B.C. Finance Minister Carole James speaks to economic impact of COVID-19 on the provincial budget, joined by Premier John Horgan and Education Minister Rob Fleming, B.C. legislature, March 17, 2020. (B.C. government)

132,000 B.C. jobs lost just the start of COVID-19 impact, finance minister says

Finance Minister Carole James says ‘this isn’t the entire picture’

The latest federal employment figures show 132,000 jobs lost in B.C. in March, but the actual impact of COVID-19 on the economy is much worse than that, Finance Minister Carole James says.

James commented April 9 on the increase to 7.2 per cent unemployment in B.C., which has led the country with the lowest unemployment of any province for the past two years. The results are from only the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, James said.

“And we know in fact this isn’t the entire picture,” James said. “Of note in the statistics that came out today, is that there are thousands of other British Columbians who are out of work, and would normally be seeking work right now, but they’re hampered in their efforts for various reasons related to the pandemic. Their sector has been shut down. Those people are in addition to the kinds of numbers you’re seeing today.”

James said B.C.’s job losses are similar to what is being seen across the country with COVID-19 restrictions. “We’re seeing a real drop in accommodation and food services, hotels, restaurants,” James said. “We’re seeing a drop in wholesale and retail trade, again no surprise, and a big drop as well in culture and recreation. That would include tourism, movie theatres, sporting events, arts and culture.”

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Restaurants Canada described the B.C. impact in a letter to Cariboo North MLA Coralee Oakes, the B.C. Liberal critic for small business. Their survey of B.C.’s 14,500 food services businesses found that four out of five have laid off employees since March 1, and seven out of 10 expect further layoffs if business conditions don’t improve.

“Nearly one out of 10 restaurants have already closed permanently and another 18 per cent will permanently close within a month if current conditions continue,” said Mark von Schellwitz, Restaurants Canada vice president for Western Canada.

Oakes endorsed the small business sector’s call for “immediate rent and commercial lease relief from the province.

“Most of the current support programs offered by government amount to tax deferrals that last until Sept. 30,” Oakes said.


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tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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