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GUEST COLUMN: Communities grow where businesses go

- Reuters

By Sheri Somerville

The busy pace of life often finds us overwhelmed with short-term obligations, with only rare moments to consider the big picture. As 2020 gets underway, provincial governments will soon share their vision of the future by publishing their annual budget projections. These estimates define how government proposes to allocate resources and regulate the economy. It is in everyone’s best interests that each province’s budget in Atlantic Canada provide an environment that fuels business growth which, in turn, fuels community growth.

Atlantic Canada has experienced underwhelming economic results for decades, but our region can use these past experiences to help shape a prosperous Atlantic Canada economy for the future. As a region we need to be laser focused on training for the future of jobs, creating new jobs and growing our population, increasing productivity through innovation and efficiency (public and private sector) and modifying our system of taxation to reflect modern day realities.

Our region is different from the rest of the country. While more than 80 per cent of Canadians live in urban settings, almost 50 per cent of Atlantic Canadians live in rural areas. This unique trait means that businesses have a profound impact on helping to build enduring and prosperous communities, particularly in smaller towns. Business growth and success is a critical characteristic of a strong, sustainable community.

If we want to attract more people and keep people from leaving Atlantic Canada, there needs to be more opportunities for them to participate in the workforce as well as invest in and grow their businesses here.

Atlantic Canada has made great strides in fostering start-ups, but real growth depends on existing businesses expanding and creating more full-time jobs.

Our collective prosperity will continue to rely on our ability to sell goods and services to customers beyond our own borders. With a population of just over two million people, we need to focus on new customer development and market diversification.

This means competing globally, which demands superior cost and quality compared to our competitors, and that requires a laser focus on improving two important factors: productivity and taxes.

Productivity is largely within the control of business owners. So, we need to help them understand the value of adopting and investing in new technologies and processes, such as automation and software that improve the efficiency and profitability of operations.

Taxes, of course, are determined by governments and used to fund public services. It’s not new for business owners to say we need lower taxes to increase private sector investment and growth in this region. Somewhat predictably, year after year the list of top concerns raised by surveys of Atlantic Chamber of Commerce members include the same issues: attracting and retaining qualified employees; developing new skills training for the unfilled jobs of today and those forecasted for the future; recognizing the skills and qualifications of newcomers and immigrants; reducing red tape and providing business investors with a clear, timely and reliable path to regulatory approvals; and creating competitive tax regimes.

Atlantic Canadians pay among the highest taxes in the country and the burden on businesses goes well beyond just sales, property and income taxes. Successive governments have applied stopgap solutions rather than resolving the underlying cause of our problem — our tax system needs to be reviewed.

All Canadians should support a comprehensive review of the tax system in the interests of reducing complexity and increasing equity and competitiveness. It’s been 50 years since the last evaluation to see if appropriate levels of taxation were in place for businesses to prosper and people to maintain reasonable standards of living. But we are living in a very different world compared to the ’70s — and we need a modernized tax system that reflects current realities.

In addition to taxation, our members believe more emphasis should be placed on the quality of government services our tax dollars provide. The cost of providing essential health, education and social services requires continuous improvement to increase responsiveness and value for our tax dollars.

While Atlantic Canada is often perceived as a homogeneous region of common characteristics, the reality is our social and economic circumstances are often unique to specific regions. In our most recent member survey, almost half of respondents indicated a need to organize economic plans around regional realities to promote local strengths and ensure the provision of public services efficiently and equitably.

Our members see these issues as the seeds of change for future growth. If we begin to tend to these issues now, in 2020, with an eye to helping business take root and grow, we can change our trajectory and cultivate a prosperous economy in the years to come.

Sheri Somerville,
CEO Atlantic Chamber of Commerce


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