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Opinion: A prosperous economy will help B.C. improve collective outcomes

Premier David Eby and his government have an ambitious list of priorities.
The province will release its 2023-24 budget on Tuesday, Feb. 28

Premier David Eby and his government have an ambitious list of priorities. 

Health care, mental health, public safety and affordability are complex and significant challenges not unique to our province, but each directly impacts individuals and communities around British Columbia. 

To achieve progress on these challenges, bold action, meaningful collaboration and substantial public sector resources will be required.  

Key to addressing these challenges is a vibrant private sector-driven economy which provides the foundation for our individual and collective prosperity, and the financial resources necessary for the government to provide essential services that support vulnerable people and enhance our overall quality of life.

At this point in the new government’s mandate, there has been very little attention directed towards improving conditions that will help attract investment for a strong, thriving economy and increased prosperity for families in all regions of the province.  

In next week’s budget, the business community will be looking for an effective economic strategy. In a more costly world, large and small investors are choosing where – or even whether – to place capital, grow their businesses and create jobs. While global factors are impacting our local economy, there are several things government can do and signals they can send to support longer-term economic growth right here in B.C.

First, government revenues have benefited from inflation and strong commodity prices, leading to a significant surplus as the fiscal year ends. While this presents an opportunity to invest in key priorities, given near-term economic uncertainty, we caution against excessive baked-in spending that further stimulates inflationary pressures. Governments, taxpayers and individuals targeted through government programs would benefit from a renewed focus on outcomes.

Second, as an open, trade-dependent economy, we need to expand our exports of goods and services which play an outsized role in our shared prosperity as they generate revenue from external sources for our provincial economy. Rising business costs, the design of B.C.’s carbon pricing system and our increasingly complex regulatory processes are slowing down our ability to build the necessary infrastructure for the production and delivery of key export products to market.

Much of the necessary infrastructure to support exports comes from major capital projects, which are also a significant source of economic growth. In 2019, two-thirds of B.C.’s economic growth was derived from major capital projects, including Site C, TMX, LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink. As the construction phase of these projects winds down, we will need to ensure proposed major capital projects are advanced so that workers, communities and exporters can continue to benefit from these opportunities.

Third, we need to focus on improving productivity, innovation and capital investment – ultimately increasing overall GDP per capita and supporting real wage growth for individuals and families.  

Finally, we need a strategy to develop and retain the much-needed specialized and skilled talent that will help grow the economy of the future. This requires us to look at not only how we train people at all levels of their careers, but also our personal income tax structures, how we design our communities and services to support an attractive quality of life and how we enable access to technology around B.C. to support the new world of work.

Everything is interconnected. Sustainable economic growth enables the government to pay for its priorities and supports greater individual and community prosperity.

Whether it be a small restaurant in Golden, an independent food processing plant in Abbotsford, a burgeoning AI firm in Vancouver or a mining company in Smithers, all depend on a vibrant investment climate, reliable infrastructure, a thriving population and a government that enables growth across all sectors and regions of British Columbia.  

B.C.’s business community recognizes the importance of Premier Eby’s agenda to the health and future of our province. We hope his government’s budget reflects the role a prosperous economy plays in meeting our full potential.  

Bridgitte Anderson is president and CEO of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. Cheryl Maitland Muir is interim CEO of the Business Council of BC.