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OP/ED: Out of Business

The following by ICBA VP-Communications Jordan Bateman first appeared on The Orca on September 27, 2020.

I walked through Horseshoe Bay a few weeks ago and I was stunned at the number of empty storefronts. For an affluent community, they have lost a large number of small businesses in recent months.

I got the same feeling this summer when I walked through Vancouver and Metrotown and Penticton and Kelowna. I felt it when I saw the massive price drops for office space, and some small construction sites sitting idle. It was obvious when radio and TV stations struggled to air any ads, and newspapers quietly disappeared into oblivion.

Small business owners are reeling. Many of already closed their doors through no fault of their own. They may have had a perfect business plan, great location, outstanding service, and wonderful product, but COVID-19 and the NDP government’s lack of support swallowed them anyway.

Behind each of those closed storefronts is an entrepreneur whose dream and financial security have been shattered. Their families now live on the razor’s edge. Gone too are the thousands of jobs those businesses created – nearly a quarter million lost since COVID-19 hit BC.

In May, Business Council of BC economist Jock Finlayson – not a man given to panic or hyperbole – laid out this startling projection:

“Looking ahead, we suspect that a significant number of B.C. businesses that existed when [2020] began will be gone by the end of 2021. Some have disappeared already, unable to survive the economic closures in place from mid-March to May. Many more will soon discover that while they are now able to do business, they cannot operate profitably in the ‘new normal.’

“Add it all up, and it’s likely that at least 10% and perhaps as many as 15% of the 200,000 B.C. businesses with paid employees could be gone by late 2021.”

That’s 30,000 businesses snuffed out. Thirty thousand business owners left high and dry – again, through no, or very little, fault of their own. Restaurants, cafes, arts and culture businesses, tourism operations, resource companies and their supporting businesses, gone.

The supports from the federal and provincial governments have been spotty at best; huge funds remain unallocated as the bureaucracy involved in getting them is insurmountable. Some cities went above and beyond, such as Quesnel:

But even those successful communities are all about holding on to what they used to have – not about growth.

And now we are at the tax deferral cliff, the bad weather, and likely a second wave of COVID-19. The situation is grim.

Instead of focusing on this challenge, John Horgan rolled out a bland, scattered $1.5 billion aid plan and called an election. For small business owners, it should be a clarion call: he’s not up to the task of rebuilding an economy.

What about the BC Liberals and the Greens? We’ll see when they release their platforms in the coming days. But right now, Horgan has left them an incredibly low bar to get over.

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