Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Thomson. Photo: Tyler Harper

Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Thomson. Photo: Tyler Harper

NEWS AND VIEWS: Budget 2023 focuses on affordability, but not on business

Tom Thomson writes about the latest provincial budget

by Tom Thomson

The B.C. budget may get a passing grade from some for its focus on affordability and social programs, but it missed an opportunity to send a strong signal to the business community that government understands the challenges they have faced for the past three years and is prepared to provide some relief.

The 2023 provincial budget that Finance Minister Katrine Conroy presented last week did little to address increasing costs facing B.C.’s businesses and the province’s competitiveness. Ultimately, those increasing costs have been or will continue to be get passed along to consumers, so no one benefits.

I’m not saying that there shouldn’t have a focus on affordability and reducing the cost of living for individuals, but more attention needs to be focused on support to businesses who are struggling with the cost of doing business, keeping people employed, and dealing with those same affordability issues.

In order to have healthy communities, we need to ensure we have healthy businesses. The provincial budget didn’t take meaningful steps towards addressing the concerns that the Nelson and District Chamber and the BC Chamber have raised.

Of particular concern to small- and medium-sized businesses is the increase to the carbon tax of $15 per tonne per year through 2030 with little to offset the costs they will incur. This is going to impact our supply chains and raise costs of producing goods in British Columbia.

Still, there were some encouraging signs in the budget. The BC Chamber of Commerce is optimistic the new Future Ready Plan will provide small- and medium-sized businesses with support to address critical labour force challenges. The budget does include about a half billion dollars for skills development over the next three years, but details of the plan have not yet been finalized. The Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce State of the Sectors Case Studies we did last year provided clear evidence of a growing labour problems stretching into several sectors.

The Chamber had been calling on government to introduce measures to address other business issues some of which were included:

• $77 million towards increased investments to address delays in permitting approval in the natural resource sectors.

• Increased supports to address significant societal issues that have a direct impact on business, including housing, homelessness, and mental health.

• $58 million directed towards speeding up foreign credential recognition for qualified professionals.

We needed the provincial government to take meaningful steps to reduce the costs on business so they can continue to operate and keep people employed.

Rising and new taxes, high fees and mandatory benefits are impacting the wellbeing of businesses across the province. Faced with the ongoing challenges caused by high interest rates, inflation, and supply chain challenges, B.C. businesses need help. It’s getting increasingly challenging for those small businesses that are at the centre of driving our local economies.

Unfortunately, the budget provides very little to get small business excited and certainly doesn’t stimulate entrepreneurship to the degree we were hoping for. The Nelson and District Chamber continues to work through the BC Chamber and with elected officials to make sure they understand the challenges businesses, especially those small and family owned businesses continue to face.

The pressures of increasing costs, leading to increased taxation will continue to mount this spring as the City of Nelson and Regional District of Central Kootenay unveil their budget and taxation needs. All indications are that RDCK taxes will be into double digits for business, while the city continues to grapple with rising costs that will inevitably be passed along.

Our region is primarily driven by the small business sector that is just coming off three years of struggles and regulations with the COVID-19 pandemic. Now increased costs of doing business couple with inflation leaves many in a precarious financial situation.

Tom Thomson is executive director of the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce.

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