Business Barometer®: Alberta small business confidence falls to all-time-low amid COVID-19 pandemic

Calgary, March 25, 2020 – The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) released its March Business Barometer® today revealing Alberta’s small business confidence fell to a record low index of 26.2 points in March, down 13.4 points from February. Alberta’s index is the second lowest in the country and is only slightly behind the national index of 30.8 points. An index level closer to 65 indicates that the economy is growing at its potential.

“These numbers clearly indicate small business owners are feeling the impacts COVID-19 is having on the economy,” said Annie Dormuth, CFIB’s Alberta Director of Provincial Affairs. “We continue to take hundreds of calls from small business owners who are facing temporary layoff and business closure decisions, seeing low revenues and have serious concerns about paying their rent or lease on April 1.” 

Only five per cent of business owners say their business is in a good state, compared to 60 per cent who say their business is doing poorly. Hiring plans have ground to a halt in Alberta with only 3% of business owners planning to hire full-time staff in the next three months, while 66% are planning layoffs – the highest in Canada.

“The Alberta government’s decision to defer WCB premiums until 2021 and cancel the planned 3.4% increase in education property taxes provides some much-needed relief to small businesses impacted by COVID-19,” added Dormuth. “However, the Alberta government can take further action by introducing an Emergency Relief Provision in the Alberta Employment Standards Code and introduce measures to defer rent and lease payments for small businesses.”

While last week’s federal economic measures were welcome initial steps, CFIB continues its call for a COVID-19 Job Retention Program that would subsidize wages of employers able to retain their staff. This would cover at least 75% of wages for all employers, up to a cap of $5,000 per worker per month. CFIB proposes the program include the self-employed and small business owners. “We need the federal government to move quickly and introduce a 75% wage subsidy to retain employees,” noted Dormuth. “We also need the federal government to put on hold the carbon tax and CPP hikes.”

Nationally, small business confidence fell to a new historic low with a significant decline (down 20 points) to 30.8 points in March. The provincial numbers for March are: New Brunswick (44.6), Nova Scotia (44.0), Manitoba (37.5), Ontario (37.0), British Columbia (28.8), Saskatchewan (28.3), Newfoundland and Labrador (27.8), Alberta (26.2) and Quebec (15.7).

“March 2020 has turned out to be a month like no other in Canada’s economic history,” said Ted Mallett, CFIB’s vice-president and chief economist. “Small business sentiment has never been this low in the Business Barometer’s 32-year history, including during the 2008 and 1990 recessions.”

Changes in Barometer release schedule

CFIB normally releases the results of its Barometer on the final Thursday of each month. Due to rapidly evolving economic conditions impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, CFIB will increase the frequency of its Business Barometer Survey from monthly to bi-monthly through June 2020. CFIB will release results for early April on April 9.

Read the March Business Barometer®

Mid-March 2020 findings are based on 1,378 responses, collected from a stratified random sample of CFIB members, to a controlled-access web survey. Data reflects responses received on March 17 and 18. Findings are statistically accurate to +/- 2.6 per cent 19 times in 20.  

For media enquiries about the Alberta results, please contact Annie Dormuth, CFIB’s Alberta Director of provincial affairs at or 403-700-1945. For national results, please contact Ted Mallett, Chief Economist, or 647-464-2814

About CFIB
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with 110,000 members (10,000 in Alberta) across every industry and region. CFIB is dedicated to increasing business owners’ chances of success by driving policy change at all levels of government, providing expert advice and tools, and negotiating exclusive savings. Learn more at