Haven't we seen this movie before? And doesn't it end badly?
That was my first reaction upon hearing of the Harper government's September launch of the Advisory Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship (ACSBE). After all, governments are notorious for forming committees, striking task forces and commissioning studies to examine problems that you and I might care about, but that politicians want quickly swept under the rug.
But this committee looks like it has some teeth. As Industry Canada put it in a news release, this group will continue the work of the former Advisory Committee on Paperwork Burden Reduction, "whose advice was instrumental in helping the Government of Canada achieve its goal of reducing the paperwork burden on small businesses by 20%." (And that was before they killed the long-form census!) But the ACSBE has a broader mandate to address "a wide range of issues," including improving access to federal business support programs and continuing work on the paperwork file. Members of the ACSBE include representatives of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, a regional technology association, a venture-capital firm, high-growth companies and more established, low-growth firms. I'd have created two committees, each focused on a different half of the entrepreneurial spectrum—one for high-potential startups and growth companies; the other for more traditional independent businesses—but perhaps that's asking too much.
I hope the ACSBE is able to make a difference. And perhaps I can be of assistance, by offering these suggested agenda items:
- The Canada Revenue Agency. "Guilty until proven innocent" is the CRA's modus operandi, and it shows in its agents' dealings with business owners. The CRA needs to be less adversarial and operate more transparently to reduce the time entrepreneurs waste trying to understand why they aren't in compliance and what they need to do to comply.
- A friendlier investment climate. Explore ways to encourage ordinary Canadians to invest in private companies, through education,
financial incentives or reduced costs and paperwork.
- Succession planning. With boomers nearing retirement age, a tidal wave of ownership transitions is nearing us. Entrepreneurs who take too much intellectual equity out the door will hobble their firms, weakening the entire SME sector. No one will want to watch that movie end.