The Economic Equity Alliance released a new report on March 18 that calls on the government to address what it calls “the longstanding exclusion of self-employed workers from small business policy.” 

The Alliance was initiated by the Canadian Women’s Chamber of Commerce in January 2023 to bring together organizations representing the interests of solo entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals. The Alliance’s report, entitled Invisible Entrepreneurs: The Impact of Small Business Policy Neglect on Self-Employed Individuals, defines the self-employed as those individuals who earn business or professional income and have no employees.

Canada Job Grant program 

The report highlights the Canada Job Grant program as one example of how the self employed are neglected by government policy. “The program offers a non-repayable grant of up to $10k for job-specific training. However, owners are not allowed to take the course and the program is not open to self-employed individuals.” 

Another example is the Canada Digital Adoption Plan (CDAP), which offers grants and loans to businesses for technology adoption. To qualify, a business requires at least one employee. 

During the COVID pandemic, the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) program left out the self-employed at first.CEBA loans were initially only available to businesses with a minimum 2019 payroll spend. Only after months of external pressure did the Federal government create an additional eligibility scheme for business owners without employees,” notes the Alliance. 

The report also points out “how promises for a comprehensive EI plan to cover self-employed freelancers, independent contractors and "gig" workers have been on the table for many years with no action.” 

Gender and race discrimination 

In its report, the Alliance also cites various statistics to back its assertion that “the lack of support for self-employed workers stems from systemic gender and race discrimination.” For example, the report says 25 per cent of all self-employed individuals are people of colour and 80 per cent of women entrepreneurs are self-employed. 

The Economic Equity Alliance presented various recommendations in its report to address the situation. The first recommendation is to provide social policy to support the self-employed by expanding universal pharmacare as quickly as possible and expanding dental care. The Alliance is also calling on the government to fulfill the promise of EI reform for self-employed individuals. The organization also recommends the funding of a national summit on self-employment to discuss issues facing the self-employed and find solutions to problems of isolation, and lack of social and economic supports. The Alliance advises that all improvements made to policies that impact self-employed workers should be done through the lens of resolving gender and race-based inequity. 

Employers of one 

"For too long, economic development discussions have focused on employers and salaried workers, while self-employed workers have been ignored," stated Nancy Wilson, CEO, Canadian Women's Chamber of Commerce, and a founding member of the Alliance. "It's time to recognize self-employed individuals as employers of one and acknowledge their economic contribution in providing goods and services to each other, the public, and small and medium-sized businesses." 

The Alliance is made up of 12 organizations, including chambers of commerce, trade unions, and community groups. The report says that as far as the Alliance members know, it is “the first coalition including chambers of commerce and trade unions in common cause.” In sharing insights, members found “a broad range of common interests and concerns,” notes the report. 

In addition to the Canadian Women's Chamber of Commerce, groups within the Alliance include the Canadian Labour Congress, the Black Business and Professional Association, the YWCA, the Canadian Arts Coalition, the Canadian Freelance Union (Unifor), the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation and various entrepreneurial groups.