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B.C. Liberals float tourism loans and elimination of business tax

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Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson’s plan to offer bridge financing and loan guarantees to tourism-industry operators was met with the same reaction Thursday as the provincial government got last month when it unveiled its $1.5-billion economic recovery plan — nice try, but it doesn’t go far enough.

During a Lower Mainland campaign stop, Wilkinson said his party, if elected, would make bridge financing for tourism operators a “top priority” and would permanently eliminate the two per cent small business income tax.

Wilkinson said he had heard from too many operators that their businesses might not survive the winter and could be bankrupt by Christmas.

The news received a muted reaction from the tourism community, with many pointing out that few details were available.

Vivek Sharma, chairman of the Tourism Industry Association of B.C., said the industry is facing a crisis like nothing it’s ever experienced. “It makes everything else we have had to deal with look like a walk in the park,” he said. “The industry needs action.”

Sharma said the bridge-financing promise leaves a lot of unanswered questions, such as how to apply, who can apply, how the loan guarantees would work and how banks would react, although he added: “As an industry, we appreciate any gesture that adds liquidity, and are highly appreciative of anything that helps us get through to next year and beyond.”

Sharma said the government fell short when it unveiled its $1.5-billion economic recovery program last month, offering $100 million to the tourism sector, a new task force and regional grants. The industry had been asking for a $680-million package.

“What was given was really not enough, but was another step in the right direction,” he said, noting tourism helps bind communities together.

According to the B.C. Liberals, the loan guarantees would be determined on a case-by-case basis and remain in place until the pandemic subsides and the tourism industry is back on track. The party says it could have the program in place by Christmas.

John Wilson, chairman of the Greater Victoria Chamber and chief executive at Wilson’s Group, said the industry is desperate.

“Tourism businesses need help. They need help now and they need help to survive until conditions change enough for them to get back to business, hopefully by the spring,” he said. “If government doesn’t step up with details about how they’re going to help tourism survive, it’s going to be tough for a lot of operators to make the decision to carry on. We risk losing a lot of vital employers in this region. And we risk losing a lot of businesses that help make this the exceptional community it is.”

Chamber chief executive Bruce Williams said the elimination of the income tax is a good step, but changes to the Employers Health Tax are also needed, as well as ensuring costs don’t start creeping up for small businesses as a result of pandemic safety measures.

The elimination of the small business income tax would cost the government about $220 million in revenue annually.

Wilkinson expects it to increase employment and investment in small and medium-sized enterprises.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

Times Colonist