Mayoral incumbents fall short: CFIB

Leaders of the region's two biggest cities could be doing more, VP argues.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts are being criticized by the CFIB for soft economic platforms.

This is an opinion column by Laura Jones, Senior. Vice-President, Research, Economics and Western Canada with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business

With the municipal election looming, I decided to roll up my sleeves and dig into the mayoral platforms of B.C.’s two largest cities.

Vancouver and Surrey often set the tone for Metro Vancouver and both have incumbents that are leading in the polls. With many people worried generally about the economy and more specifically about their own job, what plans do Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson and Surrey’s Mayor Dianne Watts have to support the economy?

The platforms made for surprisingly light reading. Hunkered down with my Starbucks latte, I barely had a few sips before I was finished.

Watts’ party, Surrey First, has a section promisingly titled “job creation and investment.” It has 13 bullet points. Eleven of the 13 points relate to new facilities. I love swimming but “new 50-metre pools” for Guildford and South Surrey isn’t what I expected to read under the job-creation part of the platform.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Vancouver doesn’t fare much better. Under the “creativity, jobs and finances” section of Robertson’s Vision Vancouver campaign, there are five highlighted commitments. Only two of the five relate directly to business concerns. I think “funding local artists” belongs in another section. The commitment to keep Vancouver’s business taxes globally competitive scores some points, although the next commitment suggests a very narrow focus on “green” jobs, many of which are subsidized.

Neither candidate chose to sign the Canadian Federation of Better Business taxpayer-fairness pledge, with its three simple commitments to keep spending increases in line with the growth in people’s ability to pay, to keep property taxes fair for small business and to support the creation of a municipal auditor-generals. Apparently, committing to things most important to small businesses (also known as community job creators) is not as important as building new swimming pools and funding local artists.

A few other commitments that would have been good for business include keeping municipal wages in line with the private sector, doing a review of pension liabilities, and introducing a single business licence for businesses such as landscapers and contractors who work in many different municipalities.

The sad reality is that municipal councils face little incentive to care about the local economy and their municipal election platforms reflect that. Businesses are overtaxed for the simple reason that they don’t have much voting power.

In Vancouver, small businesses pay four-and-a-half times more than equivalently valued residential properties. Surrey small businesses pay three times more.

That’s not to say nothing has gone right.  Robertson deserves credit for reducing the tax gap between business and residents. Unfortunately he isn’t planning on extending this past 2012. He should do more.

Watts initiated what could be a groundbreaking mayor’s task force to cut red tape earlier this year. The task force has done some good work but the heavy lifting on permanent red tape control has yet to be done. She should do more. Small businesses deserve better than the light reading in their platforms and so do our communities.

Laura Jones is Senior Vice-President, Research, Economics and Western Canada with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business

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