Yukon small businesses are bogged down in red tape, regulation and taxes, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business told Premier Dennis Fentie on Thursday.
Eliminating or streamlining those obstacles could help local entrepreneurs deal with the labour shortage and faulty immigration policies, said Janine Halbersma, senior policy analyst with the federation.
Halbersma met with Fentie and Education Minister Patrick Rouble and Economic Development Minister Jim Kenyon Thursday morning to make the case for lower corporate taxes to deal with the labour shortage.
The government is “aware” of small-business problems, “but there is still a lot of work to do,” said Halbersma.
The federation is a national small-business lobby group that boasts 200 members in the Yukon.
Leaving more money in the pockets of small-business owners is the best way to attract and retrain employees, she said.
Federation members overwhelmingly replied that if they received tax relief they would improve wages, invest in training and buy equipment, said Halbersma.
“When we talk about corporate tax reduction, it’s really about reinvesting into their businesses to deal with the labour shortage.
“The territorial government is losing ground on the tax side. The premier wanted to make the case that the government is competitive on taxes — on some they are. But the small-business tax is four per cent. Alberta is at three per cent, and PEI and Manitoba are moving to one (per cent).”
Several steps should be taken to ease the burden of red tape and paperwork, she said.
More forms and applications could be put online while increasing support for BizPaL, an one-stop online tool that lets entrepreneurs access permits and licence information from governments.
Tax remittances could also be filed quarterly rather than monthly, which would reduce paperwork, said Halbersma.
“It’s about the overall burden that takes small business owners away from what they want to do: run their business.”
Improving government-to-business customer service would also benefit small entrepreneurs, she added.
“People like the one-stop services rather than going through a million different departments.”
About 75 per cent of local federation members support the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement, according the lobby group’s survey.
While the Yukon does have many protectionist policies that help small business thrive, the labour shortage is too dire to not do anything, said Halbersma.
Independent contracts such as welders and carpenters are stopped from moving province to territory, and vice-versa, because of different regulations and TILMA would ease those restrictions, she said.
Increasing immigration is another way to bring more workers to the Yukon, Fentie was told.
“It’s not just a skilled labour shortage, it’s a people shortage,” said Halbersma.
“But the immigration system can be a slow and confusing process for small businesses to navigate.”
The territory should partner with the private sector to lobby Ottawa for a streamlined immigration process and to ease restrictions on foreign workers, she said.
The Yukon government could adopt a pilot project in BC and Alberta that allows businesses to quickly hire an immigrant if an employer can’t find someone in Canada to hire.
The government then issues a labour market opinion within four or five days, authorizing the business to bring in a foreign worker.
And the territory could beef up its immigrant nominee program that allows businesses to nominate a potential employee for immigration, and speeds up the process, said Halbersma.
“There really isn’t enough people.”
“Immigration is one of those solutions that really gets at the actual shortage of people.”