The B.C. government is preparing to allocate the $1.5 billion fund for business recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, and has launched a six-week public consultation on how to do it.
Premier John Horgan and Finance Minister Carole James announced the online consultation June 17, emphasizing that those hardest hit by three months of pandemic restrictions are young people and women.
James said the COVID-19 crisis is different from previous recessions like the 2008 market meltdown that affected financial services and real estate. Now it’s services like accommodation and restaurants, which have suffered 90 per cent of the business closures, with women accounting for 60 per cent of the job losses.
“The youth unemployment rate is a staggering 29 per cent,” James said.
Travel restrictions have hit tourism businesses the hardest. Horgan said he and the cabinet are waiting for the latest pandemic modelling from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on June 22 before making a decision on opening non-essential travel within B.C.
With COVID-19 case numbers remaining low in recent weeks, Horgan said he’s looking at his own vacation options. On Wednesday (June 17), the province recorded 19 new cases and no new deaths.
The survey remains open until July 21, by which time the B.C. legislature will be halfway through a rare summer session to deal with a provincial budget blown open by the $5 billion provincial emergency fund that includes the recovery fund as well as direct supports to people. Provincial revenues have nose-dived, with more than 300,000 tax-paying jobs lost since February, and the province has delayed business tax payments and a scheduled increase in carbon tax that was due in April.
Horgan declined to say if the province’s rent subsidy that is due to expire at the end of June will be extended, saying it may not be the same program that exists today.
James said enhanced benefits are on the table, as well as needs such as child care, skills training, and support for technology development to rebuild the B.C. economy.
In its latest forecast June 16, the Business Council of B.C. estimates that B.C.’s gross domestic product will shrink by almost eight per cent in 2020. Jock Finlayson, BCBC’s chief policy officer, notes that the province recognizes 517,100 businesses, and 315,000 of them are self-employed individuals with no paid staff. The vast majority of the rest have nine employees or fewer.
“Looking ahead, we suspect that a significant number of B.C. business that existed when the year began will be gone by the end of 2021,” Finlayson said in a commentary.
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