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Halifax council looks to define small businesses for tax reasons

The move intends to alleviate financial stress of COVID-19 pandemic

3 min read
caption Joel Martell runs the Oddfellows Barbershop, a small business nestled in the back of the Pro Skates shop on Quinpool Road.
Jon Werbitt

In a meeting Tuesday, Halifax regional council narrowly voted to request a staff report that defines “small business” for the purpose of taxation.

Coun. Paul Russell of Lower Sackville, who initiated the motion, said the definition is required so that these businesses can then be taxed differently.

“There are different mechanisms that we could use to try to help out these businesses, but we can’t do any of them until we define what a small business is,” Russell said.

He said that the pandemic pushed consumers away from local businesses and towards big retailers, such as Costco and Walmart.

“The genesis of this is trying to help out those businesses that were dramatically affected by COVID,” Russell said.

Councillors discussed the many ways in which the scale of a business can be defined. These included profit, number of employees, square footage of space, and more. The report will determine which of these best exemplifies a business’ size.


Coun. Shawn Cleary and other council members argued that while the motion is well-intentioned, it has already been unsuccessfully attempted and will draw energy from other projects.

caption Dimitri Christeas stands in front of his small business, Quinpool Shoe Repair.
Jon Werbitt

Cleary, who opposed the motion, said in 2016 the council asked the province for permission to tax businesses based on certain metrics. Though permission was granted, Cleary said they didn’t have the resources to collect the necessary data and classify businesses.

“This has already gone to the province,” Cleary said. “We don’t have the ability to base on size or type of business.”

He said if there was co-operation with the provincial government, which already has all the income data, then he might support the motion.

“It’s not about a definition, it’s about a process,” Cleary said.

Coun. Waye Mason was particularly concerned about the resources the project would demand. He said it would impact staff’s ability to work on other ongoing endeavours.

Still, most of the council supported finding a definition.

Coun. Tim Outhit was outspoken in his support of the motion.

“I don’t think this would slow down any other things that are in process. The fact that we don’t have a definition of what small business is yet, when we’ve been talking about it just as long as I’ve been on council, is quite unacceptable,” Outhit said.

The report, as outlined in the motion, is set to be completed by September.

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Jon Werbitt

Jon is a journalist and music enthusiast from Montreal.

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