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How Canada's small businesses survived 150 years and more: CFIB

By Dan Kelly

Published in the Financial Post June 30, 2017

As we celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, I can’t help thinking of the early days of Confederation. In some ways, “Canada” was unrecognizable to us: there were only four provinces, few people lived in cities, the coasts hadn’t been joined by rail. But one thing has stayed constant: the importance of small businesses in our communities.

I’m proud that at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, our 109,000 members today include 57 businesses that predate Confederation. They come from all sectors of the economy, from agriculture to manufacturing — and more than a few funeral homes. These businesses have seen a tremendous amount of change in the country’s history and have thrived through it all: the Great Depression, two world wars, changing political tides and the emergence of one of the most diverse populations in the world.

They have endured, albeit with some changes. Many of CFIB’s members with 150 or more years under their belt have switched hands, either between families or across generations; they’ve changed their names, addresses and the products they sell.

Through all those changes to the country and their communities, these independently owned businesses have been a symbol of perseverance and stability. Small businesses are some of the strongest parts of any community — the centre around which everything orbits. Sometimes, towns have sprouted up around businesses. In 1858, Schnurr’s Grocery was just the third building to go up in Linwood, Ont., near Kitchener (a mill got there first). You can even track the country’s westward expansion through these members, as more entrepreneurs left Upper Canada and pushed into the Prairies, the region where my great-grandfather started his road-construction business.

I’m amazed at the risks these business owners took in our country’s early days, and impressed that these risks have paid off for so long. Their stories are a source of wonder, considering the many tests that any business faces every day, let alone over more than a century. But knowing CFIB’s members, I’m not at all surprised they have stood the test of time.

Businesses like these have meant the world to their communities. Grocers have supported farmers by selling their produce. Surveyors have enabled the development of vast tracts of land. Retailers have employed generations of young people, giving them their first income.

Their roles went beyond sales and paycheques, though. Small businesses are some of the best businesses Canada has to offer. They have become local gathering spots; they have sponsored teams, schools, clubs and parades; their long history has made many of them unofficial town archivists. They are living monuments to this country’s history.

    As Canada thinks about what we’ve accomplished in our history, let’s thank these small businesses for being cornerstones in our communities. I hope Canadians appreciate what their local businesses have done for them, and that governments help create the conditions for them to succeed for another 150 years.

    As this column is celebrating the contributions of Canadian entrepreneurs on our 150th, I’ll leave for another occasion a list of the ways our governments are making it more challenging. I’m pleased to report there are some signs, like the Canadian Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) that kicks in on July 1, that our political leaders are focused on how to help small businesses succeed. As Canada has grown and become more connected, it is more important than ever that entrepreneurs be able to do business across provincial boundaries without getting caught up in red tape. Small businesses are an important part of any community — even if that community touches three oceans and holds more than 36 million people.

    I hope we see more signs like the CFTA in the months and years to come. It’s what we as a country owe to our small business owners.

    This story was originally published in the Financial Post.

    June 30, 2017

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