Business representatives have warned B.C. MLAs about skilled labour shortages, long waits for permits and overlapping regulations that slow resource development in the province.
The B.C. legislature’s finance committee has released its recommendations for the province’s 2020 budget, illustrating the many competing demands for government services and spending facing the province.
While industry and business groups outlined the struggle to maintain and expand forestry, mining and natural gas development in B.C., an online survey conducted with the annual province-wide pre-budget tour shows public expectations take a different direction.
Increasing corporate taxes and natural resource royalties were the top two suggestions for funding government programs in the online survey, which attracted just over 400 responses on the topic. Less popular choices were increasing personal and property taxes, and reducing or eliminating some existing programs to save money.
In contrast, the Association of Mineral Exploration B.C. argued that increasing tax credits for prospecting activities would cost the province up to $6.5 million in tax revenues, but that would be offset by income tax revenue from increased employment.
B.C.’s investment climate was also a concern for business organizations.
“The Business Council of B.C. and Teck Resources expressed concerns about the regulatory environment, and how it contributes to a more costly, complex and uncertain business environment,” MLAs wrote in the report to Finance Minister Carole James.
“On a similar note, the Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association suggested using tax advantages and trade-enabling infrastructure to create an environment that encourages that encourages business and industry growth.”
The Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce briefed the committee on the struggles of the B.C. forest industry, which has seen widespread mill closures, some permanent, as it adjusts to reduced log supply, increasing costs and continued border duties imposed by the U.S. government.
Liquefied natural gas development in northern B.C. offered a bright spot for the industrial economy. The North Matters, a Kitimat-based organization, told the committee that Kitimat is poised to double its population within the next year and a half as a workforce of up to 10,000 people migrates to build LNG Canada infrastructure.
The committee noted that labour shortages were mentioned in many submissions, with calls from the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce and others to increase investments in skills training and encourage immigration to boost an aging workforce.
The committee’s recommendations included adding more staff to natural resource ministries to improve permitting, compliance and oversight of industry.