Jock Finlayson, Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer of the Business Council of British Columbia (submitted)

FINLAYSON: The long economic tail of COVID-19

‘Fast forward to late 2020 and the situation has partially stabilized’

As excitement builds over the imminent arrival of one or more vaccines against the virus that causes COVID-19, it is worth reflecting on some of the longer-lasting economic consequences that are likely to follow from the 2020 pandemic.

For most people, it’s a safe bet that 2020 will rank as a year like no other. In B.C., we saw the sudden disappearance of more than 400,000 jobs from late February though mid-April.

Multiple tens of thousands of businesses were temporarily shuttered and hundreds of thousands of employees – and students — across the province were advised to work or study from home.

Travel and tourism came to a screeching halt. And in short order, governments arrived on the scene with giant checkbooks, deploying unheard of sums of money to support displaced workers, struggling businesses and many others whose lives were being affected by the fast-spreading virus.

Fast forward to late 2020 and the situation has partially stabilized. The dreaded “second wave” is fully upon us, but the economy hasn’t shut down and business conditions have improved across most sectors. Remarkably, employment has rebounded sharply since April, with the number of jobs in B.C. down “just” 37,000 (1.5 per cent) compared to February.

In some industries, including manufacturing, natural resources and professional, scientific and technical services, employment has actually risen above the levels reported before COVID-19 crashed onto our shores in early 2020.

At the same time, global trade has revived after a dramatic drop in the spring, providing some welcome support to B.C. exporters. Housing markets have turned red hot in most regions of the province, while retail sales have fully recovered from earlier, virus-related declines.

Equity markets are at record highs and interest rates and borrowing costs are hovering near record lows. The aggregate household savings rate in Canada has surged, in part due to massive government fiscal injections, but also because many households are spending less on travel, restaurants and some other services.

Overall, then, the state of the economy is considerably better than several months ago, even though the virus itself has not disappeared. But the economic ramifications of the pandemic will be with us for many months and probably years to come, even if vaccines succeed in eradicating COVID-19.

For one thing, some sectors are expected to face a notably slow recovery process. This is especially true of tourism and travel-related businesses, where it will take a long time to return to 2019 levels of activity. Some segments of the retail sector are likely to shrink as household spending increasingly shifts to on-line channels and many stores and shopping malls adjust to fundamental changes in technology and consumer preferences. The restaurant and foodservices industry – a big employer in B.C. — may be pinched by a greater propensity for in-home dining in the wake of the virus.

The public sector will also experience lasting effects. Most importantly, governments carrying much larger debt burdens will find they have less scope to contend with future economic downturns. They will also be under pressure to ratchet down discretionary expenditures and/or to hike taxes and fees in the medium term, in order to help service ballooning debts. Many educational institutions and health care providers will make more use of the digital tools and platforms that became indispensable in 2020. .

Finally, the spatial organization of many kinds of work – especially “white collar” jobs – is expected to move away from offices and other central locations, as large numbers of people and organizations have become comfortable with working from home. This trend is apt to persist. Three major Canadian banks recently announced that they plan to keep most of their staff working remotely well into next year.

Many large and mid-sized businesses are actively re-evaluating their need for (expensive) downtown office space in a world where a sizable fraction of their workforces can be productive while staying home much or all of the time.

Certainly, some of the mostly empty offices that dominate the downtown cores of Vancouver and Victoria will spring partly back to life once COVID-19 is gone. But less vibrant downtown business and office districts may end up being one of the most visible economic legacies of the global pandemic.

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

Just Posted

(Facebook)
New trial date set in Penticton for Thomas Kruger-Allen’s triple assault charges

May trial was delayed after Crown witnesses failed to show up

A for sale sign is shown in by new homes in Beckwith, Ont., just outside Ottawa, on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Thompson-Okanagan population grew despite COVID-19: report

The Chartered Professional Accountants of BC said there are 8,462 new residents in the region

Scales of Justice
Acquittal in Okanagan crash that killed vacationing dentist

Daerio Romeo, 29, was charged with dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm

Renderings of what the skating rink could look like beside City Hall between Martin and Main in downtown Penticton. (Activate Penticton image)
Penticton to get outdoor ice rink this winter

It’s hoped the rink will be ready to host 2022 BCHL’s 60th year celebration

Travel Penticton went to city council for support in increasing the tax on short-term stays to fund a convention bureau and affordable housing. (File photo)
Travel Penticton seeks to grow through increased hotel tax

The increased funds would go to creating a convention bureau and to affordable housing

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

Vernon-Monashee NDP MLA Harwinder Sandhu supported a motion in the B.C. legislature for Canada to create a national Indigenous History month Monday, June 13, 2021. (Contributed)
Canada needs a national Indigenous History Month, Vernon MLA agrees

Harwinder Sandhu supports motion to recognize June as month to advance reconciliation efforts with First Nations

Orange ribbons are tied to the fence outside Vernon’s Gateway Homeless Shelter on 33rd Street. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
POLL: Low-key Canada Day in the works for Vernon

Councillor calling for Indigenous recognition for 2022

A conceptual design of Vernon’s new Active Living Centre, which will go to referendum Oct. 15, 2022. (Rendering)
Active living centre 2022 referendum planned in Vernon

City hoping to get Coldstream and Areas B and C back on board

Closure of the 2900 block of 30th Avenue will allow restaurants and other businesses to extend their patios onto the street. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Green light given to downtown Vernon road closure

Single block of 30th Avenue to close over summer months to boost business

Graduating Grade 12 student Savannah Lamb has been awarded an approximate $40,000 scholarship from the Beedie Luminaries foundation. (Contributed)
Dedicated Salmon Arm student earns scholarship to pursue post-secondary education

Savannah Lamb is graduating from Salmon Arm Secondary with a $40,000 scholarship

A provided photo of the suspect. (Kelowna RCMP/Contributed)
Kelowna RCMP investigating after business robbed

An undisclosed amount of money and merchandise were taken from the business

(Black Press Media file)
Dirty money: Canadian currency the most germ-filled in the world, survey suggests

Canadian plastic currency was found to contain 209 bacterial cultures

Most Read