By TODD STONE
MLA, Kamloops-South Thompson
IT’S NO SECRET that B.C.’s economy is reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The latest figures from Statistics Canada show 41,700 fewer British Columbians are working today compared to pre-pandemic levels in February, 2020. Women and youth continue to be disproportionately impacted, with 26,900 fewer women and 23,300 fewer young people working today compared to February, 2020.
While these numbers are certainly sobering and cause for action, what’s also alarming, if not as immediately obvious, is the extent to which the private sector has been hammered hard.
In fact, the most recent figures from Statistics Canada show the private sector is down a whopping 83,300 jobs today compared to February, 2020. This includes 27,900 people who are self-employed.
Compare that to the public sector which has seen an increase of 41,500 jobs since February, 2020. This is driven in part from the understandable need for increased social services and healthcare resources during the pandemic, as well as the fact that government has generally ramped up spending and avoided layoffs during this time.
But the contrast clearly shows that the economic impacts of COVID-19 have hit the private sector job market hard, while at the same time the number of public sector jobs has increased significantly.
If the NDP continues to pin its hopes for B.C.’s economic recovery on taxpayer-funded public sector jobs, with no focus on creating the framework for a strong private sector recovery, this will be unsustainable over the long run without raising taxes even more than the NDP already have, further hampering private sector recovery.
The B.C. Business Council recently noted that, “in time, it will be necessary for private sector hiring and self-employment to move to firmer footings in order to sustain the recovery process.”
In order for this to happen, the private sector needs meaningful short-term government assistance. Sadly, the NDP’s supports for businesses have been nothing short of a dismal failure.
Case in point, 11 months since funding was approved and five months since the program was announced, the NDP’s Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grant program has only managed to get $12 million into the hands of businesses — even though $300 million is available.
The program’s eligibility rules are incredibly restrictive, and there’s so much red tape involved that a lot of businesses have simply given up. The NDP’s incompetence on this is breathtaking.
Last week, instead of fixing the Business Recovery Grant, the government instead announced a new grant to help businesses pivot to e-commerce. As a former tech CEO, I understand the impact online tools can have on a business.
However, in my view this new grant won’t be of help to those businesses struggling to simply keep their lights on, and it comes one year too late with many businesses having already made the move last year.
Which brings me back to the Business Recovery Grant. With the application deadline of March 31 looming, it will be devastating for thousands of businesses if the NDP keeps tripping over its shoelaces and does not immediately fix this program.
The government needs to ensure every single penny of the $300 million in available funding that remains makes its way to those businesses that need it the most.
Once those short-term needs of businesses are addressed, the NDP must focus on B.C.’s longer-term economic recovery by implementing a sector-by-sector jobs plan that enables the private sector to build competitiveness and innovation, and that creates the conditions to attract much more investment to our province.
A long-term, sustainable economic recovery from this pandemic can only happen with a private sector jobs recovery leading the way.
Todd Stone is the MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson riding.