SFU discusses BC Budget Day

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WEB-SFU public square-Alison Roach

A new SFU Public Square series looks at propserity in BC

By Alison Roach
Photos by Alison Roach

Last Tuesday was BC Budget Day, the day of the budget lockup in Victoria where Finance Minister Michael de Jong delivered and explained the provincial government’s planned balanced budget for the next three years. In attendance at the lockup was Jock Finlayson, the executive vice president and chief policy officer at the Business Council of BC, an organization that represents 250 large- and medium-sized BC companies. However, after leaving Victoria, Finlayson made his way to SFU Harbour Centre, where he served as the keynote speaker at the first event in a series of three entitled the BC Population ProsperityInitiative (BCPPI) Spring Dialogue Series, presented by SFU Public Square.

The theme of the Tuesday night event was right in line with the events of the day: “From Good to Great, Nurturing Small Business Growth in BC.” Both Finlayson and Nancy Olewiler, the director of the School of Public Policy at SFU, spoke about the current climate for business in BC, and the difficulty facing small business owners in turning their small companies into large ones. Finlayson pointed out that the amount of small businesses in BC is far above the national average, with a disproportionately large number of British Columbians counting themselves as self-employed, one-person businesses. Fiftyfive per cent of BC businesses have fewer than five employees. However, this translates into a larger amount of low income people, a problem in an area like Vancouver where affordability is an issue.

“The public has great affection for small businesses,” said Finlayson in his presentation. “Sometime it seems that our governments would prefer to keep them small.”

Finlayson’s remarks centred around the importance of creating a climate that allows these small businesses to grow into medium-sized, or even large companies, and changes in policy that could stimulate innovation, creativity, and business growth. “Adopting a tax structure that rewards success and encourages companies to grow is also critical,” he stated.

Olewiler acted as the discussant for the evening, alternately agreeing and disagreeing with Finlayson’s claims. She emphasized the importance of making BC a more attractive place to start a business by lowering the tax rates, arguing that the influx of people moving to BC would widen the tax base, and result in higher tax revenues.

She also called attention to what she considers the worst tax decision recently made, the deharmonization of the HST. The return of the PST, according to Olewiler, will actually put more tax on product components for businesses, rendering production costs much higher than can be found elsewhere in the country. Olewiler concluded, “Incentives to be in BC go down.”

After the speakers finished their comments there was a brief Q&A period, followed by half an hour of public dialogue, where attendees worked in small groups to discuss the ideas laid out in the presentations. With a facilitator and note-taker at each table, the results of this dialogue will be posted on the BCPPI and SFU Public Square websites for those interested.

Two more BCPPI Dialogue events are scheduled. One held on March 26 will discuss Aboriginal education needs, and the final one on April 23 will focus on community engagement. All the dialogues are held at SFU Harbour Centre, and require registration.

Shauna Sylvester, the executive director of SFU Public Square, said of the dialogue driven event, “The SFU Public Square is a signature initiative of our community engagement . . . and we always say that it’s only as good as the people who get involved.”