Business council prescribes sensible medicine for economic recovery

Forget the V. The economic recovery will be a wwwwwwwww.

Brace for two or three years of up-and-down struggle, a 2023 that at last looks statistically like 2019 – but changed, really changed, and along that hilly ride will need to be a great roadmap.

Any recovery plan needs to be thorough, but not tortuous, and needs our governments to still relieve us, but not recapture from us what has been spent. This test – of spurring growth, not of signing cheques – will be the real litmus on any government.

Duh, this is not a provincial government steeped in business acumen. No cabinet minister has run a company of any significance. I hear regularly of ministers who are tutored still in the elements of an income statement and a balance sheet and still do not grasp the necessity of cash flow and investment capital to sustain and generate a going concern, even if they technically sit upon hundreds of millions, even billions in spending.

So, yes, help for them is needed, because by all appearances, help from them is not forthcoming. The province’s business advisory exercise is taking the summer off. See you in September, which today seems an eternity away.

The first formal ideas about our recovery avenues came Wednesday from the Business Council of British Columbia (BCBC), following months of consultations among the province’s leaders and organizations. As BCBC CEO Greg d’Avignon notes in quoting Mark Twain: there was not time to write a short report, so it wrote a long one, 31 pages, with two dozen proposals and plenty of sub-proposals among them.

Defined broadly, the plan is foremost a gap analysis that sends several messages to the political leadership: cut or freeze or defer many taxes, fix investment conditions so we don’t founder, revisit post-secondary education to adhere to the new normal, develop work-integrated learning and innovation precincts to keep one step ahead, sustain the momentum on the environment so we don’t appear rapacious, and get on with child care for the good of gender equality and societal prosperity.

There are those who believe business groups are all about the money. This report, if read with some objectivity, shatters that. In it are urgent calls for measures to build Indigenous prosperity, to raise the living standards of those in economic straits, to enhance the environmentally sound practices that already provide a provincial advantage, and to create a bit of a BC oasis in what might prove to be a surrounding desert.

The sharpest prescription is a halving of the 7% Provincial Sales Tax (PST) for two years, then replacing it with a Value-Added Tax (VAT) across a broader range of our consumption but at a lower percentage level. Lower-income households could be buttressed with income-tested tax credits, food could be exempt from tax, digital services could be added, but there would be a process that involved us to determine the made-in-BC outcome.

Thankfully this is not, repeat not, a reprise of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) headache that fell in a referendum and felled Gordon Campbell in politics. It would be disassociated with Ottawa, and presumably telegraphed in the coming election campaign. It would be invested in the province, and of course, it would be infested with politics.

Which brings us beyond the document to the immediate response.

Now, in 31 pages I did not detect a straight-from-central-casting attack on organized labour, on government inefficiency, or a determination to privatize. Yes, it believes municipalities could be more effective with permits. Sure, it wonders about the regime of carbon pricing and how it repels investment. And OK, it’s suggesting the higher-incomed could not be so targeted.

But this is not a plunge into class-warfare politics. It is rather tame as a business document, if by tradition those are usually rabid spasms to enhance existing power dynamics. This John Horgan government should be grateful, not grating, about the effort and tick the box on many of its calls. It is a genuine contribution to the discourse urgently needed to revive what has ailed us for months now.

Dr. Bonnie Henry is nonpareil as a public health leader. But our province needs economic health leaders now, too. We don’t have until the fall to await the way forward.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.