Craig Chandler: Small Business has become the ‘forgotten group’

Written By Guest User, Posted on April 29, 2020

The National Telegraph recently interviewed prominent small business advocate, Craig Chandler, who has served as the Executive Director to The Progressive Group for Independent Business for the past several decades. He spoke to the effects COVID-19 has had on Alberta’s small businesses and what a prolonged lockdown means for the province moving forward.

Having engaged in a campaign to help struggling Calgarians, Chandler hopes to expand those efforts throughout the province in the months ahead.

TNT: In a recent Facebook post, you referenced an article from the Edmonton Journal, stating close to 50 per cent of Edmonton businesses expect permanent closures. What does this say about the province’s economic plights?

Chandler: It says that small businesses seem to be getting left behind. When it comes to COVID-19, for example, there’s no relief out there for them. The isolation funds from the UCP were not enough. Given that the majority of the employment comes from small business suffice to say: they are the lifeblood of the economy. We need to get people back to work, as we can’t afford to have any more time off. The vast majority of Calgary’s small businesses are currently on life support, surviving week-to-week.

I’d like to remind everyone that most businesses start in a person’s home or garage, and then they become something more prominent – just like Bill Gates did with Microsoft. We, at PGIB, seek to cultivate that same entrepreneurial spirit akin to Alberta’s values. We have reaffirmed our commitment to helping those in need and have created the #GetBackToWork hashtag to reflect that generosity.

TNT: There was a recent study from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, stating that small businesses on average were going into $160,000 of debt. In an interview with an Alberta MLA, a couple of weeks ago, he referenced the $50 million in grants that were to supplement funding from the federal government. What else needs to be done in the weeks ahead?

Chandler: I’d like to see the provincial government expand the isolation benefit of $1141 to include smaller businesses. With 79 per cent of COVID-19 related deaths occurring at long-term care facilities and senior homes, we need to focus our efforts on isolating the elderly and those afflicted. Everyone else needs to get back to work.

Albertans are proud people – we’ve never wanted a handout, and we want the government to get out of the way. Perhaps, they need to take a breath, step back and say: “You know what, let’s change how we’re handling this crisis.” Sweden and Taiwan have not entertained a lockdown. They’re not closing restaurants and social distancing, as you see here. They’re fine. So, we need to stop overreacting, as more people die from the flu each year than COVID-19. 

Having talked with dozens of small businesses, I’m concerned about the suicide rates amongst small business owners and their employees. The mounting debt and stress have forced businesses to rack up their credit cards, and, suffice to say, it has taken its toll on them.

Now, you can’t ignore a crisis, especially one that has significant ramifications on the (mental) health of our residents. But, I think we need to consider the consequences of continuing the lockdown, as many are simply running out of runway to operate. Expect more closures in the days and weeks to come.

TNT: Is there a void for organizations such as PGIB in Edmonton and rural Alberta to provide strong grassroots advocacy for small businesses? Could PGIB fill that void? What are some of the challenges that you foresee in any expansion of the organization?

Chandler: We were going to have a meeting in April on expansion into Edmonton. These conversations have been ongoing for the past two years, and, unfortunately, the timing has never been right for whatever reason. Before the pandemic, we were getting calls from all over the province, from Pincher Creek to Medicine Hat, asking for clarification as to what specific policy objectives mean for their bottom line. That has continued, but with higher intensity.

Now, people are requesting aid from their City Councils. In Calgary, we have a taxation – not a revenue – problem, so it remains to be seen what more we can expect from them. The residents of Calgary come to us for insight into how their councillors are likely to vote, and that has provided Calgarians with the piece of mind that is to their benefit. Overall, I think there’s been a noticeable void in small business advocacy in this province for some time now. 

PGIB has had branches in Saskatchewan and Ontario in the past. We experienced great success with the NDP in Ontario decades prior. And that will be something we take into consideration in the months ahead.

In times of crisis, small businesses unite together, and that’s what you’re starting to see. Right now, the critical thing is to fundraise, as we’ve laid everyone off at PGIB. Until we can get things going again, the absence in revenue prevents us from considering expansion at this time.

TNT: What message would you like to give small businesses during this period of economic uncertainty?

Chandler: I’d like for them to know that we’re actively communicating with the Ministers. I recently penned a letter to the Premier on small business and the Health Minister Shandro on suicide amongst small business owners. We receive 30 to 40 calls a day from small businesses in Alberta, relaying their problems, including the latter. Currently, we’re trying to find solutions as quickly as we can.

While the federal government implemented a 50 per cent increase to the federal carbon tax and okayed a wage increase for senators and MPs, there are many unsure of how long they can afford to pay their mortgage, let alone rent to keep their businesses open. This is not the right time to be increasing wages, given the massive uptick in EI Applications over the past 6-weeks. It comes across as tone-deaf. As we have seen in Edmonton, federal aid hasn’t provided the benefits that many would have liked.

Right now, we’re in an economic crisis, and small businesses are the forgotten group. That is something that needs to change.

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