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Wherever you live, City Hall needs more small business owners

They’re the backbone of the economy, the skills are transferable –why don’t we see more of them running?

This week, municipalities around BC will vote in their mayors, councilors and school board trustees. As usual, a high percentage of those running are small business owners. There’s a good reason for that: so many of the required skills are transferable.

Owning and running a successful small business fosters a lot of skills necessary in municipal government: knowing how to understand and manage people and give them what they want; being smart and accountable with money; being able to objectively and unemotionally reflect on mistakes and learn from them; and keep abreast of trends and changes and setting up to benefit from them.

But business owners often face questions about their motivation.

Is the run for office just a publicity stunt to give their business more exposure? How they plan to find the time to keep their business afloat while tending to their city obligations often come up? Are they motivated by selfish business interests?

In Vancouver, mayoral candidates David Chen, Ken Sim and Wai Young are all small business owners. For example, Sim ran the well-known and successful Nurse Next Door and Rosemary Rocksalt. How would someone with this much responsibility and vested interest run a city?

In Chilliwack, tow-truck company owner Dave Rowan (Dave’s Towing) is running for mayor. When asked during a debate how he would manage both the city and his business, he had an easy answer: he’d shut his business down.

Few others are willing or able to make this commitment.

A mayor or councilor with a clear conflict of interest must refrain from voting on certain issues. For example, if a widening a road would force them to move their business. That’s fairly clear, but there are a lot of city decisions that have a less direct but still substantial impact on small businesses.

With rents and tax rates rising and many local shops having to close, providing some relief for business owners is a key municipal election issue right across the Lower Mainland and into the Fraser Valley.

Having decision makers in City Hall who know business firsthand is a huge plus. They can make advocate for lower taxes on business (which have been shown to help economic growth), bring in new investment, and incentivize cleaning up areas that need it.

It’s true that the city can’t just be run as a business – there are so many other factors that need to be taken into account – but those small business advocates are some of the best people to have making decisions on our behalf.

As we go to the polls – that’s something worth considering.

Ada Slivinski is the Founder & Principal of Jam PR, a boutique agency focused on helping small businesses get big exposure. You can reach her at [email protected]