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Small business confidence plunges to lowest since pandemic began amid Omicron chill

CFIB calls for government’s help ‘if we want to avoid mass casualties in the small business community’

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Small business confidence in Canada hasn’t been this low since the dark days at the beginning of the pandemic.

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Renewed lockdowns and restrictions amid the Omicron outbreak sent the 12-month outlook spiralling to its lowest since April 2020, preliminary results from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’s Business Barometer showed today.

“The last time optimism was this low was in the spring of 2020. We are once again seeing negative staffing plans and more owners who say their business is in bad shape than those who say it is in good shape,” said Simon Gaudreault, vice-president of National Research at CFIB. “This really underlines how precarious the situation is for a lot of small businesses.”

Nearly a quarter of business owners expect to have to cut full-time staff in the next few months, the survey found. Three in 10 (31 per cent) say their business is in bad shape while 29 per cent say it is in good shape. In December those figures were reversed, said CFIB.

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“We’re seeing echoes of the first months of the pandemic, when business owners really didn’t know when they would be able to reopen and were facing tough choices, like whether to lay off staff or even cut their losses and close for good,” said Andreea Bourgeois, director of economics at CFIB.

CFIB president Dan Kelly said this may be the most economically dangerous point of the pandemic.

Businesses have been weakened by two years of pandemic restrictions with average debt loads reaching $170,000. Then just as they are beginning to recovery new lockdowns and restrictions have been implemented without a full return of support programs, he said.

“This needs to change today if we want to avoid mass casualties in the small business community,” said Kelly.

The CFIB is calling on provinces to quickly end COVID restrictions and all governments to return to similar levels of support as were in place early in the pandemic.

CFIB will release full results of its January Business Barometer on Jan. 27.

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