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

According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate in Greater Victoria stood at 6.3 per cent in May 2021, nearly unchanged from April’s rate of 6.2 per cent. (Black Press Media File)
Unemployment rate in Greater Victoria stagnates at 6.3 per cent in May

Latest figures reflect conditions before lifting of public health measures

Victoria police are looking for Delmer Esau who was last seen in Esquimalt June 1. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
MISSING: Search continues for man last seen in Esquimalt

Delmer Esau, 35, hasn’t been seen since June 1

Greater Victoria School District (SD61) Saturday announced a COVID-19 exposure at Oak Bay High School. (Black Press Media File).
Oak Bay High School subject of COVID-19 exposure

Greater Victoria School District (SD61) said possible exposure happened June 9-10

The District of Saanich has pinpointed funding requests to Oak Bay and Victoria to help offset the purchase price of the Kings Park greenspace and keep the property intact. (Courtesy District of Saanich)
Saanich requests funding help from neighbours to preserve Kings Road green space

District hopes Victoria and Oak Bay will join them in protecting urban green space

Thriving Toots Wilderness School is trying to buy a 98-acre plot of undeveloped land from the Boys and Girls’ Club of Greater Victoria in Metchosin. (Contributed/Thriving Roots)
Hopeful buyers of Boys and Girls’ Club land in Metchosin would keep it wild

Nature-based school, partners trying to secure financing to buy 98-acre property: school director

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Cruise ship passengers arrive at Juneau, Alaska in 2018. Cruise lines have begun booking passengers for trips from Seattle to Alaska as early as this July, bypassing B.C. ports that are not allowed to have visitors until March 2022 under a Canadian COVID-19 restrictions. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)
B.C. doesn’t depend on U.S. law to attract cruise ships, Horgan says

Provinces to get update next week on Canada’s border closure

This undated photo provided by Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails shows a scout donating cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. As the coronavirus pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many Girl Scout troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)
Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

Since majority of cookies are sold in-person, pandemic made the shortfall expected

In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Terror charges laid against London attack suspect

Crown says Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province's fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

Most Read