Premier Christ Clark was only able to spend an hour in Kimberley last Friday afternoon, as part of a whirlwind visit to the Columbia River Revelstoke riding — but it was a productive hour.
Premier Clark met with business owners at the Kimberley Conference Centre for a round table discussion. She was accompanied by Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett, and BC Liberal candidates Tom Shypitka, Kootenay East and Doug Clovechok, Columbia River Revelstoke, whom she referred to as “the hardest working non-paid MLA in British Columbia”.
Clark said she was in Kimberley to hear from business owners’ perspectives exactly what challenges small businesses are facing.
“What you have built here in tourism related businesses is remarkable,” she said.
Clark spoke of the fifth consecutive balanced budget putting billions of dollars back into the economy, and unemployment being down.
“But it’s not evenly spread. The Kootenays often have a higher unemployment rate. How can we turn that around?”
As she sees it, the job of government is to get out of the way of business, to make it as easy as possible to do business.
Clark said that she realized that those areas in British Columbia close to the Alberta border had to compete with no sales tax, but she was not a proponent of making the Kootenays a sales tax free zone.
All that does is push the tax border a little further west, she said.
Getting into specifics, she was asked about applications for new retail liquor permits not being accepted until 2022.
Clark said that her government was undertaking liquor reform and it was proving hugely complicated.
“We are changing the regulatory environment to encourage growth of some businesses. It’s been huge for the restaurant business. But there are businesses that have invested in the current regulation regime, and we want to offer some protection to them, to allow them to adjust. We are going to see change over time.”
It was pointed out by Chamber Manager Mike Guarnery that delaying granting licenses had created a cottage industry of sorts, of current license holders selling their licenses at enormous profits.
As for the infrastructure problem facing many communities, Clark said the provincial government did have a big role in providing funding and mentioned the $25 million per year Rural Dividend Fund.
“That has been extended another year,” she said. “With commodity prices low, rural BC is shouldering the burden, and cities across the province are struggling with infrastructure issues.
“We have planned for $24 billion in capital expenditures over the next three years. We have money. We are not Ontario or Alberta.”
As for the minimum wage, Clark says that in September, British Columbia will have the fourth highest in Canada.
“Only about four per cent of wage earners actually make minimum wage,” she said. “And half of those are still living at home with their parents. When you think about it, a $15 minimum wage is still not a lot of money. What we need to do is create good jobs. That’s the way to deal with it.”
Overall, Clark said that what she was hearing from people in the area was that her government needed to keep the economy growing. It was not evenly distributed across the province, she said.
Supporting the mining sector and getting a softwood agreement were key, Clark added.