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Pandemic hurting B.C. economy, deficit likely: finance minister

Last Updated Mar 17, 2020 at 6:59 pm PDT

FILE - Attorney General David Eby looks on as Finance Minister Carole James delivers the budget speech from the legislative assembly at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, February 20, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

Finance Minister Carole James says it's too early to predict numbers, but there's no question a deficit is likely

James says details will likely come in an economic update at a later date

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – B.C. will likely have a deficit for the 2019/2020 fiscal year, the province’s finance minister announced Tuesday.

Carole James says the focus remains on protecting the health and safety of all people, but there’s no doubt businesses are taking a hit.

“It’s no question it’s going to have a big impact. It is likely we will have a deficit. I think there’s no question about that. I think the specifics and the numbers, it’s just too early. It’s changing every day. I think that’ll be an economic update that I will need to bring forward,” James said. “I’ll be updating people as we go along, but it’s a little too early to get into the specifics.”

James said details will likely come in an economic update at a later date.

In February, James forecast a modest budget surplus of $203 million.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has changed that.

On Tuesday alone, Ontario, Alberta and B.C. declared a public health emergency. Ontario also announced it’s first coronavirus-related death. In B.C., three more COVID-19 related deaths occurred, bringing the province’s total to seven.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced a package of financial supports to help Canadians struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic could come as early as Wednesday.

B.C. Premier John Horgan said later he hopes any funding update from Ottawa on Wednesday will include detailed measures to help workers worried about losing wages. He also announced the suspension of all K-12 schools in the province until further notice.

Horgan said employment insurance programs in B.C. are now being extended, with support from opposition parties in the Legislature.

Meanwhile, the City of Vancouver followed the advice of B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and ordered all restaurants and bars to close on St. Patrick’s Day, to restrict gatherings of 50 people or more.

“Following Dr. Henry’s advice is the very best way we can protect province and our communities and our economy,” James said. “British Columbia has a strong economic foundation. But there is no question that COVID-19 will have global impacts and, of course, British Columbians will have impacts. Our economy in B.C. will be impacted. Our economy in B.C. will be impacted.”

James said the province will to work on an economic strategy to ensure supports and services are in place to protect the health and safety of British Columbians. The province is working with the federal government to bring in immediate relief for people and business, as well as working with the businesses community to build a plan to help B.C. recover