‘Some light at the end of the tunnel’; B.C. Gov’t looks forward despite nearly 400,000 jobs lost amid COVID-19

'Some light at the end of the tunnel'; B.C. Gov't looks forward despite nearly 400,000 jobs lost amid COVID-19

BC Finance Minister Carole James revealed some staggering numbers on Friday surrounding the changes to BC’s unemployment rate during the COVID-19 crisis.

James said that over the course of March and April, since economic restrictions have been put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, 396,500 jobs were lost in the province.

“Let’s remember, those jobs are people, they are families, they are businesses, who have been impacted severely,” said James during a Friday morning press conference.

Before the pandemic, James said that BC’s unemployment rate was the best in the country, sitting at just 5 percent.

Now, nearly two months since economic and social restrictions were put in place, that rate has jumped up to 11.5 percent over the month of April. James said the April figures equate to “an unprecedented” 264,100 jobs lost.

Although James suggests that “every sector of the B.C economy has been hit,” she points to food services, wholesale and retail trade as suffering the most.

“In total, 47 percent of the job losses we saw in March and April combined were in these sectors,” claimed BC’s Finance Minister.

Despite the spike in unemployment, James looked forward with positivity.

“We are starting to see that there is some light at the end of the tunnel,” stated James.

She pointed to the province’s economic reopening plan that was unveiled earlier this week as a sign things might start moving in a new direction.

She also emphasized that British Columbians were taking advantage of the support being offered by both the provincial and federal governments.

According to James, more than 400,000 applications for the BC Emergency Benefit for Workers have been processed and approved in the past week. This financial aid program is a one time, tax-free payment of $1,000 from the BC Government for those impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Businesses across the province are getting ready for the gradual restart and James suggests that this means some residents could be back on the job soon.

“Recognizing our province’s strong economic fundamentals, we are working to build a robust rebound for B.C. and with everyone’s continued co-operation and confidence, we will get there,” said James.

In the economic restart plan outlined by Dr. Bonnie Henry, Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix on May 6, several sectors are slated to resume operations by the middle of May, barring no resurgence of the virus.

The impact of COVID-19 is not just being felt in BC, but across Canada as well. Earlier Friday, Statistics Canada revealed that two million jobs were lost in the country during the month of April.

Dr. Rob Gillezeau, an associate professor of economics at the University of Victoria, saidsaid the economy may take up to two years to recover.

“In terms of scale, this is Great Depression bad. You know, three million Canadians who are out of the labour force, who’ve lost work,” Gillezeau said.

And the unemployment numbers could be even higher. Thousands of employers are keeping staff on only because of the federal wage subsidy. It was scheduled to end in June, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the program is extended past June.

“The wage subsidy will continue to be there for you, to help you keep your employees on the payroll,” Trudeau said.

On a beautiful spring day in Victoria Friday, Kevin and Christabel Savage were dancing under the trees. It’s the only dancing they do these days after closing their dance studio, Red Hot Swing,  on March 13.

“We just decided not to take any chances. And before the province rolled in their health orders, we just shut down March 13th or so when we finalized that,” Savage said.

As business owners, they don’t qualify for the wage subsidy. Along with seven million Canadians, they are collecting the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit. But it runs out soon.

“After that, we’ll be burning through our savings for some number of months. Unless we manage to find some other employment because this business is not going to be opening anytime soon,” Savage said.


Graham CoxGraham Cox
Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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