Thanks very much to the committee.
I did provide a short deck of some slides about the 2012 budget for your attention.
I want to say at the very beginning that we are very grateful to government for finally moving on marketing freedom for Canadian wheat and barley growers. Our members are very pleased about that. Survey after survey of our western grain and barley growers showed that this was something they had wanted for a long time. We're grateful that it has finally come to be.
In fact at meeting on Vancouver Island this weekend, some of our representatives, who were out there calling on our Alberta members, told us that they didn't believe this would happen before they died, but they are very happy that it has.
I want to say from the outset that there are a number of small business-related concerns right now. Many of them have been touched on in the budget. An awful lot more work needed to be done on several of them.
The good news is that there is starting to be a greater degree of optimism among small and medium-sized businesses, and that optimism is turning into hiring. We have started to see a bit of a break. More of our members are looking to hire employees than to let go of employees, and that is a really positive outcome that has just occurred in the last couple of months.
Still on the top of our members' agenda are the total tax burden, government regulation, employment insurance, the shortage of labour—again, growing very quickly. The 2012 federal budget did contain progress on eight of the top twelve issues that we had recommended.
The biggest measure we had suggested was to make progress on renewal of the EI hiring credit. We're very pleased that has occurred. That has been very positively received by our members, and I believe it is related to the higher degree of optimism among small and medium-sized firms at this point in time.
When we asked our members during the recession what was most helpful to them, they felt that the freezing of EI premiums was the single measure the government took that did help them out.
We've seen more recent changes on employment insurance, and while not directly related to the budget, it has directionally gone in ways that our members do favour. Minister Flaherty's comments that there are no bad jobs other than being unemployed have resonated very well with our membership.
The real proof is going to be in the implementation of some of these new provisions, and that is what concerns us. Right now with respect to EI, you're not supposed to get benefits if you quit or you're fired, but everyone knows you can go into the EI office with a good sob story that the boss was mean to you and have benefits reinstated in about two minutes. It does concern us that some of the new changes that have been put in place are actually going to have a direct impact.
I do want to raise concern, though, that these changes have been made through regulation. It took quite some time for these changes to come to the public, and it's something I would suggest is better debated with the full knowledge of where the government is headed. We're pleased to see that the information is finally out for us to make decisions on.
With respect to employment insurance, 22% of our members told us they feel they're competing against EI for workers, and 16% of our members said they have been asked by employees to lay them off so they can collect employment insurance. The need for change is very clear.
The shortage of labour among small and medium-sized businesses is growing in every Canadian province. This has been characterized as a western Canadian issue, and it's not. After Saskatchewan, the second highest level of concern about the shortage of labour is in Newfoundland and Labrador. That's coming from thousands of small and medium-sized business owners.