Ottawa counting on women for COVID-19 economic recovery

Vimy MP Koutrakis joins Small Business Minister Mary Ng for online discussion

What role will women entrepreneurs be playing in the revival of the Canadian economy when the COVID-19 pandemic is finally over?

That was the big question raised during a webcast discussion last month between federal Minister for Small Business Mary Ng, Vimy MP Annie Koutrakis and a dozen women entrepreneurs from Laval and other cities, on advancing women’s economic empowerment amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women impacted

“We are all aware of the disproportional impact that the pandemic has had on women across the country,” said Koutrakis, noting that a large proportion of Canada’s population of women work in sectors of the economy that have been most affected.

At the same time, she pointed out that many women have been forced by work obligations during the pandemic to make difficult choices, such as choosing between a career or temporarily putting aside responsibilities towards children and family.

“In the end, this pandemic has exposed the systemic obstacles with which women who are business owners are confronted daily – obstacles that we must make efforts to overcome,” added Koutrakis.

Help from Ottawa

For her part, Minister Ng highlighted the government’s commitment to helping women grow their businesses and access new markets through the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, a nearly $5-billion initiative that provides women with access to financing, expertise and networks.

“I often like to say that, you know, my job is to help companies start up, scale up and to enter the market,” she said, while adding that her department offers businesses operated by women tools, such as the services of trade commissioners, in 160 locations around the world.

$150 billion could be added to the country’s economy just by including more women, Minister for Small Business Mary Ng claims.

Pandemic relief

“Everything we committed to doing was to make sure that Canadians ultimately are supported through this pandemic, making sure that Canadians didn’t have to worry about a roof over their head or food on the table, and making sure that our smallest of businesses had their voices heard through me and my department and our government,” Minister Ng said.

She cited some disquieting statistics. While only 16 per cent of Canada’s businesses are owned or led by women, and only 11 per cent of these are exporting into the international market, she maintained that $150 billion could be added to the country’s economy just by including more women.

Up against web giants

One of the women entrepreneurs who took part in the web gathering asked Minister Ng what the government can do to help her web retail business compete with online behemoths like Amazon. “What support is available to companies transitioning to online business models for the first time?” she asked.

‘This pandemic has exposed the systemic obstacles with which women who are business owners are confronted daily,’ said Vimy MP Annie Koutrakis

Ng suggested that a big part of the solution will involve improving the prospects for consumers to shop locally. “I think in the short term, as businesses get digitized and develop more of the digital presence, one of the things that we are doing right now is to be sure that we are promoting a strong local initiative,” she said.

Up with local, said Ng

“I think that we all need to ensure that we are promoting that. I think that we all need to ensure that our chambers and the business improvement associations are promoting shopping local.” In addition, Ng said the federal government has been actively working with the Ottawa-based multinational e-commerce company Shopify to create a central resource hub as an incentive for Canadian entrepreneurs to get online. However, she continued, “there is more work to be done” to ensure women-led businesses have the necessary tools to succeed.