The Globe and Mail recently addressed the fact that in recent years, the relative impact of self-employment across Canada has been waning. Self-employment has always been an important feature of the Canadian economy; the OECD lists Canada as one of the highest concentrations of entrepreneurs within a working population. However in recent years, the ratio of self-employed persons to those working for someone else has dropped back.
Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey (ratio of self-employment to those employed by someone else):
- 13.8 per 100 in 1976
- 21.0 per 100 in 1998
- 18.2 per 100 in 2011
What might be some of the causes for this recent decrease?
Some obvious contributors may be the decline of self-employment due to (1) the retirement of baby boomers, and (2) business failures caused by the last recession. If this is the case, then it is even more paramount for the Canadian government to support new business startups. How can we effectively create new startups to displace the ones that have disappeared?
One of the issues that deters entrepreneurship is the current gap that exists between innovation and commercialization. Our best ideas are often acquired by US-backed firms because we may not be effectively funding business commercialization. Private venture capital is lacking in Canada, so without a doubt, the largest contributor to startup commercialization in Canada is the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program. The SR&ED program provides refundable tax credits to start-up companies, for expenses that have already been incurred. However, it often takes 1-2 years for companies to see these refunds! This is definitely an area that requires improvement if we to remove the commercialization gap. It should be noted that innovative companies such as the North Innovation Fund have recently begun to offer SR&ED financing on unfiled SR&ED claims.
Changes to the SR&ED program are rumoured in the next federal budget. It goes without saying that the SR&ED program is critical to the survival of many small starts-up. Reducing or removing SR&ED will further decrease the likelihood that these startups will be able to commercialize their innovations, and create new jobs. Instead of cutting back funding to startups, we need to invest in startups, and encourage entrepreneurship in Canada in order to create future employment.