Sonia Furstenau column: We must make sure small business people feel valued

Small business owners in B.C. feel undervalued

By Sonia Furstenau

This week in the Legislature the BC Liberals asked the NDP government why they aren’t doing more to support small businesses by reducing taxes. We are, said the government. You aren’t, said the opposition. And so it goes.

Meanwhile, small business owners in B.C. feel undervalued even though they contribute 34 per cent of the province’s gross domestic product. Reduced taxation would help, an adjustment to property tax assessments due to inflated property values is an option too, but if we only focus on taxation as a reward, we’ll never solve the problem of business owners feeling undervalued.

Ten years ago, John and Angie Close took a leap. John was transitioning out of his first career and he needed work. They had three small children and rent to pay. John did what any diligent father would do: he bought a lawn mower, stapled advertising signs to hydro poles around his neighbourhood, and started a one-man lawn-mowing business.

Ten years on, their company Lush Eco Lawns has 10-15 employees (depending on the season) and a list of loyal clients, some of whom have been with him from the beginning. Lush is a success story, but as with every business it’s been stressful. John and Angie took on significant risk in capital and operational investments, and the responsibility they feel for their employees is significant. John is especially proud of being able to pay his staff $15/hour or better, which enables the staff to live well on Vancouver Island, and in return, they are committed to their work.

A similar story could be told by the more than 500,000 small business operators in B.C. Each one of them took a leap, took on the financial risk, and feels a deep sense of responsibility for their employees. These businesses are at the core of innovation and entrepreneurship in our communities. There is evidence of their rich creativity in our town centres, at farmers’ markets, Christmas fairs, and in all communities all over the province.

If small businesses are at the foundation of our economy and our communities, why do owners like John feel undervalued? For John, it comes down to a sense that he is doing everything right — his products and services are eco-friendly, he volunteers in our community, and he’s paying a fair wage that cuts into his annual profit but ensures his staff are healthy contributors to the market — but he feels his effort to contribute to a sustainable economy isn’t recognized.

Gift economy advocate Charles Eisenstein would observe that John’s motives are not entirely profit-driven. John and Angie have applied sustainability practices that don’t make business sense if profit is the only measure. But it feels right, and it serves others, and ultimately, according to Eisenstein, it is an act of love.

It is more important than ever that we value the small businesses in our communities. The more we learn about the potential outcomes of climate change, the clearer it becomes that local economies and connections are central to our well being as individuals and as a society. We must celebrate and reward businesses like John and Angie’s, whose practices build connectedness and a healthy local economy, and contribute to making Cowichan such a great place to live.

Sonia Furstenau is the MLA for the Cowichan Valley.

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