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Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Feds push new agency

The federal economic development minister says business leaders in British Columbia want to work with a new development agency aiming to help them endure the COVID-19 pandemic and plan for the future.

Melanie Joly said she's heard from entrepreneurs and business owners across B.C. about the support for a home-based economic development agency, including during an online forum Friday with the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

Joly said the promised B.C.-based agency will provide targeted economic support and relief in the form of loans, subsidies and advice about federal programs.

"People want to be able to have access to levers to survive the economic crisis and the pandemic, but at the same time people want to talk about the future and want to be optimistic as the vaccinations roll out," she said in a phone interview.

Joly said she's heard in panel discussions with business leaders that they're concerned about the distance between Ottawa and B.C. as entrepreneurs argue for an agency that is closer to home.

"There's a feeling of disconnection towards the federal government," she said. "That has created sometimes frustration on the part of people in B.C. We need to increase our impact, our footprint. We need to make sure that people trust the fact that the federal government is there for them."

Joly, who is also the minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada, said B.C. entrepreneurs have told her the province's economy was growing before the COVID-19 pandemic and they need help now to get them through.

Last December's federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year, she said, adding the budget for the new B.C. agency has not been set and there's no date yet for an opening date.

"I always have a sense of urgency in life," Joly said after her meeting with the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade. "I'm a very impatient person, so the team and I are working extremely hard to make sure we can launch this new B.C. agency but we need to make sure we do things right."



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