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COLUMN: Family Day holiday will cost small biz dearly

Iconfess: I am a terrible auntie. A close friend had a baby six whole weeks ago and I still haven't found the time to go see the child.

Iconfess: I am a terrible auntie. A close friend had a baby six whole weeks ago and I still haven't found the time to go see the child.

No wonder, then, that as we collectively struggle for an elusive work-life balance, the prospect of more time off is manna to hungry souls.

Premier Christy Clark knows this, and knows politically, she's on the side of the angels by introducing a new statutory holiday for British Columbia in the throne speech: Family Day.

The idea having even earned a serious thumbs-up from arch-rival and Opposition Leader Adrian Dix, I realize the optics and positioning of saying anything other than "Yea, Family Day!" are tricky. But I am willing to be painted as a black-hearted harpy if it allows me to explain why this move may be smarter politics than policy.

The popular appeal of another holiday is undeniable.

Also undeniable: the costs to employers and taxpayers.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) asked and the province can't or won't say how much more we'll all pay for increased public sector labour costs on Family Day (nurses, first responders and other essential service workers will all be eligible for hefty holiday pay). But we have done the math on behalf of our 10,000 small business members in B.C., and estimate that Family Day will cost small business owners $1,135 each, in labour costs alone.

How did we get to that number?

Earlier this year, we went to Statistics Canada and found B.C.'s average hourly wage in 2009, the most recent figure available at the time. We assumed employees working a statutory holiday are working eight hours. And we calculated labour costs based on a small business with an average of five employees. We chose five because, according to the most recent Small Business Profile published by the provincial government, 82% of small businesses in this province are micro-businesses.

And that $1,135 doesn't factor in energy and utility costs, or the potential for lost sales.

There may be some sectors that won't be hit so hard. Restaurants, for example, may see an uptick as everyone goes for brunch.

But most small business owners - family people themselves - will face some difficult Family Day choices: close and risk losing irritated customers or open and pay time and a half plus an average day's pay to their staff, or even try to mind the shop on their own, forced to put earning their daily bread ahead of spending time with their own loved ones.

Why are we getting this holiday? Notwithstanding the feel-good factor (which, I grant, is powerful), it is worth noting that with Family Day, B.C. would theoretically tie for first in Canada in terms of statutory holidays while ranking seventh in the country on productivity, according to the BC Progress Board. Is this really the time for us to be taking our foot off the productivity gas pedal?

And will this holiday really be as fantastic as it sounds? Consider the Ontario model, where the introduction of Family Day in 2007 didn't necessarily mean an extra day off. That's because employers there can swap the day for any other non-statutory holiday that employees are entitled to. The result? Some workers may have to choose one holiday over the other. Nor do federal employees in Ontario get a paid Family Day.

There is no doubt that we benefit from having a bit of a rest and a catch-up with our near and dear.

But ask yourself, who really benefits the most from this announcement? It's the B.C. government, which gets credit of giving you a present while quietly slipping all of us the receipt. Kind of like a husband sending his wife flowers and charging the in-laws credit card - every year.

That scenario doesn't necessarily make for happier families. And it won't fix my bad-auntie behaviour. I'll have to do that on my own.

Shachi Kurl is director of provincial affairs for B.C. and Yukon with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (