B.C. Finance Minister Carole James explains eligibility for the province’s one-time $1,000 worker relief payment in a TV broadcast from the B.C. legislature, May 1, 2020. (Hansard TV)

COVID-19: B.C. unemployment rate more than doubles in April

More than 400,000 applied for B.C. emergency benefit

The full force of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions has cost the B.C. economy almost 400,000 jobs since they came into effect in mid-March, Finance Minister Carole James says.

That’s the same number of people who have applied for a one-time emergency benefit of $1,000, James said May 8 after Statistics Canada’s monthly labour force survey came out.

“This is an incredible jump from before the pandemic, when our unemployment rate was just five per cent, leading the country,” James said.

The labour force survey’s B.C. numbers show nearly half of the job losses in retail, wholesale and food services. Officially, B.C.’s April unemployment rate is 11.5 per cent, but it does not include the number of people who stopped looking for work in April as businesses wound down or remained closed, with widespread layoffs.

James said the gradual reopening of businesses announced this week is “a light at the end of the tunnel” for the province, but things could still get worse before they begin to rebound. The B.C. government got approval for a $5 billion pandemic relief fund in a brief sitting of the B.C. legislature in March, and $1.5 billion of that is set aside to help revive the economy.

RELATED: Ottawa extends COVID-19 wage subsidy program

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B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson called on James and Premier John Horgan this week to provide a two-month tax holiday on provincial sales tax for businesses as they look for ways to reopen and rehire laid-off employees. James said the government’s policy of letting businesses defer those tax payments until October remains in effect, but she is considering that and other ideas as business activity is tracked into this summer.

Statistics Canada reported May 8 that B.C. lost 264,100 jobs in April, when COVID-19 restrictions on movement and business were in force for the first entire month. Nationally, the unemployment rate for April would have been 17.8 per cent if the agency’s labour force survey had counted the estimated 1.1 million people who stopped looking for work because the pandemic shutdowns limited job opportunities.


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