Will the Stronger BC Plan live up to its hype?

A snap election pulls Stronger BC into sharp focus as the NDP promotes its plan for economic recovery.

Victoria's Inner Harbour. Photo by Armon Arani on Unsplash
Victoria's Inner Harbour. Photo by Armon Arani on Unsplash.

The B.C. government released its Stronger BC Economic Recovery Plan last week, and while much of its work is already underway, it does create a framework for an overall understanding of how the plan will roll out across the various sectors.

The Province’s commitment to helping British Columbian businesses and people recover from the economic and societal impacts of COVID-19 includes over $8.25 billion in direct spending.

To summarize, the plan includes:

Making health care better by hiring 7,000 new front-line health-care workers, increasing support for mental health care and introducing the Hospital at Home initiative.

Upskilling displaced and currently employed workers to prepare for new opportunities and new employer needs, expanding Indigenous skills training, adding more affordable child-care spaces and investing $100 million to support tourism-related businesses and communities.

Helping businesses grow and rehire with a 15% refundable tax credit based on eligible new payroll and a temporary 100% PST rebate on select machinery and equipment. 

Revitalizing community infrastructure with over 400 million dollars in funding to municipalities, a further one billion in provincial and federal investments for transit and $540 million in combined federal/provincial funding to solve other local challenges impacted by COVID-19.

The government says it will also continue supporting programs to expand CleanBC, reduce air pollution and tackle climate change, as well as working with Indigenous communities on sustainable forestry management.

The media release laying out the Stronger BC plan says that since it enacted the safe restart plan in mid-May, B.C. has had stronger-than-expected consumer spending, housing activity and employment gains. As of August 2020, almost 250,000 jobs had been restored, equal to 62% of the total jobs lost due to the pandemic.

The BC Green Party caucus was consulted on the development of this plan, which builds on shared priorities in the Confidence and Supply Agreement, including creating jobs, acting on climate change and building a sustainable economy that works for people.

Songhees Nation sees benefit for its community

Christina Clarke, CEO of the Songhees Development Corporation, the economic development arm of the Songhees Nation, says she is pleased to see the needs identified by her community reflected in Stronger BC.  “Songhees Nation is among the voices calling for region-wide economic recovery that is innovative, sustainable and resilient. We feel heard. As a new tour operator, Songhees Tours will benefit from investment in tourism infrastructure. We look forward to collaborating with post-secondary institutes on indigenous training opportunities. B.C.’s Plan is aligned with our view that economic health is founded on the health and wellbeing of people.”

Stronger BC fuels green initiatives

Synergy Enterprises is a Victoria-based business focused on helping corporations reduce their carbon footprint, and a fierce advocate for climate change mitigation and green energy initiatives. Their CEO, Jill Doucette, says “much of what is in this plans touches on key issues we have been working on in our region for a decade, and will help propel solutions faster. These include zero emission transportation, local agriculture and food processing, building diverse tourism infrastructure, and working on solutions to our recycling challenges. The plan has also adopted a climate action lens to guide economic recovery– spending more on green jobs, protecting forests and clean tech.”

In addition to fostering sustainability, Doucette appreciates the plan to bolster health care and support mental health initiatives, noting the importance, particularly of suicide prevention among youth. “We heard tragic stories of two First Nations youth who took their own lives at the start of the pandemic. It was heartbreaking news, and we need to do so much more in this area.”

Doucette is also pleased to hear of the $300 million funding for business grants. “At the start of the pandemic, there were many loan offerings, but many felt that taking on debt would only ‘delay the pain,’ whereas grants will help seal the cracks in the foundations of businesses that were hard hit.”

Business solvency and workforce training support are important components

For Emilie de Rosenroll, CEO of South Island Prosperity Partnership, the Stronger BC plan is a “great start,” bearing in mind that recovery will not be fast. She and her team are the among the drivers of the Rising Economy Taskforce, a project aimed at collating information and recommendations from all economic sectors, and using that information to speed recovery.

“We are happy to see some of the recommendations from the Rising Economy Taskforce’s committees find their way into the new plan,” she says, “especially around support for immediate business solvency and training grants for workforce development, as we are going to see massive changes in the labour force. We were also glad to have supported the development of the BC ‘Restoring Confidence App’ to keep businesses and consumers updated about public safety protocols that businesses, following a piloting and testing phase with our Retail, Services and Restaurants Committees.”

Plan should continue to respond quickly to business needs

The Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce says it is also optimistic the government’s plan will create the necessary support the economy needs to recover. The organization sees alignment with its own advocacy efforts, including the $300 million program to provide grants for businesses with two to 149 employees to help employers keep staff over the short term, and it says the infrastructure spending will jumpstart a number of projects that are ready to get underway. The Chamber is also pleased about the proposed tax reform measures and the commitment to upskilling and micro-credentialing to make up for workplace shortages.

“The key be rolling out these programs quickly and efficiently,” says Chamber CEO Bruce Williams. “Businesses are by no means out of the woods, and many will need help to survive until next spring.”

John Wilson, Chair of the Chamber’s Board of Directors offers a word of caution. “Businesses that serve the tourism industry are vital to Greater Victoria’s economy,” he says “and I’m not sure how many will be able to make it to spring with the programs currently being offered. The $50 million for a tourism task force does offer some hope that more funding will be coming to support a sector that’s been hit harder than any other during this pandemic. Hopefully further funding announcements will address this.”

Pandemic response an opportunity for long-term pivot to sustainable economy

The Vancouver Island Economic Alliance (VIEA) notes and lauds the plan’s focus on immediate-term supports. But, says VIEA President George Hanson, “if we recognize COVID-19 as one of many present and looming challenges associated with climate change, the government’s expressed intention to address this next is critical. Certainly, the hierarchy of our needs requires the current focus on public health, community well-being and economic recovery. [We need to] take advantage of this unique disruption to thoroughly rethink our priorities and initiate substantial change to go beyond recovery and transform our economy towards a vital and sustainable future.”

Hanson also feels ongoing funding to help increase agricultural production and develop more food hubs will improve our food security ”if focus is also given to strengthening market demand for these local products (as we have found with our Island Good promotion program). We in B.C., and especially on Vancouver Island, have been fortunate thus far to have escaped the worst. If we are smart, we will use this period of relative grace to its fullest.”

With a snap election called for October 24, it appears the NDP is confident their Stronger BC plan will provide the impetus the economy needs to recover.

“As British Columbians we’ve been through a lot recently,” says Premier John Horgan. “We know our recovery won’t happen overnight. The steps we are taking now will improve health care, get people back to work, support B.C. businesses and strengthen our neighbourhoods and communities.”

It remains to be seen if voters agree.

Continue Reading:

South Island economic recovery efforts get federal funding boost

Rising Economy Taskforce releases multi-sector recovery recommendations

Road to Recovery: how business is rebounding from the pandemic