Finance Minister Carole James says B.C. economy hit hard by COVID

BC's worst ever downturn

UPDATE: 1:15 p.m.

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned the province's balanced budget into a forecast $12.5 billion deficit for the 2020-21 fiscal year. But that projection is filled with uncertainty.

During a fiscal update Tuesday, Finance Minister Carole James said based on forecasts for the rest of 2020, “this could be the worst downturn experienced in our province in recent history.”

B.C.'s economy, based on the province's real GDP, is forecast to decrease by 6.8 per cent in 2020, before rebounding by 3.1 per cent in 2021. During the economic downturn in 2009, B.C. saw real GDP decrease by 2.4 per cent, and in 1982, it declined by 6.4 per cent.

Since February of this year, 235,100 jobs have been lost, with young people being hit hardest. The youth unemployment rate now sits at 29 per cent.

Due to a whole host of reasons stemming from the pandemic, the province is expecting a $6.313 billion loss in revenue this year, coupled with an additional $6.262 billion in combined additional spending and tax relief measures. This leaves the province with a potential deficit of more than $12.5 billion for 2020.

James said the province will not be cutting services at this time, due to the many needs people in B.C. face as a result of the pandemic. She also said she doesn't anticipate an increase in taxes “at this point.”

As a result, the province's debt will increase. While Budget 2020 projected total taxpayer-supported debt, which excludes Crown corporation debt, to be at $49.2 billion come the end of 2021, debt is now forecast to hit $61.9 billion by then. James says the province is “very well positioned” to afford the increased interest that comes with this significant increase, due to current low interest rates.

James said there is much uncertainty in this forecast. It makes several assumptions about the public and business' confidence, public health initiatives, restrictions on international travel and the relative stability of COVID-19 numbers in B.C. A second wave of the virus could change the province's economic outlook substantially.

Due to the relatively tame wildfire season in the province, so far, the government anticipates spending $50 million of its $136 million budget to fight wildfires. But that number could increase if wildfire activity picks up in the later part of summer, as has been the case in year's past. In 2017, B.C.'s wildfire suppression costs hit a record-breaking $649 million, followed by $615 million in 2018.

UPDATE: 12:35 p.m.

British Columbia's balanced budget has been shattered by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the province forecasting a deficit of $12.5 billion for 2020-21.

Finance Minister Carole James says the numbers are staggering with a predicted GDP decline of 6.8 per cent, retail sales down 15.9 per cent and job losses of 235,000 since February.

James says the government has provided $6.26 billion in financial aid to businesses and individuals.

She says B.C.'s restart plan is showing signs of hope for the economy as consumer confidence increases.

James says it wouldn't help the economic recovery to pull back on spending, but the government will also review every cent spent as it heads into the next budget year.

The B.C. government has tabled legislation giving itself room for three years of deficits, which James says will be re-examined each year.

– The Canadian Press

ORIGINAL: 11:25 a.m.

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James provides an update on B.C.'s economy under COVID-19.

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