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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

North Delta crime beat, week of June 21

A selection of property crimes submitted weekly by the Delta Police Department

Proposed White Rock waterfront zoning questioned by residents

Group says approval will create a precedent of increased height on West Beach

Cloverdale students make puzzles for care home residents

Students from Cloverdale’s Sunrise Ridge delivered gifts to seniors and thank you notes to first responders

COLUMN: Timing just right for raising minimum wage

Raising minimum wage will protect human life and reduce poverty, writes Garber Black

Surrey RCMP ask for public’s help to find missing 18-year-old

Timothy Johnson was last seen in the 10000-block of 155th Street: police

A list of charge rates or Crown referrals from police oversight bodies across Canada

Here are the rates of charges or referrals to the Crown from their most recent annual reports or online data

Rescuers halt Coquihalla River search due to darkness, after reports of person in river

No information to indicate a child is involved, RCMP state, after this information surfaced on social media

Man who rammed gate near Trudeau residence with truck faces multiple charges

The man, who police have not yet officially identified, will be charged with multiple offences

All community COVID-19 outbreaks declared over in B.C.

Abbotsford manufacturer cleared by Dr. Bonnie Henry

Kelowna RCMP commander calls for more nurses during wellness checks after complaint

Southeast District Commander wants to increase Police and Crisis Team program

‘Tarantula moth’ spotted in broad daylight on Vancouver Island

Polyphemus moths are one of the largest insects in B.C.

B.C. First Nations vow to keep fighting after Trans Mountain pipeline appeal denied

Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Coldwater Indian Band made the application

‘Queue jumpers’ not welcome in B.C. as COVID-19 U.S. cases rise: Horgan

Premier Horgan said he’s heard concerns that Americans have stopped at Vancouver hotels instead of heading to their destination

Most Read