B.C. Finance Minister Carole James and Premier John Horgan announce $5 billion emergency fund for COVID-19 unemployment and other relief, B.C. legislature, March 23, 2020. (B.C. government)

B.C. government prepares for COVID-19 economic recovery efforts

New measures after July consultation, Carole James says

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James expects to lay out the extent of the COVID-19 impact on the province’s economy this week, but how she will deploy a $1.5 billion relief fund will likely have to wait until August.

James is preparing to provide an update on the coronavirus pandemic’s effects on B.C. July 14. It will set out the progress of the province’s relief efforts for individuals and businesses, and include a range of financial forecasts about what the future holds for the B.C. economy.

But the $1.5 billion in borrowed money held in reserve for a recovery plan will not be finalized until after a six-week public consultation that runs until July 21, with analysis after that.

“Yes, we will have additional measures that will come later, after our consultation occurs,” James told reporters at the B.C. legislature July 13.

Many of the government’s measures are already in place, such as tax payment deferrals and reduced business school tax, plus the gradual lifting of pandemic restrictions on business and public activities. With the $1.5 billion recovery fund left from the $5 billion emergency appropriation voted by MLAs, the cost will be enormous.

“I’ve tabled legislation that says for the next three years we will not balance the budget. We will in fact have deficits,” James said. “But each and every year that’s going to have to be looked at. We’re going to have to see where the economic recovery is occurring. I’m afraid it’s a challenging time, and you’ll see that in some of the statistics tomorrow, when it comes to economic forecasters who have a wide range of what they anticipate could be coming, because of the uncertainty that’s there for, not British Columbia but in fact for Canada and the world.”

B.C. Liberal MLAs have called for faster action, and leader Andrew Wilkinson has sent a series of letters to Premier John Horgan with possible ways to use the relief money. Among those was declaring a sales tax holiday for struggling businesses, rather than just allowing them to defer sending in the sales tax they collect on transactions.

RELATED: B.C. legislature recalled for emergency summer session

RELATED: Online survey for B.C. pandemic fund open until July 21


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