B.C. should extend its deferral of sales taxes collected by struggling businesses to the end of 2020, and cut the seven-per-cent tax rate in half as a first step to converting it to a value added tax.
That’s among the measures recommended by the Business Council of B.C. in their COVID-19 recovery plan. Another is to add new daycare capacity to give parents the ability to return to work and keep private sector employers going.
Business Council CEO Greg D’Avignon said reforming local government is a vital step in getting the private sector economy back to full speed. And the problem gets worse in big metropolitan areas with a patchwork of municipalities.
“It can take as long as six years to get building permits done, which is longer than the Second World War before you can even start building,” D’Avignon said in an interview with Black Press Media.
“Speeding up decision-making varies by municipality, but it’s been well-known that B.C. has one of the most laissez-faire approaches to municipal governance of anywhere in the country. It manifests itself particularly as centres become more urbanized, whether it’s in the Okanagan, on the Island and obviously the Lower Mainland from Chilliwack through to Pemberton.”
The report, called Stronger Tomorrow, Starting Today, makes 24 recommendations, with increasing child care options high among them.
“There is plenty of vacant retail and office space in cities and towns that can be repurposed to increase capacity for child care,” the Business Council says in the report, released July 29. “This could be coupled with a rapid re-skilling initiative led by the province and post-secondary education institutions to launch programs to train more child care providers who can support B.C. families and children in the COVID period and beyond.”
Premier John Horgan’s minority NDP government has made child care a priority for three years, and the opposition has repeatedly accused it of creating more announcements than actual spaces. The latest announcement on July 22 was that 16,800 new spaces have been funded in the past two years, with extra training spaces to deal with chronic staff shortages.
Keeping daycare facilities going during the pandemic has been helped by temporary emergency funding. MLA Katrina Chen, minister of state for child care, says the funding has reached 4,500 facilities around the province with 85 per cent of them operating.
Finance Minister Carole James has reserved a $1.5 billion financial recovery fund from the $5 billion borrowed in spring to provide pandemic relief. After a consultation period, deployment is expected in September.
The Business Council report calls for a broader value-added tax to replace the PST.
“We are not proposing a return to the federal-B.C. harmonized sales tax that voters narrowly rejected in the 2012 referendum,” the report states. Details would be up to government and the public, but the proposal is to broaden the sales tax base and lower the rate, with a low-income credit similar to the federal Goods and Services Tax.
Tax reform is part of the Business Council’s strategy for reviving private sector investment, in the traditional forest and resource industries as well as technology. The report renews the council’s call for reducing top personal income tax brackets, which have risen both federally and provincially to more than 50 per cent of income combined.
“The first thing we’re saying to the NDP is don’t raise those further,” said Jock Finlayson, the Business Council’s chief policy officer, adding that high personal taxes deter investors and entrepreneurs without raising much revenue for the government.
B.C.’s carbon tax is also targeted for reform, recommending it follow the federal carbon tax that allows protection for exporting industries.
“Today, B.C. natural resource companies, agricultural producers, manufacturers and transportation companies are paying hundreds of millions of dollars in carbon taxes every year, while competitors elsewhere do not face the same tax burden,” the report says. “B.C.’s current approach to carbon pricing is undermining the commercial viability of some of the province’s leading export industries and threatens to accelerate ‘carbon leakage’ as industrial production in the natural resource and manufacturing sectors migrates out of B.C. to jurisdictions with no or less burdensome carbon pricing schemes.”