Skip to main content

March, 17, 2009; Toronto, ON: Catherine Swift is the CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the CFIB. Photographed for At The Top with Gordon Pitts. (Tory Zimmerman/Globe and Mail) Story details: Twenty-two years ago, bank economist and former bureaucrat Catherine Swift left the world of behemoth institutions to advocate the cause of private enterprise in Canada. Today Ms. Swift, 56, is the face and voice of small and medium-sized business as chair, president and chief executive officer of the 105,000-member Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Those two decades, including the last 12 as CFIB's CEO, give her perspective on the current crisis, and - guess what - she isn't entirely pessimistic about how things are going.

Tory Zimmerman/The Globe and Mail

If Canadians don't want to get their hands dirty, they should open more doors to immigrants who are willing to do the work, says the new president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

"There's been a slide in the work ethic and we've got to start emphasizing the importance of work," said Dan Kelly, who is taking over Canada's largest small-business advocacy group from Catherine Swift, who held the job for 17 years.

While he plans to continue Ms. Swift's efforts to bend the ears of politicians and bankers about the need to slash red tape and reduce taxes and fees for small and medium-sized businesses, he sees the need to make expansion of the temporary and foreign worker immigration program a high priority for the organization.

Story continues below advertisement

"There is huge frustration among small-business owners. Even though there is a higher-than-normal youth unemployment rate, over 40 per cent of our members say they can't find the workers they need to run their businesses. There are a lot of jobs out there that young people, or the unemployed in general, choose not to do.

Those same Canadians who say they don't want to do unskilled jobs are the ones who say they don't want to see foreign workers come in to take those jobs either, Mr. Kelly explained.

"The question I ask is: 'who the heck is going to do those jobs? Who is going to grow and cook our food, or work in the care facility to take care of mom?'" said Mr. Kelly, who has extensive experience lobbying senior federal and provincial legislators from his previous role as CFIB's vice-president of legislative affairs.

At Wednesday's annual CFIB meeting in Toronto, Ms. Swift said in her new role as the organization's chairman she will continue the advocacy that has gained her the confidence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal Cabinet. She added she has seen growth in the awareness levels of the importance of small business to the economy in her 25 years with the federation, 17 of them as president.

"Twenty years ago, small business was an afterthought for the banks," she explained. "Now they all have departments targeting the small business market."

Governments have also gotten better at taking small business realities into account, Ms. Swift said. "But there's still an absurd amount of nanny state intrusion that gets in the way. A perfect example is Toronto City Council's vote this week to ban plastic shopping bags. Governments shouldn't be getting into that kind of meddling while the infrastructure is falling apart."

To increase its political clout, CFIB is planning an aggressive membership drive, Mr. Kelly said. "We need to reach out to the next generation of entrepreneurs as well as reaching out to self-employed and new Canadians setting up businesses."

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
We have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We expect to have our new commenting system, powered by Talk from the Coral Project, running on our site by the end of April, 2018. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to