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Business task force assembles
Okanagan Edge Staff - Apr 02, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed

The provincial government has created an Economic Recovery Task Force in an attempt to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The task force will consist of leaders from business, labour, First Nations and non-profits.

“COVID-19 is not only a public-health challenge, but also an economic one,” Premier John Horgan said in a press release. “People and businesses urgently need support. We will be there to protect people’s health and give immediate relief during the crisis.

“This task force will help us keep in close contact with community leaders to ensure the steps we are taking now are working and to plan for a long-term economic recovery after the crisis has passed.”

The task force will get together once a week on a conference call, and it will ensure the benefits of provincial programs are reaching their intended targets and complementing federal programs.

At the same time, the task force members will discuss the province’s long-term economic recovery.

• Premier John Horgan
• Carole James, Minister of Finance
• Michelle Mungall, Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Competitiveness
• Don Wright, deputy minister to the Premier, head of the public service
• Christine Kennedy, associate deputy minister, Office of the Premier
• Lori Wanamaker, deputy minister, Ministry of Finance
• Fazil Mihlar, deputy minister, Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Competitiveness
• Trevor Hughes, deputy minister, Ministry of Labour
• Greg D’Avignon, president and CEO, Business Council of BC
• Val Litwin, president and CEO, BC Chamber of Commerce
• Bridgitte Anderson, CEO, Vancouver Board of Trade
• Anita Huberman, CEO, Surrey Board of Trade
• Laird Cronk, president, BC Federation of Labour
• Chief Sharleen Gale, chair, First Nations Major Project Coalition
• Rick FitzZaland, CEO, Federation of Community Social Services
• Queenie Choo, CEO, S.U.C.C.E.S.S.
• Prem Gill, CEO, Creative BC

Money worries hit new heights
Okanagan Edge Staff - Apr 01, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

The evidence keeps pouring in; British Columbians have never been more concerned about their finances than they are right now.

The latest MNP Consumer Debt Index shows more people (43%) are concerned about their current debt levels, which is a 9% jump from the company’s survey in December.

“Our results underscore how vulnerable Canadian households are to income interruption,” MNP president Grant Bazian said in a press release. “Over the next few months we’ll likely see an unfolding of two crises: the global pandemic and the bursting of the Canadian consumer debt bubble.”

Four in 10 British Columbians are teetering on the brink of insolvency, which means they are $200 or less away from not being able to pay all their bills each month. This includes nearly one in five (18%) who say they are already unable to meet all their debt obligations every month.

Nearly three in 10 B.C. residents (28%) say they are worried either themselves or someone in their household could lose their job, an increase of six points since December.

Meanwhile, exactly 25% say they are not confident in their ability to cope financially with the loss of employment, change in wages or seasonal work without going further into debt.

“When it comes to personal finances, those who were already deeply indebted and have now suddenly lost their jobs need to go through the right channels for support,” MNP licensed insolvency trustee Lana Gilbertson said. “One of the worst things for households to do right now is panic and run up credit cards or take out payday loans.

“Those who are in danger of missing any payments should communicate with their creditors right away and seek debt advice from a licensed professional.”

Time to check business pulse
Okanagan Edge Staff - Mar 31, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed

The Kelowna Chamber of Commerce is asking the business community to check in once again.

The local and provincial chambers will be doing “pulse checks” every two weeks through its BCMindreader program. It’s a seven-minute survey for businesses to let the chambers know how they’re faring during the pandemic.

The first check was done two weeks ago, and the deadline for the second one is tomorrow.

“This info is vital in ongoing recommendations we will make to government and, perhaps more importantly, help track the efficacy of government programs and initiatives as they roll out,” Kelowna chamber executive director Dan Rogers said in a press release.

“This is your best opportunity to be heard on an ongoing basis and get the support you need in the days, weeks and months ahead.”

The BCMindreader survey can be completed here.

Business recovery call on tap
Okanagan Edge Staff - Mar 30, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: Evan Wise, Unsplash

There will be another opportunity for businesses to come together and share ideas about how to get through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The BC Economic Development Association will restart its weekly teleconferences this Thursday and continue them weekly. The weekly calls, which will take place between 2 and 3 p.m. on Thursdays, are being hosted by the BCEDA through the Economic Disaster Recovery Program.

Participants will be able to share challenges, hear what BCEDA and others are doing, and to have an open question-and-answer session about economic issues associated with the pandemic. The BCEDA will share relevant information, facilitate dialog, explore collaboration opportunities and tactics for recovery.

The calls are open to every local, regional and Indigenous government in B.C. as well as chambers of commerce, Community Futures and others involved in supporting the local economy.

More information can be found here.

Telus offers some relief
Okanagan Edge Staff - Mar 27, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed

Telus will be giving a break to its low-income customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Vancouver-based company will be automatically waiving the fees for its Internet for Good program for the next two months.

