Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC. (Submitted)

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC. (Submitted)

COLUMN: And now the bad news about B.C.’s economy

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC

In a Black Press Media column posted last month, I touched on a number of factors that continue to support economic growth in B.C., of which the most important is a steadily expanding population.

Now, I turn to developments that are dampening growth and casting something of a cloud over the province’s economic prospects in the next six to 12 months.

The first negative trend is sluggish consumer spending. Retail sales in B.C. were in negative territory through the first seven months of 2019. Adjusted for inflation and population growth, retail sales are even weaker.

Consumer spending is being weighed down by softer housing markets and the steep drop in auto sales. Record high levels of household debt are also causing some consumers to cut back on spending.

READ MORE: Canadians’ debt levels hit record highs at end of last year, CMHC says

Turning to housing and real estate indicators, residential home sales have fallen markedly in the last year or so. Recently, however, lower interest rates and earlier price declines have improved affordability, with home sales moving higher.

Some market watchers believe the housing down-cycle is over. But the Ministry of Finance estimates that residential sales in 2019 will hover near 46,000, down from almost 74,000 two years ago.

At the same time, housing starts, which have been fairly strong so far this year, are poised to slump, in line with reduced demand from non-resident buyers and decisions by many B.C. developers to pull back from planned projects.

The provincial government predicts that housing starts will drop by more than one-fifth in 2020.

Dwindling residential investment will detract from aggregate economic growth. It will also work against the policy objective of enhanced affordability, which – among other things – requires an increased supply of new housing units.

KEEP READING: Slow home sales cool B.C. government revenues this year

The deteriorating global economy is another major worry. Slower growth in major external markets, including the U.S., China and Germany, is already beginning to pinch B.C.’s exports.

Through July, the value of provincial exports was down by three per cent from 2018 levels. The forest industry has suffered the biggest blow, with wood product exports sagging by around 20 per cent. There is little chance of a meaningful export recovery in 2020.

The rolling economic crisis in the forest sector is another significant negative in B.C.’s economic picture. Mills are closing and jobs are being lost across the province. Forestry provides one-third of B.C.’s merchandise exports.

The number one issue in forestry is the diminished supply of timber, which is pushing up fibre costs for B.C. sawmills even as North American lumber prices remain low. Higher log costs have led to increased stumpage levies, at a time when the industry cannot absorb rising government-imposed charges.

Logging and lumber companies are also struggling with complex First Nations issues and growing environmental and regulatory costs.

The footprint of the forest sector is set to contract as the industry consolidates in the face of a reduced timber supply. Unfortunately, provincial policies and the lack of attention being given to the long-term commercial heath of B.C.’s leading export industry is making the transition harder and more painful than necessary.

ALSO READ: Truck convoy stalls downtown Vancouver traffic to protest forestry job losses

Finally, B.C.’s (and Canada’s) waning overall competitiveness is another economic headwind, one that is especially evident in the natural resource and infrastructure industries and in key segments of manufacturing.

Many companies in these sectors are postponing capital investments and/or investing elsewhere. Rising taxes on business are part of the explanation, along with complex and increasingly costly government regulatory regimes that are making Canada and B.C. less attractive places to deploy capital.

READ PART 1: A mix of good and bad news about B.C.’s economy

Add it all up, and the Business Council has decided to mark down our B.C. economic outlook for 2019-20.

We now expect growth of less than two per cent this year, rising slightly in 2020 as work accelerates on LNG Canada’s huge natural gas liquefaction plant and related marine terminal in Kitimat.

Job creation should continue, but at a noticeably slower pace than in the recent past. Government policy-makers and business decision-makers should get ready for a bumpy economic ride.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of British Columbia

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

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

Just Posted

Delta City Hall. (James Smith photo)
Harvie, Kruger to represent Delta on Metro Vancouver board

Delta reps to sit on 11 of 16 standing committees and task forces

Record-setting high jumper Emma de Boer, who lives in Cloverdale and attends Holy Cross Regional High School in Fleetwood, will train and study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) next fall. (submitted photo)
Surrey jumper on a high after recruitment by UPenn track team

High jumper Emma de Boer aims to leave Cloverdale for Philadelphia next fall

The White Birch proposal for a six-storey rental-only building at 1485 Fir St. was turned down by council on Monday night. (Contributed rendering)
White Birch developer feels ‘betrayed’ by City of White Rock council

Application for new rental building at 1485 Fir St. turned down by council

Surrey RCMP Gang Enforcement Team street check. (File photo)
Surrey RCMP gang enforcement team seizes five vehicles

This was over 13 days, as SGET continues to target gang activity in this city

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Modelling of predicted transmission growth from the B117 COVID-19 variant in British Columbia. (Simon Fraser University)
COVID-19 variant predicted to cause ‘unmanageable’ case spike in B.C: report

SFU researchers predict a doubling of COVID-19 cases every two weeks if the variant spreads

RCMP officers wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 stand by. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
RCMP appeal for witnesses after hit-and-run leaves girl, 17, in critical condition

The Metro Vancouver teenager was found unconscious and critically injured after being hit: police

The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
Canadians divided over Keystone pipeline, despite U.S. president’s permit pullback

Two-thirds of Canadians think Biden’s decision was a “bad thing” for Alberta

Most Read