Stikine BC NDP MLA and cabinet minister Doug Donaldson is optimistic measures being taken by the B.C. government in response to COVID-19 will not only get the province through the pandemic, but help the economy recovery afterward.
In a telephone interview from Two Mile, near Hazelton, where Donaldson is currently working from home, he said he was pleased to see the $5 billion COVID-19 Action Plan the Province announced March 23 is already paying off.
Specifically, he said, $1.7 billion earmarked to provide direct services to British Columbians, including COVID-19 testing, is working.
“I’m happy to hear Dr. Bonnie Henry [B.C. chief medical officer] saying that the backlog in the lab at B.C. CDC [Centre for Disease Control] has been cleared up.”
He said this is particularly good news for northern B.C.
“That’s a good aspect of this locally because our test results are already delayed somewhat by the travel time,” he said. Swabs from the north have to be shipped to Kelowna for processing.
The latest numbers from the CDC indicate 34,561 tests had been completed as of March 25 of which 725 were positive.
Donaldson said another $1.1 billion for individuals will provide direct financial relief to the area
“Smithers has a lot of service industry workers, so… the B.C. Emergency Benefit of $1,000 for people who can’t work due to COVID-19 or are taking care of somebody else who’s sick and has no access to paid leave or other income, that’s going to put $1,000 into people’s pockets directly and locally and I think that’s pretty important for the service industry,” he said.
Donaldson said B.C. is going stagger that benefit with the $2,000 Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which will be available in April. The province will roll out the B.C. benefit in May.
He also noted there will be a boost to the B.C. Climate Action tax credit available in July.
“We’re just trying to stagger with the federal government initiatives and make sure there’s money available each month to people,” he said.
Donaldson acknowledged the economic cost the province and country are facing is enormous.
“First and foremost is people’s health, but then after that we want to be focussing on an economic recovery strategy,” he said. “It’s pretty unprecedented the shrinking of the GDP (gross domestic product). We’re at levels we’ve never seen before.”
As Minister of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development, Donaldson said he has been reaching out to those sectors to ask what government can do to help with the recovery.
The COVID-19 Action Plan includes $2.2 billion for businesses.
“There’s a real issue with liquidity, small businesses not having enough cash flow to stay afloat So, in our provincial strategy there’s a number of deferrals of tax payments just so that businesses that have cash on hand can use that to keep their operations going and then there’s $1.5 billion out of that $2.2 billion for economic recovery. We’ll be pulling together a cross-sector team as a government and working on that.”
Donaldson is particularly concerned about the dimensional lumber sector.
“The price has bottomed out and the housing starts predicted won’t be there in the U.S. in the summertime, so we’re looking at what measures we can take on government side… just to try to help their industry get back on its feet,” he said.
Another purview of his ministry is tenures for various other activities on the land base such as ski resorts, adventure tourism businesses, guide-outfitters etc.
“The people I spoke in that industry are saying, ‘well, we’re always willing to pay, but can you consider deferring tenure payments that are due soon to a later date, just so we can get through this, get on our feet and get the cash flowing again’,” he said.
The province got some help on that front from the federal government today with the announcement of and up to 75 per cent wage subsidy for small businesses.
Donaldson acknowledged with all the deferrals and spending his constituents can expect to see some lean years ahead.
“We know that we will be heading into deficits as a result of decreased economic activity as well as the spending that’s needed to make people safe and healthy,” he said, adding he believes British Columbians are on board with the pandemic response.
“I don’t think there’s been any blowback from the business community to the spending and the measures being taken, or from taxpayers as far as making sure we deal with the pandemic, but you’re right, the largest single contributor to the provincial revenues is personal income tax, so that means we do need to get people working again and then we’ll be able to address the deficit situation, but the economic measures needed to get businesses back on their feet so people are working again is what the first step is.”