Small business confidence continues downward slide in November: Nearly half of all businesses are now struggling with low sales

Toronto, November 30, 2023 – Small business confidence kept diving in November, with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB)’s Business Barometer® 12-month outlook index reaching a very low 45.6 points. Outside of the past three months, sub-50 index readings have only been recorded during the 2008/2009 and 2020 recessions.

Almost all provinces posted drops in confidence, with Quebec (42.0) and Ontario (45.4) remaining at the bottom of the optimism scale. Among sectors, businesses in agriculture (32.4), hospitality (40.0), retail (40.5) and construction (45.8) registered low levels of optimism this month. An index level below 50 means there are more owners who are negative than positive about their own business’ outlook.

“Small businesses are facing stronger and stronger headwinds as they head into the last stretch of 2023, with real interest rates choking demand more firmly and continuing to severely restrict credit conditions, while governments at all levels keep adding more fiscal and regulatory pressure on entrepreneurs and employers. Overall, business conditions have seldom been more challenging for so many businesses. Something has got to give soon if we want a foundation for an economic rebound in the upcoming year” said Simon Gaudreault, Chief Economist and Vice-President of Research at CFIB.

The insufficient domestic demand indicator has been on the rise since May and reached its highest point since September 2020, with 46% of businesses now reporting it is limiting their sales or growth. It has now taken over as number one on the list of business challenges, with labour shortages being displaced after a long stint at the top. Several other indicators, such as below normal unfilled orders, also pointed to signs of slowed demand. 

November results show increased shares of businesses were worried about tax and regulatory (67%), insurance (60%) and borrowing (53%) costs in November.

Businesses’ average price plans for the next 12 months have been zigzagging over the past four months, sitting at 3.1% in November. Small firms also expect to increase wages by an average of 2.6% over the next 12 months. After peaking in the spring of 2022, both indicators are now returning to their historical averages of 2.1% and 1.8%, respectively.

“Looking at a variety of indicators from our tracking survey, there are not a lot of bright spots to report for small businesses, save perhaps for slowly easing labour shortages. But even the latter indicator is still one of the top cost constraints and above its historical average,” Gaudreault added. “2023 has not been the year of the Great Recovery on Main Street, and hopes will now turn to 2024 to finally provide long-awaited normal business conditions.”

Unfortunately, the federal government’s 2023 Fall Economic Statement left small businesses in the cold providing no immediate measures to help them turn the corner as they prepare to enter another year.

“The federal government has been tone-deaf on the issues weighing on small businesses. With four planned tax hikes over the next five months (EI, CPP, carbon tax, liquor tax), and no relief for the looming Jan. 18 Canada Emergency Business Account repayment deadline, small business owners are increasingly worried about their futures,” said Dan Kelly, CFIB president. “Small firms need help, like pausing on tax hikes and more time to repay CEBA loans.”

For media enquiries or interviews, please contact:
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, CFIB

November Business Barometer®: November findings are based on 588 responses from a stratified random sample of CFIB members, to a controlled-access web survey. Data reflect responses received from November 2 to 14. Findings are statistically accurate to +/- 4.0 per cent, 19 times in 20. Every new month, the entire series of indicators is recalculated for the previous month to include all survey responses received in that previous month. Measured on a scale between 0 and 100, an index above 50 means owners expecting their business’s performance to be stronger over the next three or 12 months outnumber those expecting weaker performance. An index level near 65 normally indicates that the economy is growing at its potential.

About CFIB
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with 97,000 members 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