Premier David Eby’s first budget is getting a C- from a leading business organization in British Columbia, while another one calls it a “missed opportunity.”
Bridgitte Anderson, chief executive officer of the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, handed out that letter grade after seeing the 2-23-24 budget Finance Minister Katrine Conroy tabled Tuesday (Feb. 28).
Anderson said GVBOT had hoped for measures to offset the rising costs of doing business but found no relief.
“Unfortunately, the budget is essentially silent on an economic strategy to attract investment and increase our innovation capacity and competitive advantage,” Anderson said. “With a slowing economy and a growing population, we need a strong private sector and competitive investment conditions to increase prosperity across the province.”
Anderson praised the province’s Future Ready Plan, which sees the province invest $480 million over three years to help close labour gaps. If the province works closely with the business community, the plan will pay off, Anderson said.
She also praised additional money for health and mental health, public safety, sped-up permitting for housing and a strategy to help identify minerals critical for a green economy.
But Anderson found little to like beyond those measures and the Future Ready Plan. The budget included “scant” mention of small business, innovation, manufacturing, or business issues in general, she said.
“There are no substantive measures to reduce costs or generally improve business conditions.”
Fiona Famulak, president and chief executive officer of the BC Chamber of Commerce, said the budget missed an opportunity.
“The (budget) in our view is an affordability budget, meaning that it helps British Columbians to navigate the cost of living, which is obviously increasing, so it is important for that help to be available,” she said. “However, it does not offer much help to businesses, who are struggling with the cost of doing business in British Columbia.”
Two weeks ago, the chamber pushed government officials for “urgent and meaningful steps” to reduce the cost of doing business.
“We gave them example, encouraging them to increase the payroll threshold for the Employer Health Tax from $500,000 to $1.5 million, therefore providing small businesses..some financial bandwidth with which to invest in people, with which to invest in innovation,” she said. “That didn’t happen yesterday and we are disappointed that opportunity was missed.”
Famulak was not without some praise, however.
“There are some things that we are optimistic about, although we do need the details to really understand how they will impact business,” she said. These include the Future Ready Plan, money to help speed up the recognition of foreign credentials and permitting..
“We are also pleased to see that the government is addressing some societal issues — societal issues, which are also business issues, such as the lack of housing, the lack of mental health supports in communities, particularly rural communities, that are really in need, ” she said.
These “good moves” help business indirectly, she added.
“However, we still would have liked to have seen an increase in the EHT threshold in order to put money back into the pockets of small-to-medium businesses directly.”
Conroy said in a statement to Black Press Media that government knows small businesses continue to feel the effects of the pandemic and the added challenge of a predicted economic slowdown. “We’ve also heard from them that the biggest challenge facing businesses right now is finding skilled workers,” she said in pointing to the Future Ready Plan.
“I will be speaking with the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade members (March 2) about how Budget 2023 will be there to support Vancouver businesses,” she added. I know that everyone has their own unique interests, and I look forward to this opportunity to speak with them about their priorities.”
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