BC details $1.5B in COVID economic recovery funding

Mixed bag of COVID funds

Premier John Horgan and Finance Minister Carole James announced Thursday how British Columbia plans to spend $1.5 billion of funding previously dedicated to economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The $1.5 billion for the Economic Recovery Plan isn't new money, but was put aside in early March as part of a $5 billion COVID-19 action plan introduced by the B.C. government to address immediate needs in the B.C. economy. 

Now, it has been revealed the money will be used for a range of projects — many of them repackaged from previous funding announcements — with a strong focus on improving health care, getting people back to work, aiding growth in businesses and supporting communities. 

About $300 million will be allocated to the creation of new healthcare jobs, including 600 new contact tracing positions, more than 2,000 new screening positions and thousands of other healthcare positions.

The plan will increase mental health support in workplaces and introduce a new Hospital at Home initiative, allowing patients to receive medical services in the comfort of their own home from a team of registered health professionals. 

"A resilient economy requires healthy people, healthy families and healthy communities," says James. "People need to feel safe to participate in their communities, and by putting the health of British Columbians at the foundation of our response, and our Economic Recovery Plan, we can focus on a safe restart for the economy."

A new 15 per cent refundable tax credit encouraging businesses to hire more people or increase salaries for existing staff has been introduced, as well as a temporary 100 per cent PST rebate on select machinery and equipment for businesses adapting to the new climate. 

The plan also includes $300 million for the Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grant, which will support recovery for small and medium-sized businesses and protect up to 200,000 jobs. 

Grant funding can be used to support recovery, whether to help pay for short-term fixed costs or support other costs related to business transition in a COVID-19 environment, such as marketing and advertising.

This will support about 15,000 of the hardest-hit businesses. Eligible businesses could receive up to $30,000 in grant funding, and tourism operators will be eligible for an additional $10,000 top up.

To be eligible for the one-time grant, revenues must have dropped by 70 per cent, and remain below 50 per cent of pre-COVID levels. Businesses must also be able to show they have operated for at least three years prior to COVID-19, have between two and 149 employees, and can demonstrate a "viable path" forward. 

A new Tourism Task Force will have an investment of $50 million under the Economic Recovery Plan to develop recommendations on how B.C. tourism can be better positioned for the 2021 tourism season. 

About $100 million has been allocated to the COVID-19 Community Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program, which will support "shovel ready" projects across B.C. and create job opportunities, and $46 million to accelerating the development of affordable child-care spaces so parents can get back to work sooner. 

However, the $1.5 billion COVID-19 recovery plan also includes some projects that appear to be unrelated to the pandemic itself, such as shoreline clean-up, invasive species detection and regional port enhancement. 

The plan allocates $3 million for mass timber demonstration projects, just under $26 million for the construction of the Anacla/Bamfield Road on Vancouver Island, and nearly $2 million for new BC Parks positions. 

The measures announced in today's plan are in addition to provincial and federal investments in transit, local municipalities, education and other sectors of society. 

"There was no government that had a playbook for how to deal with a global pandemic, and when you're building a plan for people, you have to talk to them," says Horgan. 

"This plan is built on extensive consultation with individuals, groups and communities. The pandemic continues to challenge us in unprecedented ways but fundamental priorities remain the same. We need to protect people's health, we need to keep the economy open safely, and we need to support communities." 

More details on funding initiatives to support COVID-19 recovery in B.C. are expected to be released in the next few days, James confirmed. 

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