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Politicians of all stripes worked hard to woo small-business owners during the long election campaign, with the NDP, Liberals, Conservatives and Greens all vowing to reduce the small-business tax rate. Today, as Canadians head to the polls, many business owners are thinking of these key issues that set the parties apart.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

Most Canadian exporters were pleased when Stephen Harper's Conservative government finally reached a deal in this 12-nation agreement to reduce trade barriers. The TPP will allow Canadian beef, pork and seafood producers cheaper access into Japan, where consumers have a taste for high-end protein. Farmers of grain and pulses stand to gain from easier access to markets in Vietnam and Malaysia. Even the controversial dairy, chicken and egg provisions were blunted, given that Canada is offering to open just 3.25 per cent of the domestic milk market to foreigners, and local producers would get $4.3-billion in government subsidies to cover their losses.

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However, for the TPP to move forward, it needs to be ratified by Parliament, as well as by other countries' governments. NDP leader Tom Mulcair has come out firmly against the deal, while the Liberals' position is less clear. The party says it supports free trade and wants the agreement to be debated in Parliament.

Marijuana

Entrepreneurs see big opportunities to cash in on marijuana as it becomes more mainstream. More than 100 pot shops have cropped up recently in Vancouver alone, even though they could be subject to police raids. Meanwhile, producers of licenced medical marijuana complain that the current regulatory system is mired with red tape.

If elected, Mr. Trudeau's Liberals plan to legalize pot, which could lead to a thriving marijuana sector such as the ones in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. The NDP say they would decriminalize the drug, and Mr. Mulcair says he understands that legalization will happen eventually.

Legalization would be welcome news for entrepreneurs like Leigh Coulter, president and co-owner of GGS Structures Inc., a greenhouse manufacturer in Vineland Station, Ont., that counts marijuana producers among its clients. "This is an opportunity for Canada to lead the global movement toward drug reform, and capitalize on the numerous business opportunities that are becoming available in post-marijuana prohibition regions," she says. "Unfortunately the current Canadian government has remained a reluctant participant in this change, and without change from the government that supports a regulated marijuana industry, Canada will remain only a minor player."

Canada Pension Plan

Ontario is bringing in a new pension plan to boost residents' income in retirement. Premier Kathleen Wynne says current Canada Pension Plan payouts, which average about $6,900 a year, aren't enough to live off and most people would benefit from higher predictable payments for life.

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However, the Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP) is causing anxiety for many business owners in the province, who are worried about paying higher premiums. A recent survey from the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters says almost half of small manufacturing companies plan to reduce wages or lay off staff as a result.

The Liberals and NDP want to follow Ontario's lead by gradually increasing Canada Pension Plan premiums and payouts nationwide. The Conservatives, meanwhile, say they won't raise mandatory premiums, calling them a "payroll tax," though they have mulled voluntary increases.

Long-form census

The Conservative government's 2010 scrapping of the mandatory long-form census, because of privacy concerns, and replacing it with a voluntary survey is still a sore point for many businesses. Without reliable data, it's harder to predict employment trends and forecast future economic needs. Retailers want reliable demographic information for neighbourhoods, which helps them decide where to locate shops and what products to stock. Census data was also useful for home builders selecting locations for new developments.

In a rare show of unity, this year the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Canadian Economics Association, Martin Prosperity Institute, Toronto Region Board of Trade, Restaurants Canada and the Canadian Association for Business Economics all told The Globe and Mail they wanted the mandatory long-form census reinstated. The Liberals and NDP say they'll do just that.

Bill C-51

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Mr. Mulcair's fight against Bill C-51, the anti-terror bill that passed into law this year, focused around the potential loss of freedoms. He warned that the law's increased powers for Canada's spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, could be used against peaceful environmental protesters and First Nations groups. However, the law is also creating worries for tech startups. In April, an open letter signed by dozens of tech luminaries, including Ryan Holmes of HootSuite, Stewart Butterfield of Slack and Tobias Lutke of Shopify, condemned the legislation.

"Bill C-51 provides too much leeway for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) to take unjustified actions against our businesses, including the takedown of websites," stated the letter. "As it stands, C-51 criminalizes language in excessively broad terms that may place the authors of innocent tweets and the operators of online platforms such as Facebook, and Twitter, along with Canada's Hootsuite and Slack, at risk of criminal sanction for activities carried out on their sites."

Mr. Trudeau voted for the bill but promised to amend it to add more oversight of national security agencies. Mr. Harper defends the bill, saying it is necessary to deal with the threat of anti-Western groups, such as the Islamic State.

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