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NELSON: True small business deserves government help

FACE TO FACE: What is 'small business' and does it even matter? I'm tired of genuflecting to small business.

FACE TO FACE: What is 'small business' and does it even matter?

I'm tired of genuflecting to small business. Don't get me wrong; I believe that small businesses are, along with a prosperous middle class, lumbar vertebrae in the backbone of a strong economy.

But in North America, "small business" is a euphemism for "business." We are being fleeced by the big boys who align themselves with the irresistible small business narrative. We swallow their Horatio Alger image - big companies struggling to survive, just like so many mom-and-pop operations.

Think tanks, media and politicians describe small business as almost sacred. Seeking the health of small business is the Holy Grail and must always be our first mission, right?

Perhaps. We all want to help the fledgling local restaurant, the Coquitlam plumber, the Port Coquitlam roofer or another Port Moody potter, who have hung up a shingle and put it all on the line to make a living. That's what small business means to most of us and giving them the odd tax break, relaxed regulation or start-up grant wouldn't seem untoward to most of us.

In Australia, it's clear. A small business is defined as one that has 15 or fewer employees; in Britain and Europe, it's fewer than 50 employees.

Fair enough. These definitions conjure up fledgling businesses of the size we would all want to help over the odd entrepreneurial hurdle for the betterment of us all.

But the U.S. and StatsCan have a wider definition. They consider a "small business" one with fewer than 500 employees. Five hundred?

This definition blurs the line between small and big businesses enough that we just throw up our hands and throw money at all business, regardless of size or need.

We need a clear definition of what constitutes a small business in Canada, a reasonable threshold that would allow us to separate them from corporate welfare collectors. Then, if inclined, we would be able to choose to help only needy small businesses rather than shovelling money off the back of our tax truck to big businesses that have budged their way to the trough disguised as struggling small businessmen.

"Helping small business" is conservative-speak for giving more money to rich guys.

If their actual goal were to help small businesses, I would still be genuflecting.

Face to Face columnist Jim Nelson is a retired Tri-City teacher and principal who lives in Port Moody. He has contributed a number of columns on education-related issues to The Tri-City News.