High inflation, interest rates and housing costs continue to drive pessimism in Ontario’s economic outlook, according to the Ontario Chamber of Commerce’s (OCC) eighth annual Ontario Economic Report (OER).
Despite this, many businesses surveyed remain confident in their own outlooks, with 53% expecting to grow in 2024.
“In spite of the fact there seems to be a mood of pessimism in the air, the reality of it is there seems to be more bright lights than there are dim lights,” says Cambridge Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Durocher. “We’ve had years where business confidence and prospects of being confident are going to be over 60% but given where we are today, I think having around 50% of businesses confident they are going to have a good year and grow is a positive sign.”
However, he says that figure doesn’t minimize the economic issues facing businesses, including affordability and also notes the struggle to achieve necessary tax reform measures continues.
“We must also ensure there is a balance or equity in tax distribution from not only a cost perspective but also on deployment so when money is being handed out it’s being handed out appropriately,” says Greg.
The OER contains regional and sector-specific data on business confidence and growth, public policy priorities, regional forecasts, and timely business issues such as supply chains, employee well-being, diversity, equity and inclusion, economic reconciliation, and climate change.
The report, compiled from a survey of businesses provincewide conducted between Oct. 12 and Nov. 21 and received just under 1,900 responses, states that 13% of businesses are confident in Ontario’s economic outlook. That represents a 3% drop from last year and a 29% drop from the year before with the cost of living and inputs, inflation, and housing affordability as the key factors for the confidence decline.
The sector showing the most confidence was mining, with the least confidence being shown in the agriculture, non-profit and healthcare social assistance sectors. The most confident regions were Northeastern and Northwestern Ontario, both at 23%, and the least were Kitchener-Waterloo, Windsor-Sarnia, and Stratford-Bruce County. (The survey indicated these latter two regions had a high share of respondents in the non-profit and agriculture sectors compared to other regions).
“As the report suggests, businesses still need to grapple with economic headwinds and many of those headwinds are limiting their ability to invest in important issues within the workplace and that may well be part of the reason they are having difficulty hiring people,” says Greg. “That said, entrepreneurs are interesting individuals, and they always will find a way to wiggle themselves through the difficulties of the economy.”
He questions whether the pessimism around growth and confidence outlined in the survey is related to the economy or stems more from the fact many businesses are unable to hire the people they require so they can grow their business.
“There are lots of companies out there that need people and that’s always a good thing when you’re at a very low unemployment rate now which is hovering around the 5% rate,” says Greg, noting he receives calls and emails daily from local companies seeking workers. “As inflation starts to drop and as the Bank of Canada rates start to drop, I think we’ll see that pessimism go away.”
Read the report.
The minimum wage in Ontario will increase on Oct. 1 to $16.55 an hour and could impact many businesses and their customers.
“I think we’ll be fine because I’m confident with our business model and location, but I think it’s going to affect some businesses dramatically because there is no way there can’t be an increase in prices on goods and services,” says Matt Rolleman, a Chamber Member and co-owner of Thirteen at the corner of Water and Main streets in Galt, noting like many restaurants the majority of his staff currently is paid above minimum wage.
While the same holds true for many tourism and hospitality businesses, the Tourism Industry of Association of Ontario (TIAO) says it will continue to advocate for tax reforms and other measures to help offset rising commercial costs and supply chain disruptions while promoting business growth.
“We’re constantly hearing from businesses about the rising cost of doing business, from paying down pandemic debt to supply chain disruptions that affect the availability of key goods and products, unaffordable commercial insurance premiums, and reduced liability coverage that may impact the scope of what operators can offer in the visitor experience,” says Dr. Jessica Ng, Director, Policy & Government Affairs for TIAO. “The labour crisis has only added to these costs, as businesses look for ways to recruit and retain the staff they need.”
She says reviewing compensation structures is one strategy to make tourism and hospitality jobs more attractive and sustainable.
“You have to try and pay people for their value, or perceived value,” says Matt, adding it is likely increases will be implemented for all his staff as minimum wage hikes close the salary gap between employees. “We’re doing our best to keep our prices where they are right now, but costs have gone through the roof and trying to manage all these things for all businesses has just become more tougher.”
Matt says the timing of the wage hike this coming fall so close to the December 2023 CEBA (Canadian Emergency Business Account) loan repayment deadline may also be an issue for many small businesses.
“For businesses that rely on part-time minimum wage workers there’s no way they cannot raise their prices,” he says, adding while boosting minimum wage is necessary to help ensure people can pay their bills, the way increases are introduced leaves a lot to be desired.
“It’s become too politicized,” says Matt, noting if it was indexed with a cost of living increase it may be easier to plan for it. “Businesses would expect it every year and maybe we wouldn’t have to have these huge increases that sensationalize the whole issue.”
We reached out to Chamber Member Jason Kingston, partner at the accounting firm Grant Thornton LLP, to get his perspective on this latest minimum wage hike:
Q. What do you see as one of the biggest impacts raising Ontario’s minimum wage will have on businesses?
A. Minimum wage increases are always a hot-button topic, with researchers and think tanks releasing contradictory articles and papers ranging from an increase causing either complete economic collapse or being the gateway to an economic utopia. That being said, the largest impact on businesses will be that those who rely on minimum wage earners as their employment pool will need to plan on how they are going to absorb the additional cost.
Q. Are most businesses prepared for this minimum wage boost?
A. I would say that many small businesses are not prepared. Could they have been? Undoubtedly. If a business is dependent on the portion of the labour pool who earn the minimum wage, then that business should always be prepared for increases. I think if you look back over the last decade, it’s easy to see more momentum towards increasing minimum wages and aiming towards a living wage, which is still projected as being much higher than the newly increased minimum wage point.
Q. Could the Province have implemented a minimum wage increase in another way?
A. An increase in the minimum wage does make sense, though the extent of the increase can be argued. The average wage increase, across the Ontario labour market in 2022 has been pegged by many as approximately 4%.
A minimum wage increase is an easy solution for the government. It allows them to say that they’re doing their part to combat poverty and wealth inequality. But ultimately it puts the burden on employers, not the government itself, and it still falls far short. For example, under the increased minimum wage the monthly gross income of a full-time employee will be about $2,800. The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in our region is $1,950 per month. It isn’t hard to see the challenges here.
I think there are larger issues surrounding minimum wage and its purpose and policy reasons which the government should examine.
Common alternatives to minimum wages which are commonly discussed are introducing more collective bargaining options for employee groups, introducing a universal basic income or other government supports for low-income individuals, etc., but these also introduce challenges and differing opinions.
Leading tax practitioners say that business owners with income as low as $50K will be affected
Ottawa, September 27, 2017 – The Coalition for Small Business Tax Fairness, a unified voice of more than 70 organizations representing hundreds of thousands of business owners across the country, has written a new letter to Finance Minister Bill Morneau with professional analysis confirming that Ottawa’s tax proposals will affect middle-class business owners, resulting in higher tax rates than other Canadians with similar income levels.
“We are alarmed by the huge gap between the government’s statements about the impact of their proposals and the detailed analysis by Canada’s tax professionals,” said Dan Kelly, President of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and member of the Coalition. “Tax practitioners are united in the view that these changes have the potential to affect all small business taxpayers, no matter their income.”
"It is the farmers, mom and pop shops, and entrepreneurs, who invested everything into their businesses, that will be most affected by these changes, instead of targeting the real problem. The government needs to go back to the drawing board, hold a real consultation and listen to what tax professionals, provincial governments and the business owners who fuel the growth of our communities are saying," added Perrin Beatty, President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
The government has claimed that these proposals would not affect business owners with incomes under $150,000. Tax practitioners disagree.
One of the new rules introduced by the government would restrict small business owners from sharing income with family members. Tax practitioners say that this can affect business owners with incomes as modest as $50,000. Also, as two-thirds of Canadian incorporated businesses are majority owned by men, the restrictions on sharing income with a spouse are likely to remove a disproportionately higher number of women from benefiting from their family’s business.
The government is also proposing changes that would discourage small business owners from holding certain types of investments in the incorporated company. According to tax practitioners, business owners retain business earnings in the corporation to safeguard against economic downturns, secure bank financing and invest in other start-up companies.
Tax practitioners have confirmed that the proposed tax changes would result in higher combined corporate and personal taxes for business owners across the board and in many cases, small business owners would incur tax rates far greater than what an employee with a similar level of income would pay.
The Coalition, which has doubled in size since August 31, is asking the federal government to review carefully the analyses of tax professionals across the country, take these proposals off of the table, and launch meaningful consultations with the business community to address any shortcomings in tax policy.
The Coalition for Small Business Tax Fairness is encouraging business owners and other concerned Canadians to contact their Members of Parliament and use the hashtags #unfairtaxchanges #taxesinéquitables on social media. For the full list of Coalition members, please visit smallbiztaxfairness.ca.
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What some are saying:
“The agriculture equipment manufacturing sector represents 12,000 Canadians and their families predominantly in rural areas; as entrepreneurs who have put their lives on the line to invest in and grow their family business, the sector consistently exports more than $1.8 billion of farm equipment to over 150 countries. The scope and complexity of the proposed tax changes puts a lot of this at stake, and we must fight to ensure that fairness prevails for our members.” — Leah Olson, President, Agricultural Manufacturers of Canada
“Franchisees are the backbone of the communities they serve, by employing people of all backgrounds, supporting local initiatives, and helping grow the economy. As business owners, they assume significant risk, but have been able to achieve success through hard work and support from family members. Simply stated, CFA believes the changes being proposed by the Minister will hurt Canadian franchisees.” — Ryan J. Eickmeier, Vice President, Government Relations & Public Policy, Canadian Franchise Association
“The residential construction and renovation industry has always largely consisted of family-run businesses that help build the communities they operate and live in, many over several generations. These are hard-working Canadians trying to earn a middle-class living, hire local workers, and create a future for their families. The government’s proposed tax changes threaten the very existence of these businesses, posing a threat to small local companies in every community and the jobs they create.” —Kevin Lee, CEO, Canadian Home Builders’ Association
“We look forward to working with the Minister of Finance to ensure that any changes help secure the future of agriculture and not hinder it.” — Mark Wales, Chair of the Canadian Horticultural Council’s Business Risk Management Committee
“We are fully supportive of the government’s pledge to advance evidence-based policy-making. Our members are concerned that the government’s proposed changes to small business taxes are not sufficiently informed by the level of research, analysis and consultation required to ensure a full appreciation of the impacts this will have on Canadians - not just entrepreneurs and small business owners but also on the overall health of the Canadian economy and competitiveness in the short and long term.” — Leigh Harris, Vice Chair (Interim) National Board of Directors, CMC-Canada
“Canadian business families are scared, confused, and demoralized. Years of planning for business succession will potentially go up in smoke! And we’re being called tax cheats along the way. Canada can do better, we must do better—our economy depends on it.”— Allen S. Taylor, Chair, Family Enterprise Xchange
“These egregious proposed tax changes would negatively impact the family farm in ways that are both profound and complex. The federal government needs to reverse course on their ill-advised tax hike attack on our middle-class family farms. — Levi Wood, President of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, grain farmer
February 19, 2024
July 28, 2023
Canadian Chamber of Commerce
January 29, 2021
March 27, 2020