Finance Minister Carole James presents her latest budget on Feb. 18, 2020, projecting a surplus of $203 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. budget heads into unknown deficit range preparing for COVID-19

Surpluses washed away by $5 billion spending, plummeting revenue

The B.C. government has effectively scrapped its 2020 budget and plunged into multi-billion-dollar deficits to deal with ramped-up health care and other spending from the COVID-19 pandemic, while tax revenue falls off just as quickly.

A brief emergency session of the B.C. legislature has provided more than $50 billion in spending authority to the NDP government, whose authority was due to run out March 31. It is now extended to the fall, including a $5 billion contingency fund to cover cash payments to individuals, tax relief for businesses and an expected surge in health care and social services costs as thousands of people lose their jobs and many fall ill with the novel coronavirus.

The $5 billion fund includes deferred provincial sales tax, employer health tax and other payments due from businesses, as many have cut back or closed entirely due to COVID-19 infection controls.

With the projected $203 million surplus and string of balanced budgets already a distant memory, one of the first opposition questions for Finance Minister Carole James was, will $5 billion be enough?

“I think it is sufficient for now,” James replied, adding that it is just a first step as economic impact is still unfolding. “So I cannot commit to whether this would be sufficient for the next three months, the next six months, the next two months, depending on what kind of situation we’re facing.”

James and Premier John Horgan have been holding back details and applications as the federal government assistance evolves. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a revised “emergency response benefit” March 25 that he says will provide $2,000 per month for up to four months, with applications available April 6.

The new federal benefit is a temporary bridge to Employment Insurance for the more than one million people who have applied for EI in recent weeks due to COVID-19 effects on business, child care and medical isolation rules.

B.C.’s promised $1,000-per-month package is similar, but James says it won’t be available until early May.

RELATED: $1,000 B.C. payment for affected workers out by May

RELATED: Trudeau announces $2,000-a-month bridge to EI

James stressed that B.C.’s “tax-free emergency payment” will not be income-tested, and will be available to people who are eligible for EI under Ottawa’s expanded eligibility rules for the emergency.

B.C. Liberal MLA Jas Johal urged help for businesses to keep people on their payrolls, citing British, Danish and New Zealand programs that backstop most or all of their salary demands. Johal noted that the Canadian Federation of Independent Business has advised: “A wage-subsidy program is our best protection against large-scale unemployment.”

B.C. Green MLA Adam Olsen questioned James about the large portion of the government package that defers business taxes.

“I think the tax deferrals help much larger businesses more than they assist small business,” Olsen said.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislatureCoronavirus

Just Posted

Venting in the newspaper helps restore Nanaimo woman’s pet memorial

Nora Crosby has painted rock returned, receives support from Nanaimo Rocks Facebook group

EDITORIAL: Island’s ongoing loud thank yous well deserved

Stay at home, stay the course so we can beat coronavirus

Immunocompromised people looking for more online grocery options

One woman has decided to build a greenhouse to ensure she is able to access food throughout pandemic

Education, not enforcement: B.C. bylaw officers keeping a watch on physical distancing

A kind word, it turns out, has usually been all people need to hear

Emergency aid portal opens Monday, cash could be in bank accounts by end of week: Trudeau

Emergency benefit will provide $2,000 a month for those who have lost their income due to COVID-19

Bag containing meat, sewing needles found by dog owner in Cordova Bay

Saanich police don’t believe it’s a trend

COVID-19: Saanich police respond to calls about skatepark gathering, group volleyball game

‘Some people are still not taking this seriously,’ officer says

QUIZ: How much do you know about hockey?

Take this test and find out how well you know Canada’s most popular winter sport

Researchers look at humidity as a weapon in the fight against airborne viruses

Regular hand washing, physical distancing and PPE for health care workers remains best line of defense

No more ferries will sail from Departure Bay during COVID-19 pandemic

B.C. Ferries announces major changes to sailing schedules starting Saturday, April 4

Two inmates found positive for COVID-19 at federal prison in B.C.; other tests pending

15 staff self-isolating waiting results, refusal to work notice sent, says correctional officer

Critic, workers’ group ‘disappointed’ Trudeau chose Amazon to distribute PPE

Amazon Canada said in an email to The Canadian Press that it is working with Canada Post, Purolator

Most Read