Opinion: Federal budget that invests in business needed for smooth flight to better days

Bruce Williams, CEO, Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce

As the days get longer and the light that signals the end of the pandemic gets closer, it’s time to make sure our house is in order so we can enjoy the better times ahead.

Our ongoing economic recovery is clearly uneven. There are too many businesses unable to move forward because they rely on close human interaction — experiences that will be so important for us to get back to a sense of normalcy. These businesses will need more time to recover. Others will be back much faster because they embraced technology that allowed them to adapt to the times.

We at the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce are calling the roadmap to a post-COVID economy the “Recovery Runway” and we are identifying “pivot pilots” as those organizations and leaders who have been nimble with pivoting the way they do business. They are a beacon for optimism as we begin to taxi down the recovery runway.

Before we can truly take off, our economy will require a shift in federal priorities. We will hear details of the next federal budget April 19 — the first full budget in two years. The Chamber is working closely with our national network to make sure government understands the priorities for business. The Canadian Chamber of Commerce has brought together a highly talented team of top executives from some of Canada’s most influential companies. The goal is to develop a business plan to win the fight against COVID-19, and ensure a private-sector led recovery that allows Canada to move away from a subsidized economy and invest in getting back to self-sufficient individuals and businesses.

In a speech to the Sidney Rotary Club this month, Canadian Chamber CEO Perrin Beatty said the government has to “differentiate between the must-haves and the nice-to-haves: if a program was unaffordable at this time last year, before we added hundreds of billions of dollars of public debt, it’s most assuredly unaffordable now.”

This national Chamber council is working with the federal government ahead of the 2021 budget to articulate what the private sector needs to create jobs, and what investments will lead to more businesses starting up and re-opening. As Beatty noted, experience has shown this won’t happen through austerity alone. We can’t cut our way to prosperity.

However, we also can’t continue the levels of public-sector spending that have seen our federal government rack up almost 20 percent of our GDP on pandemic relief, the highest among G-20 countries. At the last fiscal update in November, the government was forecasting a deficit of $400 billion. That’s clearly unsustainable and will eventually lead to turbulence that can be avoided with a better flight path. The same holds true for all levels of government, with BC set to unveil its own budget April 20.

The challenge for the provincial and federal governments will be to show Canadians a plan that businesses can get behind. We know there’s no going back to how life was before the pandemic. We need to embrace the momentum of our rising economy and lift all Canadians. If there has been a benefit to the past year, it’s how creatively we have embraced technology and reexamined standard practices.

I hear amazing stories from Chamber members about innovations and new ideas for doing businesses. There are opportunities now to invest in retraining so that we have the workforce needed for a more resilient economy. The idea of micro-credentials, championed by The Chamber, is being embraced by post-secondary institutions in Greater Victoria. We need to provide opportunities for skills upgrading and invest in the infrastructure that will allow our workforce to adapt to ongoing transitions in the economy.

Our region’s economy remains fundamentally sound. We are lucky to have the stability of a large public sector and a geography that is the envy of the world. Our tech sector will continue to bloom and attract new talent, and, eventually, our tourism industry will recover and reach even greater heights.

It’s time to get ready for take-off, and with the help of our members and our board as well as, our national network and our Chamber Champion initiative, we’re working to make sure all of us have a smooth flight. So buckle up, this will be a once in a lifetime ride.

Bruce Williams is CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.


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