April 20, 2021
KELOWNA CHAMBER WEIGHS IN ON BC BUDGET 2021
Kelowna: The Kelowna Chamber spent Tuesday examining Budget 2021 as tabled by BC Finance Minister Selina Robinson in the Legislature. Fast on the heels of Monday’s Federal Budget, this new provincial Budget (which was delayed two months in its delivery) – saw Minister Robinson tabling her first budget as Minister amid calls for continuing pandemic relief and recovery, for continuing efforts to stimulate private sector investment, and not losing sight on the value of managing BC's debt load to maintain BC’s strong credit rating.
It is good that the government is taking a cautious approach building in contingencies that will give it some options if the impact of the pandemic worsens but we were hoping for a strong signal that further targeted funding or that significant tax relief would be coming to those small businesses which have been hardest hit because of the third wave.
The figures are clear: $8.1B deficit 2020/2021. Next fiscal year 2021-2022: $9.7B deficit. Then a plan for a decrease in the deficit to $5.5B and then to $4.3B in 2023/2024. The debt to GDP ratio has grown but is still manageable given BC's economic forecast.
The Kelowna Chamber sees this as a “hold the line” budget at a time, when, in our opinion, a bolder vision to lead the nation in economic recovery is needed.
“We believe in being prudent,” said Dan Rogers, Executive Director of the Kelowna Chamber. “But, we also were hoping for a powerful vision and bold action that would set the tone for a strong economic recovery in BC."
The BC Chamber described it as a prudent budget and with limited new initiatives it certainly reflects the uncertainty of the current environment. While the vaccination program continues, efforts to curb transmission and return to normal – when businesses can re-open and remain open (the Chamber hopes to full strength - tourism, restaurants, pubs, wineries) pandemic response remains the government's top priority.
The Kelowna Chamber noted a number of Chamber ‘wins’ in the Budget including:
Unfortunately, there are also some missing pieces. “Transportation in particular,” said Rogers, “is a huge issue for our Chamber, and our businesses and residents in the Okanagan need a stronger commitment to improving this critical transportation corridor that is serving one of the fastest growing regions in the Province. While billions are being spent in the lower mainland, plans for highway improvements in the Okanagan remain on the shelf and now would have been a good time to invest in job-creating infrastructure projects."
Transportation constraints at certain parts of the valley means local businesses can’t grow; meanwhile costs associated with moving goods through and around the region go up. Fixing this is something the Kelowna Chamber will continue to champion, and we will be looking for local government leaders in the Valley to also show leadership in this area. The Kelowna Chamber would have also liked to have seen something that would have committed the Province to working across provincial borders to reduce inter-provincial trade barriers, something the federal budget committed to but apparently didn't get even a brief mention in the BC Budget document.
Other wins include funding for ongoing support of the temporary foreign worker program, a new $35M to add to last year’s funding, taking the TFW funding to $60M to help the Okanagan agriculture sector among others.
Another policy pillar for the Kelowna Chamber is the mental health and addictions/street environment and safety and certainty for businesses operating both downtown and across Kelowna. Importantly, there is new funding for alleviating mental health and addictions issues while continuing to address the homelessness crisis in the province. The Kelowna Chamber has been outspoken on these issues, asking for the provincial and federal governments to work together to assist urban municipalities in addressing this ongoing issue. $61M in new funding over three years will help expand mental health services. And youth will be better served through an expansion of the Foundry centres.
On a side note, the federal government's introduction of a foreign owner’s speculation tax does open the door for the province to step back from its speculation tax that unfortunately and unfairly targets both foreign owners as well as out of province Canadians.
This tax has been good for generating money for the government, but it has not moved the needle at all in stimulating more affordable housing. The Chamber certainly looks to the provincial government to either scrap the “Spec Tax” or at least remove fellow Canadians from the target list.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Kelowna Chamber of Commerce