The small business owner was fined $187,000 and walked out in handcuffs

Photo: The small business owner was fined $187,000 and walked out in handcuffs

“This wasn’t a recession, this was a government mandated shut down” - Quote from my interview with Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, reflecting on the mounting economic challenges created by COVID 19.

Today I want to communicate the necessity of increasing your personal sovereignty. Depending on where you are while reading this, you may be fortunate to live in a country we could describe as safe, predictable and just - at least most of the time.

If so, be grateful for this. Be grateful for the access to food, jobs and options in your life.

I was born in the 1980’s in Western Canada - and if I look at the development of my homeland in the 30+ years I have been alive - I have undeniably lived my life in a bull market.

I have lived in a bull market of access to health care, education, food and career options. This is not because of anything that I have done - it is the dumb luck of living through improving circumstances - life keeps getting better.

The downside to living through a prosperous time is that if and when things change, we are more likely to be unprepared. Humans commonly make two mistakes. First - we confuse good fortune with competency - ex. many investors feel “smarter” in a bull market. Second, we fall victim to recency bias - we assume our immediate future will reflect our immediate past.

Let me explain where I am going here - I am not forecasting a dramatic geopolitical shift. I acknowledge, things look a little grim at the moment - but in the medium and long term, I am an optimist. I will always bet large on human ingenuity, and I believe the American Experiment is still in its infancy.

But I could be wrong - and if my life's bull market ends tomorrow, I want to have measures in place that ensure I can decouple myself from the macro trend around me. Because if the system turns, the same as it lifted us up, it can pull us down.

I am watching headlines today with a mix of confusion, disgust, and trepidation. Near my home town there is a small community of about 6000 people. Given the story I am going to share, the town is ironically named, “Hope.”

In the town is a hallmark restaurant that was founded in 1986. They've been one of the most reliable small business employers for over three decades - a handful of employees have been there since day one. The restaurant is called Rolly’s and was founded by the Young Family.

Although a small business, the owners have been active philanthropists, supporting local events and initiatives with a focus on assisting youth experiencing hardship. In December of 2020 the town installed a statue honouring the Young Family for their decades long contributions.

Like many, COViD 19 crushed the business. They were shut for months, and when open, had to increase their staff to expand their sanitation efforts, simultaneously cutting their capacity to meet the social distance requirements. Costs up, revenue down.

When the vaccination passport mandate came out, the owners drew a line in the sand and said, “your health status is none of our business.”

In response, the government revoked their business licence for six months.

"We’ve done everything you wanted,’” says Muriel Young, owner, Rolly’s. “We use hand sanitizer. Cleaning of the bathrooms is ongoing. I hired two kids to work all summer spraying menus, so each menu is sterilized. I put plants on every other table for social distancing, and we went broke because of that, so I opened up a patio. We put up dividers. We’re masking. But now they want me to do something illegal and I have to say no."

I won't simplify this issue to a binary nature - “right versus wrong” never applies if we take a deep and meaningful look.

But here is what I know - punishing a small business owner into bankruptcy, after decades of tax contribution to the provincial and federal government, philanthropic contribution to the local community and economic contribution to the region by employing 40 people in a small town of 6000 leaves an awful taste in my mouth.

I am aware this is not a unique circumstance - the owner of Adamson Barbecue in Toronto was recently paraded out of his own restaurant in handcuffs after choosing to stay open without imposing the same mandate.

He has been fined $187,000 from the City of Toronto, “to recoup its costs to enforce provincial public health regulations”. He has since shut all three of his locations and his equipment is being auctioned off by Benaco Sales LTD.

Am I biased towards the small business owners in these scenarios? Yes, definitely. Does this affect my judgement? Yes, definitely.

But I am not condemning the government for their decisions, because the one thing we have in common is that none of us have had to navigate this before, and the breadth of complexities eliminates any possibilities of simple, binary answers.

What is the point of this story? “Unprecedented actions” will be the new normal for the near future. If we can no longer rely on the predictability of our institutions and systems then minimizing any reliance on these systems is critical.

If you are fortunate to have been surrounded by opportunity and choice, then I believe it is your obligation to generate personal wealth. A surplus of wealth gives you the optionality to be the rock that someone else may need to lean on. And the world needs more rocks.

So find a way to run your surplus. Put your cash to work, produce more than you consume, live beneath your means, and store the balance. An early mentor in my life told me - "there will be people unable to complete their share, so it is up to all of us to do more than our share and hopefully everyone will be alright." This stuck with me - I need to deliver an 11/10 as a baseline.

I pour this kool aid at my company, and as a consequence, my top performers have side hustles. It makes me nervous, of course, to know that a key player is building a side business in their spare time, potentially compromising my future plans for her. But I have to practice what I preach, and I preach multiple streams of income, multiple opportunities for capital gains and multiple stores of wealth.

If you succeed, you don't have to give back to anybody. But if you are running a deficit, you don't have the option. So take control. Take the power. It might be the least selfish thing you can do.