The Internet for Good program is provided to more than 200,000 families who receive the maximum Canada Child Benefit. The program provides monthly internet service for $9.95 per month as well as access to a low-cost computer and free digital literacy training.

“Reflecting Telus’ longstanding commitment to leveraging our technology, in combination with our culture of giving, to bridge social and economic digital divides, our team is working diligently—with their hearts and their hands—to keep our communities and customers connected throughout this unprecedented time in history,” Telus president and CEO Darren Entwistle said in a press release.

“By increasing our support for low-income Canadians through our Internet for Good program, we are helping families prioritize their well-being during this pandemic.”

Boost for BC business
The Canadian Press - Mar 23, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: The Canadian Press

VICTORIA — British Columbia will spend $5 billion to help individuals, businesses and services endure the economic stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier John Horgan said Monday.

“There has to be hope as we get through these challenging times,” he told a news conference at the legislature. “I firmly believe by working together all of us will get through this.”

The government’s plan will see $2.8 billion spent on people and services, and $2.2 billion on businesses and economic recovery after the pandemic.

A dozen members of the B.C. legislature, which has 87 members, from the minority government New Democrats, the Opposition Liberals and the Green party met Monday to pass two pieces of legislation. The legislative measures allow the government to change employment standards to ensure nobody loses their job due to COVID-19 and gives the province the authority to spend the money in its plan.

B.C. reported three additional deaths related to COVID-19 and 48 new cases of the respiratory virus on Monday. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said 472 people in B.C. have tested positive for COVID-19.

The three deaths brings the total number of fatalities related to the new coronavirus to 13.

“We are very saddened, of course, by the passing of these people,” Henry said in announcing the latest deaths.

Horgan said the government’s economic plan includes direct payments of $1,000 to people who are eligible to receive Employment Insurance, and businesses can expect to defer payments of the carbon and employer health taxes.

The carbon tax, scheduled to increase to $45 per tonne from $40 per tonne, will not go ahead on April 1, he said. Motorists in B.C. currently pay 8.89 cents per litre in carbon tax.

Horgan said B.C.’s approach builds on the $82 billion plan announced last week by the federal government. He said the B.C. plan supports people worried about paying bills and staying afloat.

There will be targeted tax relief and support for renters to make sure no one is evicted because of the novel coronavirus, the premier said.

“People need help now. Businesses need help now,” said Horgan. “In extraordinary times, extraordinary measures are required.”

Finance Minister Carole James said the plan is a starting point and will “evolve as the situation evolves.”

She said $1.7 billion will be devoted to fund critical services, including health care, housing and helping families and people with disabilities. James said $1.1 billion will boost the income of people affected by COVID-19.

She said student loan payments will be paused until Sept. 30 and businesses can delay filing taxes until the end of September.

“The plan is a first step but a critical step,” James said. “The pandemic will present extraordinary hurdles for all of us.”

B.C.’s 2020-21 budget, which was forecast to end in a surplus when it was presented last month, will be hit hard by the pandemic, she added.

“There is no question we are impacted as every jurisdiction across the world is impacted,” James said.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said B.C.’s recent move to cancel elective and scheduled surgeries has increased the number of beds available at B.C. hospitals in anticipation of “things about to come.”

He said hospital bed capacity in B.C. regularly measures just above 100 per cent, but in the past week the capacity dropped to 68.6 per cent, with 3,632 available beds.

“We are preparing for the circumstances that are before us,” Dix said. “We are preparing for the weeks that are to come.”

Henry said of the three deaths announced Monday, two were connected to long-term care facilities in Metro Vancouver at the Lynn Valley Care Centre and Haro Park, with the third person being a resident in the Fraser Health region.

She said 100 people with the novel coronavirus in B.C. are now considered recovered and can be released from isolation.

“That is a really good thing to be able to put that on our books, finally,” Henry told a news conference.

Henry said she senses people in B.C. have grasped the necessity of following her recent orders to stay home if sick, self-isolate for 14 days if they recently travelled outside the country and to practise physical distancing from others when outside.

She said she never imagined in her 30 years in public health that she would close schools and order people to keep their distance from each other.

“We’re seeing people come to that recognition and there’s been a transition over this past week,” she said. “Just reflect on the monumental changes that we have asked society to do.”

No more open houses
Okanagan Edge Staff - Mar 20, 2020 - BC Biz

Photo: Contributed

The British Columbia Real Estate Association wants the door to close on open houses as society battles the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As British Columbians face this unprecedented health risk, it is vital that everyone does their part to help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” BCREA chief executive officer Darlene Hyde said in a press release. “While only the provincial government or the real estate regulator has the ability to mandate an end to open houses, we urge Realtors to encourage clients to take advantage of digital tools like virtual tours when buying or selling a home.”

The BCREA is working with its 11 real estate boards to adapt to the new way of doing business in the world of isolation and quarantine.

“We are seeing the curtailment of face-to-face commerce across all sectors, and real estate is no exception,” Hyde said. “The sooner we act to slow the spread of this virus, the sooner we can help our communities and economy recover.

