B.C. in general and the north in particular is on the verge of an economic boom because it has natural resources wanted by the Asian market, says the head of a business lobby group.
In the area on a tour in early March, Greg D’Avignon of the Business Council of British Columbia says the real challenge is for the province to realize what it has to offer and to best use what it has to its advantage.
“Our analysis is that by 2020 half of the world’s gross national product will come out of Asia,” said D’Avignon. “There’s going to be a huge demand for our products.
“I think for the first time we can punch above our weight. We only have to figure out what we want. There’s a tremendous spirit here in the people and there’s an opportunity for greatness,” he said.
“We’re ready to sit at the adult table.”
B.C.’s economic ace card rests with its economic diversification so that it is not overly dependent upon the still-weakened American market, D’Avignon said.
“I believe we’re at the point of greatness. We’re in good fiscal shape and we have a low tax reime,” he said.
But he did say the one danger is the growth of health care spending, now standing at 42 per cent of the provincial budget.
“That’s not sustainable. It’s going to impair our ability to be prosperous,” D’Avignon said.
D’Avignon said the kind of opportunity for economic revival awaiting the province should extend to accepting the HST.
“The world economy has changed and here’s one way to change the tax model to make us more competitive as an economy,” he said.
“It’s just an easier overall tax to deal with,” D’Avignon continued, adding that a study commissioned by the business council discovered the HST would have a minimal inflationary impact.
“And for the people most vulnerable, they’re going to get a cheque mailed to them on a regular basis,” he said of a government program aimed at blunting the impact of HST on lower income earners.
But D’Avignon did acknowledge that the way the tax was introduced spurred on a backlash making it difficult to explain the rationale behind the HST’s introduction.
He also said it was way past time to raise the minimum wage, accepting that a decade-long freeze is simply too long.
“But now, to make it relevant, it would be hard to increase it substantially,” said D’Avignon.
He prefers a steady series of increases so as to buffer shocks affecting small businesses.
D’Avignon also said more attention needs to be paid to preparing for the increase in baby boomer retirements, which will leave jobs unfilled.