiated contracts, be they labour or trade, sends a chilling effect throughout the small business community, especially those dealing with the government, since they see there is nothing stopping the government from doing the same thing to them if it chooses.

The Supreme Court of Canada recently agreed to hear the case of the 40,000-member Hospital Employees Union appealing the Liberal regime’s gutting of its master agreement in public care facilities and its efforts to try to fire its members and give their jobs to private contractors. Myles says it’s tough enough for a 40,000-member union to get a hearing with the Supreme Court. For a small business, it is almost impossible.

“One of the most critical components to running any business is the issue of trust. Breaking promises is the most destructive behaviour in which a business manager can engage,” Myles says. “(Gordon) Campbell has a record of broken promises that includes his promise not to sell off BC Rail. He sold it anyway. He promised not to sell off BC Hydro but he has given away one third of it and is in a court battle with citizens who are try to prevent his selling off the rest of it. In a second term, ICBC, the rest of Hydro and BC Ferries will be high on his list of ‘Promise-to-keep-but-plan-to–sell’ assets.”

He also says that while the government is selling off public assets, it is raising the public debt at a faster rate than the NDP, according to the BC Auditor General. “The NDP got criticized a lot for raising the debt,” he said. “But then at least we were building new schools and hospitals and highways, so we were acquiring more assets and people all across the province were getting work. Now the government is selling off these assets, and the debt is still going up anyway. That’s a dangerous place to be when you are in business. It’s an absolute disaster for the economy. It’s so short sighted. It gives the Liberal a quick wad of cash now, but ruins the future security of people for generations to come. But the Liberals seem to think the public will just be there to pay for it all in higher taxes and fees or huge service cuts.”

Myles, part owner of the Myles of Beans coffeehouse and music bar in Burnaby, is also a past NDP candidate. He says he was attracted to the NDP since historically it has a much more pro-small business legacy than the exclusively large corporate-friendly right-wing parties. The Liberals have claimed they are pro-small business because of their efforts to make labour, human rights and ecological standards more “competitive.” This has resulted in the lowering of the minimum wage, making it harder for workers to unionize, give bosses more power to hire and fire indiscriminately and to pollute more.

He says none of this has shown to be of any benefit to local economies or small business. “All this does is ruin economies and communities in the long run by making them poorer, dirtier and less healthy,” he said. “These measures work for some greedy rich guys who want to make a fast million or two and move on to something else. But for anyone who wants to set up a business for the long-term these things are horrible.”

He may be right. Statistics Canada recently reported that overall wages have fallen and small business failures have climbed substantially since the Liberals took office. Apparently, small business had better survival rates during the tenure of the NDP. Myles says this shows, despite claims of newfound prosperity, the Liberals have actually hurt local economies.

“Most small businesses are working class,” he said. “Most often the owners are individuals or families who are also doing the work, or working along side whatever employees they may have, putting in long hours often for little or no pay. And most of us aren’t greedy millionaire wannabies. We are just trying to earn a living and survive by doing something we are good at or like, just like everyone else.”

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