Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC. (Submitted)

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC. (Submitted)

COLUMN: Economic impact of COVID-19 will be enormous and difficult to estimate

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of BC

The economic impact of the COVID-19 virus will be both enormous and difficult to estimate. To begin with, the entire world is catapulting into recession as governments scramble to contain the pandemic and international trade and travel shrivel. For B.C., this means reduced foreign demand for the goods and services we sell abroad and lower prices for many of our exports.

At the same time, the government’s decision to shutter of much of the consumer-facing services economy – including most retail businesses — is unprecedented. International air travel has essentially halted, delivering a blow to B.C.’s tourism industry just weeks before business normally would be expected to surge. Global supply chains for manufactured and advanced technology products have also been disrupted, hurting many local companies.

READ MORE: COVID-19 has been impacting Canadian economy since January

Amid the chaos, the Business Council recently modelled how the COVID-19 crisis and the measures being taken to manage it may affect the province’s economy in the months ahead. In doing so, we looked back at B.C.’s experience during the 2009 recession to get some sense of how sharp drops in consumer spending, investment and exports could impact various industries.

Using a bottom-up, industry-by-industry analysis, our base case forecast is that the province’s economy will contract by around 7% in 2020. That is roughly two-and-a-half times greater than the economic decline recorded in 2009. Most of the fall-off in economic activity will be concentrated in the March to June period, but some negative consequences are likely to linger into the summer and fall.

In developing this estimate, we assumed that much of the private sector service economy will remain closed for at least eight weeks. When shuttered businesses re-open, some restrictions likely will continue to apply. Bars, restaurants and other retail outlets may have new social-distancing rules, for example. And international air travel won’t be returning to “normal” for many months, in part because health officials will want to minimize the risk that the virus could be re-introduced to the population by visitors from elsewhere.

Which B.C. industries will suffer most from the toxic combination of a world-wide recession and the aggressive domestic measures being taken to contain the coronavirus?

Hardest hit will be air transportation, accommodation, restaurants and pubs, entertainment and leisure venues, film and television production, and other parts of the retail sector that are no longer operating (such as department, clothing and book stores). B.C.’s important tourism sector stands to be hammered over the next few months. Plenty of pain will also be felt in home-building, real estate, manufacturing, and business and professional services.

The current situation is extraordinary, and governments across the country are acting to shore up the quickly unraveling economy. Most of these efforts involve supporting workers and families experiencing job and income losses. That makes sense. But the plight of businesses cannot be ignored. If tens of thousands of B.C. companies are rendered insolvent in the face of collapsing revenues, the hard reality is that many furloughed workers won’t have jobs to return to. In addition, widespread business failures may destroy some of the economy’s productive capacity, notably in critical export sectors– with lasting negative implications for our prosperity.

In the past month, the federal and B.C. governments have announced a flurry of initiatives to support business, including a temporary wage subsidy program, tax deferrals, a concessionary lending program for small businesses, and a one-year reduction in B.C.’s school property tax for commercial and industrial businesses. At the same time, the Bank of Canada and federal financial authorities are moving to ensure the ongoing flow of credit to the private sector.

These are all positive steps. But more will be needed if policy-makers want to prevent the disappearance of large numbers of enterprises and the jobs they sustain. Canada should be looking at the bold measures adopted in Germany, Australia and the U.K. to backstop their business sectors – including major exporters — during the COVID-19 episode. The goal should be to enable companies that were commercially viable before the onset of the crisis to “bridge” the next 2-3 months until the worst of the pandemic — hopefully — is behind us.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of British Columbia

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

B.C. Budget 2020

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kimberley case counts not at the point for 18 years and older community vaccination, says Interior Health. (File photo)
Many factors considered for smaller community-wide vaccination: Interior Health

East Kootenay resort town’s COVID-19 situation not at the point of community-wide vaccination, say officials

The BC Wildfire Service is urging caution amid forecasts of strong winds throughout the Kamloops Fire Centre. (BC Wildfire Service photo)
Strong winds forecasted for Kamloops Fire Centre, BC Wildfire service urges caution

“Wind can cause grass fires to spread very quickly,” says the BC Wildfire Service

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
54 more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty-two people in the region are in hospital with the virus, 11 of them in intensive care

The freed osprey keeps a wary eye on its rescuers after being deposited on its nest. (Photo credit: Greg Hiltz)
Hydro crew in Ashcroft gets osprey rescue call-out they won’t soon forget

Bird was tangled in baling wire hanging from a hydro pole, necessitating a tricky rescue

Hesco baskets were first used outside the Cache Creek fire hall in 2020 (pictured), and have once again been put in place as a pre-emptive measure to safeguard the hall against possible flooding. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
Cache Creek taking pre-emptive measures to prevent flooding

Sand and sandbags will soon be available for all residents who need them

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Nanaimo RCMP say a man was injured while pouring gunpowder on a backyard fire in Harewood on Wednesday, April 21. (File photo)
Nanaimo man hospitalized after pouring gunpowder onto backyard fire

RCMP investigating explosion in Harewood also came across a still for making alcohol on property

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. sees 1,006 COVID-19 cases Thursday, ‘alarming’ 502 in hospital

Vaccine bookings for people aged 60 and older set to start

Most Read