We’re not out of the woods just yet, but thanks to a steady stream of vaccines, there’s a small wave of optimism sweeping the nation. I also recognize the enormous sacrifices we’ve all had to make in the last year and how we’ve adapted our lives. Not only will a new normal or new economy result from this pandemic, but most of us will also be changed forever with good health, family, friends and community playing an even greater role than before
There’s no looking back: the way we work, play, learn, shop and eat has changed.
For example, in the workplace, I believe virtual meetings and working remotely are here to stay. Depending on the business model, I expect many companies will embrace remote work indefinitely, allowing staff more flexible work patterns with a healthy combination of in-office and at-home work. And why not? Data from Statistics Canada shows us that 90% of new teleworkers are at least as productive at home as they were at the office. 32% of respondents even report accomplishing more work per hour at home. Personally, while I enjoy (and seriously miss) human contact and social interactions, I feel that I have been equally, if not more productive working from home and I can say the same of my staff.
From a business perspective, the pandemic has also accelerated the digitization of our economy. As recently reported by John Stackhouse, businesses that don’t develop strong digital capabilities or can’t differentiate themselves will continue to lose ground to large tech platforms. As he points out, and I completely agree, speed and convenience now rule every market. Canadians are likely to order online more than ever.
As Statistics Canada highlights, small businesses are increasingly turning to e-commerce platforms and the degree to which Canadians continue to choose e-commerce purchasing options or return to traditional purchasing methods has the potential to change the structure of the retail trade industry. The landscape is evolving at a rapid pace and businesses, as much as possible, will need to embrace e-commerce. Of course, this is easier said than done. Smaller businesses, particularly those who rely heavily on local clientele or tourists, may find it challenging to transition to online sales.
One thing is for certain: small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are the heartbeat of our economy, and while its heart rate may have slowed down in the last year, SMEs are integral to its recovery. This pandemic has also slowed down our immigration which has also proven over the years to be essential to our economic growth.
Indeed, immigrant entrepreneurs, in particular, are a driving force behind our country’s economic wellbeing. As I said in a recent speech in the Senate, immigrant entrepreneurs create jobs, wealth and prosperity. For instance, 1 in 3 businesses are owned by immigrants.
Despite the pandemic, many SMEs are also experiencing a labour shortage and immigrants have shown to integrate extremely well into our labour force. In 2019, when our unemployment rate was at 5.7% the rate for landed immigrants was at 6.0%. For immigrants that have been here for five years or less that rate is 9.5% but it drops to 5% for immigrants that have been in Canada for over 10 years, less than the national average. The Senate is the venue to study how we can reduce the labour gap between newer and older immigrants.
For Canada to have a healthy and flourishing SME community, it’s important that we buy local, promote their products and services, and encourage them to shift to the online world.
Naturally, I was delighted when the governments of Canada and Québec announced earlier this month another $18 million investment to support approximately 5,000 retailers (with fewer than 100 employees) in making the digital shift. This new funding will complement other programs such as Québec’s $130-million Offensive de transformation numérique that will help with the acceleration of the digital transformation of Québec businesses and foster the growth of innovative SMEs through specialized mentoring.
In my view, there is a strong case for smaller firms to embrace e-commerce. It has the potential of allowing them to reach a plethora of new customers and could also end up being a cost-saving measure. As businesses make the necessary investments to shift to the online world, it’s important that we, as customers, transition with them and make their investments worthwhile.
The Honourable Tony Loffreda, CPA – Independent Canadian Senator (Quebec)