While thousands of businesses slowed or shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, resource industries have kept work boots on the ground in Western Canada.
Trans Mountain and Coastal Gaslink pipelines, the Site C hydro dam and lately the forest industry have carried on despite coronavirus setbacks and restrictions, and more steady resource industry work is needed to dig out of the huge deficit hole created by the pandemic, a national industry report recommends.
Resource and manufacturing industries have the potential to add as much as 17 per cent to Canada’s gross domestic product and $200 billion in labour earnings, according to economic modelling conducted for the Task Force for Real Jobs, Real Recovery, which released recommendations from a summer-long research project Aug. 19.
Sponsors of the Task Force for Real Jobs, Real Recovery include the Canadian, B.C., Alberta and Atlantic Chambers of Commerce, the Aboriginal Skilled Workers Association, Alberta Chamber of Resources, Alberta Forest Products Association, B.C. Construction Association, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada.
Advisors to the resource task force include Karen Ogen-Toews, elected councillor with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in northwest B.C. and CEO of the First Nations LNG Alliance; Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman; Joseph Quesnel, an Indigenous policy researcher; and Michel Trépanier, president of the Quebec Building Trades.
Among the task force’s recommendations is to amend the Indian Act, which blocks the use of reserve land as collateral for financing, and improve Indigenous consultation and participation in training and work.
“Before the pandemic, weak productivity growth, an aging population and trade impacts in early 2020 already put Canada on a path for economic growth under two per cent,” the report says. “Statistics Canada reported the Canadian economy shrank 11.6 per cent in April, the largest monthly drop on record.”
The report advocates climate strategies to reduce emissions from resource production and use, plus the development of hydrogen and small nuclear power sources. It calls for a nation-wide “forest bio-economy framework,” similar to efforts in B.C. to maximize timber use and use more renewable fuels.
After a run of surplus budgets that paid down debt, B.C.’s deficit ballooned to an estimated $12.5 billion in the finance ministry’s initial estimate of the pandemic impact. Finance Minister Carole James went to the legislature in July for an additional $1 billion in spending authority to match federal emergency funds to keep municipalities and transit systems running.
James changed B.C. budget legislation in June to authorize up to three years of budget deficits. The Economic Stabilization Act formalized moves already made by the province, including postponing commercial property tax payments, and business filing and paying provincial sales tax, carbon tax, motor fuel tax, tobacco tax and hotel tax until the end of September.
Those bills come due for businesses still trying to recover and rehire staff, as governments across Canada face unprecedented spending demands and a historic slump in tax and other revenues.