On Sept. 24, many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will make a choice as to who they wish to govern them and their communities for the next four years. Many others won’t even bother to vote, whether due to apathy, deference or some other reason.
Low voter turnout for municipal elections is particularly disturbing when one considers the profound effect that city and town councils have on our daily lives. Every time you turn on the tap, back your car out of the driveway or place a net over your garbage after bringing it to the curb, you should be thinking about your council.
Small business owners think about their councils all the time, when they pay their taxes or submit development applications to expand their businesses. They fully recognize the impact their councils have on their businesses, and they are often less than happy about it. In a recent survey, a majority of Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) members (about 70 per cent) in the province considered overall awareness by local government of the small business sector to be poor.
Instead of being seen as partners to help expand business opportunities, grow the local economy and create jobs, local governments are seen as an obstacle by small business owners, a hurdle they must overcome.
From a small business perspective, there are a number of common issues that our new mayors and councils will have to address if they wish to see sustained economic development in their communities. The first issue is red tape, which is essentially the time and money required to comply with government regulations. The permit and licence application process in our cities and largest towns varies, of course, but it is burdensome and costly.
The second issue is the disproportionate tax burden that small businesses have to bear. In some communities, businesses can pay property taxes four, five or six times higher than a resident pays, without getting access to comparable municipal services. We have yet to hear a compelling reason why this disparity persists.
The larger issue in municipal government is a constant push for more revenue. Many local governments say they lack the revenues to do all that is required of them. We question this claim, and wonder if the real problem is not spending. From 2000 to 2011, inflation-adjusted spending grew by 55 per cent in all Canadian municipalities, while the population only grew by 12 per cent.
Ultimately, small businesses are the backbone of our economy and our communities. This election gives you the opportunity to determine whether your local government will continue to stifle business growth and job creation, or usher in a new day of co-operation and prosperity. That is the choice we are all making tomorrow. It should not be made lightly.
Please vote. It can make a difference.
Vaughn Hammond is a senior policy analyst with CFIB Newfoundland and Labrador.