The Honourable Perrin Beatty is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the 200,000-member Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canada’s largest and most representative national business association. Prior to joining the Canadian Chamber in August 2007, Perrin was the President and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters (CME).
A descendant of one of Canada’s most prominent manufacturing families, Perrin grew up in Fergus, Ontario and graduated from the University of Western Ontario in 1971.
Perrin was first elected to the House of Commons as a Progressive Conservative in 1972. During his 21 years in Parliament, he served as Minister in seven different portfolios, including Treasury Board, National Revenue, Solicitor General, Defence, National Health and Welfare, Communications and External Affairs.
In 1994, Perrin joined a number of private sector boards and worked as a consultant in the field of communications. He was an Honorary Visiting Professor with the Department of Political Science, University of Western Ontario. From 1995 to 1999, Perrin was President and CEO of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In 2008, Perrin was named Chancellor of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology. In 2013, he received an honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, honoris causa from Western University. In 2016, Perrin received an honorary degree,honoris causa from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
Perrin is also a member of the board of directors of Mitsui Canada.
What are some of the initiatives that the Canadian chambers of commerce have put in place to help small businesses during these challenging times?
The first thing we did when we saw COVID-19 approaching in Canada, was to get information to SMEs about business continuity plans. After SARS, the vast majority of larger businesses and other public institutions all had business continuity plans in place. But, the vast majority of businesses in Canada are 97- 98% SMEs and most of them no not have continuity plans.
Secondly, we’re working on trying to ensure that governments are aware of how badly SMEs are being affected. Now we’d seen the experience in China, Italy, and elsewhere Korea, where SMEs bore the brunt of COVID-19. We wanted to impress on government – the need to give special attention to SMEs. We created the Canadian Business Resilience Network, which was designed to bring together the 450 Chambers of Commerce, Boards of Trade, and our network, along with a hundred other business associations to work together to push out information to help businesses across the country and to act as a source of information to the government. We’ve been very active as well, each day and putting out bulletins to over 7,000 businesses and individuals who’ve subscribed to our information. We’ve worked with a number of our members to provide programs, whether it’s information on mental health for employees, information about how to apply for government programs, or sharing information about best practices that can be followed.
Our goal is to be as helpful as possible. In conjunction with Salesforce, we were able to give grants of $10,000 apiece to some 62 small businesses across the country that had been severely affected. This was out of over 1100 businesses that actually had applied. So, it really brought home to us how serious the problems were for small businesses, but also the incredible determination of so many entrepreneurs across Canada to keep their employees and their customers in front of mind. Those are some of the things that we’ve done, and we’ll continue to work throughout the pandemic to help small businesses.
What would you say, what would you say is the biggest challenge that Canadian SMEs will face post-COVID?
The most important thing is that they’re suffering from serious liquidity problems. Many small businesses across the country have spent the money they had in reserve, so they don’t have a great deal of flexibility. The announcement the government made about extending the wage subsidy program until December is very good news and it’s something that will be positive. That and other programs will be necessary to help small businesses continue. The single most important thing though that the government can do is to work with businesses of all sizes in Canada to allow for a safe reopening, as rapidly as possible. We need to move away from a subsidies-based economy, to one which allows businesses and families in Canada to be self-sustaining and to go on with normal lives in a much more realistic way. We don’t have to repeat what has been done in the United States. We can follow the example in Europe where reopening is taking place safely.
What was the inspiration behind launching the Canadian Business Reliance Network Small Business Relief Fund?
The key issue was trying to find out how we could contribute and help small businesses across the country. We realized this is a small subset of all of the small businesses that really need assistance, but we wanted to be helpful there. This program and others are designed to assist local chambers across the country. Members of CBRN will be doing everything they can to provide assistance and other support programs wherever possible. The bottom line is the single most important job creator in Canada is small businesses. For every single community across the country, small businesses that dot Mainstreet really define the character of the community and help to ensure the health of the community. So, we need to do what we can to be helpful because these businesses contribute so much to the communities and so much to Canada’s economy.
More than 1100 small businesses across Canada apply to the Canadian business resilience network. Small business relief fund. Can you share how you feel when you read stories about so many businesses struggling?
Because of COVID-19, it was heartbreaking. There were over 1100 businesses that applied for assistance – those are only the ones who applied, many others did not. When you read the stories, you realize that these were people’s dreams and they had their life savings tied up. These businesses were deeply committed to their customers and employees. It was truly heartbreaking. On the other hand, it was inspirational because we saw people through all of this adversity that was determined to continue to support their employees, customers, communities, and to continue to build something for the future. The resilience and determination on the part of small businesses across the country was something that was enormously heartening. It reinforced our determination to help in any way we could.
What measures do you think entrepreneurs should implement to ensure the safety and protection of their employees and customers?
The first thing is we have to understand that even if the government today were to do away with all restrictions on the economy and on business, people would only go back to doing business and to work if they felt safe. That means that the businesses across the country have to focus on their employees to ensure that this a safe workplace to go back to and that means having personal protective equipment, having protocols for safety, and reorganizing ourselves. Often it may involve a shift system now in businesses where it’s not possible to maintain social distancing in a smaller facility. We have to ensure that our customer’s health and safety are paramount and clear to them and that our priority is protecting them and ensuring that they can safely do business with us. So whatever equipment is necessary to ensure safety and having personal protective equipment for employees – in many cases for customers as well and having proper protocols in place is absolutely critical.
What advice can you give to entrepreneurs that can be beneficial for them during these challenging times?
The important thing is to recognize that entrepreneurs by their very nature are optimists. They are people who have a dream and a personal commitment who are determined to see things better. This will end. We are having success in Canada in terms of flattening the curve and dramatically reducing the spread of the disease. There’ll be setbacks, but if we work together as Canadians and we have a plan that is coherent and well explained with timetables attached to it, we can work together to reopen our economy and to allow a business to resume again, and many small businesses to come back.
It’s going to require support from all of us, including from the government to enable that to happen. But it will happen. For the vast majority of small businesses, they will be able to go on and continue serving their customers and their communities and that’s critical for us as Canadians.
Are there any final thoughts you would like to share with our audience?
The critical thing here is that we are not yet out of the tunnel, but we can see the light. Things are improving. If we handle it well, we can go to conditions that are considerably better than we’ve known. We can manage outbreaks that will take place sporadically. We can ensure that we have a much healthier economy in the future. Our goal needs to be, to learn the lessons that have been presented to us during COVID-19 and to try to build something that is more innovative, better, and stronger even than we had before the pandemic.