Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone questions the NDP government in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 25, 2020. (Hansard TV)

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone questions the NDP government in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 25, 2020. (Hansard TV)

Todd Stone: More action needed to save B.C. businesses

‘This pandemic recovery effort is about people’

By Todd Stone

Running a business isn’t easy at the best of times. It’s a monumental undertaking, and it may take many months or even years before your business feels stable.

Once you’ve surpassed the numerous challenges that threaten your initial viability and have found some measure of success, there’s always the ‘unknown’ to worry about. As a former business owner, I would often find myself lying awake at night wondering what tomorrow’s obstacles might look like.

Today, that challenge for B.C.’s business community is COVID-19. The latest data from Statistics Canada showed nearly 8,000 businesses are temporarily or permanently closed, and a fall survey by the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade noted only 40 per cent of all businesses expect to return to normal operations, relative to pre-pandemic levels.

John Horgan and his NDP government promised 10 months ago that relief was coming but the support has been slow, cumbersome and unhelpful. Many business owners feel like the government isn’t listening to their concerns or acting quickly enough to address them.

This is why our B.C. Liberal caucus held a virtual community townhall, bringing together a diverse group of business people. They aired their concerns and shared practical solutions that we, as B.C.’s Official Opposition, can help advocate for and hopefully bring to fruition.

We heard from people across the province including Anita Huberman, CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade, who spoke about the need for a comprehensive provincial tax review to lessen the impact businesses are seeing on their bottom line. This includes the Provincial Sales Tax and Employer Health Tax.

The latter, for example, essentially penalizes employers for creating jobs and raising employee wages. Employers have been forced to reduce hiring plans, pause plans to give raises, and increase prices for customers because of this damaging tax.

Meanwhile, some tourism operators shared concerns with the government’s Small and Medium Sized Business Recovery Grant program and the requirement for monthly financial reports – which simply aren’t produced by many seasonal tourism businesses. They question the ‘wisdom’ of hiring extra accountants to do that work in the middle of an already costly pandemic, when these businesses likely have no revenue to prove that they qualify for grants. It’s just more bureaucracy and red tape.

RELATED: B.C. eases rules for COVID-19 small business help

This pandemic recovery effort is about people. It’s about supporting the livelihoods of our successful entrepreneurs and protecting the numerous jobs they create, as well as the wages their workers bring home to their families and spend in our communities— helping to rebuild our struggling economy.

The latest jobs numbers from Statistics Canada showed 33,600 fewer British Columbians were working in December compared to pre-pandemic levels in February. After rebounding a bit in the summer, employment growth started to slow down in October when John Horgan called his unnecessary election.

When the premier stopped working, so did many British Columbians. I urge this government to listen to the business owners who are pleading for more support— and take more decisive action now so the situation doesn’t worsen.

Todd Stone is the MLA for Kamloops-South Thompson

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