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Small businesses are critical to the Canadian economy - representing 42% of GDP and 48 % of new jobs alone. What can Canada do to support owners during these times?

The prosperity of Canada’s small businesses will hinge on their ability to rapidly adapt to the new virtual economy that has emerged in the wake of COVID 19, according to a new report from RBC Thought Leadership.

That will mean a big pivot for many of Canada’s million plus smaller enterprises, a significant number of whom are without a website, or the ability to facilitate online payments.

But the challenge of seizing the sudden work-from-home, shop-from-anywhere, sell-to-everywhere marketplace is also a critical opportunity for firms to reposition themselves to thrive in a business landscape that will be more digital, more virtual and more mobile than anything we’ve seen.

“This may seem ambitious, given the immediate challenges of survival that confront many business owners and operators,” said the report. “But to be unprepared for a very different kind of recovery could be just as costly as the unprecedented collapse.”

Watch RBC’s John Stackhouse and the Honourable Perrin Beatty, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, discuss the report and ways businesses can be supported in these times:

The small businesses that are critical to the Canadian economy – representing 42 per cent of GDP and 48 per cent of new jobs – have suffered severe blows during this recession, recording almost double the rate of job losses compared to mid- and large-sized firms.

RBC sets out a five-part plan to help them make the leap to a more virtual environment, arguing that “Canada’s rebuild depends on small business’s rebound.”

Here are five ways to help small business survive and thrive in the new economy:

1.Streamlined and Refreshed Relief Programs

Including a topped up Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and modified Business Credit Availability Program (BCAP) with greater forgiveness to cover a protracted recovery and help owners retrofit facilities for social distancing. A modified Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) could allow for a sliding scale to be paid to those going back on payroll while a brief tax holiday for small businesses to spur the recovery of local shopping and tourism.

2.Investments in Capacity for a Safe Reopening

Where provincial governments invest in broad-based programs to help employers restart their businesses including a nationally-coordinated program to certify public-facing facilities as COVID-safe; and provincially-led and funded coalitions of business groups and chambers to provide personal protective equipment to small companies.

3.The Building of Digital Networks to Help Small Companies to Compete in a Global Platform Economy

A digital strategy could include: tax credits for small firms to invest in Canadian designed software and hardware to enable digital growth; a national program to create virtual farmers’ markets and virtual Main Streets; and an acceleration of the Budget 2019 commitment to provide high-speed Internet to every Canadian and business by 2030.

4. New Economic Strategies to Help Scale Including

Coordinated procurement efforts to designate preferred small business suppliers with a special focus on PPE, testing and tracking technologies and health care; a Canada 2020-21 tourism campaign to spur domestic travel; and a renewed provincial commitment to lower interprovincial trade barriers for small firms in 2021.

5. A More Strategic Approach to Globalization Including

A “Go Global” program using trade accelerators to boost exports to countries more open to Canadian goods; a coalition of governments, banks and other institutions to form a “Brand Canada” platform for small firms; and expanded expat networks to connect knowledge-based industries with global Canadians.

Read the full report