Federal budget earns praise from Victoria business leaders

The first half of this week’s budget doubleheader won praise from Victoria’s business and political leaders Monday as the federal government extended measures aimed at helping people survive the worsening pandemic.

As the third wave of COVID-19 races through B.C., the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Victoria Business Association and Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps welcomed the decision to continue emergency wage and rent subsidies into the fall.

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“Our business community has been heavily hit, and I think everyone’s breathing a sigh of relief today to see unequivocally that those supports will continue into September,” said Helps, who also co-chairs the B.C. Urban Mayors’ Caucus. “That was really good news for small business and for our downtown.”

Jeff Bray, executive director of the DVBA, said the association will look for similar assistance when the provincial government delivers its budget today. The tourism sector, in particular, needs help, since its recovery could be delayed until next spring due to travel restrictions and other factors, he said.

“Even if other programs can rightfully run their course as we’re rebounding, those [tourism] businesses will not have any rebound until this time next year, at the earliest,” he said. “So sector-specific programming is something we’d be looking for for our members.”

Bruce Williams, the chamber’s chief executive officer, said the “game changer” in the federal budget was the promise of $30 billion over five years to create a national child-care program.

“I think that really empowers this and future generations of women to be able to continue engaging with their career of choice and know that their kids and families are going to be well taken care of,” Williams said.

“So we think that’s a really profound thing. We’ve been asking for that for a long time, and they’ve done a good job of addressing that.”

Iglika Ivanova, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in B.C., said the proposed child-care program could be a turning point for the country.

“It’s a very exciting day for child-care advocates and for Canadians, frankly, because this will help not just mothers and families, but it will help the economy,” she said. “It will transform the economy. It will lower the gender wage gap. It will get so many more women back into the workforce.”

Ivanova said she’s hoping to see the provincial government make similar investments in various programs today given the pandemic, low interest rates and ongoing uncertainty for workers and others.

“It’s great that now we’re taking this opportunity to invest in some of these programs that we really need,” she said. “So I expect the B.C. government to do the same thing. … Now is the time to fill those gaps.”

Jock Finlayson, senior policy advisor at the Business Council of B.C., said he has no quarrel with additional spending in the federal budget to help Canadians navigate the pandemic.

“I think that makes sense,” he said.

But he said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is taking a risk by taking on so much debt for some of its more “aspirational” commitments, such as the child-care program.

“They’re assuming a benign future where we don’t get into any shocks over the next five years, six years and the interest rates remain extremely low,” he said.

“Most business leaders were urging the government not to dedicate a bunch of additional money in so called stimulus because the expectation is the economy is going to recover on its own.”

Finlayson said he expects the provincial government will be more “prudent” in its budget today. “I don’t think the B.C. government has quite the stomach for large endless deficits as Mr. Trudeau and his colleagues.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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