By Marielle Francisco
This month’s third instalment of the Speaker Series for 2021 by the Canadian Ethnic Media Association (CEMA) featured guest speaker Dan Kelly, President, Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the Board of Governors of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). With many parts of Canada going back into yet another lockdown as the COVID-19 variants make their way across the country, Kelly discusses the impact of the pandemic on small businesses within the larger framework of economic and societal disruptions.
CFIB is a non-profit, non-partisan organization devoted to creating and supporting an environment where businesses can succeed and advocate for small businesses with politicians and decision-makers. Kelly states that CFIB expects 1 out of 6 businesses are at risk of permanent closure due to the pandemic, with business owners shutting down not knowing if they will ever reopen. This claim is based on almost 100,000 calls to CFIB in the last year, suggesting that more than 180,000 businesses are expecting to close despite the economy recovering post-pandemic. This claim also supports the idea that 2.4 million jobs will be taken away from Canadians, leaving the country in one of the worst economic downfalls in our lifetime. But what does this mean for society?
With the closure of small businesses, Canadians are left to shop for all their essentials, and then some, at big box stores – resulting in the lining of the pockets of those who need it the least. A large part of these small businesses is a lifeline for the ethnic community, for both business owners and consumers, creating a larger divide in equitable means. When the first lockdown was announced a year ago, Kelly points out that most business owners willingly killed their businesses to comply with safety rules and were understanding of government restrictions as we were all dealing with an unprecedented situation. Yet, as the restrictions evolved and big box stores remained open, policies began to stop making sense and the government gradually lost the public’s confidence in the systems they had put in place. Not only were they implementing restrictions that deemed only big box stores “essential”, but they even suggested that it may be beneficial for individuals to purchase “non-essential" items there as well. By promoting “one stop shopping”, this approach directly hurt local small businesses while attempting to decrease the spread of the virus. Despite numerous outbreaks in distribution centers and factories delivering to these big box stores, major corporations remain open including malls, shopping centres and grocery stores that continue to sell more than just food or health care products.
This decision by the government has not only allowed some of the biggest corporations to flourish amidst an economic downfall, but Kelly claims that it has significantly affected the wellbeing of small business owners. One of the most alarming indicators of this impact is shown through the numerous calls CFIB has received from business owners having suicidal thoughts; Kelly states that their phone lines are resembling more and more those of a crisis helpline. This issue highlights the systemic inequalities that have always defined our society and which the pandemic has made impossible to ignore. Although many can argue that the virus does not choose its victims and the government may not be intentionally affecting ethnic communities through the closure of small businesses – these decisions are inevitably creating a larger economic gap that many may never recover from.