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B.C. businesses want feds to fight inflation in next week's budget

Businesses call for productivity commission, infrastructure spending and financial responsibility in upcoming budget.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland will unveil Budget 2024 on April 16.

In anticipation of the federal budget release next week, B.C. businesses are revealing their top priorities.

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade (GVBOT) and the Business Council of British Columbia (BCBC) are calling on Ottawa to tie its fiscal policy with monetary policy to reduce inflation.

David Williams, vice-president of policy for BCBC, said there is “no reason for the federal government to be running large deficits.”

“People are struggling to pay the bills because of inflation and when people are having to watch their pennies, it's only fair that the government should do the same. In October the Bank of Canada governor, Tiff Macklem, underscored that it's going to be easier to get inflation down if monetary policy and fiscal policy are rowing in the same direction,” he said, referencing a comment by Macklem that fiscal and monetary policies are “rowing in opposite directions.”

The feds will unveil the next budget on April 16, following numerous announcements from Ottawa on what Canadians can expect to be included in the government’s spending plan.

“Announcements to-date amount to $43 [billion] with major new spending in housing, pharmacare, military, and AI. About 60 per cent or $26 [billion] of this would likely hit the bottom line directly. Allow for a few more surprises on budget day for a reasonable final budgetary toll of about $31 [billion] over the horizon,” Rebekah Young, vice-president and head of inclusion and resilience economics for Scotiabank, said in an April 11 pre-budget review.

GVBOT vice-president David van Hemmen said in an email the federal government needs to “reduce red tape and the regulatory burden that stifles business growth.”

Williams agreed but said that this needs to be taken a step further with the establishment of a dedicated body to oversee the effort.

“We need a body within government, deputy ministers, to actually have responsibilities and key performance indicators that they need to meet around the regulatory system,” he said.

“It should have a structure, strategy, support from assistant deputy ministers, deliverables that make sense and it should be focusing on how we make our regulatory system thought of as an asset.”

BCBC is also calling for the establishment of a productivity commission to address what Williams described as “Canada's terrible productivity performance.”

Bank of Canada senior deputy governor Carolyn Rogers said in a March 26 speech that the level of productivity in Canada’s business sector is “more or less unchanged from where it was seven years ago.”

For Anita Huberman, president and CEO of the Surrey Board of Trade (SBOT), this goes hand in hand with creating a robust strategy for a manufacturing sector within Canada.

“Surrey has the greatest number of manufacturers within B.C.,” she said.  

“We as a nation need to have federal government support where we're creating our products here in Canada, where we're reducing the red tape, providing tax credits, whatever it may be, to ensure a much more robust manufacturing sector to increase our productivity in this nation. Right now, we're one of the lowest productivity rates in the G7.”

GVBOT and SBOT also see the upcoming budget as an opportunity to enhance trade and gateway competitiveness.

More specifically, Huberman would like to see investment in the Canada Trade Infrastructure Plan.

“As Canada’s gateway to the Pacific and other provinces, the Greater Vancouver region's role in international and interprovincial trade is vital. The GVBOT encourages the government to eliminate barriers to trade within Canada and invest in critical infrastructure to ensure the efficient movement of goods, services and people,” said van Hemmen.

Lastly, both boards of trade are calling on Ottawa to ensure that newcomers to Canada can meet the growing demand for skilled workers across multiple industries.

“Surrey has the highest number of newcomers and refugees in the province and we need to tie industry needs to curriculum development to upskill and reskill,” she said.

“We need partnerships between not-for-profit and private colleges that are much more nimble, and then ensuring accountability to place them in businesses where the need is most.”

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