Support growth, support growth, support growth. We must support growth... We sure do hear a lot of that in Nova Scotia.
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but the best of wishes for any business that wants to get bigger, but I think this incessant growth mantra just might be drowning out the heart of our communities.
I make hats out of a room in my house. I work alone. Yes, I have hired people in the past and I have enjoyed each and every one of them, but I have finally come to terms with the fact that I like to work alone. Just me and the dog and the radio.
According to every level of government I am valueless. We measure value in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that stuff can only be found in trace amounts in my business. But value really shouldn't be reduced to three boring little letters and unless we start expanding the definition of the word, we are destined to smother what makes this province truly special...small, independent and creative businesses.
When people come to visit Nova Scotia they come to visit our small shops, services, restaurants and our artists (and our beautiful nature, of course). These little businesses are what makes us unique. They give colour and personality to our communities.
I love living in Lunenburg because I can walk down the street to buy wool and obsess about my next project with the owners. I love living in Lunenburg because our two locally owned book shops host readings and events. I love living in Lunenburg because we have many great little restaurants and coffee shops and in every one of these little businesses is a familiar face and a conversation waiting to happen. These little exchanges don't happen at Ikea or Walmart or at a convention Centre. Those places might have GDP, but they don't have heart. We need to start measuring the value of a business in what it brings to a community. And if these little businesses on the Main streets and side streets of Nova Scotia have value to us then we had better start protecting them....with policies.
We can start with commercial taxes. If the owner of a heritage building on the main street that houses a small clothing boutique is paying the same high tax rate as the Nationally owned grocery store or airplane parts manufacturer then we are not valuing our small businesses.
If one woman, who makes hats from her home, far from any foot traffic, is paying the same tax rate as a shop on the main street then we are not valuing our artists. We are also not valuing our Main streets if investing in the restoration of a heritage building will cause the tax assesment to sky rocket. This cost gets passed on to the renter and often pushes the business out of town. We need property tax rates for different levels of business. We need rent controls for commercial businesses. We need to be rewarding heritage restoration with tax credits not punishing it with outrageous tax assessments.
We need to value our main streets. They are the heart of our province and they are the heart of our communities. You can't put a price on that, but you can price them out of existence.