“I am honoured to present Budget 2021. It is about building today for a better tomorrow. This moment calls for action and Budget 2021 delivers for the people of British Columbia.” Thus began Finance Minister Selina Robinson’s speech introducing the government’s plan for the next twelve months; mostly a continuation of work begun last year, with some additional funding projects announced.
Presented on the heels of the Federal Budget, it has provoked debate among the business community as to whether B.C. Budget 2021 will deliver much-needed relief and support the growth Vancouver Island requires for pandemic recovery.
Douglas asked local leaders for their feedback.
Rob Gillezeau is Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics at the University of Victoria. B.C.’s focus on managing the pandemic and fiscal prudence was largely expected, he says, but the Federal Budget centrepiece “definitely exceeded expectations by moving forward with the kind of national, universal child care program that already exists in Quebec and that British Columbia is currently pursuing. Not only has the budget made the commitment to move in that direction, but it has allocated sufficient dollars to make it happen by 2025-26.”
Where both budgets miss, opines Gillezeau, “was in reining in the out-of-control housing market. Certainly, B.C. has done its part to begin tackling the crisis in recent years, so it was frustrating to see Ottawa fail to step up with major actions now that the housing crisis has gone national in scope.”
He is pleased to see Ottawa take B.C.’s lead on affordable childcare with the goal of helping parents, boosting labour force participation and strengthening economic growth, and if it comes to reality will achieve the impact they’re hoping for.
Gillezeau believes the economic recovery path is stronger than many anticipated, in part because of government actions, and this can only be helped by the continuing commitment on the part of federal and provincial government to funding support.
But, he says, “the absence of a paid sick leave mandate with a rebating mechanism is a big loss for both workers and firms. If government were to introduce paid sick leave, and compensate firms for it, workplaces would be safer, COVID-19 spread would be reduced, and firms would likely see a better bottom line as a result.”
Importance of supporting small business and an inclusive economy
Emilie de Rosenroll, CEO of the regional economic development organization South Island Prosperity Partnership, says “With Greater Victoria’s service-led industries being so impacted by the health restrictions, I was glad to see the extension of the income and business supports, like wage and rent subsidies, into the fall. The pandemic exposed so much inequity in our economy, such as the number of women being forced to leave the workforce to take care of kids at home. So the investments we will see in childcare are an important economic intervention, as are the investments in Black and other underrepresented entrepreneurs.
I was also happy to see significant investments in green recovery at the Federal and Provincial levels — with over $17 billion from the Federal Government to exceed 2030 climate targets and investments from B.C. in CleanBC, clean technologies, as well as subsidies for zero emissions and investments in cleaner, healthier communities.”
Christina Clarke is the CEO of the Songhees Development Corporation and a member of the South Island Prosperity Partnership and Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce boards. The Songhees Nation is involved in both business and tourism development on south Vancouver Island.
She says the $5 million set aside for Indigenous tourism recovery won’t meet current needs “given the level of need and the impact a healthy Indigenous tourism economy will have on the tourism sector as a whole.” But, she says, they’ve found success working through Indigenous Tourism B.C. “Two of Songhees’ tourism and hospitality businesses received funding from ITBC 2020 and have applied again in 2021.
She notes that the Songhees Indigenous Marine Trail will receive funding in 2021 and 2022 under the Province’s Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program, Destination Development stream and says “this project will be very impactful for Songhees tourism ventures and the many stakeholders we work with in Lekwungen territory.”
Clarke notes that the members of her community “feel personally impacted by systemic Indigenous racism in the health care system. Funding identified to address this is a welcome sign. The budget speaks to prioritizing the hiring of health-care workforce that better represents BC’s diverse communities. I hope this includes spending to promote health care careers for indigenous people. I am also hopeful that the addition of 30 positions in the Ministry of Indigenous Relations results in more Indigenous employees working within the Ministry.”
More is needed for those hardest hit by pandemic
Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce CEO Bruce Williams says they’re pleased to see government support continuing into 2022 for business relief, particularly when it comes to the hardest hit sectors.
“We’ve been calling for immediate help for large tourism operators that help anchor that vital sector,” he says, so it was “good to hear $100 million is being allocated for tourism, attractions, trails and look forward to seeing more details. We’re hopeful it will go to businesses that desperately need it.”
But, as some industries face ongoing challenges due to health restrictions, “transportation companies are still waiting for funding. We’re hoping to see money that, in some cases, was announced very publicly, actually get into the pockets of businesses that need it. As we recover from the pandemic, it will take much longer for the economy to recover if we have to rebuild transportation infrastructure that could be lost if those businesses are not able to hang on. Transit funding was mentioned but no indication of next steps for the South Island Transportation Study, or changes to transportation governance in Greater Victoria.”
Looking ahead to 2022
Williams emphasizes “it is important we have a commitment to get back to balanced budgets to ensure we have good conditions for investment. Fiscal prudence is a big part of that. However, governments across the world are facing the same challenges as BC. Right now, we need to protect businesses and, at the very least, give them a chance to participate in a post-pandemic recovery expected to grow the economy and service the debt.”
Gillezeau cautions “both Ottawa and Victoria have rolled out substantial pandemic supports that should help speed the recovery, but at the end of the day economic growth over the next year will be primarily grounded in how well we contain the spread of COVID-19.”
When it comes to growing the Indigenous economy, Clarke says south Island First Nations would benefit from Provincial funding support for an Indigenous Prosperity Centre “to expand the capacity for collaboration on training, procurement opportunities, and joint ventures.” She is currently working alongside other stakeholders to make that goal a reality.
As Robinson concluded in her Budget speech, “the pandemic will end. When it does, B.C. will be ready for the opportunities that come with recovery. And that is a powerful testament to the incredible resilience that people, businesses and communities have shown, and continue to show.”
We can’t argue with that.
By the Numbers
B.C.’s real gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have declined by 5.3% in 2020. Its real GDP is forecast to grow by 4.4% in 2021 and 3.8% in 2022, reaching pre-pandemic levels by next year. Then the deficit is expected to steadily decline over the next three years, beginning in 2021-22.