Michael Williams is chief risk officer, general counsel with Richardson GMP Ltd. Ian Russell is president and chief executive officer of the Investment Industry Association of Canada.
In the aftermath of the May, 1992, Toronto riots, which began as an anti-racist protest in response to the acquittal of officers who beat Rodney King in Los Angeles and the police shootings of Black men in Toronto, the adviser on race relations to the Ontario premier, Stephen Lewis, brought forward a report with a wide range of recommendations.
Now, after nearly 30 years, the continuing simmer of anger and frustration has exploded again in Toronto and elsewhere in reaction to George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. The King-Floyd similarities are evidence that racism remains entrenched in society. They also remind us that many well-intentioned efforts to address systemic racism in Canada, including the 1992 Lewis report, have failed to effect meaningful change.
Erasing systemic racism is a continued search for solutions and remedies, a slow revolution of continued renewal. Solutions must be multifaceted and innovative. Goodwill and good intentions are just a starting point.
Affirmative action measures were important for a time, as were mandated and voluntary quotas for corporations to hire deserving candidates and appointments to board directorships at small and large companies. But these measures have not allowed for sustained and lasting change in the past, nor are they likely to do so in the future without further innovative thought. We need to strive toward eliminating economic inequalities to combat systemic racism.
Any vision of success must embrace solutions aimed at building economic opportunity for Black communities and, in this way, bringing sustained prosperity to elevate these communities to play a more powerful role in the economic mainstream of Canada.
Statistics Canada says that 1.2 million Canadians identify as Black, however, a survey found just 2,000 Black-owned businesses of significant scale. Nearly 50 per cent of Black entrepreneurs say their biggest challenge is finance.
A critical way to support the startup of new business and to promote the growth of successful Black enterprises is to improve access to external equity capital, the building block of business. A federal tax incentive aimed to encourage individuals to invest in Black-owned business could contribute immeasurably to the growth and success of small and mid-sized Black community enterprises.
The federal Minister of Finance could also make a difference and lasting impact on breaking the firm grip of economic racism in the country by establishing a Black-Owned Equity Plan patterned on Britain’s immensely successful Enterprise Investment Scheme. The EIS has helped more than 27,000 businesses in Britain over the past 25 years, including many diversity enterprises.
A Canadian plan would provide personal tax relief to investors who purchase shares of small Black-owned enterprises in private and public markets. The plan would leave decisions to ordinary Canadians located in the same communities as these businesses and not to financial institutions and government.
Additionally, every successful growing small business needs access to working capital through short-term and midterm loans. Black businesses, especially struggling firms, have even greater need for wider access to banking services on cost-effective terms.
Open banking in other jurisdictions has demonstrated a positive impact, delivering banking services through technology, notably providing alternative sources of financing for disadvantaged individuals and struggling small businesses in the weaker strata of the economy.
The federal government has now completed an extensive study on the merits of open banking in Canada and is on the verge of a decision. The Senate of Canada has given much study on open banking and could consider the benefits to helping Black businesses. For example, the government could phase in open banking to develop an effective regulatory framework and encourage existing financial technology firms to begin operations with minority businesses across Canada.
Erasing systemic racism in the economic sector requires a recognition that simple and one-off solutions are not the answer, but that this challenge needs a range of solutions to force continual sustainable change. A direction for positive change is to empower Black businesses to strengthen the economic well-being of the community by enabling and promoting the success of Black enterprise.
Unless we move forward with ideas that build sustainable economic change in Black communities, the effectiveness of other measures may not achieve long-standing change.