Business Barometer®: Saskatchewan small business optimism falls in March; looming carbon tax and Ag trade uncertainty weighing down outlook

Regina, March 28, 2019 - Today, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) released its latest monthly Business Barometer®, which reveals optimism among small business owners in Saskatchewan fell in March to an index of 50.8. The index is now over five points below the national average index of 55.9.

“It’s concerning to see Saskatchewan’s small business confidence drop over four points in March to an index of 50.8,” said Marilyn Braun-Pollon, CFIB’s Vice-President, Prairie & Agri-business. “Hiring plans are still weak with one in five businesses planning lay-offs in the next three months compared to only seven per cent who plan on hiring.”

“Clearly, there are a number of issues weighing heavily on the minds of Saskatchewan’s entrepreneurs including the federal government’s tax changes, seven years of CPP premium hikes and municipal property tax increases in many communities,” added Braun-Pollon. “Business owners are also bracing themselves for the costly federal carbon tax beginning on April 1, 2019. There is also significant trade uncertainty for Saskatchewan farmers as a result of China’s decision to stop buying canola just weeks before spring seeding.” 

CFIB’s March Business Barometer® survey was completed on March 18th, a day before the 2019 Federal Budget (March 19) and two days before the Government of Saskatchewan’s 2019 Budget (March 20). “While we were disappointed that the federal budget provided little relief for small businesses facing a barrage of new and higher taxes, we were relieved that the provincial budget was balanced with sustainable spending and no tax hikes,” added Braun-Pollon.

Nationally, small businesses suffered a significant drop in confidence this month with the index falling 3 points to 55.9.

“This is one of the worst readings we’ve seen in the past three years,” said Ted Mallett, CFIB’s vice-president and chief economist. “It’s not typical for hiring intentions to be so low at this time of year, as businesses should be gearing up for the busier spring and summer seasons, but it’s indicative of the low level of optimism that private-sector firms are reporting.”

Provincial results: Major drop in confidence in Ontario and Saskatchewan; Alberta remains least optimistic

Nova Scotia and Quebec posted the highest levels of optimism this month, at 66.8 and 65.3 respectively. Ontario experienced the greatest drop in optimism this month, falling 4.6 index points to 59.5, followed by Saskatchewan, which lost 4.4 index points to 50.8 and fell well below the national average. Prince Edward Island (59.7), New Brunswick (56.6) and British Columbia (55.9) posted results equal to or above the national average. Alberta remained the least optimistic province at 42.1. Newfoundland & Labrador (48.7) and Manitoba (51.4) also posted results below the national average.

Highlights of the Saskatchewan Business Barometer for March:

  • 31% of businesses in Saskatchewan say their overall state of business is good (43% nationally); 19% say it is bad (14% nationally);
  • 7% plan to increase employment in the next 3 months (17% nationally) and 20% of Saskatchewan businesses plan to decrease full-time employment (15% nationally);
  • Insufficient domestic demand is the main operating challenge (51%), followed by shortage of skilled labour (25%) and management skills, time constraints (21%);
  • Major cost pressures for small business include: tax, regulatory costs (66%), fuel, energy costs (53%) and insurance costs (49%).

Measured on a scale of 0 and 100, an index level above 50 means owners expecting their business’ performance to be stronger in the next year outnumber those expecting weaker performance. One normally sees an index level of between 65 and 70 when the economy is growing at its potential. March 2019 findings are based on 697 responses, collected from a stratified random sample of CFIB members, to a controlled-access web survey. Data reflect responses received through March 18. Findings are statistically accurate to +/- 3.7 per cent 19 times in 20.

To arrange an interview with Marilyn Braun-Pollon, Vice-President Prairie & Agri-business on the provincial results please call (306) 757-0000, 1-888-234-2232 or email You may follow CFIB Saskatchewan on Twitter @cfibsk.

To arrange an interview with Ted Mallett, Vice-President & Chief Economist on the national results please contact Milena Stanoeva at 647-464-2814 or You may also follow Ted on Twitter @cfibeconomics.

About CFIB
CFIB is Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with 110,000 members (5,250 in Saskatchewan) across every sector 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