Policy Interventions Favouring Small Business: Rationales, Results and Recommendations

55 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2017

See all articles by John Lester

John Lester

University of Calgary - The School of Public Policy

Date Written: May 31, 2017


Small business has a well-deserved reputation as the driver of job growth and as a key contributor to innovation. In the 12 years ending in 2013, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) accounted for about 90% of private sector job growth in Canada. What is less well-recognized, however, is that a small fraction of SMEs account for most of the job growth and innovation. As a result, governments have offered broad-based support for small businesses, rather than focusing on high-impact entrepreneurs.

This approach is wasteful: firms that do not grow or innovate receive most of the benefits. Further, this approach can harm economic performance by promoting the expansion of smaller, less-efficient firms at the expense of larger ones.

The federal government elected in 2015 is focussing new initiatives on innovative and growth-oriented businesses. Legislated reductions in the small business tax rate were reversed and targeted support for innovative SMEs was increased. While the change in direction is welcome, almost 85% of the $7 billion yearly funding for small business continues to provide broad-based support.

The largest program is the special low rate of tax for small businesses, implemented to improve access to financing for capacity-expanding investment. This measure is harming economic performance because the cost of shifting capital and labour from large to smaller, less-efficient businesses outweighs the benefit from improving access to capital.

Large subsidies for small business financing are also provided by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC). With access to cheap government funding, the BDC is profitable, but evaluated using a more realistic cost of financing, the bank operates at a substantial loss. This loss exceeds the benefit from improving access to capital, particularly for the bank’s direct-lending program. While there is a solid argument for supporting R&D, subsidies provided to small firms are so generous that they are harming economic performance. The federal government provides a 35% tax credit for R&D performed by small firms.

Keywords: small business tax, small business, R&D, SME, BDC

Suggested Citation

Lester, John, Policy Interventions Favouring Small Business: Rationales, Results and Recommendations (May 31, 2017). SPP Research Paper No. Volume 10 • Issue 11 • May 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2997171

John Lester (Contact Author)

University of Calgary - The School of Public Policy ( email )

Calgary, Alberta
6136010649 (Phone)

Register to save articles to
your library


Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics