Eighty per cent of our new jobs are created by small business. Yet it is small business-people who have the most trouble getting credit; the most put upon by government compliance and revenue agents and the most abused by landlords. Most have poured everything they have into their businesses. They like the independence of being their own bosses. But there is little money available for big law to protect them from big power. But they are our neighbours. They are the bedrock of our communities. And it’s time we awoke to that fact and band together to protect them and each other.
Who can forget the first dep or variety store whose owner knew which candy or comic book we liked? Or the local bakery where the owners know whether you like kimmel or rye, pumpernickel or Russian? Or the small independent pharmacist who knows all our aches and pains and takes the time to explain things to us? We’re not just credit and medicare cards for these people. They are our friends.
So it is infuriating, saddening and heartbreaking to watch the story unfolding now of the small merchants in the TMR Shopping Centre on Lucerne Road facing eviction while the owners redevelop the centre and hand out lease renewals only to the large chain tenants. The small merchants will literally be out on the street and have no source of income, no security of EI and no future. Dozens of lives and families ruined. Some of these owners were promised locations in the redeveloped centre while others still have time to run on their leases. And we have heard of individual horror stories like this even in downtown over the past six months. But no one is paying attention!
Now heaven knows we don’t need more government regulation. But we do at least need enforcement of what exists now. In our property law in Quebec, and in our contract law, there is an overriding principle that all parties must behave “reasonably.” In practice and in jurisprudence, this has been defined as the “reasonable man” test. Which party can best suffer inconvenience or loss. Though commercial landlords are not governed by rental board restrictions on rent increases for example, neither do they have license to be rogues. They can’t “unreasonably” deny a lease renewal for example to a tenant. There must be justifiable grounds such as non-payment of rent or destruction of property. Frankly, it may be time for the Ministry of Consumer Affairs to set up a watchdog to whom independents can have redress without lawyers and ensure that “reasonableness” is being practiced.
Bigger is not always better. We have seen enough big projects collapse. The race for bigger profits has become, in many cases, a failed gamble that ends in nothing more than a race to the bottom destroying lives and communities in the process. . The real estate expansion in Montreal is not being driven by a strengthening economy or expanding population, but by easy credit available to large enterprises but not to small ones. The developers will make their money off management and development fees if nothing else. The little guys will get hurt. The marketplace does not have to be Darwinian. It can be Churchillian. “To balance private rights against public good. To reward individual enterprise and initiative, but not with untrammeled privilege and preference.” Not a bad way to run things.