“In the meantime, we continue to rely on our government for guidance and support in meeting the COVID-19 challenge, including ensuring Realtors can also access emergency relief funding in the weeks and months to come.”

Businesses sound alarm
Okanagan Edge Staff - Mar 19, 2020 - BC Biz

FIle photo: The Canadian Press

Nearly 8,000 B.C. businesses have let their concerns about COVID-19 be heard, and the news is as grim as one might expect.

The BC Chamber of Commerce conducted a survey of provincial businesses at BCMindReader.com over the last five days, and a quarter of the respondents said they will have to lay off their entire staff.

In addition, nearly 75% of those who answered the survey expect their revenues during the pandemic will drop by 50% or more, with nearly a quarter saying their revenues will dry up entirely, likely because they have had to close.

“I am the only full-time employee, and I may need to close my business, potentially go bankrupt and lose $100,000 investment,” one respondent wrote. “I’ve paid into EI my entire life, except for the last year since starting my business. What services are available to me during this incredibly challenging time?”

Added another: “I need cash in hand and decreased bills soon. Help me and my business, so I can help my staff by keeping them employed.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s stimulus package, which he revealed on Wednesday, covered some of the business community’s concerns. That includes providing eligible small businesses a 10% wage subsidy for the next 90 days up to a maximum of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per employer, and access to cash via loans from banks and other financial institutions, including the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada.

“Public health must be the primary concern during the early days of the pandemic,” BC Chamber of Commerce CEO Val Litwin said. “We commend the federal and provincial governments for prioritizing the health and safety of its citizens above all else.

“We have also been reassured that government is strategically and thoughtfully looking at ways to mitigate impacts to businesses of all sizes and are working tirelessly to soften the economic impacts to British Columbians. Businesses in BC are saying that a combination of tax cuts, flexibility around tax remittances and enhanced credit access will help them weather this unprecedented storm in the short term.”

The BC chamber is also pleased that the tax filing deadline has been extended to June 1 and that the tax payment period, for amounts due after today and before September, has been delayed until after Aug. 31.

The BC chamber has used the survey results to ask governments to introduce the following:

1. Flexibility for tax remittance
• extend the April 30 tax deadline for those who owe to take pressure off the system and provide relief;
• provide a six- to 12-month holiday on paying the employers’ health tax to put $950 million to $1.9 billion back in the hands of business so they can stay open and keep workers employed;
• remove the PST for six months on every transaction or, at the very least, for select purchases.

2. Delayed property tax payment
• work with municipalities to allow business to defer property tax payments to free up revenue.

3. Encourage financial institutions to provide zero interest loans, lines of credit and deferred payment terms
• work with banks, credit unions and other lenders such as Community Futures to offer zero interest business loans—with deferred payment terms—backed by government.

4. Enhanced EI access and wage replacement options

5. Provide funding for business to work remotely
• create a provincial fund to help businesses operate remotely and in turn, avoid staffing reductions or layoffs. This is also a future-oriented opportunity; as we recover from COVID-19, some will continue working remotely, which will reduce congestion and help with greenhouse gas reduction targets going forward.

LNG Canada cuts staff
The Canadian Press - Mar 18, 2020 - BC Biz

Image: Contributed

COVID-19 is having an effect on the multi-billion dollar LNG Canada project in northwestern B.C.

In a post on its website, LNG Canada says out of concern for its workers, staff will be cut by 50% at its Kitimat construction site over the next several days.

It says most of the cuts are being made by reducing the number of workers flying in on rotation but, if necessary, staff could be cut to levels required only to maintain site security and environmental controls.

LNG Canada is a consortium of five global energy companies, including PetroChina and South Korea’s KOGAS, building a $40-billion liquefied natural gas production and export facility.

Teck tackling carbon emissions
The Canadian Press - Mar 12, 2020 - BC Biz

File photo: The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — Teck Resources Ltd. is doubling down on its greenhouse gas emissions targets, announcing it will aim to reduce carbon intensity in its operations by 33% over the next 10 years.

The Vancouver-based mining firm says the goal is in addition to its commitment made in early February to be carbon neutral across all its operations and activities by 2050.

The news comes a few weeks after it shelved its $20.6-billion Frontier oilsands mining project, citing tensions in Canada over Indigenous rights, climate change and resource development.

Teck is offering specific environmental promises, including procuring half of the electricity demands of its operations in Chile from clean energy by 2020 and 100% by 2030.

It says it will accelerate the adoption of zero-emissions alternatives for transportation by displacing the equivalent of 1,000 internal combustion engine vehicles by 2025.

It also vows to transition to seawater or low-quality water sources for operations in water-scarce regions, work towards having zero industrial waste by 2040 and hire more women and Indigenous people.

“We have set ambitious new goals for carbon reduction, water stewardship, health and safety, and other areas because we believe that a better world is made possible through better mining,” CEO Don Lindsay said in a statement.

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