For more than 25 years, the Government of Saskatchewan’s Small Business Loans Association (SBLA) Program has helped entrepreneurs start and expand their businesses. This will no longer be the case.
The program offered entrepreneurs a loan of up to $20,000. Its purpose was to help entrepreneurs who might not have otherwise been able to start their business, as well as those who had difficulty obtaining loans through banks or credit unions. Since 1989, it has provided over 11,198 loans to entrepreneurs, totalling more than $79 million, according to the government’s website.
“From what I understand, there wasn’t a lot of uptake on the loan program. So, if there’s not a lot of uptake (and) not a lot of demand, perhaps there isn’t a need for a program,” said John Hopkins, CEO of the Regina and District Chamber of Commerce.
With the decline in oil revenue, many people were concerned about program cuts in all areas of government.
“I think what this budget really forced the government to do is to look at all the programs and (ask), ‘Are they are being utilized to their best ability, and (are they) the best use of taxpayer dollars?’” said Marilyn Braun-Pollon, vice president of prairie and agri-business with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
“Some good projects (were) funded but not a lot of new jobs (were) created, and there was an expense there. This is a budget with a $700 million shortfall in oil, where we had to look at everything,” said Premier Brad Wall.
Wall said he was involved in regional economic development before he got involved with politics, and was also on a committee that approved some (small business loans).
“It wasn’t a choice between good and bad (programs). In many cases, it was a choice between, ‘Well, this is a pretty good program, but we can probably do better,’” said Wall.
The small business sector represents 98 per cent of all businesses in Saskatchewan and employs about one-third of the province’s labour force. As the SBLA program ends, some people worry about the affect it will have on the sector.
“It served a purpose of providing support for small business, (so the end of the program) might be a bit of a concern,” said Regina Mayor Michael Fougere.
Trent Wotherspoon, NDP economy critic, agrees.
“This program has provided literally hundreds and hundreds of ventures, and allowed entrepreneurs the opportunity to grow a business and to provide employment, and it’s disappointing to see that kind of support for entrepreneurs being eliminated in this budget,” said Wotherspoon.
He said that the government should be more involved with Saskatchewan entrepreneurs.
“We believe that we should be working directly with small businesses and entrepreneurs in this province, (and) recognizing what a vital role they play within our economy,” said Wotherspoon.
As the program comes to a close, no new loans will be offered. Prior loans will continue to be managed according to the original terms of the loan agreements.
“I think the winding down of it is being done in a responsible way in which that, anybody who has been approved before it closes up at the end of the month will still be approved and then it will run to the end of the term of that loan,” said Dwayne Marling, Restaurants Canada VP for Manitoba and Saskatchewan. “So if you’re going to wind up a program, that’s the way to wind it up.”